By Simon Phillips, Author of The Complete Guide to Professional Networking: The Secrets of online and offline success

“The way to gain a good reputation is to endeavour to be what you desire to appear.” - Socrates

Who are you?

When social media first caught the attention of the public eye, many people thought they needed to create an online persona – someone infinitely more astute, humorous and, let’s face it, downright attractive. Some tested the idea of being “different people in different spaces” only to find that they were not only confusing themselves but everyone else into the bargain! Interestingly, the younger generations have led the way towards more authentic behaviour online. Apart from the minorities involved in anti-social activities, people who have been around online forums and timelines since the early days of MySpace are far more adept at just being themselves whether they are online or off. They have learned, potentially through playground ridicule and classroom teasing, that attempting to be someone other than the friend/rival/enemy they are in school, really doesn’t work. Online, especially inside the main social media tools of Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn is not a place for behaving differently, they are merely extensions of the offline environments we inhabit – just another room, if you like.

Beyond Authenticity

Being yourself is only the start; now the work begins. As Ivan Misner, Founder of BNI says, “It’s not called net-sitting.” If you choose to network online, there is some effort required. No-one would expect to turn up at a live event, talk to no-one and come away with new connections or opportunities, so why do people join an online network and lurk in the background? Adding connections or following people online will not build your reputation. You need to engage, let people know you are there and, most importantly, see who you may be able to help. In fact, just making this initial switch in their thinking has helped many expert networkers break out of their timid shell and build fantastic networks that have sustained both them and their businesses for years. “Who can I help?” and “How can I help you?” are two fantastic questions that, if held in the back of your mind whenever you are interacting online, will transform your relationships and reputation.

Nowhere to hide

If someone in our offline world is described as having a good reputation, one immediately thinks of the qualities I have discussed already; true to themselves and caring towards their fellow human beings. The third quality is sometimes taken for granted, but it is equally important and that is consistency.

Reputations are shattered in seconds if someone transgresses the accepted standards of behaviour of the community they share. So, think carefully about your approach to online media; just as you would not turn up drunk for work, be abusive to your colleagues or engage in discriminatory activities, don’t do it online. Remember, you’re not really alone when you are online in the comfort of your home; you are sharing the room with millions of others; and in particular, the networks that could support you for a lifetime…if you are willing to give of your best and support others first.