A rather new friend of mine recently launched a blog. I checked it out the other day and she had posted on authenticity. In the post she raised a point that would resonate with most of us (or so I hope): that we feel more connected to authentic people.
I asked her, and we have yet to discuss, whether this was a matter of feeling or a matter of fact. In other words does the “authentic” person have to reciprocate? Feel connected to us, in return? Or demonstrate and act on their authenticity in any way?
Or is it a matter of appearance, impression, and vibe?
You probably know where I’m going with this. It may be easier to impress authenticity on a person online. Impressions we make and take of people we don’t know online can be far from the mark. Impressions are twice as likely to be off:
- The impression we make of a user reflects our own interpretations
- The other person’s expression is not fully captured when it’s online
In other words, the other person expresses less fully, and we fill in more. The impression we have of the other person, and their appearance to us, are informed more by our interpretations than by their intentions and expressions.
So is authenticity online something that we project onto the other person? Is it something that even if they intend, they can’t fully express? Is a connection formed online a matter more of a connection we imagine and attach, and invest in — or is it still a reality created by our communications and interactions with each other?
Regardless of how you feel about authenticity (we prefer it) and feeling connected (ok, some of the feeling is projected, but authenticity does seem to secure connections), there’s no denying that it can be faked.
Since fake authenticity is a contradiction in terms, we need to distinguish between intention and appearance. Sincere intentions can appear insincere, and vice versa.
So if you’re a brand using twitter, and you wish to reach your customers authentically and sincerely, how would you do it? How would you show it?
- Would you emphasize your actions — make sure that you’re being real and genuine in what you say, share, and do?
- Or would you consider how you appear, and instead create a sense of authenticity strategically and tactically — recognizing that it’s not ultimately in your hands and the other user’s impression of you matters more than how genuine your feelings are?
I’m not just splitting hairs here. The people who post for brands that use twitter are real people. Every day they must choose to tweet as themselves, personally, and genuinely — or post inauthentically and insincerely. In communication theory, this has been described as the difference between understanding and effect. Authenticity contributes to a shared understanding; strategy merely has to produce results; communication being simply effective.
As much as we want to see authenticity win, there’s no logical reason why a brand wouldn’t choose to communicate disingenuously, and for effect. Realizing that the “customer is always right,” and that it’s really the (other) user who makes the impression, strategies might be better if they are designed for effect. It is contrary in spirit to “conversational media,” but it’s more consistent with advertising/marketing. Seduction, deception, appeals to price, value, image, quality… impressions of brands need content!
The argument against this of course is built on time and repetition. None of us is fooled, over time, by the disingenuous behavior of a brand acting according to strategy and plan. Over time, and through ongoing or recurring interactions, we augment our impressions with experience. Trust grows. And with it, the risk of damage to the relationship.
The reason for authenticity then it not strictly in the impression you make, or in how you appear. Authenticity begins as an appearance but becomes experience over time. Brands that intend to keep using twitter, for example, might choose to communicate with greater effect now, frequently, with new followers — or instead sustain relationships over time (at higher cost perhaps).
The former can be achieved with effective communication — the latter demands consistent and genuine communication. Or so it would seem.
Riffed and inspired by a post on Lizasperling.com.