Culture is so pervasive that you must respond to it in some fashion. You can't refuse to play, because refusal to play is a response.
Consider clothing and personal appearance. Regardless of what you do, you are making a statement. The statement might be investment banker, hip grandmother, organic farmer, or a thousand other statements with lots of nuance.
I was at a new millenium kind of event called Podcamp recently. Very cool free conference that was about things like podcasting, social media measurement, and building online communities. Here's a shot of the opening introduction to the conference.
I noticed a number of behaviors that really stood out in this subculture. For example, in every session there were people sitting on the floor with their Mac plugged in. The plug-in part may be incidental, I'm not sure. A lot of people were wearing t-shirts with provocative slogans. Even though it was sweltering, a number of people were wearing a toque, including one of the presenters. Then there were people like me who were clearly pretenders in geekdom. No toque. No Mac. No iPhone. No t-shirt slogan.
Many of these folks probably think they just don't care much about clothing. But they are wearing the identifying marks as surely as if they were wearing a pinstripe suit on Bay Street.
[Yes, yes, you are saying, but how does this connect with social media Susan? I'm getting to that right now.]
Social media has already become so pervasive that we now have to manage our social media presence just like we manage every other aspect of how we present ourselves to the world.
Andrew Crighton posted about the challenge of having real friends versus Facebook friends. Some people are starting to maintain two profiles on sites such as Facebook, one for their personal friends, and one for the public world of acquaintances and business presence.
I see this as trying to keep the personal and private distinct from the public presence of your personal brand.
You may have noticed a recent shift in the kind of activity you see on sites like LinkedIn, now that so many people are looking for work. A recent McKinsey Quarterly article, When Jobseekers Invade Facebook, asks what happens to the value of these social sites when they become "increasingly cluttered with self-promoters, career artists, and marketing entrepreneurs."
What is clear is that managing your personal brand image is becoming exceedingly complex as a result of social media. It's only a matter of time before you can hire a personal social networking advisor, just as you can hire a wardrobe consultant or a personal coach. [Any one know of any examples yet?]
Good overview of current state of social media worldwide from Universal Mccann on slideshare