Yes, yes, I know you’re all running to get your pitch forks so you can pull a Marie Antoinette on me. Hear me out…
The definition of authentic is pretty simple: not false or copied; genuine; real
I have been thinking about this a lot and recently had a few conversations with folks where I actually said it out loud. One of those places was the O’Reilly Twitter Boot Camp. I was sitting on a panel with Tony Hsieh (Zappos), Marla Erwin (Whole Foods), David Deal (Razorfish), David Puner (Dunkin’ Donuts) and someone asked a question (honestly, I forget what it was) and these words crossed my lips:
You know…PR’s never been authentic. In the past, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve written a byline or press release (or my agency has) and after it shows up in print it’s only a matter of time before a co-worker (or a customer or a vendor) comes up and says, “that was a great article by John Smith…I didn’t know he knew so much about X, Y, or Z.” And then I have to tell them “Well, John didn’t really write it. I did (or the agency did). He had some input and reviewed it.”
Two comments inevitably happen after this exchange:
“I KNEW he wasn’t that smart!” (Usually from a co-worker that’s been trying to get ink or dislikes John Smith) OR “Wow, I am surprised… I thought our people were always writing these great articles.”
Either way, it’s been a lose-lose situation each and every time.
As these words crossed my lips at the Boot Camp I thought for sure my panelists and the attendees would disagree with me, but to my surprise, I saw nodding heads.
I know what you are thinking…I shouldn’t be telling people that John Smith didn’t write the article, it’s a standard PR practice that everyone knows about. But you know what? I can’t BS people and never have been able to. I am not going to lie and say someone wrote an article that they didn’t. Now, on the flip side…I’ve worked with many a co-worker that has written their own byline or provided tons of input and I give them all the kudos in the world.
What I am talking about here are the flat out bylines that someone’s name gets slapped on because they haven’t been “given ink” in a while or the press/news release that was fabricated because the VP of Marketing thinks it’s time for one.
Now, I know what you are thinking…that’s just a bad PR practice and I would agree. But I am also not naive enough to believe that it doesn’t happen.
Why has this been rattling around in my head? Because this false notion of PR authenticity is at the foundation of the ghost blogging and ghost tweeting debate and where it goes awry in the social media world.
I don’t know about you, but these days when I read an article, a tweet, or a blog post I want to know that the person’s name on the article is the person who actually wrote it (yes, yes, I know ghost writing has existed for-ev-ah). That it’s their experience, their emotions, their writing and tone. And if I find out that Jane Doe at an agency really wrote it, well all credibility is gone in an instant. And believe it or not, after a while you can tell someone’s style and tone and when it changes (Um, Oprah book club anyone?!).
In our new PR 2.0/social media world I believe people expect authenticity…especially when they are used to it. When they read a tweet, they want to know that it came from John Smith [or at the least someone from John Smith's company. [Marla Erwin swears no one cares who exactly at Whole Foods is doing the tweeting as long as they get the help they need...and I am sure she's right. But I am betting if they outsourced all their tweets, people would start to have an issue with that. Just an opinion, maybe I am totally wrong. Marla?]
So, my premise is simple… if someone didn’t write it themselves, it’s not authentic.
I know people are busy, I know companies are lacking budget and struggle with implementing social media. I think if they can’t engage authentically then they should hold off because social media forces authenticity.
That said, I am open to learning about how you feel about this topic. Especially if you’re a PR practitioner engaged in social media. Am I wrong? Is it authentic to write someone else’s words?
If so, let me ask this: Is it authentic to copy a Picasso and sell it as such because you’ve ‘represented’ it properly?
By the way, I have left out some pertinent PR aspects intentionally because I am more curious as to what your thoughts are/reaction will be.
I am afraid of guillotines, so please…be kind.