Authenticity: A new era for social media influencers?

Late last week I had the opportunity to listen to various members of the business community speak on a series of panels at the Rotman School – the theme of the day was alternative careers for MBA students. Despite the many different careers paths presented, there were a few prevailing themes on the panel including one articulated by Chantal Rossi from Google Canada.

What Ms. Rossi said really stuck with me. She said that Google wanted to hire authentic people and spoke of the Airport Test.

What’s the Airport Test?

Imagine spending eight hours stuck in an airport with someone. Could you handle it? If you could, then they would likely possess authentic traits and be someone with whom you could work.

What are the telling signs of passing or failing the Airport Test?

If the person has nothing to talk about after 10 minutes that would be a sure tale sign that they are destined to fail the Airport Test – they would make for a long eight hours.

Think of the people you meet for the first time who leave a positive lasting impression. They will pass the Airport Test. They are generally friendly, interesting, curious, great communicators and above all, authentic.

There are other ways to judge ones’ authenticity, but to me, it comes down to a gut feeling that emerges shortly after engaging people for the first time.

As someone who spends a lot of each day engaged in social media, authenticity is one of those buzz words that individuals and organizations strive for. A lot of lip service is paid to coming off as authentic in the digital world. But no matter what you try and do to come off as authentic, if you are not genuine and authentic, eventually people will sniff you out.

In my own social media travels, I have come across three communities. The first is the growing number of CFL fans who engage in social media. They are as authentic as they come – passionate, partisan and faithful to their team and their league. What you see is what you get. In fact, this applies almost universally to sports fans across the board.

The second community is the growing number of self proclaimed influencers. This is the community that is increasingly coming under fire from industry professionals – however, no industry professional is willing to go on the record with their views for fear of being alienated. Hello high school all over again.

Now let me be clear – there are a ton of influencers out there who are striving to improve their respective industries and share knowledge with others around the world. This is the third group. These are usually the humble people who don’t care for follower counts or the self-proclaimed titles of “ninja” or “expert”.

Sadly, however, is that the real influencers in this third group are being undercut by a growing number of people who are simply in the game for free shit and great experiences and simply use their clout (or Klout if you will) for their own self interest. The second group is playing a risky game and the day may come where it all falls apart because you can only keep it up for so long. They may be authentic in their pursuit of free goodies, but their support for brands isn’t real and eventually this will all come home to roost.

Returning to the talk at Rotman, I shared some drinks with a few former classmates afterward and we continued to debate authenticity and its role in society. Even at the micro level in our school, it was interesting to witness how people were disliked because other students viewed them as unauthentic as we moved later into the two (and sometimes three) year program. The change in sentiment is swift once you are viewed as lacking authenticity.

I don’t have the answers on how to become authentic – all I know is that if you are yourself no matter the medium then you should be fine. But if you start tailoring your behaviour for the platform of the day, eventually people are going to call you out. So try and keep it real.

Lessons Learned:

  • You can’t fake authenticity. Actions will always speak louder than words.
  • Be authentic. Always.

About Jaime Stein

Jaime is the Senior Manager, Social Media at Hootsuite. He is a digital marketer with expertise in social media and content marketing. His experience stems from leading the social media strategy for two national brands. Jaime holds an MBA with a focus in Marketing and Strategy from the Rotman School of Management where he was selected valedictorian by the students of the Morning MBA Class of 2011. He is the former radio voice of the Toronto Argonauts and currently lives in Vancouver with his wife and two sons.
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