Creating an Online Presence: 9 Tips on How to Grow a Social Media Audience While Staying True to Yourself

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Between all the information and endless opinions out there on in social media, here’s how bloggers, writers and photographers can stay true to who they really are.

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Here’s the thing about the rules to social media: We’re writing them as we go. Five years ago, I thought Twitter was a bird call and Pinterest was interest with a typo. Social media has presented opportunities we couldn’t have imagined 20 years ago and has changed the way we meet, date, parent, get hired, and, um… get fired. It also changes the way we make our mark on the world — the way we do what we’re all here to do: connect, help, see and be seen. With so much information and endless opinions out there though, how do we maintain an online presence that stays true to who we really are?

Here are 9 tips to help you maintain your voice in the very big world of social media:

1. Moderate Your Input
You can’t get around this one. What we put out into the world is influenced by what we put in. To begin a discussion about staying true to our voices, we have to take a look at what we’re reading online and the people who we’re following. It’s one thing to be aware of, and interested in, different people and styles and opinions in the world (and do it! Stay open, learn, be inspired!). But don’t be a social media glutton, following everyone and everything just because. Our brains subconsciously store all that information, and too much “noise” can cloud a clear route to our own voices and ideas and inspirations. Sometimes when I feel overwhelmed by all the “stuff” online (Pinterest boards, memes, crafts, essays, photos, ideas), I give myself a virtual juice cleanse — I pare down my input. Read what you love, what inspires you, what sharpens you, but remember that you need space to listen to your own voice.

2. Streamline Your Social Media Output
The above rule is true for your social media output as well. Are you posting like mad to your blog while updating Facebook, tweeting on the hour and trying to grow your Instagram community at the same time? You’re going to get burned out. Find the outlets that fit you best and put your content focus there. Great with the witty one-liners? Twitter is probably your thing. Are you a photographer inspired by images? Instagram might be a perfect fit. I pop into Facebook and Twitter when I can and have a Pinterest account, but my blog and Instagram are where my online presence is strongest and where I put my most meaningful content.

3. You Are Not Your Likes!
Do not focus on “likes” and stats. I repeat, do not focus on “likes” and stats! They are not a measure of your worth, and measuring your content according to what people like or what gets the most hits is a surefire way to lose your voice in social media. When blogging professionally, analytics tools are great to measure engagement, but the best way to share good content is to share from your heart and share what you love — and that might not always get the most likes because we don’t all love the same things.

4. Your Writing Should Reflect Who You Are
The best kind of writing and art reflect the author. Want your voice to shine through in your posts and photos and captions and updates? Write about what you love, what you’re thinking about, what’s challenging you, what makes you come alive. When you’re sharing about things you love, it’s much easier to maintain your voice and not be swayed by all the other noise online.

5. Don’t Crumble and Shut Down with Criticism
Social media is a funny thing. It’s opened our world up to far more opportunities to connect and share, but with that comes more open doors for anyone and everyone to blast their opinion of what you share — and behind a veil of anonymity. Criticism and snark is inevitable, but you can control your response and reaction to it. Comic book writer Brian Michael Bendis says, “The trick is not caring what everybody thinks of you and just caring about what the right people think of you.” It’s normal to get your feelings hurt over harsh criticism or to feel yourself reacting to a mean comment. But don’t let it stop you from doing what you love. If it’s meaningful feedback that can help you improve, swallow it and move on. If it’s snark? See #6.

6. Do Not Feed the Trolls
The Internet makes it very easy for people to anonymously sit behind a computer and say things they would never say in person. Dealing with snark or nastiness on your social media sites? Don’t engage the nastiness. Two words: delete and block. It’s your space. If you don’t allow snark and nastiness in your home, then you probably don’t want it in your online home.

7. Build a Community
One of the best ways I’ve found to help me stay true to my voice in social media is to surround myself with people who inspire me. I’ve built my own community of friends and writers who are also sharing their work. I ask them questions, turn to them for advice and listen when they need encouragement as well. Together, we’ve created a space where we challenge one another to share authentically, and we all communicate what we’ve learned through the process.

8. Decorate Your Work Space
Visual reminders are a great way to keep yourself in check. If you step into social media from your desk, then surround it with things that inspire you. That moving quote that reminds you that what you have to offer the world is important? Tape it above your desk. Those pictures of your favorite things? Set them up next to your computer. That book with all those highlighted passages that ignite you to do your thing and do it well? Keep it next to your keyboard.

9. Real Life Is Where It Happens
Social media creates some great opportunities to connect and be inspired. I’ve met a lot of real life friends from social media and have read inspiring things that have felt so real that I’ve forgotten there’s a computer screen in front of me. But you have to remember that the Internet and Real Life are two different things. If you want to stay true to yourself online, you have to stay true to yourself in real life. Invest in that version of yourself, not your online presence. The more time you spend with your passions and loves and inspirations, the more they will come across in your writing.
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