Social correctness is hurting social media. That’s quite a loaded statement to make, especially when so many people are openly using social media to voice their opinions. As a person who has a public brand, who speaks her mind, and stands strong in her convictions, I often find myself questioning whether or not social media has turned people into impostors. Freedom of speech is our given right (at least here in the United States), but that freedom comes at a price which makes it not so free. I believe we can’t be 100% honest on social media because most people can’t handle it.
The other day I was in deep conversation with several associates who each shared their own perspectives as business owners with fast rising brands. One, a founder of a tech company, stated that he would never compromise his opinions online just to placate the masses because it would be an insincere portrayal of his true self. He feels accept me, accept my opinions or you don’t have t buy from me. Another, an owner of a spa company, stated that she reserves the right to say what she wants, but chooses to carefully weigh sharing her thoughts so she doesn’t offend anyone. By censoring herself she often gets clients who come in that she’d rather not have patronize her establishment. But because she has a brand to protect, she remains silent as long as they are good customers and pay their bill.
Another, a real estate agent, says that she deals with wealthy clients, some who may not always have gotten their gains legitimately. And while she would rather not do business with them, she does it because she has a brand and lifestyle to uphold. So she keeps her comments offline and within her inner circle so she doesn’t risk offending anyone and losing business. And the last one, a consulting firm owner, has very strong religious and political views that often cause her to become a firestorm of conversation. I won’t say which way she leans (as it isn’t necessary for you to know that), but needless to say she now doesn’t allow political or religious conversation on her social networking pages. We deduced in this conversation that if you keep it too real, you lose out and your brand suffers. But how real is too real?
Correct me if I’m wrong, but everyone talks about authenticity and being real and transparent on social media to build trust within your community or tribe. But there’s a slight glitch in that theory. If you’re too real, you risk alienating people. If you’re not real enough, you risk alienating people when your true feelings surface. It’s as if you are put in a no-win situation. I have done a great job of building my brand and audience. People seem to love my straight from the hip approach and that I’m not afraid to say what’s on my mind. As one person put it I say the things that others are thinking but dare not say out loud.
I’ll own this, but within reason. I tell people that the Adrienne you see online is the Adrienne you get in person. I have my good days and my bad days, and for the most part, people respect that. But I find that when I speak on certain topics, there is always a small group of people who get offended. I don’t set out to intentionally offend anyone, that’s not my style. I speak the truth as I see it and I am always open to healthy debate with people of differing opinons…when it remains a respectful, healthy exchange. Sometimes I’ll learn something and my opinion may change, and sometimes I find that I was right in my opinion. But I never let the conversation go sour. I have the right to share how I feel and not be chastised for my opinions. We can agree to disagree and move on. It should have nothing to do with the value you find in my services and products. It doesn’t matter if I like red and you like purple or if I like comedy and you like drama. So why does it matter if I like Obama and you like Romney? I mean really, how does my preference affect your pocket?
I have found that people want the truth only when they can handle it. If it gets too deep for them, they don’t want to hear it especially from the truth teller. Social media gives us the platform to speak our truths. I’ll admit, sometimes I don’t like what I see. But I respect the other person’s right to share their views. After all, I can just click the little “x” at the top of my browser and be done with it. Many times I see people make snap decisions to unfollow or not to patronize a business simply because their beliefs don’t match up with the owners. Aren’t we all entitled to have opinions? Or is it a case of it’s OK to have opinions as long as they match my own? While not intended, this is what social media has lead to. People are judged by the opinions they share on social media. Let me just say I don’t care if you vote for Mitt Romney. If you offer great services that I can benefit from, I’m not going to not shop with you because of your beliefs. We simply don’t agree politically and that’s fine. I can rise above it as long as we’re respectful to one another. Not everyone is so open-minded though.
If you plan on telling your truth, there are a few things you should be aware of before hitting that submit button.
- Know where your brand stands. I look at celebrities and entertainers for this example. Sometimes they are packaged as America’s Sweetheart or The Boy Next Door by their handlers or PR machines to make sales. And the moment they have a bad day, a slip up, or speak their mind, the world’s perception is shattered. In business, when you’re building a brand, make sure the brand has your influence, but that people can clearly differentiate between you the person and the business brand.
- Be clear about who has the power to destroy your brand if you say something they don’t like. Fortunately and unfortunately there are groups out there that hold a lot of power. One word from them against your brand can cause a massive financial hit. Groups such as women’s groups, LGBT, moms, political groups and so on have a lot of fire power and can hit you where it hurts. So before you speak your mind, do you really want to go toe to toe with the consequences? It can almost be a reverse bully effect. If you can’t handle the repercussions, think twice about posting your true feelings.
- Think about whether your truth is your belief or conviction or just a means to be hurtful to others. Sometimes you can be frustrated about something and post or speak as a reaction to something that was said. This is dangerous, especially if you’re a growing brand. Never respond out of retaliation. Take time to think about why you feel the way you do and respond logically, not in a hurtful manner.
- Tell people in advance that you have certain personal convictions that you stand by. This way when you say something, it won’t come across as a shocker to people. I find that being honest actually works both ways in this case. If you speak your truth and others choose to disassociate with your brand because of it, that shows them for who they really are too. Encourage dialog about your differences.
- Be clear about whether or not social media is the forum you want to use to voice your personal opinions. Would you take out a full page ad or buy a billboard to express those same opinions? I know your page is your page and you have the right to say what you want. But think about what that will cost AND if you’re OK with that. If it’s something you’d say in front of a room full of your customers, then by all means. If it’s not, then I’d think twice. No matter how private your page may be, someone somewhere will copy and paste your words, and possibly manipulate them.
I’m mad that we truly don’t have the power to be 100% authentic without running the risk of losing out on clients on social media. No matter what people say, they don’t really want the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth even though they say they do. Social media works as long as we don’t rustle feathers. As long as we’re not offending people, it’s all good. but the minute you say something someone doesn’t like, you better believe there will be a campaign to get you removed.
So the question is, how authentic can we really be on social media? Please share your thoughts below.