If you abandon your online presence can you get it back?

by Shannon Paul on July 13, 2009

In the grand scheme of things it hasn’t been that long since I was writing somewhat regularly on this blog, annoying people with comments on others’ blogs and being a regular online presence as I outlined late last year, but then something happened.

Turns out I’m more human than I would always like to be and I can only handle so many changes at one time — even good changes.

In the past three months, I have taken on a new job with a lot more responsibility and moved across the country from Detroit to Seattle. It hasn’t been an easy transition to say the least.

While I’m lucky to have a great job and a super delightful talented crew of people to work with, just about everything that could possibly go wrong on my way out here went wrong — crooked movers and debit card fiascos not withstanding. Plus, there have been the regular technical and connectivity challenges associated with moving and a general lack of furniture.

Perhaps moving really does rank up there with death and divorce on the trauma scale.

Don’t get me wrong – I love Seattle so far; it’s a beautiful place and so many people have been very welcoming to me. I also have a great apartment in the city, but this, too has been a huge lifestyle change for me.

With so much going on, what happened for me is that I found myself with nothing much to say — or at least nothing much I felt comfortable saying online.

It’s not like I didn’t check in to see what was happening with people I care about, I just didn’t tell them. And, it’s not like I didn’t post updates, but I haven’t really engaged or responded much.

I discovered fear can be paralyzing — not just with real life connections, but also with those made online. I’m not sure why exactly, but negative feelings have a very insulating affect. Perhaps this is how I instinctively protect myself although I’m sure I’m not unique in this way.

The problem is, now that I feel ready to dive back in again, it feels different – especially on Twitter. I want to reach out, but my own inhibitions seem to prevent me from doing so. Who really cares if I haven’t been myself online lately?

For some reason I feel like I should explain myself or check in with friends to let them know I’m still alive (perhaps this post is my way of doing exactly just that). It’s tough stepping back into the way things were for some reason. I feel like there are issues to rectify or maybe it’s just the need to have those I feel connected with understand where I’m coming from at present.

Maybe I’m just over-thinking all of this, but moving out to Seattle without the usual cast of familiar faces (online and offline) reminds me of an album title by Modest Mouse, one of my favorite bands of all time, Lonesome Crowded West. When I log back into Twitter, I’m reminded of those words. How can a place be so crowded, yet feel lonesome?

Is social media really about relationships, or is it just about having a good story that others want to tell? This is the part that gets confusing for me.

Maybe it’s easy enough to jump right in. Getting started might be simple the first time around, but how would you recommend I go about rebuilding my very official online presence?

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{ 43 comments }

July 13, 2009 bugsyrocker

Can you get it back? Absolutely.

But c’mon girl, you’ve always had it :)

People who get it, get it, and they don’t lose it. I feel that if there is a hiatus, it’s an opportunity. You get to reinvent yourself, reinvent your brand, tweak your brand, come back with another trick in your bag that we haven’t seen.

July 13, 2009 Shannon Paul

Thanks, Justin. I’ve been learning a whole lot lately. I guess a lot of the stuff is just in an incubation stage. We’ll see what happens. :-)

July 13, 2009 Mike Billeter

Call me optimistic, but I think you just get back into it. Start as slowly as quickly as you are comfortable with, but just do it.

I’ve now moved 6 times in my life, and I know this: No matter how out of touch I fall with old friends in old places, it’s my closest friends who never have any trouble jumping right back into a conversation like we never missed a day in our lives. I think it’s that feeling of familiarity that makes reconnecting such a wondrous experience. When you can start up a conversation with someone you haven’t talked to in months or years and it seems like not a single beat has been skipped…that’s when all is right with the world.

I have a feeling most of the people who follow you online will simply be thrilled to have you back and providing great content again. The fact you’ve been gone will quickly be lost as you reconnect and reform those old relationships. I doubt anybody is upset that you haven’t been yourself online lately, and if they are…forget them. It’s why you move (both literally and metaphorically). Keep the relationships you want to keep, drop the relationships that weren’t worth your time.

Your fear is justified and certainly nothing to be ashamed of. It’s how you get over that fear that matters. And I think the people happy to have you back online will be the right people to help you get over it.

Again, call me optimistic, but I think you’ll find you have plenty of supporters who will chalk up your online sabbatical to a short (and well-deserved) break from the chaos. So, whether you come back slowly or come back in a blaze of tweets and blog posts, the online community will be happy either way.

Sorry for the lengthy comment. Your post struck a chord with me and my moving experiences. Hope the journey back to your “very official online presence” is a good one, no matter which road you take.

July 13, 2009 Shannon Paul

Mike,
I appreciate the lengthy comment. I worry that stuff like this will seem a bit self-indulgent, but I guess it had to be done. I appreciate the fact that this resonated with you and I’m grateful you felt compelled to respond. Thanks so much. :-)

July 13, 2009 jamiefavreau

Shannon,
You moved across the country for gosh sakes… Things happen and you learn from them. You will get back in the saddle again and you will adjust to your new surroundings.

Moving is never easy and across the country is pretty scary in itself.

I am sure people understand… Transitions are hard. We learn from them and then conquer our fears in the process.

July 13, 2009 Shannon Paul

Jamie, you’re such a sweetheart. Thanks – yes, transitions are difficult. I hope you’re right. I hope I get stronger as a result. :-)

July 13, 2009 Sassy

Great post and welcome to the beautiful NW! I think your online presence is definitely noticed, although there are lots of silent viewers out there not saying anything, but thinking “hey, where’d she go??” I agree that the more familiar you feel with your new life and surroundings, the more you’ll want to talk about whatever pops up, scares you, surprises and amazes you.

July 13, 2009 Shannon Paul

Well hello, Sassy Molassy!
Thanks for the warm welcome. There’s a lot of stuff swirling around in my brain. Plus I’ve learned a ton since I’ve been in my new job. The opportunities to share will become more frequent now that I’m starting to loosen back up. I think I’ve been in a state of shock. Hopefully we’ll run into each other eventually.

July 13, 2009 Jennier Wilbur

Hi Shannon – I think we do the same thing online we do IRL. I have a bad habit of laying low when I’m busy or frustrated, as well (who needs to hear my rants). But I do the same thing with my offline friends. If I don’t have anything interesting to say or don’t feel up to a conversation, they won’t hear from me.

But, that’s the beauty of friendships and connections. If you are interesting and a good part of the conversation, you’ll be welcomed back with open arms.

I haven’t interacted with you 1:1 that often, but I’ve always enjoyed reading your blog and your Tweets/conversations. I’ll do it again. Welcome back!

-@rockstarjen

July 13, 2009 Shannon Paul

Jennifer,

Yes – I think you summed it up beautifully. When I should be reaching out because I’m feeling frustrated or depressed, I lay low, then I feel hurt and disconnected as a result – which makes NO sense. Then when I finally do reach out (like here) it often seems or at least feels awkward. I wrote this in hopes of getting over the awkwardness more quickly and, you know, I like to test out this whole openness thing…. or I am crazy, or both. :-)

July 13, 2009 Nick Lucido

First of all, I hope you can figure all the human stuff out and I’m glad you’re enjoying the city!

Even if you “abandon your presence,” does Google ever forget? You will still be out there whether you like it or not. I don’t think you can ever abandon your presence — it just shifts. I just wrote about how my presence online shifting since starting my full time internship. I don’t think you have to do anything special — just join in on the conversations. Looking forward to hearing what you have to stay and hope for all the best out there!

July 13, 2009 Brandon Chesnutt

Real Life > Social Media.

Glad you’re back. :)

July 14, 2009 Shannon Paul

Brandon,
You rock. And you know this. :-)

July 13, 2009 Lauren B.

Shannon,
The first step is the hardest, so good work on overcoming the fear and saying hello to the many of us who missed you in your moving-adjusting-offline hiatus. I think the people who enjoy your voice, your guidance and your friendship (or who admire you from afar) are always going to be ready to welcome you with open arms when you have thoughts you want to share. When I moved across the country last year, I was struck by how differently my family and friends who I saw everyday reacted in comparison to my online friends who didn’t care where I was tweeting from as long as I was posting good stuff. Since you have built your relationships on value and trust, I hope you get a sense that that is what matters when you come back online.

You’re right that things have changed…but that just means we need more steady, strong voices like yours there teaching all the newbies who are trying to learn. Go slow, if you want. Be quirky or be comfortable when you start back into it. Maybe jump into building relationships with your new Seattle or industry communities alongside reaching out to your other networks of friends. But know we’re excited to have you back and learn about your new experiences in a new part of the world!
Cheers, Lauren

July 13, 2009 davidmullen

Mrs. Paul,

1. We’ve missed you and your awesomeness on a regular basis.

2. Most of us know that you’ve been busy making a huge transition out to Seattle.

3. Brandon summed it up nicely – real life > social media. That’s not dissing Twitter and such. It’s just keeping it in perspective.

So, if you need to lay low longer, cool. If we get to chat with you regularly again on Twitter and read Very Official posts, then that’s cool, too. (I have to say, I was a bit excited when I saw a Very Official post at the top of my reader this evening.)

Either way, you’re still good people in my book. :)

July 13, 2009 Stuart Foster

Shannon: Good writers/communicators can always come back. I just get super excited when your posts pop up in my RSS reader now.

Realities of life sometimes take their toll. Just get back in the groove and you will be fine :).

July 13, 2009 Ari Herzog

“I discovered fear can be paralyzing — not just with real life connections, but also with those made online.”

Why do you differentiate your relationships like that? Presuming one is not lesser than another, why not call all of your connections just that — connections, for you’ll never know who will become a best friend nor who a business partner?

July 14, 2009 Shannon Paul

Ari,

I guess I was simply pointing out something I learned about myself. I was (perhaps naively) surprised to learn that I shrink away from online connections in much the same way that I do from my offline connections – the lesson I learned was that for me there isn’t much difference in this sense. My coping mechanisms for offline life extended into my online life. So, it took huge life experience for me to learn something you already know. I’m okay with that.

July 13, 2009 motownmutt

It takes a while to get back in to it, and things have *changed*. But after a while you’ll be right back in the saddle with a whole bunch of fresh perspective.

I enjoyed reading this, if for no other reason than I don’t feel so alone in the feeling of having uprooted and starting over, (I’ve done it a lot, again, just recently).

I hope everything’s going great for you on your new job, and your new adventure. I look forward to reading what comes up next.

July 13, 2009 Asya Shalimova

Been resently thinking what I really got from social media in the view of relashionships, both business and personal, and I quickly figured out “old”-new-media, such as Classmates, or Livejournal provide much more real interaction. I mean if interaction happens at all, it happens there, and not on Twitter or Facebook… maybe because the new-new have more options to show, share, say… and not really talk.

July 16, 2009 Shannon Paul

That’s interesting – could it be that some of the older social networks are more intimate and relationships there have been able to form deeper roots?

July 14, 2009 Rufus

Those of us who were paying attention knew you were moving. Those of us who are a bit younger than the mountains but older than the trees knew moving across country and starting a new job would kinda be like this and knew you’d be back. Ultimately, your life — online and off — is about YOU and the people who like, love and respect you know this.

Twitter mirrors real life. No rebuilding necessary. You have always been here. We were just hoping and waiting for you to come back.

Welcome back.

PS: A comment reply you made wormed into my brain and resulted in this post a bit later. http://www.dogwalkblog.com/2009/06/19/why-my-dog-is-my-alter-ego/ Thanks!

July 14, 2009 Avil Beckford

Shannon,
You’re human, and what happened to you is called life. Most people who subscribe to your blog do so because they are interested in what you have to say, and they will be happy to hear from you.

I noticed I hadn’t seen your blog in a while and I figured something was going on and that was okay with me. Perhaps it’s because there have been times when I went underground because I felt that I needed to.

It’s important though in times of crisis or major change you have at least one person to talk to. Just slide back into your role, say what you have to say and people will accept you back. Sometimes we overthink things and that’s just human nature.

Welcome back! Avil

July 14, 2009 Robert Wheatley

I have been a “mover” for most of my life, at least until I got to Chicago. And at one point I lived in Seattle (for 20 years), so welcome to the land of water, mountains, ferries and great salmon. If you’re like me, one of your great strengths is the ability to focus, to be singularly devoted to the significant challenges in front of you. Most of the time this is an asset.

However, there may be moments when the focus thing gets you riveted on something that’s pushing you off the radar for awhile. I know how hard it is to write effectively if something else is pressing on you that overpowers your focus. Moving can be horrific, uncertain, strange, unsettling and at times aggravating.

Sounds to me like your return to focus on your media role is already there. Just like riding a bike, no?

Best, Bob

July 14, 2009 Richard Bagnall

Welcome back Shanon, your posts are always a breath of fresh air. I missed you! But it’s as if you never went anywhere.

R

July 14, 2009 eminthecity

It’s all been said, but I’m glad you’re getting settled, dear Shannon. You are such a cornerstone of what social media is all about, no hiatus could keep you down. Hooray!

July 14, 2009 Mark

Hi Shannon–I find myself in pretty much the same position as you, with the exception that I don’t have as much ‘street cred’ as you.

YOU should be able to ease back in without any problems. But you also have an interesting opportunity before you too.

Many people with existing street cred continue to build on it and that’s fine–they’ve put the time into it.

But MOST of the people coming into social media today (individuals and brands) DON’T have a well-known reputation that draws people to them.

For those folks, social media doesn’t work so well–trying to be heard amongst all the noise is difficult and frustrating.

Twitter…and other social media often arouses the desperate feeling of high school–MOST people aren’t the football players, the cheerleaders and the popular kids. They’re trying to fit in and be heard, but Twitter IS a huge echo chamber if you’re not an already known presence, as you seem to be discovering.

You ask a GREAT question (as usual): “Is social media really about relationships, or is it just about having a good story that others want to tell? This is the part that gets confusing for me.”

If it’s about relationships, well, good ones take a long time to build and happen one a time. A good story gets told many times by many different people, so I suppose it depends on the objective.

If you’re a brand, I don’t think it’s really about relationships–it’s about getting your good story to be told by others, many times over.

If you’re a real person, it’s about relationships.

Oh…the opportunity that exists? What if you were just starting out TODAY and had to establish your personal brand, without the benefit of the name Shannon Paul, which already carries some weight and positive association?

What would THAT be like? Because that’s what most of the people getting into social media today are facing. It’s a much different world than when you entered into it originally, and people are struggling and not seeing the benefits.

You’ll do fine as Shannon Paul–you’ve earned the break. But if you were a brand-new adopter of social media, would that alter anything about you would enter into this space?

July 16, 2009 Shannon Paul

Mark,

I think you’ve touched on something interesting here. I think you’re right that others just starting have a whole lot to figure out, but when you’re behind the scenes helping a rather new brand figure out how to establish its social media presence, it’s really not that much different and you get to see people and networks function from an entirely different perspective.

And, honestly, from what you describe, things aren’t all that much different from when I first started. People were struggling then (perhaps more) and even fewer understood the benefits.

If I were new to the space (in the grand scheme of things I am still very new), I would reach out and add my voice to the mix and ask questions just like you did here – so thanks for that. :-)

July 14, 2009 Stacy Lukas

“Turns out I’m more human than I would always like to be. . .”

This statement alone is rather profound, and paired with Brandon’s “Real life > social media” and the theme that’s developed in the comments reveals an odd paradox. Social media is (allegedly) “all about relationships,” and we supposedly use it to communicate to people online what’s going on in our offline world. Yet when “real life” offline happens, we shy away from SM/online stuff. Strange thing about our human nature now that technology’s evolved the way it has, isn’t it?

Regardless, I don’t think you should feel guilty or whatnot for not being your usual “online self.” You don’t owe anything to the internet; if anything, your friends online (apologies to Ari, though I do understand his point) owe you thanks for all your insights in the past that got us here commenting on your Very Official Blog (and elsewhere online) in the first place.

To your question, “how would you recommend I go about rebuilding my very official online presence?” . . . you just did. :)

July 14, 2009 Daria Steigman

Hi Shannon,

Welcome back!

While we may think we’re superhuman, truth is we only have so much emotional energy — and it sounds like you’ve set your priorities just fine. Real friends, online and off, don’t need explanations, and we (hopefully) don’t pout if we haven’t see someone for a little while. So just mosey on back into the fold.

Best, Daria

July 14, 2009 Anna Barcelos

Shannon, your feelings are natural. Especially after such a huge milestone in your life of moving across the country. I think we all get wrapped up in life and the best thing about friends (online or off) is that no matter how long you’re gone or whatever you go through, they are right there waiting for you to catch up. I’ve recently taken a new job and am only in it a month but already feel somewhat disconnected online because I’m not on nearly as much as before. What I realize is those who care about you and what you have to say just pick up where you left off.

You always have great perspectives and stories, and although I have never met you in person, I always look forward to your tweets and blog posts.

We are our own worst enemies. How we feel about ourselves is always worse than how others feel about us.

Congrats on your move, new job and new life and I wish you all the best in Seattle. We didn’t forget about you. :-)

Anna

July 15, 2009 Kasey Skala

Say you’re a professional athlete and have a season-ending injury. When the next season comes around, other teams still recognize your talent and plan for you. Just because you were out last year, doesn’t mean the skill went away. It’ll take a few games to get the feel of things, but you’re soon making all-star caliber plays. The same can be said for you.

I’m just little ol’ me online. You have a far bigger level of influence than me. You don’t lose that overnight. Just as you mentioned, you’ve been checking in and out periodically, without making any noise. Well, little ol’ me has continued to follow your blog. Continue to come and see if you’ve posted anything. Even if a week or two go by, we still come back. I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one, either.

So reach out and do what you do. You’ve gotten where you have because of your talent. That talent doesn’t go away. Your community will always be here for you.

July 15, 2009 chrisbrogan

Get back in the game already.

Sorry about the mess.

Start. re

July 16, 2009 natalieebigscott

This post (and your absence that I noticed, but chalked up to the ENORMOUS life changes you were undertaking) just makes you more human.

If you were some sort of “that guy” social media expert or guru, you would have set up an automated twitter account or hired an intern to make sure your very official brand wasn’t damaged when life happened.

Instead, you’ve just proven you’re an authentic player in the social media realm. A real person, just like the rest of us knew all along.

Welcome back. Michigan misses you.

July 16, 2009 Shauna Nicholson

Shannon- I don’t think anyone forgot about you. I’ve kept checking in on your blog for updates and finally got a chance to read posts I had missed!

Your transition is definitely a big one. I don’t think anyone can fault you for missing a few posts!

Feel free to reach out if you need anything! I refer your (awesome) content to my network regularly, offline and on.

July 16, 2009 Ari Adler

Welcome back aboard the crazy train Shannon. And don’t worry, social networking is like Hotel California – you can check out, but you can never leave! :)

July 16, 2009 MLDina

You can adjust the amount of information you share without changing your online (or offline) identity. I completely understand not wanting to disclose every little detail, it’s hard to share with strangers! Just check in as you are able, and share what you’re comfortable adding to the conversation. Your readers get it!

July 16, 2009 Beth Kanter

OMG, I”m going through exact same thing.

I’ve been blogging for 6 years without a break. Two weeks ago, I relocated with my family from Boston to California. This meant moving out of a house I’ve occupied for 20 years – moving from working in a home office to a place with other people and lots of changing.

I set up a guest blogging program during my absence. It was very successful all around – now I’m trying to get my blogging routine back and finding it difficult. It is good to know that I’m not alone.

July 16, 2009 Shannon Paul

Beth,

Wow, it’s a surprise blessing to know I’m in such good company – you are definitely not alone. I can’t even imagine what you must be going through — a house you’ve occupied for 20 years must be extremely difficult to leave behind. Thank you for sharing your experience and best of luck re-discovering your voice. :-)

July 20, 2009 teresabasich

I know I’m late to the party but a) I just discovered you/your blog, and b) this post resonated enough for me to speak up. :)

You are human, but sometimes it’s easy to forget that when you’re managing an online presence. You feel you have to maintain a certain level of activity, a certain attitude, a certain positivity that you might be lacking due to reasons A-J. When life heaves in unexpected ways, it’s easier to keep your mouth shut, right? If I don’t have anything nice to say, I shouldn’t say it at all.

But remember, the people who have chosen to support you online are probably the type of people who understand that life can get in the way of constant communication. They’re probably the type of friends/acquaintances who you can go 6 months without talking to and just pick up right where you left off the next time around.

I think this post was enough. You don’t have to justify your absence. Just hop back in the pool and the ones who matter will welcome you with open arms.

I’ll probably be going through something very similar very soon so, in some way, it was refreshing to read this. Thanks. :)

July 23, 2009 Timothy Carter

Life happens and it is often refreshing to walk away from the “burden” we sometimes feel as social media communicators and occasionally necessary to disconnect as transitions in life occur. A blessing of social media at the same time is that once you’re ready to pick up that mantle, it’s right there waiting for you.

You found what “felt” right for you during the life upheaval and you’re BACK with a different kind of fire in you! :)

Bummer to read about the “drama” in your transition to Seattle Shannon. :/

Was super glad to meet you in real life…look forward to seeing you again Shannon!

@TimothyCarter

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