Scary and Hard To Do

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Scream Cropped (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I read an article recently by Laura Cioca, Director of Media & Engagement at W2O, about something she calls ‘Fauxthenticity’.  She defines this as ‘the tendency some brands have towards assuming we’re all complete idiots.’

She goes on to describe it as a kind of creative laziness that ‘pretends that a brand’s participation in community has anything to do with people.’  She then lists a number of examples, all of which I have seen before and recently.  It’s sad really….

It seems to be a gospel truth in social business and so-called ‘thought leader’ articles that treating your customers and others in your interactions as Human Beings (that is, people with which you have and nurture relationships) is the competitive path to better business, greater earnings, products of higher quality and greater relevancy, and a degree of innovation not possible within the closed confines of the conference room.  So, if this is the Actual Truth, why is it generally ignored?
Well, to boil it right down, it’s hard to do.
This seems like the lamest excuse ever to me. Every business I’ve ever worked with tackles things that are hard to do, whether it’s create something, increase profits, retain top talent, or just stay afloat and relevant in the ridiculously dynamic seascape that is business today.  Every company I’ve ever had dealings with has no problems with re-organization, re-structuring, changing direction for products, launching new messaging and identity, and any number of other changes, big and small.  None of these is easy, so why the hesitation about becoming authentic and treating your Customers like Humans?
Good question.  I think it has to do with fear. I’m currently reading Focus by Daniel Goleman and a cognitive norm he mentions is when our minds settle into a more quiet mode, we usually think about ourselves negatively.  You know the voice….I know I do.  You wake up in the middle of the night and there it is.  The one that says the presentation you made at the meeting could have been a lot better if you’d just prepared more.  The one that says you wore the wrong shoes for the outfit you had on yesterday. The one that tells you the comment you made to your officemate will come back to bite you when she mentions it to her manager. The one that tells you need to lose weight.  You get the idea.  I think this also operates at the ‘corporate consciousness’ level. Companies are deep-down afraid that they suck.  They think ‘If our customers REALLY knew what we are like, and what our products are like, they would hate us and run to our competitors.’
Well, surprise!  To the last point, your customers already know what your products are like.  They use them constantly to solve the business and professional problems they have.  So why hide from them? Again, fear is the culprit. For some reason these companies feel they have to maintain a kind of lobotomized “happy talk” at the top level of interactions and communications, despite the fact of the true nature of the more critical interactions that take place between a customer and the company’s sales, support and consulting teams.  So does hiding the first point help this? Not really….public denial is not a great corporate strategy.
Wouldn’t authenticity be easier, if nothing else?  I liken this to the story about the fellow who came home very late one night, somewhat disoriented (so to speak…) and was confronted by his spouse who asked what the story was on the late return.  Embarrassed, he concocts a less embarrassing story, if only to be able to keep the conversation short and enable getting to bed more quickly (being a guy, this is not an unusual goal…). The next day, when asked further about the activities of the night before, he is confronted with trying to remember the story that was told.  Alter it, or worse, tell the truth, and the conversation could turn ugly.  Authenticity up front (and ongoing) would be way easier, if perhaps a bit painful at first. Aside from being simple, it also implies trust and and acceptance of responsibility. Treat them as someone who can handle the truth.
Want to build a solid relationship worth having? Be authentic.  How to start?  You choose the entry point, but wherever it is, go there and do it.  If you aren’t sure what that point may be, ask your community manager (you do have a professional community manager on your team, right?)…..she will have some great ideas about where to start.
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