The Challenge of Social Media Authenticity

Online networking requires authenticity. I have clients who come to me saying, “This social media phenomenon is interesting. We want to play but don’t have the resources. Can you do this for us?”

The whole notion of online networking is based in authenticity. Social media is about engaging with others in an authentic way. As long as you disclose who you are and your intent, then you are being authentic. It’s when you start trying to hide who you are or deceive others as to your true intentions that you run into trouble.

Which is why corporations looking to harness social media to drive their brand need to be cautious when they turn online networking over to marketing. Marketing experts tend to want to control the message, which runs counter to the open nature of social media, and they often want to present the executives as experts. That often means ghostwriting posts for the CEO or the VP or Sales or other busy executives who don’t want to take the time to engage. You can argue that executives find ghost writers for books all the time, but ghostwriting for social media engagement is something else.

Ghost blogging, for example, runs counter to everything we know about social networking. And yet, I know that PR firms and others are offering comprehensive social media programs as a service to clients – turnkey social networking. But is it right? Jane Fonda defends her blog as being written exclusively by her, without benefit of publicists. Kevin Spacey also explains to David Letterman why he has embraced Twitter, without the benefit of third-party writers.

So can PR take a role in social media on behalf of its clients? Of course we can. We need to advise them, help them find the right connections online, and guide their social media activities. We also can post stuff on their behalf, but only if we continue to disclose our role in the process.

It’s about authenticity. And the ethical thing to do is to reveal the man behind the curtain.

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