Authenticity’ is the single best practice for effective social media

5 minute read


One of the interesting things I observed last year was the correlation between the decline in Social Capital (i.e. trust) and the decline in Market Capital. Perhaps it’s just a coincidence, but as you will see from the graphic below, the charts look remarkably similar.

I’ve traveled a lot between Europe and the US over the past year, and, in both locations, I’ve got the sense that coupled with the stress caused by the recession, there’s an aspiration that perhaps this new challenging economy will foretell a restructure of values. No more is greed good, or success by any measure a laudable goal. Along with this comes the inexorable rise in social media, and an openness and transparency practiced by its thought leaders that’s refreshing for many, but scary for some.

If there’s one thing that separates the effective social media practitioners from the charlatans it’s authenticity. The social media sphere is one that is receptive to transparency, encourages open debate, rewards giving over getting, and eschews the traditional marketing mindset of spin and positioning.

I’m not sure whether there is any correlation between the examination of social capital and the rise in social media, but what’s very clear to me is that if you want to be a successful exponent of social media, you need to be authentic. You should not expect a quick win, or return from little effort, or a classical measure of return on investment. In this elusive world, return on influence is a more appropriate measure. Over time, you build a reputation, a personal or corporate brand, through sustained contribution and engagement.

One of the books I read over this recent Christmas period was The New Community Rules by Tamar Weinberg. I’m mixed in my assessment of the work itself – as in some places I felt the author spends a little too much time addressing some very basic concepts. However, there are wonderful nuggets of information, some tremendous insight, and as a reference guide to the current state of social media – accepting that this is changing everyday – it’s very useful.

Acknowledging that becoming a Power User of Social Media is not for everyone, Weinberg lists her Ten Commandments for Power Users. Here are three commandments that resonated with me.

  • #2 Thou shalt be genuine
  • #4 Thou shalt submit high quality stories to the social sites
  • #7 Thou shalt dedicate time to the task

So, here’s the challenge. Are you prepared to put yourself out there, work at it consistently, be authentic, encourage honest feedback, and risk losing control of the message you want the market to hear? If you are not, then stay away.

A recent blog post by Jeanne C Meister and Karie Willyerd on the Harvard Business Review site poses two interesting scenarios that are great examples of the issues that can arise when you decide to put yourself out there.

  1. An executive publishes her first blog post, primarily addressing her employees, but open to the public. She intends for the blog to help the survivors of a recent downsizing, mentions that those who left the company are talented employees, and that the survivors should do things that replenish their spirit. The wife of a laid-off employee sends the CEO a letter demanding the resignation of the executive because she finds the section on replenishing the spirit frivolous and insensitive. What would your CEO do?
  2. The company implements an internal-only social networking platform that allows rating, tagging, and comments on products and services. A new service, offered by HR, receives very low ratings and negative, but not mean-spirited, comments. The head of HR requests that all the comments and the ratings be taken down. Would your company approve this request?

To get the answer on what happened, you will need to visit the blog post, but you can probably guess how I would respond to these scenarios. If you’re going to be authentic, and stand behind the principle of openness and transparency, you’ve got to support the executive in the first scenario (while dealing with the sensitivities involved) and not approve the request to take down the ratings in the second scenario.

When I started my first company many years ago, I sought counsel and advice from anyone who woudl give me the time. I remember speaking to John, a seasoned and very successful entrepreneur, who asked me what the company was about. I responded enthusiastically and went on ad nauseum about the features of the product, the target market and our first few customers – until I realized that he was asking me about the company’s values. When I listed ‘Integrity’ as a core value, he wisely said “Cheap to promise, but sometimes expensive to deliver.” Over the years I guess Integrity has cost on some occasions, but in the longer term I think it’s been one of the more astute investments.

So it is, I believe, with authenticity in social media activity. It’s a long term investment – with real payoff.



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