Being Real: Social Media Marketing’s Not-so-Secret Weapon

February 9th, 2012 | Shonali Burke | 53 Comments

do you hide behind a mask in social media?“Want to succeed in social media? Be authentic.”

Are you tired of hearing this? Truth be told, I am, a little.

But the thing is, despite the fact that social media, and the adoption thereof, has come a long way, understanding how to capture one’s essence and distill it online still seems to stick in the craw of some folk and, particularly, businesses.

After all, it’s tough to know just how “authentic” to be.

Just last week, Eric Wittlake wrote a terrific guest post for Spin Sucks challenging us to buck conventional advice and not be authentic. Rather, he said,

“If you are authentic and display your true motives, we will call you a jerk. If you carefully project your image and then slip up, we will call you a fake. So project your image and always stay in character.”

He followed this up with a post on his own blog by saying we should be believable as opposed to authentic. Also a terrific read.

It is fascinating to me that, today, there is practically no “reality” that is not scripted.

The reality shows we see on TV hold casting calls for their “characters.”

Casey Affleck and Joaquin Phoenix set out to make I’m Still Here to prove this very point (if you’ve seen that movie, I dare you to tell me you weren’t taken in, at least initially, by Phoenix’ apparent coming apart at the seams).

And even when we are being pretty much ourselves online, most of us still have a filter we apply to our activity, despite the “online disinhibition effect” Erica Holt wrote about last year.

So how can we be “believable”?

How do we arrive at this magic blend of believability and authenticity without going overboard or turning people (or customers) off?

How do we “script” our authenticity, so that it doesn’t risk earning us a slap on the hand from the very people we are trying to attract, but draws them in?

Is there such a thing as being “too believable”?

Here’s what I think.

Just be real.

Being real means being honest about who you are, and how you’re reacting to things.

It means accepting that everyone isn’t going to like every single facet to your character, and being ok with that.

It means being brave – because when we share bits of ourselves honestly, we make ourselves just that little bit more vulnerable.

And it means that the image you project, and the “real” you behind that image, match up.

Which is why I made this little video ((you can watch it on YouTube if you can’t see it in your Reader):

It took some guts for me to do that. I’m not used to going out in public without my contacts in and makeup on.

But I have to trust that once you got over the “OMG, Shonali looks different!” you saw that it was still me. Assuming you’ve seen me out and about, that is (if you haven’t, I assure you I kick it up a notch!).

And yes, there was a little editing, because I wanted to get the video in under 1:30 and add an intro and outtro… but hopefully you can tell that it’s still the real me (and appreciate that I think highly enough of you to edit it into a neat package!).

That’s all well and good for people, what about businesses?

Businesses – you have no excuse for not being real. You are comprised, after all, of people.

Real people, with real stories, who contribute every day to the real work you do.

Just let them tell your story for you. They bring their unique talents to their work for you, don’t they? Let them show those talents, and show us why they love what they do. Let them be human and interact online just as they would offline.

Certainly, ask them to project a professional image (going back to Eric’s guest post), but don’t ask them to change the very essence of that image to the point that we don’t get a sense of who they are … or, worse yet, that they don’t know who they are.

Just be real.

Want to use a blog to show us how great you are? Tell us real stories about your work and your world that will be interesting to us, and talk to, not at, us.

Want to use video? You don’t need fancy equipment or killer editing software (case in point, the video I just shared with you). Just tell real stories, that show us who you are.

Want to build your community on Twitter? Get to know who they are … and let them see who you are.

Yes, we all do project images and script, at least to some extent, our own realities. But keeping that “real” bit front and center? That’s the not-so-secret weapon in your social media marketing arsenal.

All you have to do is use it.

Image: Ski Mask Kid via Flickr, CC 2.0

So tell me … how real are you?

 

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Shonali Burke
Head honcho of Waxing UnLyrical, Shonali Burke is President & CEO of Shonali Burke Consulting, Inc. Based in the Washington, D.C., area, she loves helping for- and non-profit clients, both small and large, turn corporate codswallop into community cool™. She also loves ABBA, bacon, cooking, dogs, and Elvis. Wouldn't you like to be in her kitchen?
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52 comments
Katie Gutwein
Katie Gutwein

I *finally* made my way over here to comment! I love this post, Shonali. You have so many great, "quotable quotes," throughout this post, but one of my favorites is: "Just tell real stories, that show us who you are." A-MEN!

ShakirahDawud
ShakirahDawud

Just wanted to add too that I really like the idea of considering realness a secret weapon. It's something I think most people think they can cultivate, but it's different for everyone, so it's always secret... but also rather deadly for "fake" competition.

Hajra
Hajra

Oh I loved the video and the disclaimers too that came along. It's okay, you look gorgeous with or without make up!

And yup.. nice accent! I don't know how real am I; or how transparent am I, I just try to be myself. But yes in real life I am a lot more irritating in real life. It is all about how well you can carry your online image. If you want to be credible then honesty is a required aspect, however all of us have some gray areas which we ourselves don't really like. But if your values are intact and you have the will to deliver then keep going, because you will be proud to be your own self and that will be all that matters!

Mark_Harai
Mark_Harai

How awesome was this video - your voice just amplified your persona by 100 times : )

I'll just re-post Bill's reply... it will keep me out of trouble: "Oh yeah, you were still kinda hot 'au naturel'..........and great accent too; I might have to try that.........: )"

There's nothing to compare video to when discussing 'being real' or 'transparent' - - it just shows a side of a person you can't get through writing...

Thanks for sharing 'you' Shanoli

TheJackB
TheJackB

Since I am not writing/running a business blog I have very few restrictions upon my writing. Most of those that I do have are related to my children/family so I am cautious about that.

Aside from that I don't think there is much difference between what you read and what you get. Although I do have several different accents that come out, but that is a different story altogether.

bdorman264
bdorman264

Oh yeah, you were still kinda hot 'au naturel'..........and great accent too; I might have to try that.........:)

bdorman264
bdorman264

So, where did you come up with the accent? Was that supposed to be real?

Everybody has a certain 'persona' and online is no exception. There are certain parts of my personality I embellish online, but if some of my offline friends were to see my online interactions they would very easily be able to tell it's me.

I think it's more about what your core values are and how much credibility do you project? We all have different personalities and some parts of it will be more 'likable' than others. However, if your core beliefs are solid and consistent, then I say 'rock on' just be yourself because you have nothing to hide.

SEOcopy
SEOcopy

Excellent post ♡ Besides, I think you're gorgeous with or without makeuup. Period. Your engaging personality and approachable demeanor are apparent in the social circles I follow you with. Your point is well taken.

Another thing I would add is that consumers are smarter. Now they know pictures are photoshopped, real time is as real as producers allow and they care even less about "guru experts".

The glaring dilemma we have working with agencies is teaching the "company" to be real. With so many employees, personalities and brand recognition, that's not an easy task - but once we can get beyond the old, established way of thinking, the more ready they are to embrace "real".

EricaAllison
EricaAllison

LOVE this and especially adore the video. That is indeed the real you - at least the you that I know. It is very hard online to know the "real" people we're talking to and with; we have to go on the "screen" value, much like "face" value in real life. If we're lucky enough to have an actual phone or Skype conversation with people, then we get that much closer to the "real" person (present company included, thankfully). Being real, I think, is quite hard for folks. For me, it's liberating. Who can keep up with that not so real person anyway - being real comes with confidence, experience and acceptance of who you are.

Beautiful video, Shonali. :)

Shonali
Shonali moderator

@Hajra Thank you!

You're irritating in real life? How so? Or do you just THINK you are... but everyone else doesn't?

I think you're absolutely right about the grey areas that we don't like... but we have to learn to live with them, right? That's been a huge learning experience for me, and will continue to be one.

Latest blog post: Toon Time: Love, TumblrBot

Shonali
Shonali moderator

@TheJackB Being a reader of your blog, and having done a Google+ Hangout with you, I will tell you this... there are layers to you that I don't see on the blog - not that it's one-dimensional, but in person - or, at least, over the computer screen - you are much less intimidating. Now I'm really putting my foot in it... I mean, you are very outspoken and opinionated (in a good way) on your blog, which is what i think makes it what it is. But when we chatted a while back, I was preparing myself for some snark, but I found you were the nicest guy. But I think this happens with everyone to a greater or lesser extent... after all, what we're communicating online, no matter how honest we are, still isn't the same as IRL, is it?

I want to hear the story about the accents!

Latest blog post: Toon Time: Love, TumblrBot

Shonali
Shonali moderator

@bdorman264 The funny thing about my accent is that it changes on its own, I can't control it. When I talk to my parents, they tell me I have an "American" accent. Americans say I have a "British" accent. And when I get riled up, the "Indian" accent comes out. So I have no clue which one you think dominated in the video, but they're all me. :)

Shonali
Shonali moderator

@SEOcopy What a nice thing to say, thank you!

You're absolutely right about consumers being smarter. In fact, I think the very fact that we can all create content now makes us more discerning about what is "real" and what's not... no?

ericamallison
ericamallison

@shonali Aw shucks, I think I've lost that crown lately! ;) It was true beauty! xoxo

Shonali
Shonali moderator

@EricaAllison I was worried, the first time we Skyped, that I'd scare you off. I looked ghastly!

I think you're right in that allowing people to see who we really are comes with confidence and acceptance. Thank you, Erica!

Shonali
Shonali moderator

@KenMueller The reception to that video was what gave me the courage to do this one. Do you remember how I threatened everyone with dire consequences if they posted it anywhere, LOL?! I bet @ifdyperez and @decillis do. I'm very self-conscious about the way I look, but all of you gave me the courage to do this - so thank you.

Hajra
Hajra

@Shonali I just talk a lot... more than a lot sometimes! ;) So yes irritating alert at times!

Mark_Harai
Mark_Harai

@Shonali Video suits you very well Shonali - you could rock video if you desired to... If you put makeup on took your glasses off, you could be the next viral sensation : )

Hajra
Hajra

@Shonali Maybe you should do a video on that; show us the real you after two cups coffee!

Mark_Harai
Mark_Harai

@KenMueller@Shonali Marcia was a hottie - I was in love with her throughout most of my pre-teens : )

Hey, she does look like Marcia LOL!

Shonali
Shonali moderator

@Mark_Harai So here's where I reveal that I used to be an actress... and actually, what you wrote about taking my glasses off and putting make up on might just lead to a blog post!

Latest blog post: Toon Time: Love, TumblrBot

Shonali
Shonali moderator

@TheJackB LOL! No, not at all. On your blog, you come across as a very strong personality, which I think you have and are. But when I talked to you, I also saw a teddy bear of a chap, and that side of you doesn't show so much on your blog.

Which is one (more) reason more people should Hangout with you. :p

Latest blog post: Toon Time: Love, TumblrBot

ericamallison
ericamallison

@shonali I think I actually need to do them more in order to keep the crown. ;) Feel one coming on though...

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