6 Secrets to Corporate Authenticity

25 08 2010

[tweetmeme]“Authentic” is undoubtedly one of most echoed words in the Social World nowadays – applied especially liberally when explaining to companies the means by which they should be conveying themselves to the broader world in order to be heard.

The term seems seldom explained more than that, and yet the implications are deep.  It amuses me to no end that the word “authentic” has staged such an emergent come back into our vocabulary – not least of which when used to describe a media and communication form so recently embraced for its ability to allow people to engage in an almost schizophrenic array of multiple online personalities.

Ironic then, that in the current online world that we’ve created, where it’s so easy to be anyone or anything you can imagine, it’s never been so important to simply be yourself. That in a world of Avatars, Second Lives, and Virtual Worlds – we want to know that we’re communicating with real people who are being their real selves.

Maybe it’s a sign that the Social World is growing up – moving from a prior youthfulness happy to live in a world sporting fake Rolexes and toting counterfeit Louis Vuitton bags; to a decidedly a more mature mode preferring to spend their newfound wealth buying the real thing on 5th Avenue.

The formula for being “authentic” as an individual must surely be simple then: Be yourself, communicate from the heart and be consistent. But how do you achieve that in an enterprise setting?  How does a company made up of thousands of voices come across with the same effectiveness as one? Here are some guidelines for your internal “social champions” to follow:

1) and 2) “Know Who You Are and Live It” – Earlier this year I had the good fortune to go to the Front End of Innovation Conference in Boston where Bert Jacobs, one of the founders of “Life is Good” was speaking. In his speech, he relayed the story of how the two brothers started their fledgling business on a street corner selling t-shirts and how they were able to translate that into the marketing empire that Life is Good is now.

During his session there was a comment – one that he repeated during his speech, and then signed along with his name on the Frisbee he flung into the audience and pinged me squarely on the forehead with (there was a ricochet involved from a nearby audience member – honest!).

The comment was “know who you are, and live it”. Now Bert’s no social media guru, nor is he making money from his insight (I believe he donates a lot of his speaking fees to charity – He’s a quiet, down to earth, and confident guy who’s simply figured out the secret to his success.

That secret has helped him translate a feeling, an emotion, and a mission from his heart to his products – and onwards to his customers.

This effect though is multiplied in the social world and the necessity to “know who you are” with ultimate certainty and to consistently live out those values in the social worlds is the real key to success for corporations in what has to be one of the ultimate brand challenges of the modern business world.

Why the “ultimate” brand challenge? Because the Social World has an incredible memory – infinite actually.

What you say, what you do, how you do it, and who you do it with is preserved along with people’s opinions of your actions from the moment it happens, until the end of time. Like an elephant on steroids, your image in the social world is established by your actions, and remembered forever.

If “Knowing Who You Are” is number 1) on the list of things companies must do – then “Live It” has to be number 2).  Consistency is a key element of authenticity  – people want to know that you not only “talk the talk”, but also “walk the walk”.  One communication effort can set an intention, but it takes consistency to set an image.

A positive Social Image is a fragile entity and is re-enforced or recast depending on your actions, engendering strong levels of customer loyalty and advocacy to those who get it right – and equally strong negative reactions to those who trip up on the path. Never mind women, hell hath no fury like a customer scorned in the social world – where one negative voice can sound like hundreds online.

The need for consistency in your actions is then further exaggerated in the current Google-centric world where information is omnipresent and easy to access. In this world, it’s not just your actions that matter, but those of everyone you associate with too.  Nestlé’s well publicized controversy regarding the source of Palm Oil  used in some of their confectionary is just one example of this in action.

3) Be Real – The Social World is made up of individuals – not corporations. Talk to them in the same formal way you approach your PR campaigns and you’ll find the same level of interest and disengagement you probably got from journalists when you sent them that Press Release announcing your new six sigma process (yaaawwwwnn).

Interactions with actual people and personalities are simply more “sticky” than formal corporate approaches. Whilst it’s important to institute guidelines and rules for those interactions, you should, whenever possible,  make sure that your company’s interactions come across as being made on a person-to-person basis and not on a corporate entity-to-whomever-will-listen basis.

4) Be Transparent – Part of the potential poisoned chalice that can be connecting to thousands of people is that you’ll find it very hard to hide information – so don’t bother doing so! Treat your social world as if they’re an integral part of your company. Let them know early when good news is underway, and apologize early when you screw up.  Open up to your community and they’ll reward you with understanding, forgiveness, and loyalty.

5) Cultivate Relationships, not Transactions – Treat the communities you interact with as if they were integral partners in your company’s success and not just simply a transaction source. Care about them, ensure they get value out of the relationship then have with you, and make sure the flow of information and value goes both ways.

6) Do it yourself – This last one is the simplest – you want to be yourself? You want to be “real”? You want to cultivate lasting relationships with your social community? Then do it yourself – don’t hire external partners to do it for you.

Partners have their role in all this – as teachers, thought leaders, and general resources – but you shouldn’t rely on them for execution – that’s just lazy, and in an age of transparency, it won’t take long for the social world to see through you.

Invest in the internal capabilities and expertise to drive and deliver value to and from your communities and the returns will be hundred-fold.

Got more tips on how to be Authentic? Share them below!

Out with the Old? – Not on your Nelly!

2 02 2009

happynewyearBelated Happy New Year from the land of Oz everyone! Apologies for the long absence, but as some of you know, my first post-Imaginatik act was to strap myself onto a plane and go off to the other side of the world to follow my other passion – exploring.

Boris and Uluru

I’ve spent the whole of January in Australia, and New Zealand beckons me for February before I return to the cold and snow of Boston (it’s currently around 40C/110F where I am in 

Australia…quite a change!). However, with a little time off over the next day or two away from my Lonely Planet Guides, I thought I’d post some thoughts on innovation – which is always on my mind – and indeed, I’ve even met some really interesting innovation people on this side of the world too – and I’ll try and post some of the interesting thoughts from those meetings a little later.

I hope you’ll give me a bit of slack then, as I go off on a slight rant in my first posting of 2009 – I promise you it’s not a sign of things to come 😉 speakers-corner-20

The end of the year, always brings people – and pundits in particular, be they journalists, bloggers, or consultants – a chance to reflect on the past, rationalize the future, and for some, to press the “reset” button as they start new chapters in their lives – “out with the old, in with the new” as they say.
It seems that the innovation world is no different – even from my mini-retirement from Imaginatik, it’s been hard to notice the trend happening recently typified by the recent blog posts Bruce Nussbaum, of Businessweek fame, who has now joined a growing list of pundits, wannabe gurus, and consultants proclaiming the “death” of innovation. Could “Innovation” really be dead? tombstone

Of course, on reading further into any of these people’s arguments, they’re quick to admit that the core values, missions, and processes that innovation has embodied these last few years continues to be solid ones. What they’re really complaining about is that the term “innovation” has become overused – and thus from Bruce Nussbaum’s perspective and other consultants – less profitable for them. In its place of course – they suggest new words – words that they will try and coin and in the process become the new gurus of the “Transformation” (in Bruce’s case) movement. And this is where I have a pet peeve with the management world. Increasingly, management thought and theory has become more Chanel than Champy, more Dior than Davenport, more Prada than Porter, in short, more fashion than academic and business discipline, rigor, and accountability. 23issa

Bruce and his ilk, as well as consultants, software vendors, and the rest of us (I’d even have to include myself in that list!) survive on the basis of being different in order to be either interesting enough to be read (for journalists) or interesting enough to be bought for a premium price (consultants and vendors). I admit that it’s a necessary and wise move for many markets and for most times – after all if you were in the screw business, the common wisdom is that you need to innovate to change your value proposition in the eye of the consumer so that they will pick your screw over those of your competitors. It’s no longer just a screw – it’s now a “galvanized, rust resistant, all-in-one joint re-enforcement device – now with extra threads!”….screw_tk

There’s a part of me that doesn’t blame Bruce et al for wanting to change the paradigm in order to keep fresh and keep readers interested – hell, there’s a part of me that hopes he’s successful in pushing a new term that takes some of the inevitable armies of substandard consultants that tend to follow these trends off the business journals. You know who they are – more salesmen than bone fide business advisors and gurus – more interested in making a quick buck by rebranding to fit a trend that to actually care about the long term health of businesses and their clients.

But here’s where my problem lies with this specific change – the world NEEDS innovation right now. With a global recession not only looming but already in full effect (even in Australia, GDP is down, unemployment rates are rising, downsizing occurring, etc) – the one discipline that will change the way things are going is innovation. The World, as a whole, needs to learn how to systematically and predictably manage their ability to change everything about their business – their products, their processes, their business models, even their customers. Call me biased if you will – but I strongly believe that. I’ve seen first hand what innovation can do for companies that are able to embrace a wide vision of possibilities and unleash the power of what Innovation can do.

It’s not a new topic or a fad – any company with any serious longevity has had to embrace major changes in the past – the business environment of our times just demands those changes to be more frequent and faster. It’s not a flawed topic – failures are either caused by companies not fully embracing what needs to be done (which is usually not easy) or not getting proper help and advice choosing instead to go with a cheaper consultant or choosing someone internal to “go out and learn” believing it to be a simple and easy game to play. In short – it’s not innovation that’s flawed – it’s how companies have gone about it that has been flawed. They haven’t understood what’s really possible – they haven’t understood the impact that it could have – and as a result they handicap the process from the outset.

The headline grabbing attempts of a few wannabe gurus proclaiming the death of innovation isn’t going to help anyone. It just leads to confusion in the corporate world and ultimately will lead to companies stalling or abandoning innovation-type efforts altogether for fear of failure or a lack of understanding of the importance of innovation to the business.

Bruce et al – I won’t be backing down from this! Innovation is of key importance to the US, to the West, to the World and you know it! There are times to be different and there are times to band together and push what we all know is in the better interest of the world. There are times, Bruce, when you just need to let a screw be called a screw. It may be boring for you to keep on writing and lecturing on company after company embracing and succeeding with innovation efforts – but success is success – and right now America, and the World, needs to believe, to embrace innovation, and to succeed.


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