The Latin word persona basically means someone who is representing oneself as a certain character or social role. Since human beings are social beings whose identities are largely shaped by our social roles, one could argue, as have many authors, artists, and philosophers, that we are all, to a certain degree, actors. I don’t mean to imply that we’re all “phonies” a la Catcher in the Rye, or that society’s destined to become Lord of the Flies. Rather, in certain cases, our social roles dictate that we behave a certain way. Even the most genuine guy or gal probably presents a slightly different version of herself or himself in professional and personal life. In other words, you probably have a professional or public persona that is somewhat different than your private persona. If all the world’s a stage, then the character you play shows up in different scenes.
In the last two decades, the rise of the internet has led to the creation another stage – that of the digital arena. Whether you’ve thought about it or not, anyone who uses social media has a digital persona. Trust me, even if you haven’t, businesses, employers, and politicians have. Because of the ubiquity of social media, the gap between our public and private lives is smaller than it once was. This is not inherently good or bad, but those who use the internet (and there’s a good chance if you’re reading this, that means you), would be wise to keep this in mind. The digital personae that we create can have implications in our professional and private lives.
Until recently, my digital presence was quite small – just Facebook (well, maybe not as small as I thought!). By adopting Twitter and this WordPress as well, I have increased my digital presence, even if I don’t have a huge audience. Nonetheless, on all three platforms, I tend to present myself similarly. I share, retweet, or blog about topics that interest me, such as history, science, music/arts, and sometimes politics (although I try to avoid clickbait – there’s already plenty of it out there – and left vs right debates – I’d rather save those for face-to-face discussions.).
On twitter, one of my favorite handles to follow is History in Pictures, which posts obscure photos from the past – sometimes of famous people, other times of everyday people. I also follow the Smithsonian as well as the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian. Certainly, the name Smithsonian draws some people in, but I think they also do a good job of posting engaging media that touches upon relevant topics. On a more local level, Connecticut History does a great job with their On This Day tweets. Of course, twitter is good for short posts, while blogs are better for longer topics. Still, I have found that relevant topics and use of engaging media are helpful to draw people in. Admittedly, this is something that I intend to improve upon with my blog. I wouldn’t want to be a digital persona non grata.
What do you think: What are some ways that historians who use social media or post content can attract followers? What are some blogs or twitter handles that you have found useful or exciting to follow? How have you managed your digital persona? As always, feel free to comment.