Wednesday, 26 September 2012

Authenticity: Are we actually ready for honesty on social media?

Abraham Lincoln

'Be yourself' and 'be authentic' are two of the most frequent pieces of advice I hear when I go to social media conferences. In fact, besides engagement, they are two terms that seem to pepper every single presentation I see given to businesses of all sizes. I mean, I even use these phrases myself. But have we actually all stopped to think about what true authenticity is on social media, and if we can even really handle it?

I read a great article on Soshable yesterday from the editor in which he 'outed' himself as a conservative christian working in the tech sphere.

Although I'm sure that he is not alone, I was particularly impressed with how candid he was. Religious folk in general seem to get a particularly bad rap on social media, and are attacked for being stupid, anti-gay or murderous (in the case of Islam), so to come out and be honest within our traditionally liberal/libertarian niche is a bold move. We are poles apart politically and religiously, but I still really respect his honesty.

He was being himself, and being authentic. Two things that we seem to preach in the church of social media. Yet every time somebody comes out with a viewpoint that is different from the majority viewpoint, makes a well-intentioned misstep, or (Heaven forbid) disagrees with a customer, client or rival brand, the internet seems to EXPLODE with pious indignation.

But are we in fact getting what we want and what we deserve when brands and individuals open up on social platforms in this way (or choose to remain silent on causes)?

I'm going to be writing about authenticity, and what it really means in our industry over the next two weeks. The four specific fields I'm going to tackle are:

1/ Brands and charities

2/ Our social media expectations vs. reality (from both sides of the coin)

3/ Sportsmen and women on social media - role models

4/ On being real and being condescending

I'm going to call it the 'authenticity quadrilogy', because it needs a big, pretentious name.

It's going to start tomorrow, and I hope you can join me - subscribe by email or RSS me up to make sure you don't miss out.


  1. A very, very interesting topic! As a Christian working in Media (and formally Advertising) I've been asked to work on subjects that I've not been all-together comfortable with, but thankfully never anything dishonest, or anything I regret anyway! But I do think that (virtually all) Social Brand (B2C) activity is contrived, and businesses see this 'long game' as a necessary inconvenience to influencing people to do what they want (owch - controversial given the job I do!) Even those businesses doing things right and using Twitter to answer questions 24-7, then don't do it because they genuinely care do they?! They do it to retain our interest so that we repeat purchase. I see Social Media as a virtual playground, where there is the very real prospect of any kid approaching you and 'disagreeing' in your face. I really don't think most people (including myself) are ready for true honesty - as we all want to project a certain positive social image of ourselves that is PC and moves our career and relationships in the right direction. Would I stand up at the stone-age social campfire and declare I am a Christian out of context - NO! Would I use Facebook to preach to my friends and family what I believe - NO! Will I make compromises in what and how I say things, to be more popular WELL MAYBE! Will I change who I am (become a worse person) by being carful about what I say in my Social Networks - NOPE. Well, not in my opinion anyway. I just wonder if we all want to see the 'just woken up' versions of each other, or if we prefer to put on our social make-up every morning. I for one like using Social Media to project a particular image and 'advertise' myself to the World, play-act even? Provoke a reaction? But then I've worked in Advertising so I take very little I read on-line seriously, and I don't expect other people to believe I am my social profile. We are all far more complex that a Facebook profile could ever display, and its really rather funny that brands treat our social data with such importance - when people like me work in McDonald's and live in Patterdale.

  2. Ian - you make some fantastic points here. There are so many contradictions in the social media industry, and on many levels I think you are right - 'authenticity' is at best a misty concept in the digital age.

    'Would I stand up at the stone-age social campfire and declare I am a Christian out of context - NO!'

    No, but it's actually good to know somebody's belief system when you're talking to them, online or offline. It allows you to make an informed decision.

    A business doesn't care - you are correct in that sense, as it's a collective entity. But the people within that business care, speaking as somebody who is, and does handle social for a number of brands.
    If we aren't ready for true honesty, then why do we preach it so vigorously?