Authenticity ain't pretty.

A number of years ago, I had a job working in a very small office.

Since I was young, spent most of my time there on the phone and had few co-workers, I decided to ditch the makeup routine and go to work “au natural.”

And nearly every day when I arrived at this job, my boss would invariably turn to me and say, “You look really tired this morning, Jen.”

Every day.

For months on end.

I always slept well the night before. I always came in showered, smartly dressed, perky and full of smiles. And still I kept wondering, “What is it about my appearance that suggests to this man that I am a haggard insomniac?”

Eventually, I informed my boss that telling a young woman that she looked like poo day after day wasn’t really a polite thing to do, and he quickly put the practice to rest.

Well THAT explains it.

Shortly thereafter, I met this man’s wife.

She was a well-manicured socialite with a giant rock on her hand and a mask of cosmetics covering her face.

Literally, it was a mask – her makeup had all been tattooed on.

Then, I kind of felt bad for my boss.

All along, I thought his behavior was about me looking abnormal, when in fact I had it totally backward. It was his perception of me that was the abnormal thing.

When this man rolled over each morning, he was greeted with perpetual ruby lips and kohl rimmed eyes – a vision of womanliness that would forever be immune to imperfection.

So when I walked in the office a few hours later with my puffy eyes, naked lips and yawns, I cracked his mirror right down the middle.

So where am I going with this?

I am reminded of this cracked-mirror phenomenon a lot lately when I’m talking to clients about social media.

After years of pushing out glossy marketing speak with the perception that audiences were sitting there like well coiffed mannequins just eating this stuff up, suddenly, some companies are hearing their consumers talk back to them.

And when they talk, they don’t sound like helpful brand evangelists participating in the world’s largest focus group.

They sound like ordinary humans.

Problem is, we humans are actually a cranky, rude, loony, witty, boring, sassy and sometimes terribly unruly bunch.

We swear. We get depressed. We fly off the handle. We gratuitously use the word “dude.” We throw our fickle love from social meme to social meme. We are authentically unpredictable.

Humans hate your marketing plan.

Humans don’t care about fitting into “user personas.” We don’t enter into dialogue with any thought to measurable outcomes. We don’t congregate to the social web to engage in a balanced banquet of conversations.

Instead, humans use the web as a raw and unruly buffet of ideas, opinions and discussion, and…

  • Sometimes the results leave us hungry for seconds.
  • Sometimes it make us wanna throw-up.
  • Sometimes it makes us laugh so hard that food comes right out of our noses.

And it’s all of these qualities that make the social web so attractive, amazing and challenging to navigate as a marketer.

Polished pitches and controlled messaging probably always will reign in marketing industry, just like some men will always prefer a Stepford wife with her beauty tattooed right on.

But as the social web becomes more powerful, it is my hope that authentic conversations – like authentic, unadorned faces – will get the respect they deserve.

Authenticity ain’t always pretty, folks, but there are great lessons we can learn if we can overcome our urge to prune, control and pretty it up whenever we come face-to-face with it.

Who knows? Maybe we’ll even learn to be a bit more authentic ourselves.

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3 Responses to Authenticity ain't pretty.

  1. I really enjoyed your analogy in this post. Social media, as I remind my friends and clients, is about sharing. It’s not necessarily about pushing your polished message to the masses, but about creating a dialogue with your clients.

  2. Amy Bryant says:

    It ain’t pretty, but it’s real. I love this post and love the light you shine on marketers. Now that people have a “voice” companies can no longer afford to ignore their customers. This is actually a great opportunity to provide more value. Thanks I think I feel a blog coming on! Thanks for the inspiration!

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