Authentic leadership, identity & social media – part iii

by Justin Souter on February 16, 2011


Third post in a series of 4 looking at emerging trends in business, and how the latent desire for authenticity is becoming evident. As I draft this series, Egyptian politics has been in turmoil – ranging from the authorities shutting off the Internet, and now with the departure of Mubarak.

This one looks at the importance of authenticity when planning and executing in the social media arena.

Social media & authenticity

Although “mainstream media” have often been interactive in the sense that they have feedback programmes and phone-in radio shows, real-time interactivity very much arrived with shows like ‘Who wants to be a Millionaire’, ‘Pop Idol’, ‘X Factor’, etc.

In addition, many people have grown up surrounded by corporate advertising and ‘marketing speak’, and have become inured to it. Therefore, consumers and voters have come to desire and expect a greater degree of respect for their views and buying / voting power. More and more people are becoming aware of ‘people power’, and are using it.

As consumers’ expectations change, organisations are often struggling to keep up. If the latter have a Twitter account or Facebook page, then consumers expect to hear from a real person not long after they’ve got in touch.

Below I have made use of an extensive quote. However, it’s interesting to see that consultants and academics suggest organisations should be authentic at the top, authentic on the front line, and also communicate in an authentic way with stakeholders.

A great summary

Five ways to maintain authenticity with social media – by eConsultancy:

Businesses have been flogged over the head with the advice about being ‘authentic‘ when using social media. But what does that really mean? Here are five tips for being authentic and maintaining authenticity with business social media use.

Make it personal.

Identity matters online. Which is why companies shouldn’t build a faceless social media presence. At a very minimum, business social media profiles should be associated with a real person who has some level of autonomy and the ability to make his or her personality part of the show.

Keep it real.

While it may seem cliché, social media is one of the mediums in which companies need to ‘keep it real‘. Several examples:

  • Avoiding the ‘social media sorry‘ when you don’t believe an apology is deserved.
  • Being able to say ‘no‘.
  • Admitting when you’ve messed up.

Keeping it real can be uncomfortable from time to time because somebody, somewhere might not like a decision you make or action you take. But smart businesses recognize that you can’t please everybody and that being spineless can often be far more harmful than being principled and decisive. Social media doesn’t change this reality.

Don’t be afraid of opinion.

A big part of ‘keeping it real‘ that deserves individual attention is the fear of opinion that often exists amongst businesses. It’s my belief, however, that one of the big reasons consumers don’t trust companies is that companies often strive so hard to be ‘PC’ that they lose a sense of culture and personality. Instead of representing something, they end up representing nothing. Frankly, there’s nothing worse from a branding perspective.

When it comes to social media, companies and their social media managers shouldn’t be afraid to express an opinion (or two or three). Obviously, opinions have consequences. So ‘speak first, think later‘ isn’t an advisable approach. But ‘speak, say nothing‘ is something that should be avoided at all costs as well, as it negates whatever potential social media has to help your business build relationships with consumers.

Focus on interactions, not followers and fans.

Many businesses have an unhealthy focus on the number of followers and fans they acquire on sites like Twitter and Facebook. To a certain extent, it makes sense: the number of followers or fans you have is an easy metric for assessing ‘success‘.

But a sizable following doesn’t necessarily equate to influence or results. Which is why businesses using social media should focus more on using social media to facilitate quality interactions. This is far more likely to produce meaningful action on the part of a consumer, and will likely have a greater impact on the perceptions of the silent majority (read: the many consumers who watch, but don’t participate).

Keep the distribution of traditional marketing messages to a minimum.

Social media may or may not be a cheap way to distribute your traditional marketing messages, but if that’s all you use it for, it defeats the purpose. So many consumers shun traditional marketing for a reason.

If your social media presence is merely a platform for promoting press releases, promotions, etc., it will be much harder to attract attention, spark meaningful interactions and create the warm, fuzzy feelings amongst consumers that you’re hoping to elicit. In other words, if your Twitter or Facebook account is an extension of your RSS feed, you’re missing the point.

Wash up / what’s next

Running order looks like:

  • The first post looks at how recent leadership thinking means you’re not forced to be a cheeseball at work
  • The second post looks at how idealised images of ‘beauty’ are being replaced by real-life ones, and the impact this trend on the bottom line
  • The third post is this
  • The fourth post looks at the related topic of word-of-mouth marketing, and how it is a double-edged sword – but again, dependent on authenticity.
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