BTRIPP (btripp) wrote,

Being Authentic ...

I've known Kim Garst through various social media channels for a while, starting, if my recall is correct, with my early days over on Empire Avenue. She's since been a familiar presence over on Facebook, and I'm signed up to get her frequent newsletter updates. She recently reached out to her audience to create a pre-sell surge on her new book … which is coming out from something of a “hybrid” publisher, Morgan James, who touts their model as being the “Entrepreneurial Publisher™” which appears to manifest as a mix of traditional gate-keeper, print-on-demand (they work with Ingram's “Lightning Source”) service, and vanity (or, in their terms “collaborative”) press. I point this out because a) I'm something of a publishing industry geek, and I'm fascinated by the evolution of these models, and b) I'm seeing Garst implementing things like “Thunderclap” (a crowd-sourced promo platform) to push the book … which is not something I've encountered with folks working with “traditional” publishers. Frankly, when I reached out to Morgan James to request a review copy, I wasn't particularly expecting a response … but I was very pleased to have heard right back asking for my mailing address … so there's enough of a “traditional publisher” backbone to their model to support classic promotional practices.

Anyway, Kim Garst's Will the Real You Please Stand Up: Show Up, Be Authentic, and Prosper in Social Media comes out in a couple of weeks, is focused on that issue of “being authentic” in social media marketing, and is primarily addressed at the business community … although the messages here are applicable to anybody looking for exposure in social media. The book kicks off with a cautionary tale … of how Quaker Oats lost $1.4 billion between its purchase of, and eventual divesting of, the Snapple brand. In this case, it was a mega-corp taking over a small, quirky, company with a dedicated fan base, and turning it into just another shelf slotting data entry. Needless to say, in that process the brand lost its authenticity, ceased to appeal to its fans, and got no traction with the new MBA-fueled marketing campaign. She follows this by setting out some basic points about the issue:
      Consumers are tired of being overpromised and underdelivered, and in a marketplace rich with alternatives, they are increasingly able to find companies whose authenticity is refreshing and real.

      One of the key hallmarks of sincerity in a company is a commitment to integrity in all actions associated with the brand's story, marketing, and promotion, as well as every other decision made in the operations and support services performed in the name of the brand.

      Customers who have had the pleasant experience of receiving sincerity from a brand are more likely to be repeat customers as a result. Given the cost of developing new leads versus that of retaining existing customers, this can be a huge for a brand's profitability.
Garst uses the image of the trust involved in the small town/neighborhood business of previous generations, where the people were known, and there was a relationship established that stood as the keystone for commerce … and while it's obviously a different time with different elements, she suggests using social media as a tool to reach out to one's audience in a way that can emulate that sort of interaction. One interesting approach she touches on is “history and heritage”, and cites the Oreo vs. Hydrox cookie brand battle where the perception never synched with the reality (Hydrox was the original, Oreo the later knock-off, both were products of large baking companies, etc.) and despite taste-test superiority, Hydrox was seen as the “off brand”, and eventually went out of production … in “failing to leverage that brand history and tell the authentic story of the brand” it missed its best opportunity. This is echoed in the New Coke fiasco … where to appeal to the biases of upper management, Coke nearly destroyed over a century of consumer good will.

The idea of “passion” is the driving element in “authenticity”, but it can be a difficult thing to implement in a big company. The founder might have genuine passion for the organization, as key others may, but spreading that across the entire enterprise can be a challenge. Garst presents these steps to bring passion to bear:
  1. Express your passion.

  2. Participate in the passion of others.

  3. Leverage the passion of your social advocates.

  4. Inspire your employees with your passion.

  5. Tie your passion to business-related outcomes.

In each chapter, there are a lot of “do this” sorts of lists like the above, plus a “conclusion” section which wraps up the concepts covered in it. Again, this is primarily addressed to marketing people who might not have a solid grasp on social media, so a significant amount of the message here is “old news” to those who have been involved in social for a while, but the pacing is set to bring along those who need to be tutored in the social approach. Here's a list of points, for example, Garst gives for “starting the conversation”:
  • Don't be a know-it-all.

  • Provide true value.

  • Ask questions.

  • Reach out to others.

  • Express your passion.

She follows this with a concise, but reasonably comprehensive, look at what to do if things “go wrong”, and how to structure responsibility levels, so when things go bad you can react as quickly as possible (and “quickly” in the social media sphere tend to run to less than an hour rather than after 3 meetings of the Board with the Legal team).

There are chapters on building and interacting with communities (with examples from Ford, Comic-Com, Harley-Davidson, and the Komen Foundation), and on the concept of “virality” … I was disappointed with one piece of this, however, especially for a book slated for a 2015 release (rather than a few years back), where she suggests that Facebook is likely to provide “viral” spread with people averaging 400 connections … her figures assume total reach to all one's connections (and to those connections' connections, etc.), when the reality (for nearly a year now) is that if you don't pay Facebook, you're unlikely to reach even 10% of those following you (and in many cases, as low as 3%), so rather than there being “64 million possible connections” (FREE!) three levels down, you really can only rely on (if not shoveling lucre to Zuckerberg & Co.) a couple of thousand impressions! Aside from this inexplicable reality gap, Garst outlines the upside, downside, benefits and risks of working towards “viral content”, and how difficult is it to hit just the right tone to “catch the wave” (to mix my metaphors) of public attention … she notes: “In fact, in some cases, the very act of trying to make something go viral can have just the opposite effect … there is always the potential for it to generate a significant amount of negative buzz for your brand.”

Returning to the theme of “authenticity” she notes that there are cases when attempts to be authentic backfire: “... by openly expressing an opinion on something, you could face criticism from those who don't share your opinion. Also, since words can mean different things to different people, or can be misconstrued, it is possible to offend entire {groups} without intending to do so.” She counters this with a chapter on brands that are “dominating” social media, with Starbucks, American Airlines, Coca-Cola, Red Bull, and Disney providing in-depth examples of (admittedly large) companies that have found the right voice for their markets.

Garst closes out the book with a look at “how to get yourself heard”, even if you don't have the resources of the big corporations. She suggests that “being authentic is an alignment of what you do with why and how you do it” (which is certainly a template applicable to any size organization), and spends the rest of the chapter summarizing the main points of the text.

As I mentioned, Will the Real You Please Stand Up is due for release in a couple of weeks, and is presently available for pre-order from the on-line big boys at about a 25% discount. While there is little “new” in the book, it is certainly a useful look at social media marketing through the specific filter of authenticity, and it provides quite a lot of actionable material for those who have either not ventured into the social sphere as yet, or have not been successful in their previous attempts.

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Tags: book review
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