Marketing December 22, 2010 Last updated December 22nd, 2010 1,473 Reads share

The Subtle Difference Between Authentic And Real

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Ever notice how many bloggers tell you to be Authentic?

A quick search on Google returns 62 million results. So it’s obviously important. But what is it? And, more important, how do you become more authentic?

What It Means To Be More Authentic

Let’s start with InsideFacebook, one of the most influential blogs about Facebook marketing. When Facebook Connect was first launched, they noticed that: ‘blog commenting is becoming more authentic’.

InsideFacebook sees it like this:

  1. If your comments are connected to your Facebook identity, you’re not going to publish things you might say anonymously.
  2. Because comments connected to a Facebook identity are connected to a real person with a reputation (usually), they are more trustworthy (at least to the extent of that person’s reputation).

Not sure. But let’s take this one step at a time.

Fake It Till You Make It

When Hilary Clinton said, ‘Fake it till you make it,’ she probably meant things, like courage or self-belief. Or having confidence when speaking in public. Sometimes you need to adopt a persona and use that as a shield until you feel confident enough to be yourself. We’re all been there and understand where she’s coming from.

But this gets a little confusing when we start to manufacture what’s ‘authentic’.

Or when you cultivate an online personality that promotes its own authenticity. Then there’s Transparency. What’s the difference?

Michael Mortin has an interesting view on it:

Authenticity is saying things right. Authority is saying the right things. But transparency is saying everything. And it’s wrong. You don’t need to say everything to be transparent, and you don’t need to be transparent to be authentic and authoritative.”

I’m don’t completely agree with this: surely what’s right and wrong is subjective. But it’s heading in the right direction. Being Authentic and Transparent are a balancing act – getting the mix is the issue.

Why Authentic Matters

This leads us to the question: why do bloggers encourage us to be more authentic?

There’s a few good reasons:

  • It implies that you can be trusted.
  • It suggests that you value certain principles.
  • It implies that you mean what you say.
  • It encourages others to engage with you.

All of which translates into an online personality that is more respected, more accepted, more appealing.

And this is fine… up to a point.

The Problem With Manufacturing Authentic

But what happens when one creates an ‘authentic’ personality with the intention of misleading others.

Maybe misleading others is the wrong word but, as Sian Philips asked recently, ‘What do you think about someone tweeting on your behalf?”

Ghost tweeting (much like ghost-writing) goes on more than you’d think.

But, does this make the person, the brand, or the organization any less authentic? Let’s put it another way.

One of the paradoxes of cultivating your online ‘personality’ is that, whether you like it or not, you’re already authentic. You are what you are, right?

However, whether others like this ‘personality’ is another question.

My concern is that the race to be more authentic may be an indirect way to be liked (which is fine) or to manipulate others into trusting you (which is not so good).

Telling others you’re ‘authentic’ hits the wrong note. It sounds forced. Why would you do this?

Who Really Decides You’re Authentic?

But, being authentic does have its place.

I wrote this article after working through a rather complex brand definition process with a client.

When defining our strategy, we realized that her sales team had become slightly infatuated with this buzzword and didn’t see how, if used incorrectly, it could do more damage than good.

We dropped it from our Social Media efforts and instead looked at how our actions – not our words – would make us more authentic.

The decision was to present the company as authentically as possible – and let our customers decide if we’re on the right track.

Now, it’s wait and see.

What do you think?

Ivan Walsh

Ivan Walsh

Ivan helps people run their online business more effectively. Find out at www.ivanwalsh.com

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