Does Intent Matter?
I have no idea whether Irina was asking the following question relative to the social web or about life in general, but I’ve thought about this question a great deal in the past and recently as it relates to the use of social media for marketing.
“how can you tell if you’re doing something authentically vs. hoping to get a reaction or response form an outside source. is that even bad? “— irina slutsky (@irinaslutsky) January 24, 2012
I often ask these questions: Why am I posting this? What’s the motivation? Is it something I feel strongly about or is it something I simply feel will get people to comment on, or retweet or like? And, as Irina also asks, is it even “bad” to simply want to get a reaction from an outside source?
An Argument Against Authenticity
There’s certainly a camp that feels that authenticity is overrated.
“Real #SM Advice: Don’t Be Authentic bit.ly/zIZyNW | Am I an idiot, to dark, or right on? Sound off in the comments! — Eric Wittlake (@wittlake) February 1, 2012
Eric Wittlake writes, “What we really want is something carefully constructed, with enough personality and individuality to look real instead of robotic.” I’m not sure Eric and I share the same definition of authentic. Eric goes on to illustrate what authentic social media behavior would look like, but by my definition he’s not describing authenticity, he’s describing transparency. I think it’s possible to be authentic without exposing every personal or corporate flaw.
Even if social media marketers are not as brazen as Eric describes, their behavior certainly indicates that they’re more concerned with the metrics, the manipulation, the game, than with authentic conversation. There are days when I feel like social media marketers have all read the same blog post about what kinds of questions will get more likes or retweets for their status updates.
“I am going to Germany for seven months,” announced my friend on Facebook, and her confused, concerned and excited friends erupted with a dozen urgent questions. An hour later came the explanation: “It was a cancer awareness meme. Sorry to have put bad info out there.” Well, I feel so much more aware about cancer now, don’t you?
This is just the latest example of how social media marketing has become (or always was) broken–a chase for memes for memes’ sake. Social media marketing is an insular and largely meaningless game where the perceived winner is not the brand that gains awareness, consideration or purchase intent but the one with the most retweets and likes.” – Augie Ray, “Social Media Marketing Is Broken“
Augie quickly points out that it’s not social media’s fault, it’s the marketer’s fault. I agree. And I understand the motivations.
Human Nature And Our Desire For Attention
#ilovewhen i say something to get a reaction and I get the one I was hoping for. — staciemariehull. (@xstaciemarie) January 29, 2012
Who doesn’t? Everyone does this on occasion. We all love the spotlight. But I find myself wondering, often, what happens when this becomes the rule, not the exception. When this becomes the overarching motivation for our updates, whether personal or professional, something is wrong.
Social media marketers know the rules. They understand Facebook’s edgerank formula, for example. They analyze status updates in large numbers and can see the patterns that emerge. They can see what kinds of questions get retweeted, what kinds of status updates get the most likes and responses. On Facebook, for example, if I can post seemingly innocuous non-marketing related updates that get you to respond in mass, I increase my affinity with you and make it more likely that you’ll see my marketing related updates. The introduction of that formula has made it a game. That’s a fact.
Fab @Edward04 blog post “How Authentic are our opinions Online? bit.ly/wWacEP #mrx. Comments from @tomewing & @LoveStats also great! — russ wilson (@rjwilson23) January 30, 2012
“My observation over the last 12 months of online Social Media interaction,” Edward writes,”is of an increasing bias to the positive or silence.” I talked around this a bit in Drunk On Social Media Attention. That is fueled by an absense of authenticity and it ultimately leads to a lack of trust.
I don’t have a definitive answer for you, Irina. But I believe intent does matter. I’m not sure that wanting to get a reaction automatically means you’re not being authentic. I do know that, for me, answering those questions influences my behavior.Why am I posting this? What’s the motivation? Is it something I feel strongly about or is it something I simply feel will get people to comment on, or retweet or like? If I don’t like my intent, I don’t post.
How do you judge whether you’re being authentic or not?
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Photo credit: via Flickr By Ara Pehlivanian
Rishi Khullar says
I love this post. When I was in college, I wrote a personal statement for my application to law school. It was about a pool shot. It was the most magnificent shot I’ve ever hit – a 10 on the ridiculous scale and it was not luck (I swear!).
I wrote about this rare accomplishment because it went completely unnoticed. Not one person saw it. I was still elated though because it was a key shot in a close game. I’m a very competitive person and I wanted nothing more than to keep the table (despite the fact that apparently no one else was paying attention). My essay was about motivation.
I recall this story because I don’t think gaming for likes and retweets is authentic at all. I think accolades highlight and memorialize accomplishments, but they don’t add value to them. They don’t make them any more or less awesome. I think you are authentic when you intend to create something awesome.
I don’t think creating something to get a reaction is inauthentic if your intention is to get feedback to make your creation better. I think you can judge whether or not you are being authentic if a reaction is your sole purpose for creating something. If so, you’re too far-removed from the creative process to call yourself authentic.
Jeff Turner says
“I think you can judge whether or not you are being authentic if a reaction is your sole purpose for creating something.” << This is what I'm trying to get at. As Russ Wilson pointed out in a response on Twitter, “Surely the point of conversation is 2 elicit a response, otherwise communicative style is more akin to broadcasting w/o engaging?” And he is right, of course. You’ve taken this a step further when bringing the creative process into the equation.
Eric Wittlake says
Jeff, thanks for including my “Don’t be Authentic” post from SpinSucks in the discussion!
Irina asks a very interesting question here. As individuals, I think Rishi nails it. If it is just for the reaction, then it misses the mark. Even if you just want to bask in the limelight of reactions, you are also testing new approaches (consider stand up comics).
But now, look at it from a marketing perspective. Marketers want a reaction to everything they do. If it is a click or comment, or if it is a moment of attention that creates a change in perception. Marketers are focused on getting that reaction. Being authentic might be the way to get the most valuable reactions long-term for your business, and it might not. Either way, “authentic” isn’t the purpose, it is at best a path some may take.
Irina, as a media personality, needs a reaction. If she can’t get attention, she is out of business. So is it a bad thing to do it for a reaction? In her case, no. And it doesn’t say one way or another if her action was authentic, but being as visible as she is, if she strays to far from her public persona, she certainly will face a potential backlash.
Nice post, glad I found your site today!
Jeff Turner says
Eric, from a marketing perspective, I agree. Marketers certainly want a reaction to everything they do. If I’m speaking as a company, that holds true, certainly. And, some of the best marketers I know come off as completely inauthentic to me. 🙂
Where this gets blurry and where I think this questions stems from is when the lines between personal and business get blurred. I like your twitter profile statement, “Belief: Marketing should serve and respect the audience.” I believe it’s possible to be “authentic” without having to give up on the desire to get a response. When the desire to get a response takes over both the personal and the business side of the online conversation, something has twisted sideways.
For the record, glad I stumbled on your stuff as well. It’s intelligent.