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Don’t Be Authentic: Real Social Media Marketing Advice


Today’s guest post is written by Eric Wittlake.

Be Authentic.

A chorus of advisors and consultants that have beaten the authentic drum in recent years.

It only takes a brief look at the world around us to realize we really don’t want to see authentic in social media. What we really want is something carefully constructed, with enough personality and individuality to look real instead of robotic.

Before you jump back on the authentic bandwagon, consider what a real authentic social media presence would reflect.

Corporations Serve Shareholders First

Yes, some will say corporations should serve their clients, their community, and their employees. However, beyond ideological arguments, the justification for these positions comes back to creating a profitable long-term business.

Good corporate citizenship is ultimately about good corporate results. If corporations didn’t believe it could serve long-term shareholders, most companies would not respond to customer service complaints on Twitter or develop communities on Facebook.

The bottom line of ROI is the corporation’s income, not our satisfaction.

“Authentic” would tell us discounts are designed to increase revenue, profits, executive compensation, and shareholder dividends by convincing us to spend more. As individuals, we want to believe we are important, that a deal is a great opportunity for us.

We don’t want to be reminded that your business isn’t in business to serve us.

Real People Lie, Cheat, and Steal

People have been criminals and cons for as long as history has been recorded. Turn on the news any night, in any city big or small, and you will see a side of people you don’t want to like on Facebook or follow on Twitter.

Criminals, cons, ponzi schemes, spam bots… There are real people behind every one of these. In social media, we rail against these self-serving manifestations of authenticity at the same time we blindly call for authenticity!

Authentic Means Showing ALL Your Flaws

Companies carefully craft an image for themselves. Today, that image often allows personality and distinction to show through, but that does not make it authentic. It is carefully crafted to project a certain image of your company.

Cindy Crawford proudly displayed her signature mole as part of a crafted image of herself. Her mole created an element of distinction for her, but her entire image was carefully crafted with makeup, hair, lighting, photography and likely, photo touchup as well.

Like your social media presence, this is part of a projected image, not an authentic one.

In Summary

We don’t want to see the authentic you in social media. So put on your face. Project your carefully constructed image. Just never let us see the real spirit behind your activity.

Always remember: Your audience is ruthless. If you are authentic and display your true motives, we will call you a jerk. If you carefully project your image and then slip up, we will call you a fake. So project your image and always stay in character.

Eric Wittlake is an B2B marketer and blogger. You can find Eric on Twitter @wittlake or on his blog, B2B Digital Marketing, when he isn’t working with B2B clients on media and integrated marketing programs at Babcock & Jenkins.

Lead image: Creative commons, commercial use allowed with attribution

Bicycle image: Eric Wittlake

Join The Conversation

  • wittlake's picture
    Feb 2 Posted 5 years ago wittlake

    Yes, the exceptions are truly exceptional, and they likely can accomplish exceptional things. Their image is real, there is no extra effort put into polish, into developing their nuance. 

    This raises a very interesting wrinkle I had not considered before. We may not recognize it when we see these exceptions, as well trained marketers can create a similar image. But the marketers have to work at it. Study it. Focus on it. It represents a sizable investment and requires more attention from the organization.

    The difference we will see is in a more effective business. One that operates more efficiently because it spends less time putting on a face. It is the exceptions that can accomplish this, those few that really can be authentic, but it puts a point on where their advantage comes from.

    Thanks for the discussion, I appreciate it!

  • AaronWagner7000's picture
    Feb 1 Posted 5 years ago AaronWagner7000

    Good reply. And I do see your point.  

    I just wish (albeit unrealistically) that more corporations would strive to raise their true feelings to the lofty level of their marketing speak. But, we are humans, and therefore, yes, we are liars and cheaters, as you imply. So raising our attitudes and personalities to the lofty heights of our marketing speak is not easily done. I do get that.

    But I think that there are SOME marketers, execs and entrepreneurs who do have passion, humility, honesty and empathy. They are few and far between, but to them, I say,

    "RUN AWAY from your current corporation of liars and cheaters! Go someplace else (if you can find one!) that will enable you to let your passion and empathy flourish!"

    The one-in-a-million PASSIONATE brands out there, the ones that truly are who they SAY they are, will enjoy sustainability and consumer loyalty. People LOVE those brands. I would love to see more execs/marketers do a complete 180 and strive to be better than all the lying corporate profits-driven robots. I'd love to see more marketing execs "get their heads out of their asses," and strive to be like the few-and-far-between GREAT brands.

    I know. I'm a dreamer! 

  • wittlake's picture
    Feb 1 Posted 5 years ago wittlake

    Thanks Reed! 

  • wittlake's picture
    Feb 1 Posted 5 years ago wittlake

    Aaron, wow, thank you for the blog-post-as-comment!

    I think the difference here is part semantics and part whose lens are we looking at 'authentic' through. I prefer to say we need to be believable to our audience. From our audience's view, this means we are authentic. As a marketer (or individuals), we are continuing to project a specific image that has been considered. 

    With so much information available and so much scrutiny of behavior, believable is not a low bar. We cannot completely grossly mislead about who we are. But we still can make conscience decisions about how we present ourselves and when we are insiders, we can see how that presentation has been crafted. 

    You make great points, these are excellent ways to create an image that is both believable and attractive. In my experience, these attributes are often not authentic (particularly empathy and humility), rather they are forced by marketing. So is it authentic? I don't believe so, but they are core to creating an effective believable social media presence.

    I love the extended response, thank you for taking the time to share this!

  • Reed Pankratz's picture
    Feb 1 Posted 5 years ago Reed Pankratz

    I've got to agree with you on this one! If every corporate social media account was 'authentic' we'd be seeing a lot more companies speaking/lashing out against those who write poor reviews, complain or call out about their products or services. 

    Of course a certain amount of authenticity is desired in tweets/post but that is very different than being completely authentic.

    Nice post, thanks for sharing! 

    Reed Pankratz

  • AaronWagner7000's picture
    Feb 1 Posted 5 years ago AaronWagner7000

    While I absolutely agree with Eric that most corporations are selfish, I do not believe that businesses and executives can merely “put on their faces” and step into the social-media realm in pretense. I believe that those brands who enter social media as liars are slowly decaying. They are decaying because consumers KNOW which brands are liars, and which ones are authentic.

    Consumers DO want to see authenticity in brands. The brands and people who ARE authentic will prevail.

    For inauthentic brands and executives who want to get their heads out of their asses and start gaining trust from their customers, here are five tips:

    1. Be PASSIONATE about your product or service. If you are not passionate about your product, please quit your job today and apply your skills to something that you ARE passionate about. Only THEN will you be of any rich, meaningful value to your industry and to humanity. And only THEN will your engagement in the social-media arena be effective and well received.

    2. Develop a bit of EMPATHY. If you get out of bed every morning ONLY to make money, without any care for the people who buy your products or services, then you are not doing yourself or the world any favors. Think about people. Think of the needs of others. In doing so, you'll make your product or service far better than your competitors' products or services. You'll also have a fighting chance of success in your social-media efforts.

    3. Develop a bit of HUMILITY. If you're so smug and arrogant that you can't admit one iota of fault in a matter, then how will you ever improve? How will your product ever improve? How will your company ever improve? How will your customers' lives ever improve? (Trust me. Your customers can smell your arrogance a mile away. So don't even TRY to tweet with an arrogant mindset.)

    4. There's nothing wrong with making a profit! Just be HONEST about the fact that you are indeed striving for profits. Your customers already know you need to make money for your company. So, rather than acting like you and your product are God's answers to your customers' woes, and that you are doing them a favor by allowing them to purchase your product, try LISTENING to your customers. Develop the attitude of, “Hi, customer. I value your business, and I want my company to be the very best in our industry. I want to be better than our competitors. So, what improvements can I make to make you happier? What types of things can I do that would cause you to continue purchasing my product/service?”

    5. There's nothing wrong with marketing in and of itself. Just be HONEST about the fact that you are indeed marketing your brand. Rather than saying “We'll make you a superstar! Take a picture of yourself with our product, send it to us, and we'll display it on our Flickr page!” Try being HONEST, and say, “Please help us develop our fun brand! We'd love your smiling faces to be seen with our product!

    Eric is correct: The audience is ruthless. We will indeed rip apart the social media efforts of any fake, contrived brand. So the advice to put on a “face” is ill advised. The only answer is for executives and brands to become more passionate, empathetic, humble and honest. Anything less will lead to failure.

  • Lauren Mikov's picture
    Feb 1 Posted 5 years ago lpmikov

    Very interesting and strong words from Eric - reminds me of method acting. Thanks for bringing us this guest post, Gini!

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