Dear Brands: Be Authentic in Social Media or Lose

The last few years have elevated the need for transparency in the corporate world. The reason this need arose was due to the inappropriate actions of some corporations and individuals. In response, the public demanded corporations be more revealing or transparent in regard to their activities. The marketing world has a similar demand that is going to be rising to the top of our discussions even more in the next couple years – authenticity.

It was championed at the start of the social craze. The ‘experts,’ ok, even the non-experts, yet still self-acclaimed experts, were heralding a call for authenticity online. Companies were instructed that to play proper in the social spaces your posts and engagements must be authentic. We are, after all, talking about real people, real engagements, and real opinions.

As the social platforms become more crowded with brands and businesses that clearly have the solid self-interest of satisfying shareholders, there has been a slow migration away from real interactions. Ironically, marketers are feeling this as a challenge, but not all clients understand. No longer do organic posts and engagement yield the same growth as they did just a year or two ago. No longer does mere involvement in the social community raise your brand. Now you must be a leader or activist in the social space to be seen or heard.

Is any interaction from a corporation truly authentic? Let’s face it. Companies want to grow. There has been an increase in companies championing a ‘good’ message – Proctor & Gamble with mom’s, Cheerios with heart healthy, BMW with anti-cancer campaigns and Stonyfield Yogurt with green initiatives. If the corporation sets up the podium, position the mics, attracts an audience and then ALL their employees help live the mission, I would argue that this is authentic. It’s people within the community of a company, espousing a message for good.

There is a potential for actions to be a disguise for authenticity. Certainly, not even reality is perfect. A company asking for Likes for donations to non-profits isn’t ideal, but still helps the non-profit and the business. A business providing a tool for diabetics to measure sugar intake in return for advertising opportunities is potentially all about the corporate benefits, but still has a value. The public will decide and they will be real about their decision. If they feel the company is being authentic you will win.

I raise the authenticity issue because we’ve witnessed so many campaigns that have failed because a company isn’t truly invested in their own self-professed mission. Be committed – contribute to the conversation, help the community it serves, embrace the risk and rewards of thought leadership. Don’t be a false size monger seeking only Likes or Followers or Groups with large, localized celebrities. Don’t jump from initiative to initiative based on the political environment or will of the people.

Your corporation is alive. It has to be. Obviously, with the social sharing capabilities of today, there are very distinct risks and rewards available for your company. Political discussions, personal upbringings, and faith-based influences can all win or lose brand loyalty. It’s not always an initiative, but simply a position that gets you in the spotlight. You only need to look at the controversial issues raised by Chick-Fil-A and Target or Amazon on gay rights issues. These companies have taken strong, passionate positions on a highly volatile issue. Regardless of whether you are seeking to champion a cause or thrust into the heart of an issue – be authentic or lose.

The noise has increased. The crescendo of Liking too many pages, following too many pages, joining too many groups now has people realizing they want to prioritize their own personal involvements.  The popularity of the Unlike, UnFollow, Leave… buttons is on the rise. The first to go are the inauthentic. If you do a campaign and think you’ve won some great followers – look again in two weeks, a month and check to see if they’re still there. They most likely won’t be if you haven’t been real.

You must be intelligent in your decisions, but regardless of all else – be real. No one likes a phony.

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