Last week, I had lunch with a woman I met in a breakout room of a panel I was on. We lived in the same city and seemed to have a few key things in common. When I arrived, though, I was stressed out and she was full of cheer and enthusiasm, speaking excitedly and candidly about her life. At first, I was just trying to unwind and get on her level, but then she told me a story about a date she went on. The details were hilarious, disarming, totally unexpected -- and relatable. I burst out laughing. After that, something in me softened and I opened up. And that's when the deeper conversation between us began.
The lesson here is that there's something in the act of disclosure that serves as a wrench and leads to real connection. It opens up a space for better stories.
I've joined a few amazing networking groups as of late, and what I'm observing is that there's a new level of honesty and vulnerability in people the likes of which I've never seen before in my professional life. We've all seen the pretty regular cadence of vulnerable posts on LinkedIn. I believe the forced separateness of the pandemic has brought on a new era of intimacy, one where we are stripped of veneer and telling it straight.
Businesses that are built on a vision -- that is, brands with strong why's -- would do well to take the cue from this movement and build vulnerability and disclosure into their own content making it truly authentic.
So what does vulnerable, authentic content look like?
First of all, establish with your team the two things all honest and authentic content are not:
Authentic communication is not unloading. Brands don't tend to do this, but people sure do -- we're all guilty of it. We have so much on our minds that we sometimes blurt things out and overshare without being mindful of our audience and their state of mind. Don't do that as a brand.
Authentic communication is not just for show. Don't fall prey to performative authenticity. Social media is chock full of shock content, content that is there solely to provoke a reaction. There is also a tendency on social media toward a kind of false intimacy, expression that is full of hyperbole, navel gazing, and doleful expressions lampooned perfectly here by YouTube star Caitlin Reilly -- as though the speaker is mostly focused on their own performance. Authentic communication is neither performative posturing nor is it indiscriminate sharing.
A checklist to help you know if you are on the right path
Authenticity Is Scary: One litmus test would be that it has to be a little hard and scary. There's an element of risk to showing up with elements of your business that are normally kept internal. In other words, true vulnerability. You don't have to disclose trade secrets to share the hard parts of your business's journey, but you do have to get a little uncomfortable.
Authenticity Means True Interest in the Audience: The intent of your content has to be highly focused on connecting to actual people. You have to have a genuine interest in the mindset of the readers you are speaking to, as if to say, do you feel this way too?
Authenticity in Business Content Is Still Business Content: Have KPIs for all your content. You're running a business. There's no need to pretend this is a "dear diary" entry. While it should not be overly transactional (e.g. "Here's my scary truth. Buy this now for $10.99") that's even sleazier than a direct "you should buy my product, here's why." That has its place in your content mix, but make sure even your human, emotional content has a useful takeaway for the reader that ladders back to your why as well as to your how. Have a call to action. Solicit feedback; ask to hear their stories; invite them to the next piece on the same topic; offer resources; or make them part of an inner circle. In other words, show vulnerability but not for vulnerability's sake. It should still be based on thoughtful KPIs.
Ultimately, we have to provide value. More and more, it's becoming OK to not have all the answers and to show that we need our customers' presence and involvement to provide the best product or service. That is what builds trust, respect, and true connection, which is more sustainable than speaking at an audience that has a zillion other choices of where they can spend their money. Good luck and be brave!