What strategic authenticity really means

Poised to share your gastrointestinal woes on LinkedIn? Think again. Still, there are ways to humanize your iconic self for audience engagement—without putting people off their lunch.

When the subject at hand is about creating content and standing out online, the conversation usually turns to “authenticity.”

The dictionary says “authentic” means “true and accurate, made to be or look just like an original.”

Is there a single day when you represent yourself on the web in a “true and accurate” way? Of course not. Most people promote their shiny best selves.

Here’s the business case for being strategically authentic.

The amount that people share on the web varies greatly from the “full meal deal,” which includes addictions, neuroses and breakups, to the “stoic plan,” which contains scant personal information.

The amount of intimate info we share isn’t just a reflection of our personality; it also reflects who we want to be and the story we want to tell about ourselves.

On a personal level, it can be fun to blow off steam online. From a business standpoint, these details are also being catalogued away as part of our personal brand, and it may become part of what people think about our employer.

How much is too much?

Let’s say you’re my accountant. In the name of authenticity, you post about your insecurity, insomnia and addictions. This amount of disclosure might be appropriate if you’re in the business of inspiring people through your health battles, but it probably works against you if you’re trying to be hired as an accountant, engineer or real estate agent.

All things being equal, I would rather not hire a depressed, sleep-deprived drug addict. That may seem harsh, but the business world is harsh. We have lots of choices.

Despite all the guru-speak, nobody expects true authenticity. I don’t want to know that you are gassy or horny or that you have bad breath today.

However, I think people do value honesty. So as a first step, let’s take “authenticity” off the table. We don’t really want that, and it’s probably not a good business decision anyway—except when it is.

Related: Earn recognition and accolades for your PR and internal communications efforts.

Strategic authenticity

Overall, I’m a private person. It’s uncomfortable for me to talk about my personal life, though I realize that some amount of disclosure shows people what I’m made of. People hire those they know, like and trust, so I want people to know, like, and trust me.

I don’t like talking about my kids, but occasionally I say something or post a photo of them, because being a proud and involved father is an important part of who I am. It isn’t an “image”; it’s in my core value set.

I don’t like broadcasting what I’m doing all the time, but I try to post a few photos when I am biking, hiking, attending a concert or reading a book, because it demonstrates the things I like to do, making me more accessible.

Once in a while I post a picture of me with my wife, because I want to send a message that I am a happily married person.

Very rarely do I talk about something that’s gone wrong in my life. I don’t want to dwell on problems and the negative, but it’s important that I show I’m just a human being and that we are all equal in our human condition. That is part of my core message.

The professional aspect

Here’s a business-oriented approach to authenticity: Let’s be honest and demonstrate our core values and our humanity; let’s disclose enough of ourselves that our business colleagues can get to know us, like us and trust us.

Above all, let’s be congruent—meaning you’re not “faking it” nor trying to live up to some persona. That can be exhausting, and it probably won’t work in the long run anyway. You should be yourself wherever you show up: in life, in a post, in a meeting.

If you’re on the web for nonbusiness reasons, go for it. Let’s hear about your snotty nose if that’s what’s on your mind today.

However, if you’re a businessperson and social media is part of your business, it’s OK to curate a bit.

I know this advice is different from what most people suggest, but I’m all about the business value, and I think this idea of strategic authenticity makes sense for most people. Your image is created by everything you say—and by everything you don’t say.

What do you think? Please share your thoughts in the comments section.

A version of this post first appeared on Mark Schaefer’s blog, {grow}.

Topics: PR


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