Customers want brands to invest in marketing, that much is clear. There’s enough data out there that shows that people love brands that invest in their community’s general well being (skip ahead if you want to see the stats). Yet brands struggle weaving cause marketing and corporate social responsibility programs into the fabric of their marketing communications.
In the post social media era, we are in a fight to preserve authenticity, perhaps a losing fight. Commercialization has destroyed many aspects of the once coveted community, including the ability for people to simply be real. A primary causation of this deterioration of real people talking to real people is the personal brand movement.
In an effort to put one’s best foot forward, to win business, to gain higher notoriety, to be liked, conversations have become contrived. Personal branding, a movement flawedin somany ways, has stopped people from being present.
To be clear, mindfully present doesn’t necessarily mean that one needs to air every single defect of character throughout the day on Twitter. But it is a journey.
We saw Ashton Kutcher muff up a Penn State tweet. Instead of hiring his social media agency to program his personally branded tweets, it would have been much more refreshing to see an actual sincere apology and a forward leaning conversation. But in the era of personal branding, Kutcher did what so many others have already done. He sold out.
When people are driven to purposefully maintain an image or a sales proposition, they are no longer there. Often they will drive any active conversations toward their intent, instead of focusing on the other person(s) and the ideas at hand.
It’s hard to have a relationship with someone who is not there.
Social media is a relational media. When relationships can’t be watered, they wither like flowers in the blazing summer sun. And so without real people talking to each other, the very fiber of social media is weakened. This is the state of the over-commercialized, personal brand-centric social web.
Perhaps the battle for authentic human behavior online is already lost. But real people talking to real people will never stop being desirable, nor will it ever go-away. More likely, it is bubbling under the surface of the commercialized noise, or simply existing separately as individual private sub communities in the underground.
How do you think personal branding has impacted the social web?
From left to right: Shannon Paul, Brian Clark, Jason Falls, Zena Weist, Derek Halpern
Most of you already know the top-ranked blog Copyblogger. Founder Brian Clark started the company as a blog in 2006, and has expanded it to become a media company that helps businesses grow through social media and online marketing.
A mainstay in the sector, Brian is also active in relevant conversations. After Jennifer Leggio’s Forbes piece on authenticity ran last month, we began discussing some of the articles points, and have no expanded our conversation into a full-on interview. Special thanks to Brian for his insights on authenticity, Klout and Google+
Q: Why is authenticity preached, but not really wanted by the crowd in major social media marketing and business efforts?
BC: This is a matter of perspective. People do want authenticity, but they want what’s authentic to them. People want to connect with people they relate to, not to corporate speak or talking points. And yet, they also might not want to know your bathroom habits, or your political views, or enjoy your salty language, depending on the context.
The rallying cry of authenticity in social media has given people who consider themselves marketers to put their egos first and the desires of the people they communicate with second. This is the antithesis of good marketing, or even simply being a human being that others react favorably to.
Good marketing, good business, and being a good person, in my view, are all about putting yourself second and focusing on others first. When you do that, you have to speak to people in a way that’s appropriate to them, or they’re not going to listen.
When they listen and are influenced by you, however, a magical thing happens — you end up getting what you want after all. And it’s a win for everyone.
The other issue is one of context. We act differently in different situations: you’re different around your mother or at church than you are at a reunion with your college buddies. Both are the “real” you, and yet you behave differently due to changes in context.
The context of social media marketing requires you to decide which aspect of you is most appropriate for the audience. And again, I firmly advocate putting what your audience wants ahead of your own desire for “self-expression” or whatever. But only if you want to succeed, of course.
Q: Given that, what is your personal approach to authenticity on Copyblogger and your social networks?
BC: First and foremost, we put valuable content ahead of individual personalities. This is a fundamental key to why we’ve succeeded at turning a blog into a software business.
Also, due to the nature of being marketers teaching other marketers, we’re exceptionally transparent about the fact that we “practice what we preach.” In other words, rather than trying to pretend, we make a point of letting the audience know we’re doing to them what we’re teaching them, both as a demonstration that it works, but also because to do otherwise would be exceptionally bogus (a.k.a. inauthentic).
On social networks, I’m basically me. I’ve got a goofball and irreverent sense of humor that’s combined with a focus on sharing content — both ours and from others — that helps people achieve their goals.
That said, I filter myself in a few ways. This comes back to context. Just because a relatively large group of people desire to learn more about copywriting, content creation, online marketing and related topics, doesn’t mean they’re all similar in other ways. In fact, they are a radically diverse group of people.
So, in “real” life, I tend to use fairly colorful language. I have opinions about religion and politics and other volatile topics, just like anyone.
Online, I generally avoid cursing or discussing other “off topic” areas that provoke controversy. And I truly mean generally. I often slip up because (surprise) I’m a real human being just like anyone else.
Maybe it’s because I was raised in the southern United States, but I try to avoid those things because it’s not professional or polite. In other words, if you don’t know what will offend someone, it’s appropriate to avoid certain behaviors and topics. And when you have 155,000 blog subscribers and 92,000 Twitter followers (find Brian on Twitter), it’s really easy to offend people without really trying.
Every once in a while I’ll say whatever comes to mind. I call these Twitter purges. Some leave, a lot think it’s funny.
I call it sanity preservation. ;-)
Mostly though, I genuinely love to teach. If I tried to fake that, not only would I be inauthentic and miserable, but Copyblogger (and every other business I started that preceded it) would have failed. This is something you cannot fake, at least not for long and not well.
Klout and Google+
Q: Klout is back in the news with a retooled algorithm that’s caused some controversy. What do you think of Klout gene, and influence metrics like it?
BC: I think metrics like Klout are useful as a beginning point. Our Scribe software incorporates Klout scores as a starting point to build relationships with relevant influencers, but it’s the beginning of the journey, not the destination.
That said, too many people are focusing on boosting their Klout scores (i.e their egos) instead of helping others. It’s in the latter realm where true influence is created and practiced, regardless of some numerical score.
Q: It’s been a four plus months since Google+ launched. You and I chat there periodically. What do you think of its future?
BC: I’m bullish on Google+, mainly because I love it over there (follow Brian on Google+ here). But it’s also hard to ignore the practical applications as a content producer. Google is moving more to site usage and sharing data for search rankings, and Plus is a direct feed of relevancy and value. If you’re creating great content, you can’t afford not to make a bet on Google+, because you’ll be scrambling later like the initial Twitter doubters.
Just as individual web site owners use affiliate marketing, small and large companies and nonprofits are engaging in teams — coalition marketing — to reach common stakeholder groups. Modern Internet tools have made coalition marketing incredibly simple. It’s easy as setting up a web site and providing the common offering or cobranding.
Another form is traditional channel sales, where a brand builds a great product or service and the other markets it to its customers. Cause marketing relationships take this form, with the nonprofit offering the service and the consumer facing business selling it as part of a package to its customers. And of course, many parts of the technology industry are driven off the channel model.
In fact, if you consider the Google-Motorola acquisition this week and the issue of patents, Google acquired one of its Android coalition partners to protect itself from lawsuits. The intellectual property had become too distributed. In marketing “Droids,” Google was both using Motorola as a channel partner and co-marketing within a coalition.
Given how companies and nonprofits increasingly fill niches, and customers need more than just one product or service type, this trend of partnering will continue. There simply isn’t enough individual brand capital to grow in a desired fashion. Teaming provides the collective might needed to succeed in broad marketing initiatives. This is particularly true of smaller players competing with large established companies. So partners who naturally operate in the same space, but don’t necessarily compete head on will start gravitating towards each other naturally.
There are strengths and weakness to coalitions. Some considerations for partnering are mutual benefit to both organizations without costing or sacrificing too much capital on one side or another. When business relationships become lopsided, they tend to disintegrate or become one-off opportunities. In addition, trial deals are helpful, too, to see if the chemistry works between brands.
But it is also true of corporate partnerships, too. The primary criticism of Google’s acquisition of Motorola Mobility is the unnatural tie forged with an Internet company owning a mobile phone manufacturer. The stretch is too much. Similarly, if Warner Brothers were to suddenly co-market Bugs Bunny with Playboy, there would be obvious issues in spite of the common rabbit icons.
Some marketers will tell you authenticity does not exist, that customers don’t want it. While this may be true for your worst individual personality defects, customers have expectations of behavior and delivery for a corporate brand. Note the difference. Frankly, personal identities that have evolved into real going concerns online need to adjust to this reality, too. When a brand is in place — regardless if it is named after a person — people have expectations of what the brand stands for, and the product/service that they will receive.
When you supersede those brand expectations in a partnering stretch to make money or paint a better brand image, customers balk. This rejection takes the form of less or no sales! It is important to be mindful in your marketing actions, and to be true to your brand’s core identity. That is authenticity, and practicing conscious awareness in business. Choose your partners well.
There have been a couple of recentposts acknowledging the decline of authenticity on the social web. In reality, authenticity as it was preached in the mid 2000s for all intents and purposes is a lost art. Today, we have formulaic gestures, and acts and boasts of authenticity instead of people being people.
Authenticity washing is abound. Whether it’s a demonstration of flair, declarations of being the real thing, and even protests of being flawed, one has to wonder what we’re seeing. Many people claim to be nice in the social media blogosphere while they curse out their peers in emails or police contrarian opinions through flash mobs.
This is just the tip of the iceberg. To say more would not be mindful. The real behavior is nothing worse than the scandals we see played out in the media, and is simply a demonstration of the human condition. But what we are told is not authentic.
There are a few reasons for this decline in authenticity. One is the over-commercialization of the social web. The second is the rise of the personal brand movement. No matter how many personal branders claim reputation based on actions, the practice encourages putting forth a contrived image to the marketplace. In the end, authenticity has declined because people are afraid of looking bad. Courage — the ability to act in the face of fear — has and will always be at a premium.
So the authenticity washing will continue. There is no formula for being authentic, folks. Authenticity is simply being you, good and bad and everything in between. Be you.
In the end, talk is cheap on the social web. Actions are not. Watch what people do, not what they claim.
What do you think about the state of authenticity on the social web?
Much has been said about Pepsi’s falling market share and its social media driven Refresh cause marketing effort. Extremists have dubbed Pepsi Refresh as the iconic symbol of failure for social media as a marketing mechanism. Like many conversations about social media, this view is too simplistic. It fails to acknowledge several key issues, including product weaknesses, the fact that PR and advertising were well integrated into the effort, and the debatable use of cause marketing as the primary thrust behind Refresh. Meanwhile primary competitor Coca Cola continues to widen the gap with its marketing and quieter CSR initiatives.
The lack of a tangible theory of change, the over-focus on PR 2.0 participation metrics, and generally a failure to report the results of its community investments, lead one to question the authenticity of Pepsi Refresh. The market has been repeatedly told about the great marketing successes, and in context, there’s a notable under-emphasis on the social good results from Pepsi. On the cause side, nonprofits who have won grants have grumbled about the lack of post-award support from Pepsi.
Because Pepsi Refresh did not have a tangible theory of change, a measurable approach towards social good, one can conclude that these outcomes are natural. They also show a lack of understanding about corporate social responsibility, authenticity and social media. In short, now that the fanfare is over, what good did the company achieve, and how do people feel about their participation in the campaign since the primary reported result is that they posted about Pepsi Refresh?
Social good campaigns only work when people feel the company genuinely cares, and when social media is used that participants feel their contributions have had a societal impact. Pepsi has not successfully communicated either outcome. On the contrary, Pepsi’s approach to reporting Refresh results have been short sighted and undermined some of the good will built with community investments.
In fact, when closely examining Refresh’s “social good” and market leader Coca-Cola’s CSR efforts, one cannot help but question which soda company really cares more? Coke has taken incredible strides in water stewardship, and while it doesn’t market this activity, it actively communicates its strategy to resolve an issue that its products directly impact. It works with environmental partners, and reports back on lessons learned.
Let’s be clear, from a holistic standpoint, Coke’s CSR efforts are not ideal and leave a lot to be desired. They don’t even use many of these efforts to promote themselves, but at least the company works towards tangible end goals. There’s an authenticity to Coke’s efforts that one does not get from Refresh.
In considering corporate social good it seems that quiet authenticity is more effective than fanfare in the long term. The hare loses to the tortoise. The primary reason why is not the method, but the intent and purpose of waging social good. Who do you think cares more, Coke or Pepsi?