This past week, I attended some great sessions at Social Media Week NY. The highlights for me were Gabe Zichermann‘s presentation on Gamification, Dennis Crowley’s Keynote, and Karen Untereker‘s case study on Ford. But the resounding takeaway from the week is what continuously came up in a number of sessions. Besides for the word “ecosystem,” the two words I heard more than anything else were “authenticity” and “transparency.” And let me tell you – no hype here. Nothing could be more important in the socialized ecosystem. (Had to throw that word in just for jollies. 🙂 )
Social media is strengthening democracy. Not just in Egypt, but everywhere. And do you know how important this is in the business world. What this means is that people have the power. The power to advocate for and challenge brands. And it is happening all the time. The days of spin are over. Acknowledge it and deal with it. You need to deliver true value to your target market. And if you are really doing this, your next step toward measurable success is to market, communicate, and engage in an authentic and transparent manner.
Now what does this really mean? Let’s scratch the surface on both of these – authenticity and transparency.
Authentic is to be worthy of acceptance; not false or imitation; real, actual. Yes, authentic is the antithesis of spin. In a social media context, authentic means understanding the real value of your brand – as the audience sees it, and telling relevant stories that support your position. Positioning is an art. Great positioning tells a compelling attention grabbing story – a story that resonates with your audience. I emphasize a story telling aspect, because this is vital to authenticity. When you inform a friend about something, it is often done within the context of a story. This is how real people talk to one another. Throw away your irrelevant superlatives and verbose corporate communication. Get real. Be a person speaking for your brand. Engage. And avoid spin at all cost. People will call you out on it in a social, public forum, if you don’t.
To be transparent is to be free from pretense or deceit. For me, this one is pretty simple. Don’t lie; don’t try to pull the wool over anyone’s eyes. When you post, tweet, engage – do so under an honorable name and entity. Don’t ghost write for your CEO or anyone else.
There has been so much debate whether the executives should be engaged in social media. I think the answer is definitely yes. Executives are leaders for the company/brand and leaders must speak out. But it is really a matter of design. I had one of the top people at one of my magazine brands ask me if she had to tweet. I said no, do what you are comfortable. But that doesn’t mean that the person doing the tweeting for the brand should not seek out communication and quotes from executives and brand leaders. I don’t expect a CEO of a Fortune 500 company to be tweeting, but I do expect them to be assessable to grab some sound bytes that they actually stated which are quoted in company releases.
Another area of transparency that gets debate is the use of freelancers. I support this approach with two caveats:
1) The freelancer must be a subject matter expert on the topic being discussed. They must not only be able to produce the original content, but continue to engage on behalf of the brand and the topical area.
2) Total transparency about who is doing the content generation. There is nothing wrong with brands seeking outside help to engage with their audience. If you have a problem with this, tell me the value of having celebrities and sports stars speak on behalf of brands and endorse them.
So when all is set and done, I am pretty sure you all know what it means to be authentic and transparent. I do not need to go into any long definitions and examples. But I do want to drive home the point of being authentic and transparent 100% of the time. One little slip up may turn into a blunderous scenario for you and your brand … one which may be difficult to remedy. So in the words of Spike Lee, “Do the Right Thing.”
Make It Happen,