Marketers talk a lot about how companies can form deeper connections with customers through social media. Part of building this connection, the thinking goes, is demonstrating what the company stands for and showing that those values are similar to the values of their customers. I’ve seen this referred to as “Authenticity.” One of the ways that companies show off their authentic selves is by having representatives on sites like Twitter share information about the brand, interact with people and show people through a constant stream of comments and interactions, what the brand is all about at a very human scale. That sounds good right?
Then you get stuff like this:
Looking at the stream for Pabst Canada you can see that the person managing this account is clearly enthusiastic about beer and seems to be joyfully interacting with folks in a very non-corporate way that I think some folks would describe as “Authentic.” But somewhere along the way he forgot that he couldn’t be COMPLETELY authentic because he’s representing the point of view and values and attitudes and beliefs of his employer. Needless to say, the above Tweet doesn’t represent the values of Pabst Blue Ribbon or PabstCanada, just the point of view of the (stupid jackass, sorry) that runs (or used to run) their Twitter account.
Authentic, but in an Corporate kind of a way?
But as you might imagine, folks were offended and they weren’t just mad at the guy that posted the Tweet. They were pissed off at Pabst. Which just goes to show you that all of this authenticity stuff is fine as long as you aren’t an offensive jerk.
Oh and don’t forget that most of us are offensive jerks occasionally when we’re not at work yet we manage to stay out of trouble because we understand that when we’re on the job we are held to a higher standard, authenticity be damned.
The Bar is Much Higher than Authenticity
That’s where I have a problem with the term “authenticity.” I worry that it can be interpreted as “just being yourself.” Except for the boatload of times where being yourself would put you completely at odds with the goals of your company. So you can’t really be yourself at all. You have to be your Pabst Representative self. Is that authentic? What do companies want their representatives to be like? They want them to be trustworthy, nice, respected, engaging, knowledgeable, human, and a bunch of other inarguably positive things. Companies might say they want authenticity but what they really mean is they want you to be the best possible representation of what they stand for. They want you to be less corporate in a likeable, relate-able sort of way, not in a regular I’m-human-therefore-I-come-with-my-own-unique-baggage-and-potentially-offensive-biases kind of way. Which of course isn’t the tiniest bit authentic.
Maybe companies would see fewer screw-ups like the Pabst Canada situation if they were more open and direct in admitting that the bar is much, much higher than just acting in an authentic way. The goal is for company representatives to be nothing less than the best they can possibly be.