How is my Facebook self related to my real self? It's complicated
Steve Nelson is program director for MPR News.
If we're Facebook friends, you know that I am an awesome dad. You know this in part because of the awesome road trip that I, Awesome Dad, recently documented in awesome detail. Sample status updates:
"Team Nelson improvises a Chicago pit stop!"
"Kids manically doing jumping jacks at a rest stop in Ohio."
"Highlight of the trip for youngest boy!" (With a picture of our 4-year-old giddily perched on the copper duck statue in Boston Common.)
Witness the awesomeness generated by Awesome Dad! When we got home, one of my friends — let's call her Above Average But Not Quite Awesome Mom — told me, "Stop posting such amazing updates. You're making the rest of us look bad. And feel bad." I wanted to say, "Sorry AABNQA Mom, there's no stopping Awesome Dad!" Instead, it occurred to me that Facebook Steve is a much better dad than In Real Life Steve.
If In Real Life Steve had been posting updates from our trip, you would have seen all those great moments. Facebook Steve tells the truth. But you also would have seen real life status updates like:
"Just lost my temper and yelled at the boys to get in the bleeping car. Again."
"Accused oldest boy of faking sickness to get out of going to the Elizabeth Cady Stanton House. Five minutes later he puked all over the back seat."
"Middle boy just asked if it was time to get in the bleeping car."
I admit it. Our trip was not all sunshine, puppies and entertaining feats of strength. Neither is the rest of my real life, but you wouldn't know it from Facebook. That's because I've somehow created my own social media brand.
If someone in market research asked my Facebook friends who I am, the findings might be, "Steve Nelson is a loving dad who always makes time for his family and the adventures they have together. Steve is never crabby or negative, and is always positive about life's challenges." People who know In Real Life Steve would say, "That's hogwash." My wife would add, "Put your bleeping phone down and pay attention to the kids."
Almost everyone has a Facebook brand, whether they're conscious of it or not. Political guy. Funny story link woman. Instagram pal. The only person who doesn't have a brand is the one who constantly complains about everything, posts gross pictures and still invites you to play Farmville. And let's be honest, you've already unfriended that guy.
I think there are a lot of reasons people aren't more honest on social media, some of them obvious. No one wants to get fired for a status update that calls the boss a jerkwater. But there are more complicated reasons, too.
For me, life gets messy, work is stressful, and sometimes one of my kids pushes me over the edge by being just slightly naughtier than usual. Real life can make me feel out of control. It's much easier to control the message, to manage my brand, in a world that's almost real but not quite.
Facebook Steve isn't the dad I am, but he is the dad I want to be.