Back in the 1980's, before MySpace, before Yahoo and definitely before Facebook, Superman and Clark Kent lived relatively separate existences; by day, the boyish charm of Clark Kent, whose conservative mannerisms and passive, introverted personality, went relatively unnoticed by his reporter colleagues. By night, the hero known globally as Superman saved damsels from burning buildings, fended off lynch mobs and stopped the Earth from succumbing to apocalyptic meltdown. One need never know that Kent and Superman were, in fact, one and the same; despite a thin guise consisting simply of glasses and a dodgy suit, even love interest Lois Lane was duped.
Fast forward to the turn of the century and our two men of the moment face a conundrum; the advent of the World Wide Web and the consequent pervasive nature of social media, in its various forms, means information travels at an astonishing rate. News that Superman has saved a small child from drowning might be broken on Facebook way before CNN even had a chance to get their reporter to the scene - indeed, Kent himself might even have spotted a cry for help on Twitter, such is the speed of the World's biggest news wire.
All of this is well and good, but as a socially savvy man, Kent would surely consider that, in a world of 'selves', Superman would have his own Twitter profile - @superman, naturally - and Clark a separate one entirely (@ClarkKent, if it wasn't already taken). Superman would have a Facebook Fan page, with over 3 million likes, and Kent his own, low-key profile where he would 'friend' colleagues and family and post photos of his weekend spent watching football and walking his dog. All of these channels would be operated from the same email address and the same IP address. So what if, unbeknown to him, an intelligent chap somewhere invented a piece of software that aggregates all of your online profiles, lumps them together, with your image, and places them in your sidebar in Gmail? What if when you send someone an email, all this information appears alongside your message? Kent's carefully-constructed cover would surely be blown, with devastating consequences for Superman's army of admiring supporters.
The reality is that Rapportive, a Gmail add-on that "shows you everything about your contacts right inside your inbox" is an opt-in service and one would hope that Kent would never be as foolhardy as to subscribe to such a service. But if one click of the mouse is all it takes for your online presence and any such 'cover' to be blown, might we question if it's worth having it there in the first place? Are we sharing too much online and is our privacy being compromised for simplicity?
I encountered this debate recently when discussing with social media marketer Damian Pang whether to mention your job role and who you work for on your own Twitter profile. He considered that there are those that successfully curate their own brand – who they are, their interests, who they work for, or who they would love to work for – and project ‘Brand Me’ succinctly and effectively. Then there are those that simply aren’t comfortable with sharing that kind of information. If you want to tweet about the dim sum you ate at the weekend and not be decried for being mundane or ‘off-brand’, then you might consider keeping your account strictly personal, giving no indication of who you work for in your Twitter bio – therefore giving you ‘free rein’ to be as off topic as you like.
Of course, this works for those who aren’t necessarily seeking employment, but when you’re job hunting and need to stand out from the crowd, showing you have an online presence, and one that is carefully nurtured and controlled, and engaging in content that is of relevance to the sphere you want to work in, is crucial. The same is true for many high-profile figureheads of big brands – take my former boss, for example, Scott Brownlee, Head of PR for Toyota GB. Scott is the perfect example of putting a face and personality behind Tweets – users can learn about the brand, but also find that he’s a human being too. As a result, ‘human’ brands succeed far better in conveying their key messages than a small picture of a logo would. All because we as humans are deeply social beings who crave human contact and fade when excluded from our fellows. Scott made the choice to make Twitter personal and as a result, his brand has prospered. But with add-ons like Rapportive, surely we’re all going to have to make like Scott, avoiding the dim-sum tweet, even if it is from a separate Twitter account, and ensuring that whatever we say is on-brand because, after all, what you write online exists forever, and as Rapportive proves, can be aggregated simply by using the right software. Is it a situation we are willing to accept? I wonder what Superman would do – I’m not even sure he can save the day here.