A Note on Authenticity and Social Media

Last week at the #BASHH (Big Ass Social Happy Hour) event that helped kick off South By Southwest Interactive 2011, I had an interesting conversation with Wesley Faulkner about authenticity.

I’ve read Wesley’s blog for a while now, and he covers some rather interesting topics on there. He has done everything from commenting on new mobile technologies, to interviewing the leadership at Klout, to commenting on his personal interactions with folks he meets online.

One refreshing thing about Wesley is that he aspires to be authentic at all times, through all mediums including in-person. We chatted briefly about this very topic, and both agreed that authenticity is the most important thing you can do to establish and sustain trust online. You have to be yourself at all costs.

Unfortunately, not everyone you encounter online is truly who you would expect once you meet them IRL.

Zappos – Authentic or Not?

Give a read to his blog post that documents his experience at a Zappos event in October. Zappos CEO Tony Hseih himself was presenting, so Wesley was excited to get a chance to hear him first hand. What followed was disappointment.

Most apparently, Mr. Hseih was nowhere near the energetic enthusiast he appeared to be online. Of course, a book tour can take a lot out of you. So Wesley introduced himself and commented about a Twitter conversation he had had recently with Tony. He then met Tony’s “stand-in”, Mimi, and began to question the authenticity of the whole operation.

Why Authenticity Is So Critical

Wesley’s blog post is important, but not because it calls out Zappos or Tony Hseih.

This is important because it turns the equation around completely. It gives us the view from the other side – showing how it feels to meet someone who is nowhere near what you expect of them after seeing them online.

For a thought leader whose message relies on the concepts of pursuing happiness and engaging with customers, it is crucial to “walk the walk”. Be who you say you are, right? But it gets worse…especially when you learn that they don’t even manage their own Twitter account.

A Lesson in Authenticity

The problem with all of this jockeying is that is compromises the most important variable in the whole equation – trust.
It’s not just about whether we like you; it’s about whether we can count on you to be the same person when we read your book, follow your tweets, hire you to do a keynote speech, and come up to you in public to shake your hand.

How disappointing would it be to learn that one of your all time favorite books by one of your all time favorite thought leaders was actually written by a college intern or a freelance graduate student? That’s what it is like when you hire a ghost tweeter to “be authentic” for you, so you can focus on more important things.

Be who you are. All the time. You can’t hide behind a keyboard for the rest of your life, so get over yourself and be real.

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As Founder and President of Return On Now, Tommy Landry provides the vision behind our SEO and SEM methodologies. With over 25 years of business experience and a deep understanding of modern internet marketing techniques, he spends his time providing hands-on consulting, insightful content, and engaging public speaking appearances to Online Marketers of all skill levels.
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