Keys to Being Social: Authenticity

By Bridget Willard

Keys to Being Social: Authenticity image 5439797956 8b157d8dbc n

8 Authentics by Corinne and Authentic, Honest to God, True & Genuine, by Candice by daemonsquire

Authenticity. What is it? We hear it tossed around as an attainable attribute but how does it affect our social media strategy? How does it alter our online behavior?

Being authentic, or the role of authenticity, is a concept that has been used and abused like a favorite sweatshirt. It may be comfortable but it’s full of dog hair.

According to Merriam-Webster, the fifth definition of authentic is “true to one’s own personality, spirit, or character.” ”Authentic.” Merriam-Webster.com. Merriam-Webster, n.d. Web. 30 Dec. 2013.

The fact of the matter is that our behavior both online and off affects whether we are perceived as being authentic.

Authenticity and Rudeness

This must be addressed straight out of the gate.

You should not, in the name of authenticity, think it’s okay to hurt other people’s feelings. This happens both online and off.

“That lipstick looks terrible on you. Just being honest.”

Seriously, people use “authenticity” as an excuse for rude comments. If you’re not convinced, your extra credit assignment is to watch this video by Derek Sivers: “A real person, a lot like you.”

You can be a helpful person on social media by giving constructive criticism and it can resonate as authentic. You both can and should edit your comments. Inhibition is what saves friendships.

Authenticity and First Impressions

I rarely meet new people on any platform other than Twitter. When I come upon a new follower or person during a Twitter Chat or recommendation from a mutual friend, I check out their profile. Just like in real life, first impressions count.

If, for example, the account solely tweets from Facebook I presume they rarely, if ever, check their Twitter account for mentions. Why bother following? If their avatar is an egg or if they have a risque biography, they are most likely spam. The same red flags we have in real life can be applied to online behavior.

As Rommel Anacan says in his post “Would you wear a ‘snuggie’ on a first date?“

But I ask you…are any of you rockin’ the “Snuggie” on a first date? Are you sporting the grey sweats from Wal-Mart and the fleece boots when he knocks on your front door? Are you wearing the red flannel shirt that you love, but is seriously ten years too old?

Of course not! (At least, you shouldn’t-BTW.) Then you shouldn’t do the same at work.

It’s not a breach of authenticity to dress to impress. The same goes with our words.

Authenticity and Personality

In real life, the first impression is made at the moment you first encounter someone. Online it’s with a new follow.

Many people believe, and I tend to agree with Stacy Garcia and Amy Donohue, that to be authentic on social media your personality needs to shine through. This can be a challenge at first. Like any writer, finding your voice takes time and practice. Yes, Tweeting is writing. You have to be concise and interesting in only 140 characters. Personality endears you to people and makes you stand out.

Stacy Garcia makes a great point. The test of your authenticity online is when the relationship moves offline.

We meet in person and there are no surprises if authentic.— Garcia Cabinetmakers December 31, 2013

Your online behavior matters, which brings me to scheduling tweets – a heated debate more often than not.

Authenticity and Scheduling

In the much debated subject of automating tweets, Scott Stratten says:

“There is no such thing as automated engagement. There is no such thing as programmed authenticity.” Mannequin Networking: Why Twitter Automation is Bad

On the flipside, I went to Syed Balkhi‘s Time Management talk this year at WordCamp OC. He lives by Buffer and other scheduling apps. His approach makes sense, too.

.@Carol_Stephen got a photo of @syedbalkhi ‘s toolkit. #wcoc #timemgmt http://t.co/Q6T932BY05—
Bridget Willard (@YouTooCanBeGuru) June 01, 2013

So what’s the big deal anyway? Why should you care?

Here are some potential problems with scheduling tweets.

  • People respond to your tweets (comments or retweets) and you’re not there to continue the conversation. This is the big challenge to pushing out content on social media.
  • A friend died a couple of years ago and his account kept tweeting. It was awkward at best and eerie at worst.
  • Tragedies happen and you need to be online to stop scheduled tweets.

Everyone has schedules, meetings, and offline times. We get that you’re busy. There has to be some middle ground.

There is a hybrid approach that is authentic. I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s best that I only schedule tweets for the day and only when I’ll be online checking for responses. That’s a great compromise.

Authenticity and Programmed Responses

Did you know that you can automate retweets? I stumbled upon it because an account was not only retweeting conversation fragments but when I finally called them out on Twitter, they retweeted that, too. This is inauthentic and poor branding for so many reasons.

Seriously? If you have so little time to retweet things from your lists or home feed (better with a comment), then maybe Twitter just isn’t for you.

Yes, I said it. Maybe you should quit Twitter altogether.

Authenticity and Branding

From a branding perspective, authenticity is what differentiates you from the other guy. A little bit of personality, your manners, the way you engage with your audience all build your identity. If there is a difference between your audience’s perception (branding) and reality (poor customer service, ignoring tweets), you may be labeled as inauthentic.

There is a plethora of blog posts about social media fails. This is just the layman’s way of pointing out inauthentic behavior.

Authenticity and Humanity

Social media is social. That is a basic fact that will never change. And it’s true there are only 24 hours in a day, 60 minutes in a hour, and so on. Time is a precious resource we often take for granted. But should our relationships suffer to save a few seconds? At what point does automation dehumanize us?

True, deepened, and connected relationships are key to our sense of humanity and belonging. All of us, by biological default, want to be recognized within our social groups. In fact, “love and belonging” ranks third in Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. All of us want to fit in. We all crave attention and purpose.

At some point, in order to stay authentic we’ll have to start treating social media as the place where we can find connectedness in the moment. In real life, when someone asks us a question at the dinner table, among friends, or at a networking event, we only have mere seconds to reply before the moment is lost, interest is lost, and the subject is changed. Yet, on social media, we feel that it is okay to wait for days to reply to people or never respond to them at all.

Authenticity Defined

I published a tweet asking folks to define authenticity; here are some of the responses I’ve received.

#AuthenticityDefined for me means you can see the person’s “voice” in tweets, and it’s consistent.—
(@TheFabSocial) December 30, 2013

Be “present” for real conversations; You are not a robot! Attempt to help others whether it helps yourself or not. #AuthenticityDefined—
Roxanne R. Roark (@r3socialmedia) December 30, 2013

#AuthenticityDefined @YouTooCanBeGuru Our actions (posts, tweets, blogs, etc.) embody & define our authenticity.—
rubyrusine (@SocialSMktg) December 30, 2013

Be genuine; Project a truthful picture of yourself in your social media efforts; Be real #AuthenticityDefined—
Stacy Garcia (@Stacy__Garcia) December 31, 2013

Don’t be afraid to automate posts, but be sure to reply to any responses. Care about the conversation. #AuthenticityDefined—
Roxanne R. Roark (@r3socialmedia) December 30, 2013

Authenticity and You

What do you think?

Am I wrong?

Sound off in the comment section

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