Aug 17, 2014

In Defense Of Authenticity

I’ve been helping a friend tune up a social media profile this past month and I often find myself reciting things the social media pros call “best practices” only to find my friend rebelling and telling me “that’s not me, Alan. I sound like a shill.”

Sometimes I push back because there’s a part of me that argues that sounding like a shill is relative and that at worst, my friend will be at about 5% of the level of the biggest shills in the industry.

But then I remember being on the other side of that coin and I stop pushing. Because whether it’s for a friend or for myself, there’s nothing more valuable than authenticity.

Authenticity is personal and everyone has their own level of what it looks like. For me it’s always meant staying true to my unique writing style and to my innate blend of optimism and skepticism.

So to begin with, I’ll never drink the Kool-Aid. Never gush like a 12 year-old Justin Bieber fan about the newest app or tactic or piece of hardware. Unless I really do think it’s awesome. And even then there are caveats. Because there are always caveats. Things that could go wrong. Things that could go better than expected. Things we just don’t know and need to stop pretending we do. And it’s the role of the analyst to point those things out.

That sort of stance seems to shock people, and time and again I’m surprised to hear that something I thought was even-handed and common-sensical is being branded “bold” or “controversial.” As if the truth were bold and controversial. But it's not in me to pretend otherwise and you'll never hear me do so.

I don’t engage in social niceties on social media either. At least not the sort of social niceties the punditocracy swears by. Like ending posts and tweets with “what do you think?”

I cringe when I see those lines. An actual physical reaction. Because nothing feels quite as forced and heavy-handed. I’ve worked with publicists and gurus over the years who’ve tried to persuade me to add them and except in moments of great personal weakness, I’ve refused. I get that asking a question brings greater engagement and all that— I’ve no doubt it does. But it’s just not me. I don’t offer topics for debate, I write what I’m feeling and the comments I get are from people who feel strongly enough about what I wrote to want to respond to me. Which is never going to hinge on whether I ended the post with “What do you think?”

Now the reason I’m laying all this out isn't to brag about what a reckless bad boy I’ve been but rather to rally the troops back to the cause.

Because if everyone starts to sound the same, if every blast on social media ends with “what do you think?," if every post religiously adheres to some ninja’s “5 Ways To Conect With Your Audience," if every piece of "content" (and you all know how much I loathe that word) sounds like it was cooked up in the same corporate kitchen, then who can blame audiences for tuning it all out? For not believing a word of it? For not caring?

Authenticity is more than a word: it’s an attitude, a belief system, a way of doing just about anything and everything. Whether you’re a person or a corporation or a fictional character. It’s always unique and it's always consistent. No matter where you find it.

Those voices that manage to remain authentic are the voices that resonate, the ones that stand out, the ones that inspire, the ones that anger.

The ones that never have to ask “so what do you think?”

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