For any small business owner entering into the realm of social media, one of the first pieces of advice they're usually given is that in social media, you need to be transparent and authentic. But transparency and authenticity are not necessarily the same thing and in order to succeed in using social media to enhance your business, it's important to understand the difference between the two.
Often, transparency and authenticity are used interchangeably, but authenticity really isn't the same as transparency. Complete transparency may be thought of as revealing every private, confidential, or personal thought or experience; complete authenticity is more about being true to your principles and never being phony or fake.
Transparency is about being open and honest about running your business. What you do and what you post will directly reflect on your business. Being transparent doesn't mean sharing every detail of your business with your audience but it does involve the following:
- Owning up to your mistakes: We all make mistakes. When mistakes happen online, they're there for all to see. Hiding the issue or side-stepping around it is not a great example of being transparent. The benefit of acknowledging your mistakes online is that it them becomes a great opportunity to be clear about what you're going to do to fix them.
- Responding publicly to customer complaints, concerns and questions: Social media allows you to have a closer, more intimate relationship with your audience. It allows you to address any questions and concerns about your business, both good and bad. Responding to all the comments helps to create a level of trust between you and your customers. Often, those who use to social networks to criticize you when they're dissatisfied are often the people who will come back to praise you when they are happy.
- Be honest about who you are: Putting a face to your social media identity will also help build a level of trust between you and your clients. It doesn't really matter who's in charge, just as long as you put a face behind your posts or tweets.
Being authentic in your social media interactions doesn't mean that you should say every little thing that pops into your head. Being authentic in social media really means to be yourself, but with filters. The reality is that there are some things about what we do that just aren't appropriate to post online, and understanding the fine line between being "real" and being "too real" is the most important part of being authentic on social media. Be authentic by:
- Showing some personality: People interact better with a real person who can engage them, make them laugh but still maintain a level of professionalism that is appropriate to their business. Posting things that you find interesting, funny or amusing and making comments that you think people will enjoy is important. Showing your audience the fun side of your company is a great way to be authentic, while at the same time building confidence and trust.
- Getting to know your followers: Building relationships is why many small businesses turn to social media in the first place. Starting conversations with your audience, asking questions about what they like or don't like, all of these are great ways to personalize the interactions that you have with your followers and to help build relationships.
- Apologizing when you make a mistake: Acknowledging the fact that you've made a mistake in the first place is an aspect of being transparent, the way in which you apologize, admit your and address your followers can definitely help you appear more authentic.
As with any social media strategy, it's important to know what type of identity you (and your business) want to portray before you go online. While transparency and authenticity are important, if you're a professional firm, it wouldn't help to show employees at the staff party acting in a way that would embarrass your firm. There's a way to be both transparent and authentic without being unprofessional and learning how to do both will take you and your business a long way.