Posted July 17, 2010 7:58 am by with 7 comments

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Last night I let everyone on Twitter know what kind of underwear I wear. Don’t worry I was only joking. But that’s how I use social media. I try to be as authentic and myself as much as possible. But sometimes I have to ask myself, is that really the best game plan?

We have all heard that the trick to social media is to be yourself. In doing so we create authenticity and transparency that others can trust. But the question emerges, when does being yourself get in the way of building a strong personal brand? Would we tell Jeffrey Dahmer yeah, just be yourself on twitter, people will love you? Um no we wouldn’t because Dahmer was a horrific human being.

I started thinking about this issue earlier in the week when the founder of WordPress, Matt Mullenweg, and the founder of the popular Thesis theme, Chris Pearson, got caught up in a very public argument on Twitter regarding how to interpret the GPL. The dialog surrounding the argument has been discussed for the last several years, however it came to a head this week–with Mullenweg and Pearson trading more public jabs then the cast members of the Jersey Shore.

I won’t discuss all the details of the argument here–other than saying I was disappointed in both of them. I have been creating WordPress themes and plugins for myself and clients for the last three years. I have seen Mullenweg and the WordPress community grow and evolve into a truly amazing thing. And similarly I have seen talented entrepreneurs like Pearson rise from that community to create outstanding products and their own communities.

So it really troubled me to see two men that I really admire and draw so much inspiration from act so unprofessional in public. For me, their behavior was damaging to their brand.

Now don’t get me wrong. I am not saying that either of them shouldn’t be allowed to voice their opinion. But when you find yourself in a position of leadership you have a responsibility to your supporters to rise above the fray and elevate the dialog to something productive. If you can’t do that, then quite simply, it’s time to shut up.

Tips to being yourself while taking the higher ground.

  • Don’t respond to everything. When you are the center of a public controversy it’s likely that you will become the bunt of many false accusations and slander. You don’t need to respond to all of these. Doing so can, and will, wear you down physically and emotionally. And in the end the truth speaks louder than baseless attacks. Therefore pick the accusations that are most prevalent and address them in clear well thought out language that speaks straight to the facts.
  • Stay away from mediums that don’t cultivate thought-provoking dialog. Twitter, Facebook, and all of the other social media toys are great ways to get information out to the masses. But, they are horrible at having real conversations that lead to new ideas and understanding. Let’s face it 140 characters just isn’t enough. Instead try blogging about your issue and invite folks to start a dialog in the comments.
  • Stick to the facts. When you let your emotions get the best of you it is very easy to hurl insults and make statements that reinforce a normative position. Instead try just talking about the facts. When you are on the right side of an issue, the facts are all you need anyways.
  • Hope for the best. It’s way too easy to get bitter and resentful when in the middle of controversy. But if you continue to hope for the best and always look for the light at the end of the tunnel, it will instill confidence in your community and only strengthen your cause. Without hope we are nothing.

At the end of the day I am hoping that we can find a solution to this issue sooner than later. I have friends and colleagues on both sides of the issue. I want to see resolution soon and start feeling good about using both WordPress and Thesis again. Until then consider taking the higher ground, I promise you won’t regret it!

  • Hey man,

    I have to say that I felt pretty similarly about the WP/Thesis issue. It’s a gray issue, not exactly sure which side I stand on. But, I know that I am really disappointed in how disrespectful both of them were towards each other.


  • Howdy Joe

    This subject has been my whole model of my life online for the past 10yrs. I came in tryiign to do as the other markerts and me-mint there approach. I came to realizes quickly that people are attracted to diffrent attitudes and personalities.

    So I started to change my approach and did my own thing, then I started to get notice and people started to latch on to my site…so be yourself and good things will come, but just don’t go over board.

    TrafficColeman “Signing Off”

  • Good points, Joe.

    While I didn’t see or probably won’t waste the time to read any of this back and forth between these two heavyweights it just goes to show how immature the Internet is as a medium. Even 15 plus years into the commercial side we still have “professionals” behaving like pre-schoolers and it’s not just in this case.

    In the end, we all need to decide how to engage our fans and our detractors and doing it in full view of the public is usually a very bad idea no matter who ‘wins’.

    Take it offline and do something constructive with it rather than airing the dirty laundry of individuals and industries. That way we can all get work done instead of standing around and doing the Internet’s version of yelling “Fight! Fight! Fight!”

    • Frank,

      You bring up an interesting point about the internet being immature as a medium for conversation – but doesn’t your comment at the end (“Fight! Fight! Fight!”) suggest that this is actually a reflection on us sometimes being immature as a species?

      In my opinion, communication mediums like Twitter are interesting because they get out of the way and allow us to behave like real humans – sometimes being helpful, kind, but at other times being rude, angry, impolite.

      What would a mature communication medium look like? Wouldn’t it have to be design to weed out those natural, aggressive emotions?

      Not disagreeing with your ultimate point in anyway, just fascinated by the subject and you spurred some thoughts in me. 🙂


  • Cynthia

    One of the big problems with written communication, particularly limited space communication, is that it’s easy to assume a tone that isn’t there.

    If I say, “oh sure, you’re right,” out loud, you’ll know right away if I’m being sarcastic or not. On paper, you can assume that I am based on the “oh sure” at the start of the sentence and from that you attack. Maybe it was just poor phrasing on my part and I meant, you’re right.

    I ran into this on Facebook this week where I asked someone, what I felt, was a legitimate follow up question to their rant. Their response was that I was responding like a pre-schooler. Huh? I can only assumed, that she assumed, I was attempting a round of the old playground game, “no, you are.”

    Scan Twitter at any given moment and you’ll find plenty of people playing that game as well as the old standard, “I’m rubber, you’re glue, anything you say bounces off me and sticks to you.”

  • I think that you should definitely have to personalities when on the social networking sites. You should have to identities

  • Sephy Hambaz

    Sigh, what a waste of cyberspace.