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Congruency Equals Trust

“What do you mean by ‘Congruency equals Trust’ when you are teaching a seminar that includes a section on social networking?” I asked Anna recently. Anna, a fifth-generation Post, teaches business etiquette seminars for companies all over the United States, and I’ve come to rely on her for explaining the intricacies of social networking and how people can screw up their business lives, if not their personal lives, by what they post online.

One of the most important qualities you develop with the people in your life is trust. Trust is built over time. Trust evolves because you engage in actions that engender other people’s confidence in you. As a result, those people are comfortable with you, and when done consistently, that in turn grows trust in you. And that’s where the concept of “congruency equals trust” in social networking comes in.

These days you have a variety of places you might share your virtual image: Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest. While these sites provide multiple ways for you to interact with your online community, they are also a two-way street, allowing others to interact with and see you. And that’s where congruency comes in. You don't need to be your work self on personal networking sites, but the basic values people know you for still need to be present. If your image on LinkedIn is of a hard working, positive person, but the comments and photos you share on Facebook or Instagram belie that stalwart image, then who is the real you? There’s no congruency between those images. And that’s when confidence in you can be sidetracked and trust lost. And once that trust is lost, getting it back again can be very difficult.

Say your image is that of a team player at work, but you regularly complain and gripe about work and your boss on Facebook--and your team is seeing it. When colleagues or your boss see (or are told about) your Facebook posts, how does that affect their image of you? Who’s the real you? Can you be trusted? While you can present a fun personal image of yourself on Facebook and share your personal interests, remember that the tone you set can be seen by people at work as well as by your friends.

In addition to developing a consistent image of yourself across your social network, remember: Don’t assume anything online is private or reserved for just a few select people. You can’t control who sees things you’ve posted even if you think you can. Anything you post can be copied and show up anywhere once you’ve posted it. The Internet is awash with stories of things people posted that they thought were private and then found out weren’t.

That’s it: two key guidelines to follow as you build your online presence. Congruency equals trust and nothing online is private.

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