Social Media Magnifies the New Real – Authentic and Transparent

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,
Social Steve

21 Comments

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21 responses to “Social Media Magnifies the New Real – Authentic and Transparent

  1. KH

    You’re becoming more and more transmedia ready😉 Merci.

  2. Could we please stop asking for every business on the face of the Earth to be something we’re not? “Authentic and transparent 100% of the time”? Those two beaten and bloody words make for great blog fodder but if we can’t do it (and nobody does it 100% of the time), why ask companies to do it?

    How about just asking companies to create a quality product/service at a competitive price and deliver said product/service with good (not even great) customer service? The smart companies know that if they focus on that, they’ll stay in business. You know why? Because that’s how most successful companies have been doing it for the past 100 years. Know what else? It ain’t broke nor does it need fixing.

    Let’s leave the buzzwords alone already and let’s get “real” about authenticity and transparency, yes?

    • Dan – you should send your comments to Zappos. Yes, I’m sure they are not authentic and transparent 100% of time (as no human being or brand is), but they got a pretty good formula down (along with a great product and service – which it always has to start with). As someone who has been in marketing for 15+ years, yeah – I think it is necessary to emphasize authenticity and transparency. I am saying this as a Marketing Executive, not a blogger. So great blogger fodder – maybe … what marketing must do as the audience behavior is changing – DEFINITELY.

      Thanks for joining the conversation.

      Best,
      Social Steve

      • Appreciating both the original post by you, Steve, as well as Dan’s empassioned comment and your thoughtful reply.

        Agreed, to strive for both authenticity and transparency is the goal I too believe is the larger goal.

        I am always amused and slightly puzzled (briefly) when someone asks me how should I “behave” or show up my blog or on a social network (such as FB or LinkedIn or Xing) and my response to a client or a friends will always be the same: Why not as yourself? Your real self. Your best self. Filtered accordingly to whether it is a personal or professional context. The Golden Rule meets The Four Agreements works for me!

        And again, appreciate your posts!

      • Hi Deborah,

        Thanks for comments. I totally agree with your simple advice – be your self.

        Best,
        Social Steve

  3. Hi Steve, I share your thoughts. In this time, we need to learn how to do social media in a humanized way for the company to connect better to its target audience. It’s why I continue to seek that online community manager role because the position demands one to be authentic and transparent on behalf of the company.

  4. Steve–

    Transparency — authentic. I like the ideas of building real stories for credibility and not just yapping from your own POV. Not surprising since many media have new policies on this. The WSJ for examples wants REAL stories. People want illustrations. Don’t just talk about it- show me!

    Social Media reminds me of Apple. Who knew what it was and it could do just ten years ago (and I was using it way before then). It hit a wind somewhere and started gliding. Social media has yet to do that. It’s inconsistent. There’s too much blah blah. And if you read something and then say “why did I read that”– it still isn’t doing what it is supposed to. Nonetheless, this is what they said about a lot of promotional practices over the years. This is just a new way and a new era when everything is all out there (including people’s bellybuttons). It’s got to be all out there. And the inconsistency of THAT and HOW TO DO THAT safely and on message point is the direction we’re heading. But we’re still waiting to hit that headwind. Dig? It hasn’t happened yet.

    Executives writing. Another point. If you have an executive who can write, he/she is one of the great ones. If he/she doesn’t have time, understandable. Obama writes his own speeches often. The best ones. There’s always time. Make time. It can only help a company.

    The problem is so many “teams” and groups must chime in with their comments that social media is almost the only place you can be real — though you still need to follow the boundaries of what a corporation wants/needs/is messaging.

    The answer my friend is blowing in the wind. Not yet. Not even this year. Maybe soon though. Let’s hope. And let’s pay attention to not only what IS written, but what is not.

    • Melissa,

      Thanks for your comments. There is certainly much noise out there and inconsistency. BUT there are a number of companies doing it right (Ford, Starbucks, etc.) that will set examples that will feed the head wind. Make a choice – take it on with some experimentation or be left behind. I push for the right balance of traditional marketing AND new media. You know why it is a must – because the consumers are changing and THEY are using it. If that is not reason enough, I guess I can say no more.

      I do appreciate your comments and perspective.

      Best,
      Social Steve

  5. Do companies WANT to be „authentic”?

    Like a human who don’t want that everybody knows all and everything about him, also I think companies are mostly not comfortable with the idea that the whole world knows everything about them.

    I think that authenticity sometimes is not very helpful.
    There for they build an image and I think that’s ok.

    I think companies can and should influence the way they want be seen from their customers and partners out there.

    To “Do the Right Thing”, we only need to live our lives online like our mother is watching us, probably she is! (Eric Qualman)

    • Dragon – I love that line – “we only need to live our lives online like our mother is watching us, probably she is!” If we all followed this guidance (individuals AND brands), we have the correct approach. If the words authentic and transparent are too strong to represent this quote – OK, but if we all followed this general rule, we will see more success from brands looking to leverage social media.

      Thanks and best,
      Steve

  6. Steve, definately hit the button this week. I am envious New York and a Social media Week too. Seriously though the way forward can only to be:

    Informative – Genuine – Authentic

    By informing people you/we know about our indusrty are we can build long term relationships not just make short term sales. Encouraging our connected community to trust and be loyal to what we do and say. If as Dan says these are buzzwords and blogger fodder so be it. But the most important thing I am talking about at the moment is what you have summed up with this line:

    ‘because the consumers are changing and THEY are using it’

    We have evolved over millions of years we should stop being so arrogant that the last 100 years should be the end. If we can’t be flexible and learn from what is happening things will stagnate. Change is what is happening and marketing and ad agencies are not in charge of peoples minds anymore, providing ads that were just ego trip and absolutely no ROI. I know everyone can prove me wrong on that but can’t see many people buying a car because it drove through a field of fire.

    Everyone is becoming involved in social media [or The Internet] because they are using the available technilogy to communicate effectively, similar to the last 10 million years from voice to semiphor, writing, mailing, faxing, emailing whatever is necessary to make the process effective.

    Obama can write so may the UK Prime Minister but nobody cares about him or do they? Whether president or homeless person we all have the ability to talk and people are talking to each other and businesses by being part of this can save time and money delivering something that the customer requires.

    They do this by just going a little bit further than just providing a service, you know that though. Doesn’t matter if they are an international organisation or a sole trader or if they have 10 million customers or 10. If each customer is treated with genuine respect whether a happy customer or a complaining customer a business can gain by being seen to be working with them not for them.

    Better stop here, but this is somethign close to what i gave done since 1982 simply engaging and building relationships by talking and connecting people nothing more.

  7. I am so reminded of Abraham Lincoln’s ghost writing days until he was called to a duel over scandalous letters he published under the pseudonym “Rebecca”. The duel was averted and both men went on to greatness. It was years later he reflected on what could have transpired, and vowed never to take part in vengeful rumor, spin or political attacks

  8. Steve,

    Thanks for an outstanding commentary. We believe the same thing, and are working with our clients to make sure they follow this essential principle. Because social media creates (or augments) a democratic process, and online research exposes many facts that we could not uncover in previous generations, the sincerity/authenticity or lack thereof is now a critical component in brand management. We wrote a blog post recently about the Levi’s/Braddock initiative. I, for one, hope that they’re sincere, not only for their own sakes, but for the people of Braddock PA!

    If I may share it here: Sincere or Spin?

    • Hi Rebekkah –

      Thanks for sharing the article and the questions. Yes – at the end of the day, businesses need to make money. That’s what they are in business for – not necessarily to drive community growth. Thus they offshore for cheaper labor. From a business perspective, this drives the bottom line. It is happening everywhere. At least Levi’s is putting something back in – many companies chose to do nothing. The question is – is what Levi’s doing “authentic” or just a facade?

      There is a much bigger political question here. One that is not only being debated on The Hill in DC, but everywhere across America (and beyond). A while back, I read a thought provoking article in The Harvard Business Review. Definitely worth reading – “The Big Idea: Creating Shared Value” at http://t.co/RR8NU0v – and the discussion will continue … probably not topical for this blog.

      Best,
      Steve

      • Hi, Steve!

        Thanks in turn for your reply. I totally agree, of course, that businesses need to make money–that’s why you and I are in the businesses we’re in!

        At the same time, I come from the school of thought that suggests that driving community growth can help drive company profitability, in ways that many bottom-liners don’t see, because it’s often a much longer view. There’s a quote in the HBR article you refer to that speaks exactly to this:
        …optimizing short-term financial performance in a bubble while missing the most important customer needs and ignoring the broader influences that determine their longer-term success.
        In other words, a quick win may result in good performance this quarter, but may be disastrous in the long run. And part of the difficulty is persuading stockholders to take the long view as well… it can indeed be a vicious cycle.

        Anyway, it’s an art still, not a science, and we are artists of the New Media Age.

        Thanks for all you do!
        Rebekkah

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