November 4th, 2009
Authority, Authenticity and Your Personal Brand on the Social Web
This post was originally written in June 2009. This is an updated version – DA.
On his blog Marketing | Truth, Mark Olson has a very interesting post that includes opinion from some like-minded smart people discussing the notion of authenticity vs authority across the social web. I left a comment of my own over there but I felt my initial thoughts may be worth expanding upon here.
In the comment, I ask first “Is social media marketing now just a channel where marketers are missing out on the Social Web?” my argument being based around my idea that once someone opens a browser they are participating in the social web. Also, as heated discussions arise around the idea of real-time search and its value versus indexed search, where experiential awareness and reputation management become all important, where does authority and authenticity fall in user perception?
Seth Godin kicks things off and arguably takes the laurels with his short, incisive paragraph:
“If it’s a word game, then authority wins, because authority is about the perception of the consumer. If they believe you are an authority, you are. In the long run, of course, authenticity will trump it, because your authority fades without it. The converse is not true. And yes, it’s a word game.”
Brian Solis has his say too. Anyone who cares about the idea of web communications, PR 2.0 along with social media marketing and advertising should know Brian Solis.
At its heart my response was really just my thoughts based around their opinions. Here is my comment [slightly edited]:
“Seth Godin begins his smart, short answer with “If it’s a word game…” as if planting a stake in the ground. He knows it is a word game and he knows that we know it too. Brian Solis proposes a list of new definitions but the problem is that they are more words. He suggests switching out new definitions such as ‘believability’ for ‘transparency’ where transparency is already perfect; transparency says it all very clearly, whereas believability makes me think of the possibility of opaqueness.
This search for ‘authenticity or ‘authority’ is an extension of television in my mind – who would we trust to read us the news? In the past it was always well spoken, handsome, gravelly-voiced white men. It is no coincidence that we view the web through the same lens, a rectangular screen, but it’s worth remembering that technology simply shortens the distance between us. As Marshall McLuhan has written “any history of technology is filled with unexpected reversal of form resulting from new advances.” Now we have the social web.
Arguably what is being discussed here is how web users are searching for the authoritive newsman of yesteryear amid a sea of millions of “wanna be” bloggers and celebrities – and yet they are all looking in the mirror! Everyone is a celebrity these days, so as Seth rightly says “authority is about the perception of the consumer…” The TV newsreader had no more authority than the next newsreader, it was the viewers’ perception that gave them rank.
As someone who had a long term career in the music business I started Pampelmoose, a music and mp3 blog four years ago and watched it build in unique viewers over the years to its current 200k + a month. I never had to try. I apparently was perceived as authentic and therefore I was “given” authority by my readers and peers. And yet I am more interested in finding the people who don’t read my blog – I’d like to know if they don’t think I’m an ‘authority’ or perhaps it’s simply that they don’t care for what I write about – those are two distinctions worth mulling over.
I was until recently Community Manager at Nemo where I spent a lot of time thinking about and researching the social web. I wrote posts and essays that were published on the Nemo blog and about one year ago wrote this one – ‘On Social Media, Blogs and Advertising’ in which I embrace the idea of nature over technology.
In my essay I aligned myself with John Gray‘s position that we are all technological beings – as I wrote – “Most people that take a position on social networking and advertising come at it from a technological point of view, as in “technology has created the means for everyone to be connected and to stay in touch.” I disagree with that statement because it removes nature from the game. It is entirely natural for humans to want to interact as often as possible as we are all social animals. Cities are no more artificial (technological) than the hives of bees. Therefore the Internet is as natural as a spider’s web. People who believe that technology is driving our interactions are missing the point – we ourselves are technological devices, invented by ancient bacterial communities as a means of genetic survival”
In other words once we realize that technology merely shortens the distance between us, and while ‘social networking’ online we are simply engaged in the same activity that we pursue offline, perception then, ought to be almost identical – in conversation with an opinionated person in a bar for example, we can quickly do the gut check and decide if he or she is full of it or an actual authority on the subject.
Any normal person therefore ought to do the same thing when they come across a blog or someone’s Tweets, Facebook page et al – use the gut check or better still Google them or tweet search them. [edit: And of course now we have Google Social Search too.]
And fairly recently a new tool entered the crowded social web field – FaceBook vanity urls – now a person can own their own brand, albeit on Facebook….  Facebook has developed an Open Stream API that will allow a ‘friend’ to follow streams of interest or to comment on comments back in to the stream… we are all ‘celebrities’ now and authenticity and authority will be determined by our followers’ perception of our reputation management and experiential awareness. Marketers will now, more than ever, have to own the message or the message will own them.
Brian Solis – A Soliloquy On The Universal Language of Social Media