Always be authentic. Simply put, people aren’t stupid. You can put an awful lot of time and effort into creating a brand from yourself but if, when people meet you, that image does not match up with the carbon-based life form sat in front of them, they will smell a rat. Once again, it’s an issue of trust. If you haven’t presented yourself authentically, people won’t trust you and customers don’t buy from people they don’t trust.
Once it was only necessary to present yourself authentically at work, at work functions and on the golf course. Now your brand is on display at all times. One of the noticeable features of social media is that it allows the user to create an online persona in a virtual world, potentially very different from the real individual.
For a private individual this opportunity may be alluring or disturbing, but for a business or organisation it simply isn’t an option. You need to present a coherent and consistent brand and, given that you can’t drastically alter your own personality to fit an artificially constructed image, it is best to make sure that your online self represents the real you.
Many people are aware of this and do not actively try to build a false representation of themselves, but fall down by being so scared of alienating anyone that they unwittingly create bland, plastic versions of themselves instead. Setting your brand up to try and please everyone can be as damaging as spinning a deliberate fiction. We know that politicians try to pander to all comers and as a result they lose a lot of trust.
To build trust you need to be real. Whether you’re using social media to demonstrate your professional attributes or to convey an aspect of your personality, remember that businesses have target customers and people have personal preferences. There’s no call for deliberately setting out to offend or alienate but professionals are expected to possess opinions and know their own mind, not be mindless yes-men.
Social media makes it easy to create ‘perfect’ business brands and personas, but it doesn’t make it right or sensible. The potential effect on your reputation and trustworthiness if clients discover your brand to be a sham can be more damaging than not having had an online brand in the first place.
If your online business brand is authentic and honest then clients will feel like they already know you before you meet in person, instead of being confronted with a complete stranger. This goes a long way towards establishing that all-important trust. Yes, you need an online strategy and a plan for your brand, but a plan based around you. Social media gives you access to a huge audience, most of whom are looking for authenticity and to engage with authentic people.