There seems to be quite a bit of chatter and advice on the topic of “authenticity” as it applies to social media. For all the talk that people, as well as brands (and many like to emphasize that individuals are now “brands” too) need to be authentic to connect with their intended audience, there’s something rather disingenuous about all of the attention focused on this subject. Perhaps like “non-scripted television,” a.k.a. “Reality TV,” what is presented to us in social media behaviors is more often than not artifice, until proven otherwise. And it’s the “until proven otherwise” part that is of greatest interest…
WHAT IS AUTHENTICITY ANYWAY?
No one likes to be played for a sucker. Surely this is not a controversial or debatable point. And while social media presents the opportunity to reveal a lot about an individual’s personality, passions and beliefs, it is also not immune from manipulation. For example, some celebrities have massive Twitter followings in part because those connecting to them believe on some level that they are now part of this person’s “inner circle.” I guess the allure of 140-character tidbits leads some to believe they now have a “relationship” with the other party, but if that’s what passes for meaningful connection, it’s a rather shallow and contrived arrangement. Being authentic is not necessarily about “being on message” and “building a brand” but rather, remaining true and constant to the core values and beliefs that one holds. The moment that a conscious decision is made to “spin” a message or behave in a proscribed manner is the moment in which “authenticity” is lost and play-acting begins.
KEEPING IT REAL
For those who want to present the world with a “window into their life,” social media can certainly be a useful tool, but there’s a fine line between genuine behavior, whether learned or instinctual, and performance. We may strive to uphold a certain ideal, and present to the world a certain image, but if we truly don’t embody the phantasm which we’re selling, inconsistencies start to quickly emerge.
Trying to cover up mistakes, errors in judgment, or past shortcomings is about rewriting history and does not preserve authenticity. It actually undermines it. Arguably, it’s easier to respect someone who is striving to evolve and attain certain far-reaching and ambitious accomplishments, and who may encounter failures and setbacks along the way, than those who claim flawless results each time they go to bat or squabble over the lowest hanging fruit.
One is reminded of the wise and perceptive words of Marcus Aurelius who stated, “The measure of a man is the worth of the things he cares about.” One can learn a great deal about someone by the subjects, triggers and stimuli which provoke a response while they are busy engaging with others on the Internet. It’s not difficult to be brave and combative when sitting behind a computer or tapping into a smartphone or tablet when one is not facing another party; consequently, social filters often come off and reveal what someone really thinks and their true nature.
HOW TO TELL A GENUINE FAKE
So how do we avoid the frauds and schemers and delusional self-promoters? Can it be done? Should it be done? Ultimately, one has to look for consistency, because over time, it’s hard to maintain a false face without cracks appearing in the veneer. I find people’s off the cuff remarks, comments and answers to often be far more revealing than what might be posted in a blog, or a profile, or even a discussion thread which are more subject to editing and even ghostwriting. Emotional responses to another party’s question or posting or tweet which are triggered without much forethought may give greater clues to a person’s character and psychological makeup than more measured and considered responses delivered after a longer delay.
Most people struggle to reconcile the person who they wish to be, and want to portray themselves to be to others, with who they actually are in the moment. I don’t believe that people can remain static indefinitely; they need to evolve and change or they will find themselves relegated to a category of either caricature or irrelevance. I personally subscribe to the notion that, “Action reveals character,” and all pontification aside, it is how people behave, particularly in times of stress, when quick response is demanded, or when they think that they are unobserved, which truly reveals who they actually are. All the rest is measured commentary.
You cannot manufacture authenticity, and slapping a label on something doesn’t make it so. We simply are who we are until we change; whether that change is conscious and deliberate, or forced upon us by circumstance, is simply the mechanism and should not be mistaken for the result…