I think it’s safe to say that 2020 was not at all what most of us hoped it would be. There were good things this year and there were things that were far from being good, but a deadly pandemic overshadowed it all. When the year started, I certainly never would have imagined that at the end of the year, among the little gifts in my kids’ Christmas stockings would be washable face masks. Nope. I never saw that one coming.
One of the bright lights for me in 2020 was the launch of the From In Here blog website. I know I have previously explained why I decided to do it, so I won’t bore you with that again. I will tell you that the connections I have made with people through this endeavour have shown me over and over again that it is time and effort very well spent. I have received a very good number of emails and direct messages that in one way or another refer to the fact that what I write and share with people is authentic. It’s real. Those observations sincerely gratify me because sharing authentically can be Rough. And Scary, too.
If you follow me on social media, you may have seen me recently post an image celebrating that I had just submitted a final project for a grad school class.
The particular class was partially about the importance of authenticity in communicating effectively with people. To understand why authenticity matters, it is important to understand what it actually is. Authenticity is the measurement of the strength of your character. It takes strength of character to exhibit the authentic qualities of being real and genuine.
I try to respect my ‘brand,’ and therefore respect myself, by always being truthful in the content I put out there into the world. When I say – or write – that I’m going to do something, I make sure it gets done as promised and when promised.
Here is an example of the importance of being sure that everything affiliated with my brand – with my name – is held to high standards of authenticity. I run monthly promotions to encourage readers to check out my blog site and to subscribe for weekly updates. The first couple of times I did it, multiple people on social media made posts accusing me of running a scam. Despite my mightily offended feelings, I made sure to respond to their commentary and not just ignore it. I also made sure I kept my outrage at the unfounded accusations out of my replies. Each time, I was polite and encouraged the naysayers to keep watching at the close of contest time. A couple of times I expressed my sympathies to them for whatever had happened to them in the past that made them be so cynical.
After a few months, the number of subscribers to my blog site has more than tripled, and the number of negative comments had been greatly reduced. More importantly, I think, when the occasional ‘scam’ slur appears, people who are total strangers to me will post in my defense and shut down the negativity. People who know my brand associate it with authenticity and integrity.
In one of the readings included in that class I mentioned above, a very successful author and business entrepreneur named Seth Godin explained, “We call a brand or a person authentic when they’re consistent, when they act the same way whether or not someone is looking. Someone is authentic when their actions are in alignment with what they promise.” That sentiment echoessomething I frequently remind my own children – namely that you do the right thing because it is the right thing to do, not because of a grade or an audience. Everybody has their own definitions of what is moral or immoral, good or bad, right or wrong. But you can’t change the parameters on a whim. It’s fine and good sometimes to broaden what you considered to be acceptable or good, but you have to be consistent and true to yourself in order to be authentic.
I sometimes struggle with deciding the distinction between achieving authenticity and indulging in tactless oversharing. I believe my openness enables others to decide whether or not they want to be open with me as well, or with people closer around them, by letting them know that they are not alone. Intention can be extremely important when it comes to authenticity; I am authentic because I want to connect with people and build community, not because I want to control or manipulate people.
Trying to be authentic on social media
Social media content is permanent content because nothing on the Internet ever really goes away. Even when you delete something, there can be cached files, screenshots and downloads of it. I think just about every school and every parent tries to make our kids understand that fact of life.
Dealing with my own social media is complicated because my personal ‘brand’ has 4 target audiences of people who tend to resonate with what I have to offer:
- People who are widowed or dealing with the death of a significant other or other important person in their life.
- The disabled or chronically ill.
- Parents, particularly parents of teenagers.
- People who consider themselves “readers.”
Frequently there is overlap between individuals in these categories. I, for example, fit all 4, of course, which is what gives my brand true authenticity. I write about what I know, what I wonder, what I experience and how I feel. These observations are often supported or contrasted with news and research. I try to balance my social media content between things that appeal to each category. I also try to consistently provide content that is generally supportive of people and helps build a sense of community.
It can be challenging, and sometimes impossible, to produce blog posts and social media content equally distributed among my focus areas. On my website I added an additional classification for blog posts about things that are ‘On My Mind.” For example, things I have written about the recent election process did not neatly fit into a category, but I felt compelled to write about them because they truly were issues on my mind. I echoed their significance with encouragement, pleas and reminders about the importance of voting.
Statistically, most of my followers and subscribers align with my overall target audience demographics. On my social media, I post fairly frequently about the importance of people supporting one another regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation or religion. I also post photos of handsome cowboys on ‘Western Wednesdays’, photos of my dogs, promotions of books from PR companies and independent authors, and promotions for products and things I like or support. I run giveaways, and create empathetic messages about things people need to hear sometimes.
I’ve learned that people who follow me check out my pages and simply disregard what doesn’t interest them, which is exactly what makes it all work. The emails and messages I receive from people around the country provide substantial motivation and reward for all the work that goes into my personal branding efforts.
Personal brand development requires a lot of self-awareness and deliberation. To effectively accomplish my goals, the development process can’t really be approached with an attitude of “I’ve gotta be me!” and obliviousness to possible consequences and outcomes. I have to be responsive and adaptable in handling my personal branding, just as companies must be in developing successful commercial brands. Although not all commercial brand are careful enough … plenty of commercial brands have failed efforts. Like the Taco Bell seafood salad fiasco …
(Sorry it’s not a very good picture, it was the best I could come up with. So here is the commercial too):
Or frozen food made by a toothpaste company …
I showed this picture to 2 of my 3 children. My son told me he didn’t want to try toothpaste flavored chicken. My daughter commented “You finally figured out how to use Photoshop!” and was shocked when I told her this was a real thing. Then she asked me what the heck they were thinking. Colgate Kitchen Entrees was an effort at extending the brand in a direction that just didn’t fit what people associated with the Colgate name, so it failed miserably.
There are lots and lots of examples of companies losing sight of their brand identities and ending up with a mess. A company can successfully launch a new product or go in a new direction, but it has to be very well thought out and handled in an authentic way that respects the foundation of the brand. I’m certainly not a big corporation or a big brand. Even so, it is easy to understand how I could be pulled into things that are not authentic to me, and so I remain on guard about that.
As 2021 swiftly approaches, and we all remain aware that the pandemic is still a huge concern, we continue to be on the Internet and social media more and more. The internet and social media are incredibly powerful tools. But they’re definitely a “double-edged sword.” Your personal brand and mine can be built up by use of these things, and can just as effectively be brought down by them.
They must be actively and aggressively managed. Putting a product or message out into the world and hoping for the best result without supporting it isn’t going to result in success for any type of organization. I think when dealing with personal branding those issues are even more important. You can change careers and you can change companies. You can change where you live and what hobbies you pursue. You can change your religion and you can change your appearance. But you cannot change the fact that you are you. No matter what year it is, that fact of life will always be true.