With the rise of social media comes an incredible opportunity to connect with large audiences quickly and powerfully, but if you aren’t careful they can be equally powerful at destroying your image. But ultra-sanitized social media content is too boring to be effective. And with so many people using social media, how do you make your voice/message/product/service stand out?
I have been referring to our current social climate as The Age of Authenticity. Over the last few years, I’ve discovered that when someone speaks authentically — simply for the sheer joy of contributing — that their audience will be fascinated and remember them for a long time.
Public speakers who come from a place of authenticity are memorable. A few months ago, I had the opportunity to hear Stedman Graham, successful businessman and long-time partner of Oprah Winfrey, talk at a boot camp for public speakers. He easily commanded the room even though he was the most soft-spoken speaker of the seminar, largely because of his authenticity. Actor Glenn Morshower also captured the audience and openly acknowledged he was making up his talk as he went along. A few years ago, I stood up in a seminar and shared about my neighbors inviting me over for Thanksgiving and the great time we had, in spite of our radically differing views. To this day, many people tell me they remember that simple story. And it shapes their opinion of me.
While speaking authentically sounds easy enough, it’s actually quite rare. Without even realizing it, most of our communications are actually designed to make ourselves look good, avoid (or provoke) conflict, achieve a desired result, get attention, and so on. Knowing this can give you a big advantage in social media.
I had an opportunity to speak with best-selling author Michael Drew about his upcoming book Pendulum. His historical analysis suggests there are four generational patterns that form the dominant world view through which society sees everything. A “Civic-minded” cycle started in 1923 and everything from the creation of the Salvation Army to FDR’s Fireside Chats reflects society’s preference for rawness and reality. In 1963, a 30-year “Idealistic” generational pattern started. TV commercials suggested that drinking a bottle of coca-cola would “teach the world to sing in perfect harmony”, Madonna was proudly a Material Girl, and Apple aired a famous Super Bowl ad comparing usage of their computers to breaking the iron grip of George Orwell’s Big Brother.
Drew argues that 2003 was the start of a new Civic cycle and I agree. Now, when celebrities screw up, they must get on the talk show circuit immediately and own it. James Bond is now a flawed, real person. Young Americans mostly get their political news from Jon Stewart and Steven Colbert.
Authenticity is key in a Civic pattern! You had better make good on your promises because social media has given word-of-mouth lightning speed. Be transparent. Use the Internet to build relationships, instead of self-aggrandizement or blatant selling. Today’s customers are hungry for the truth and you had better give it to them.
Which brings us back to the questions this article started with. Social media is exploding into the dominant communication channel of our age. If you want to stand out from the crowd and build rapport with your audience, you must strive for authenticity in your social media communications. Contrary to what you may have read, these new tools are not some magic pixie dust for suddenly making you, your cause, your brand, or your product/service influential, valuable, and relevant. You must practice the fundamentals of effective communication no matter what tools you are using.
As you use social media, ask yourself how authentic are you being? Are you tweeting to provide value or simply to get your hashtags to trend? (#patheticcryforvalidation). Is your YouTube video really going to help someone or do you just love seeing yourself on camera? By all means rack up the Likes, the comments on your Facebook updates, and the retweets. Absolutely have fun with social media! But remember: it’s no longer about the sizzle, it’s about the steak!
And you’ll make mistakes. Look, I’ve been caught by my friends using Facebook to brag. When you do, call it out to your followers and look hard to see what you can learn from it. Trust me, the big companies and special interests are moving into the social media space in a big way and they are better at the slick, polished stuff than you are. Authenticity and relatedness are how you’ll level the playing field and make your mark.