Authenticity in Social Media

Awhile back, a Facebook friend I’ll call Darla, fell sick and gave us a blow-by-blow account of  just how crappy she felt. She frequently updated her status to keep us abreast of each new symptom and each successive level of misery.  

Although I really didn’t care to hear every detail, I must say that her boldness captivated me.  

I thought back to last year when I had the flu. I tried to be light [dare I say witty?] when I updated my social media. “I have reached a state of perfect oneness with the coach,” I remember professing on Twitter and Facebook. It was clever and glib and didn’t begin to express the discomfort or inconvenience I was experiencing.   

Reflecting on Darla’s style and mine, I’ve been thinking about authenticity in our personal social media brand. Darla was certainly authentic in her TMI. Often lately I feel that some of us might be guilty of the opposite; withholding struggles, routinely giving bad news a Pollyanna spin (“Granny was hit by a bus. Although we’re devastated, the good news is they paid for the funeral and we get free transit for life!”)  and perpetuating relentlessly perky personal brands at the expense of our honesty and authenticity.  

Sometimes our updates sound like we’re serially writing one of those annoyingly chipper holiday letters, one line at a time. “My husband got another promotion, making him the youngest VP in company history. Oh, and he was selected by People magazine as one of the 50 hottest hunks of all time! Again.”  

 You know what I mean? 

There’s nothing wrong with sharing joys and successes and I certainly believe in being positive and optimistic.  All I wonder is whether we leave room to express the more wrenching side of life. Can we say, “Well, that was a shitty day. I’m going out for tacos and a pitcher of  margaritas.”  Or “Crap, I really screwed up at work. I wonder if I still have a job.” Or “Well, that day sucked. Next?” 

I know I can’t. I seem to be unable to say any of those things. I have deleted so many authentic-yet-potentially negative posts before hitting the “update” button. 

Mark Stelzner recently made a point of being more real on social media. And he has let an F-bomb or two fly. While I’m not going to go that far, because for me that wouldn’t be authentic, I certainly took notice and admired him for stepping out there. 

He told me he feels like he “has the risk profile to be able to truly put myself out there and let people self-select if they like the ‘real me’ or not. I agree that there are a lot of people who are trying to build a very deliberate representation of who they’d like to be perceived as (versus who they really are). I understand in the context of  keeping your job, maintaining your privacy, and staying sane.” 

Well said, Mark. 

I also wonder whether we HR types are especially prone to over-censoring ourselves online. We are so used to being discreet, maintaining confidentiality, being as politically correct as our workplace cultures require, as well as constantly putting the best possible spin on everything – from the increased cost of healthcare to the need to attend mandatory sexual harassment training or explaining why Ray no longer works here – that we are not always well-practiced at being real, putting it all out there, and being ourselves. 

I’ve been writing this post over a space of weeks and during that time, I’ve tried to crank out more of my own negative/’real’/gritty posts and I don’t think I’ve made much headway. 

One of my few ‘successes’ was when I wrote, “I can honestly say this is the worst movie I’ve seen all year.” That was written on January 6 (which might change the context a little) and I’m still goofing around, but I promise – I”m working on it. I’m getting there! 

Or maybe wry and glib *is* my authentic voice.  I can live with that. 

What is your voice online? Do you struggle with being authentic? Do you question others?  Tell me in the comments section.   

Photo by biogenesis

About the Author

Krista Francis

Krista Francis, PHR, is nonprofit HR Director and sometimes Acting Executive Director. She lives outside of Washington DC with her soccer-crazy hubby, two active teenagers, a neurotic cat and the best dog in the world, Rocky, aka Party like a Rockstar. In her loads of free time, she tries to keep her scooter running, tests margaritas for quality control purposes and blogs at aliveHR. You can connect with her on Twitter as @kristafrancis.


Debbie Brown

its me up until and if I don’t want to read it in the newspaper about me- that is pretty much my guide- 😉 (but then again, all my papers are online now lol)


How much can you reveal on your social media? Any negative opinions about work that are logged in your social media can effect your work life from all perspectives. For example, you have a bad day at work because your boss doubted you about a decision you made on a complicated issue you had been working on. In the end, your decision was the right decision but your boss would not let you have the glory. S/he says nothing and is glad it’s all over and resolved. You come home, spill your guts on Facebook/twitter about what a jerk your boss was and how unrewarding it was so solve such a complicated issue at work.

Was this the best way to resolve it all? Does spilling your guts on facebook/twitter help you passive/aggressively solve what had happened that day? I don’t think so.
You go home in rage since you’ve been deeply working in this awful issue all day with your awful boss who disagreed with everything you had said that day. Instead of reflecting and trying to find a way to get your boss on your side about what had happened and what may happen in the future, you rage on social media and hope that s/he or the company reads what you think about this awful person they employ as a manager. Does this resolve everything? Have you come out of this situation as a stronger person? NO!

A professional employee should seek help or think of way to make this situation better. How? Confidently using a professional tone, talk to the manager about why you thought that was the right approach to take in solving such issues and why they should be more open minded to tackling issues from different directions. If we speak the professional tone, we can achieve professional results.

I do think that people are judged by what they post on social media even if you’re not at work speaking it. HR professionals mainly hire people who show who they are in real life vs. work life. You can’t be someone outside of work and be someone completely different as an employee. If HR professionals expect people to be honest about who they are and what they have done until that point, we can definitely expect no surprises while publicly reading the opinions of the same employees. There should not be any surprises. If we trusted this person enough to hire them, then they should be trusted about how they publicly share their work environment.

How would this effect the HR world? People should watch what they say publicly. We trust who we hire and if we are proven wrong, there are consequences in betraying our trust in people we bring on board. The more people betray HR trust, the more doubtful companies will become in considering HR opinion about bringing in new employees. We look for the people who try to make a difference with pure honesty, not passive aggressiveness. Bitching online about how rough you have it at work does not solve anything.

tim francis

OK, this is really late, but I think this is a great topic, and you said it so diplomatically, a rare talent that may be one of the things missing that stops people from being authentic. So much is in perception, and if ‘negative’ comments are judged so or as ‘inappropriate’, beware the speaker! In addition, often one of today’s social disease is “gotcha’, so where can those not-so-positive comments go?



I think I’m going to write a blog in response to this. I do censor myself. I feel I have to. It isn’t a matter of giving too much personal TMI, but rather the level of confidentiality in many of my experiences (or for anyone in HR for that matter). I have to change the names, places and general context to protect the innocent, and sometimes wait a very long time after a situation happens to write about it.

A few months ago, I saw what to me was a hilarious video that interviewed some HR folks, asking them about their craziest HR experiences. Most of them revolved around firing people, and the stupid things people did to get themselves canned, or the things that happened afterwards.

Indeed, I thought it was funny, until I really started thinking about this. Most blogs and tweets can be accessed by non-HR folks. What if that person who did something stupid saw that video? In some cases, these people were not consultants; and it wouldn’t be hard for someone at their companies, or former companies, to figure out who the person was. What would be the repercussions? The last thing you want is a stalker, or a lawsuit.

There is a reason why we have a reputation for not being trusted.

And, you just can’t say, online, “Man, I really screwed up today”, or “I really hate my client”, even if those would be very authentic statements.

Depending upon where in the world you live, if you have an HR designation, there’s also a certain decorum you’re expected to follow. You can’t use the seven words you can’t say on television in a blog or tweet or you’ll end up in front of the Professional Standards Board. And if that doesn’t happen, you might lose credibility with key people.

Now lucky for me I can find things in my life to tweet and blog about that are interesting and low risk. For example, privacy legislation does not extend to dogs, so my dog can be quite the muse. I also have tried to keep to the thought that “everything is good on Twitter”. That doesn’t mean I’ll never post something sad or angry, but I think three times before I do it.

Anyway, just some thoughts. Your post was exceedingly thought-provoking. Great job.

Ashlee T.

I can really relate to this post! I have often typed a status update or tweet and then deleted it because I felt it was too personal. My husband is also a manager but he doesn’t understand why I keep some feelings, information, etc personal. I think it’s just good practice to think before you put anything in writing. Like others have said, I don’t feel that it means you aren’t being true to yourself.


I’m definitely more on the “maybe I need some censorship” side with Robin. There are very few times I’ve felt I was being inappropriate online, but there have been times where I’ve shared too much or regretted sending whatever it was out there. (And you know you can’t really delete a tweet, not from Google or your friend’s TweetDeck or . . . eeek!)

At the same time I agree with Tim: if you are holding something back because it makes you feel uncomfortable, that IS being authentic. You are authentically not the kind of person who would say that in public. That’s great! America as a whole could use a few more people like that. 🙂

I will also add, from personal experience, that others do hold HR professionals and upper management to a higher standard. I’ve gotten flak from unexpected sources about things I’ve said online that were (to me) personal and not out of line, but that the reader interpreted as being work-related or “about them.”

Tim Gardner

Krista – These are good observations by all. I have always felt that the word itself is somewhat of an ideal. If I am being authentic, then I am so in all aspects of my life, right?
I think that we all have biases that affect how we interact in meetings, in a public place, in church, at work, on the phone, and online. All different situations, and our actions are tuned, somewhat automatically, for each one. I groom and clothe myself differently, but I still am the same person. We groom our approach to others based in part on who they are. We co-exist, and that ain’t easy!
If you choose to not do something because it makes you uncomfortable, I don’t think of that as a lack of authenticity. When you pretend to be something you are not, and make promises you can’t uphold, or are deliberately deceptive, then I would say you are not authentic.

Krista Francis

@Robin, 🙂 Thanks for prompting a big smile!
@Lois, honestly I hadn’t even thought of religion or politics. And then there’s always sex….
@Jay, good point. We can probably let it all hang out when we’re in small groups or one-to-one, especially with people we know very well and who know us, but not with hundreds of people all at once.

Jay Kuhns

Great post. It seems to me that the struggle of how much to post, how far to go, how much to reveal, is all based on being thoughtful and respectful with our posts. It’s no different than when we speak with people in person. Do we let it all hang out then too? I don’t think so. Social media doesn’t mean we’re supposed to share everything. However, it does give us a wonderful opportunity to open up and share in a different way than in-person communication allows. In the end, if you’re doing what is most comfortable for you, then you’re doing it exactly the right way.

Lois Melbourne

I feel I am a very authentic leader. But two places I hold back: organized religion and political views. I have very strong opinions about topics within these topics. I feel by expressing them, I could really step on toes and offend people I care about. So my husband and I keep those conversations to ourselves. Sometimes I really want to scream those ideas, but I don’t think it is worth it.

Robin Schooling

Sometimes I probably NEED my HR-censoring brain to take over before I post some stuff… Then again…..Nah. 😉

Krista Francis

@Shauna, I know the giggle is authentic. 🙂
@James, good point that this issue wasn’t simply born when social networking started.
@Sabrina and @Heather, I’m glad I’m not the only one who has deleted [a lot of] updates and tweets!


Can totalIy relate. I always delete tweets or FB updates before posting them because I’m afraid it’s going to come across the wrong way. The funny thing is, some of the people I follow on Twitter, I enjoy their tweets the most because they are so open, honest and just say whatever comes to mind. I wish I could be more like that.

Sabrina Baker

I can’t tell you how many times I have deleted tweets because they might be too personal – and not even crazy personal, stuff like cleaning my house. I admire those I see who do seem to tweet authentically and really let it all hang out. I’d love to be more that way, but my HR and overly self-conscious brain tends to censor more than I’d like.

Definitely something to think about and work on! Great post – thanks for sharing.

James Papiano

Thanks for the post Krista,

On the one hand, many of us struggle with authenticity and the public private split and always have…. even before the Social Mediaverse was born. On the other hand, technology, social sciences, a fame-focused culture and other factors can conspire to create unprecedented opportunities for authenticity and transparency.

I agree that many HR folks will be pre-disposed to revealing less. And those in organizations–as opposed to those who are independent–may have work in cultures less accommodating to the “warts-and-all” approach of your friend “Darla.”

One consideration is for leaders in HR and beyond. If leaders reveal the idiosyncrasies of themselves, is there room for the projections of the followers? Does it matter? Can we handle it that our leaders are human in the ugly real-world sense of the word? The extra-marital affairs of American politicians, the smoking and eating habits of decision makers, the inconsistencies between what leaders aspire to and who they are… if the audience cannot embrace this grainy detailed portrait, then in may be more difficult for the leader to be real, as it were.

HR can be in the same boat since there are many constituencies that require representation, inclusion, and support.

In the end, I vote for authenticity whether that surfaces in f-bombs, TMI, or euphemisms. But at the same time, I think we have some work to do in order to fully embrace the “human” in human resources, and beyond.

Shauna Moerke

Great post Krista! I know I try to be authentic and honest both on and offline, but I still edit myself. There are things that I won’t discuss and personal stuff I never bring up. I think your authenticity online comes more from honesty of self and opinions than complete transparency. And anyone whose meet me can attest, I am that giggly in person too. 🙂


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