Authenticity ain’t all it’s cracked up to be. And it ain’t the same as true identity.
Members of the pre-web online community, The WELL, had to pay for their time on the system with a check or credit card. They were also required to include their real names in their registrations. They were encouraged to choose screen names, but by clicking on a screen name you could see their real names.
Other dialup online communities such as CompuServe and The Source had their own naming rules. Our thinking was that if your true name could be known you would be less likely to be an asshole in online public. It didn’t always work. Some people faked us out and some didn’t seem to care what others thought about their behavior. In any case, there was still enough interpersonal conflict to keep things interesting. My opinion was that if conflict was running below 10 percent of total interaction things would become boring.
Knowing someone’s real name did not guarantee that the person you interacted with online was behaving as they would face-to-face. Many WELL members played imaginary roles online, though not all of them did so intentionally. Typing your speech did not come easily to everyone. Writing and speaking styles differ for many of us, especially when joining new communities. We are often surprised when we meet people previously known only by their conversational writing styles. But even this is a superficial level of familiarity. What I believe most of us are looking for, ideally, is a candid and true portrayal of the person we know online. This is authenticity.
Most people who interact socially online find a comfort zone and allow themselves to be who they really are, with some reservations. It’s easy enough to avoid people whose styles feel offensive, even if their behavior expresses their true personalities. But we tend to trust people more if we believe we are seeing their real selves.
Most people don’t decide to be authentic; they relax into it once they’re familiar with the community and the social platform where they meet and interact. Businesses, on the other hand, are beginning to understand that they are being looked at today in much the same way that people regard other individuals. Businesses can be challenged in public by customers and shoppers who expect the same authenticity from them as they expect from individuals. So businesses are shifting their marketing from persuasion to honesty. The business is growing a human-like personality and deciding the most appropriate measures for humanizing themselves. What are appropriate social techniques for becoming authentic in the eyes of the customer?
As customers, we are witnessing this change in branding strategy. Ads are changing tone, meeting customers on the social media fields
is much more common. Social media skills are being adopted and learned. But behaving in ways that engender an authentic image can be counter productive. In the eyes of the typical prospective customer, what is authentically authentic? Representing who you really are as a business – your honesty, transparency, ethics, availability – goes more than skin deep. Let the public know who you really are and good conversations will follow.