What’s Really Authentic on Social Media?

by Gregg on January 26, 2015

From time to time I wonder if social media is burning out as a communications channel. I thought that again this week when I read a story in WSJ titled, Paid ‘Influencers’ Undercut Ads on Pinterest.

communityThe story noted that some brands are investing in Pinterest, not in advertising, but in paying the channel’s influencers to “talk up” their products to consumers (WSJ’s words). It appears to be working; a J.C. Penney spokesperson noted that the company sees “twice the lift in engagement on a product when we use an influencer on Pinterest.”

This didn’t really surprise me. I’ve suspected this has been going on for awhile now; it was about a year and a half ago that I started seeing some pretty big names in social media talking about a new-fangled car service called Uber. In fact, I even point-blank asked one of those people whether he was being paid to promote Uber to his followers. I didn’t get a straight answer, so I’m left to draw my own conclusions.

The marketer in me understands that paying people to promote your products on social media channels might make sense. Which would you be more influenced by – an ad or the words of someone like you? The PR person in me understands how important it is to control the conversation.

But the social media user that I am sees this as somehow wrong, and it comes down to a key word: trust. Can I really trust what someone else is saying about Brand X’s product or service, particularly someone I know only through the keyboard?

And for that matter, shouldn’t brands trust that their product or service is the kind that people will want to talk about in glowing terms on social media channels? If not, then maybe brands need to go back and rethink their product or service.

Is this an ethical question? Maybe, and then again, maybe not. What these brands are doing on Pinterest (and other platforms) is probably not that much different than a celebrity endorsement in advertising, i.e., someone getting paid to say nice things about a company’s product or service. But I’ve always wondered: Do these people really believe in the product or service they are hawking, or is it simply a matter of they’ll say anything if the price is right? Same applies here.

Maybe I’m being a little naive about this whole thing, but I don’t like the fact that someone I engage with on social media channels may have been hired to tell me how great something is. I think it’s more authentic and genuine if the product or service stands on its own.

We’ll probably never know one way or the other. I have to think that this doesn’t build community – the whole point of social media – but ever so slightly undermines it. Fast-forward a few years, and how viable is social media as a communications channel if everything is a facade?

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Kinda hard to believe we’re at the start of another year. Want to feel old? That whole Y2K thing came and went 15 YEARS ago. Remember how important that felt at the time … and maybe like me you felt a little silly when it passed with nary a problem?

That story illustrates the whole thing about time. I’ve often believed that time is the key resource, not money - there always seems to be budget for something that has to get done, even if you have to play a shell game to find it. But time … it’s a finite resource. We all get the same amount, and we choose to use it in the way that makes sense at the time. Often later we wish we had used our time more wisely.

I was reading a piece on HBR the other day titled Things to Stop Doing in 2015, which made a lot of good points about how we could spend our time in our role this year. But here’s the thing: The ideas had a tone of negativity – stopping something implies how you were doing it was wrong.

A more positive train of though is focusing on what you’re going to start placing more emphasis on in 2015. I’d rather start something that will benefit my personal brand, and impact the B2B brands I represent, rather than focusing on stopping some behavior, which becomes just another to-do. Therefore, I submit to you my list – sure, it might seem short, but I’m in the interest of using my own time, and yours, dear reader, most efficiently.

UnknownI’m going to start pushing myself harder by filling in my margin time with materials that impact my day-to-day work and the brands I represent. Case in point: I started reading Jim Collins’ seminal book Good to Great the other day, which purports that “Good is the enemy of great” for most organizations. Totally agree, but how does that impact my brands, including the one I work for? Guess I’ll have to read more to find out. You’ll see a book review eventually.

On the same token, I’m going to start getting in the habit of resting my mind at intervals, so I can be as fresh as I can and thus make better decisions. I started meditating last fall after reading Dan imagesHarris’s book 10% Happier, and got to admit, it’s gotten me to realize that I can’t make good decisions if my mind is addled with fears, negative thoughts and other bad code.

I’m also going to start eating better. Sadly, your author loves his snack food, but that has to get to the wayside because I firmly believe it impacts my mood.

Finally, I’m going to start to look for the best in people, instead of assuming the worst. Again, another nasty habit, but when I’m in my calm-mind state, I really do believe that people are mostly good with a few bad tendencies, rather than the other way around. In other words, it’s easy to be judgmental, especially on the job, when your mind is racing. Plus, I’m a dad now, and I think it’s important that my daughter sees me as glass-half-full person, because that’s how I want her to be.

What are some things you’re going to start doing in 2015? Post ‘em below and let’s talk them through – maybe we can be accountability partners.

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