Why Authenticity is the Wrong Approach to Social Media!

No, that wasn’t clickbait. And, yes, I can explain.

The problem that got me to write this article is that companies seem to have a problem with being authentic on social media. And really, I don’t blame them. While it might seem simple to be your own true “authentic” self there is a bigger problem behind this seemingly intuitive truism. To illustrate this point we have to talk not about a large corporation but about something much simpler. About you. Can you tell me what your authentic self is, dear reader?

You act completely different around your boss, colleagues, friends, spouse, mother, grandmother or around strangers at a festival. So which of these would you say is your true authentic self? Probably not how you behave around your boss. So is it maybe around your close friends or around your spouse? But then again, there was this one time where you complained to your friends about how your spouse insists on the two of you spending the day together when in reality this was just a lame excuse to your friends because you actually wanted to spend the day with your spouse.

On the other hand, your mother and grandmother probably know that you’re drinking alcohol on a regular basis. They know you pretty well, they’ve raised you after all. And yet, you’ve never told them the story of how you lay in a ditch at a festival vomiting your soul out. But that’s a story that you’ve told all of your friends.

We could continue to play this game for a long time pushing you into ever more extreme situations that would presumably lay bare your true “authentic” self. But this is where the idea of authenticity starts to become useless for us. We could try to find one of your authentic selves and cling on to it. Maybe the self around your friends. Because, hey!, being cool with everyone is the whole point of social media. Or is it? What if your audience happens to be more like your grandmother or your boss and demands a different type of communication than your friends?

Introducing a New Concept

This is where it might be helpful to introduce a new concept. Screenwriters have known for a long time that actions reveal character. What this adage means, essentially, is that your choices are based on the values you hold dear and thus people learn who you are based on the choices you make.

In the examples that I’ve mentioned above we can see a person who cares about others and the relationships with them. This person doesn’t tell their friends that they don’t want to spend the day with them instead they make up a story to avoid hurting their friends’ feelings. They don’t talk about excessive partying at a festival with their mother and grandmother because they don’t want them to be worried.

Think About What Your Core Values Are

What this means is that you have to think about the core values of your social media presence and let the various “authentic” selves develop from there. Maybe you have a community management team and each member has a slightly different personality. Yet, all of them need to support your company’s core values in all their actions.

As an example let’s assume that you are an equal-opportunity employer (just because the topic is incendiary). Another company has just publicly laid off some employees based on gender/race/religion. A reaction to this might be to tweet at the other company to

“Send them to us, we always need skilled workers!”

This is taunting and even aggressive behavior. But it signals to everyone that you care about equal-opportunity employment so much that you are willing to sacrifice sales or business relationships and even risk confrontation to protect those values. Thus, your choice to send this message out has revealed to the world something about your values and who you are.

One Last Thing

It should go without saying but you should not “slip out of character.” Your values should stay consistent over time and in turn will attract your audience. It doesn’t even seem to matter how positively judged those values are in society. Think of Tiger Woods’ fall from grace. When people found out about his infidelity they were outraged because it clashed with the values he had projected up to that point. On the other hand, when Charlie Sheen had his meltdown the reactions where quite different. Due to the values he represented people thought of it as entertaining wondering even how far he would have to push things to finally ruin his image and career.

In Conclusion

So there you have it. People don’t care about how you are authentic but they care about your values and whether you stick to them. It’s not important if your behavior is informal or not. It’s your core values that make people feel drawn to you.

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