When asked what qualities are most important in relationships (business or otherwise), honesty tops the list for many people. Consumers want to connect with brands who are authentic and trustworthy. What does your audience thing about you? If they know, like, and, most importantly, trust you, they'll be more likely to make a purchase and tell their friends about you.
If you have a personal brand, however, honesty online gets a little messy. Examples of people with very strong personal brands include Chris Brogan, Tim Ferriss, and Erika Napoletano. Representing yourself, not a separate business brand, has both risks and rewards, but if you go this route, one thing is certain: you have to draw the line between "me" and "my brand."
Authenticity is NOT about Oversharing
Authenticity online doesn't mean that you share every piece of you. Giving away your entire life for the public to see can be stressful and uncomfortable. Not to mention, oversharing can actually turn customers off.
For example, let's say that you go on a cruise with your family and get terribly seasick. You should not post pictures of yourself losing your lunch in the name of authenticity! That's definitely "TMI" for your audience. Pick and choose what to share so that you're still representing what happened, but you maintain a little dignity. This stands true in less "gross out" situations as well. For example, let's say you just found out that you're expecting. You don't have to make the announcement for your fans on Facebook before you tell friends and family. You're still an authentic person if you choose to keep some parts of your life private.
Defining Your Brand
Beyond privacy issues, you also need to consider the consistency of your messaging.
The best way to determine what to share and what to keep private is to define your brand. What three words describe how you want people to view your personal brand online? If the answer is "sassy, fun, and energetic," what you share online should always promote these attributes. Does that mean that you are always sassy, fun, and energetic in real life? No way - no one is. But sharing a stressed-out rant online is probably not your best option, even if that's how you really feel. It's inconsistent with how you want people to see you. Every comment you make online should be professional and consistent with your personal brand.
Messaging consistency doesn't mean that you should lie. Let's say you're really unhappy with a product you've purchased, but your personal brand is a happy, optimistic one. That doesn't mean you should lie and talk about how great the product is, even though you really think it stinks. It's all about how you say things.
And, when in doubt, remember - you don't need to put everything online. Some stuff can remain private. Remember, your personal brand is not you. It is all the best, most marketable parts of you packaged for the masses.
When the Real Your Comes Out...
Ever meet a celebrity in person? You probably had one of two experiences: they were as sweet and nice as you expected or they were horrible and you'll never think of them the same way again. If you had a bad experience, part of the reason it was so terrible was not only the other person's actions, but the jarring effect of expecting something different.
Make sure that the you you're presenting online doesn't stay too far from the real you that actually lives your life. If you do, it's only a matter of time before the truth comes out. If you like to drink and dance on bars every weekend, don't present yourself as a mild-mannered, family-friendly personal brand. If you are a homebody, don't present yourself as an adventure-seeker. If you're an introvert, don't present yourself as the life of the party.
When people feel like they're being tricked, your reputation takes a huge nose-dive. They think, "If they were lying about their personality, what else could they be lying about?"
Remember, even if you aren't building a business based on your personal brand, the way you act online affect how people think about your small business or your employer. Even if you have "views are my own" in your Twitter bio, you could lose customers or be fired if you aren't presenting yourself well.