Finding the right “authenticity level” for your brand


By Mark Schaefer

One of my readers asked me if I would review his blog and provide some advice. He had been writing for several months and had made no progress with subscriptions, comments, or shares.

The most obvious problem was that his content was anonymous. There was no indication of who was writing the blog! No name, no personality, no smiling face. The blog posts were written in a clinical style that made me wonder if a human was involved at all. The headlines left me cold. “Marketing automation mistakes.” “New research is here.” “A social media development.”

Who would want to read that?

The world doesn’t need another post entitled “Common Twitter mistakes.” However, I would read posts with headlines like:

  • “Five things I want to destroy on Twitter”
  • “The five strangest tweets I’ve ever seen”
  • “How Twitter saved my marriage”
  • “The 20 stupidest things you can do on Twitter”

That last one? I actually wrote that post. It was my first “viral” blog post because it was re-tweeted by Pee Wee Herman, who has 3 million Twitter followers. When he shared it with his audience, it drove so much traffic to my website that it shut down my server. My business temporarily melted from the Pee Wee Heat.

To stand out today you need to be original, and to be original you must possess the courage to add your own narrative to the mix. There’s only one you. You have no competition. Never publish content that can be created by somebody else.

How much is enough?

The ultimate goal of your content is to build an emotional connection between you and your audience. Truly human content will lead to awareness, awareness leads to trust, and trust leads to loyalty.

What are some of the aspects of the most human content?

  • Vulnerable
  • Personal
  • Bold
  • Un-guarded
  • Generous
  • Confident

A common issue is deciding how much “humanity” is best for your brand. Demonstrating honesty and openness doesn’t mean you have to spill your guts. To me, human content builds empathy and connection by offering a glimpse of your personality.

Here’s an example: A blogger from Sweden posted a photo of his office set-up. He said, “Today, I thought I would show you where I work.” This unpretentious piece of content was so simple but it created intimacy with his audience by revealing something personal.

When Facebook introduced its live streaming function, one of the first to demonstrate it was Mark Zuckerberg, the company’s founder. By attaching a face and voice to the company through a live video, Zuckerberg provided human content that was much more effective than a press release. Creating a personal, emotional connection was as simple as showing up.

On the other end of the scale, there are many who have become known by sharing their lives in the open, like Jenni Prokopy. While working in the construction industry, Prokopy started a passion project on the side, a blog called “ChronicBabe,” to help other women who live with chronic illness.

At the age of 25, Prokopy was diagnosed with fibromyalgia. Soon after came diagnoses of asthma, anxiety, GERD, thyroid disease, and more. For years she struggled, taking test after test and trying an assortment of medications, diets and health programs in an effort to control her symptoms.

Through ChonicBabe, she reveals the travails of her daily life to teach other young women how to live with confidence, have a successful career, and nurture lifelong relationships.

Her personal brand has now become her full-time business. She’s known for her transparency and acceptance of imperfection but has struggled at times to establish the personal/public balance, especially when she was going through a divorce. Was she revealing too much, or would she become irrelevant if she portrayed a too-curated picture of herself? Ultimately, she discovered that when she had the courage to be vulnerable, her audience respected her and trusted her even more.

The power of being you

There is undeniable power in being present through your content. Your personal lessons can instruct and inspire. But you don’t need to feel guilty or phony because you don’t share everything. All of us edit our public image to some extent, and that’s OK. You have a personal brand, but you’re not a brand like a Snickers bar ready to be plucked from a shelf. They aren’t the same thing.

I’m a private person and I have to push myself to disclose aspects of my life in public. And yet, each time I open up a little, I’m greatly rewarded by reader feedback. I’ve become more open because my audience wants me to be. Rock star Pete Townshend once said: “I would have enjoyed keeping my private pain out of my work. But I was changed by my audience who said your private pain, which you have unwittingly shown us in your songs, is also ours.”

You see, we create content. But content also creates us.

I use transparency in my writing to reinforce that we’re all equal in our human condition. We all suffer, we’re all stumbling through life at times. I also reveal details of my life as indicators of my values. I think it’s fair for my audience to know what I stand for. Setting a boundary allows me to create human content in a way that feels honest and comfortable.

Whatever decision you make, maintaining your personal brand shouldn’t feel like identity labor, or that you’re putting on an act. Choose what you choose, but don’t be a fake. In the process of becoming known, you get to decide what’s part of your professional persona and what isn’t.

You don’t have to follow someone else’s path or the expectations social media tends to set for us. And your audience — the right one, anyway — won’t judge you for your choices. They’ll cheer you all the way.

sxsw-2016-3Mark Schaefer is the chief blogger for this site, executive director of Schaefer Marketing Solutions, and the author of several best-selling digital marketing books. He is an acclaimed keynote speaker, college educator, and business consultant. The Marketing Companion podcast is among the top business podcasts in the world. Contact Mark to have him speak to your company event or conference soon.

Illustration courtesy Flickr CC and JD Hancock

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