Whether you’re launching your own digital presence or building your brand, it’s a scary time to be online. The entire world is watching your every move — setting you up to be shared, captured, critiqued, challenged, and commented on. It can feel like you’re always on a stage, and stage fright is a very real thing we all need to overcome.
But there’s also momentum for greater individual authenticity in the world right now. We see everything from celebrities like former Instagram model Essena O’Neill being praised for her honesty about the photos she posts to books like Brené Brown’s “Daring Greatly,” about the power of vulnerability, hitting the New York Times Best Sellers list.
Call it authenticity, integrity, vulnerability, or any other number of words. At the end of the day, the individuals above — and many more — are winning by being real, a strategy that should apply to business, too.
There aren’t five simple steps to building an authentic brand because it isn’t simple — and there’s no universal formula. There are, however, some ideas you can arm yourself with to guide your brand’s expedition into being real online.
Here are a few that have worked for my company:
- Come as you are. This may sound obvious and cliché, but it takes a healthy dose of courage to show up online just as you are. Presenting yourself or your brand as you are means two daunting things: You won’t be everything to everyone, and your truth will be revealed.
That truth might show how small you are, how behind you are, or how clueless you are. But it also strips away the bullshit and allows you to connect with your audience in a meaningful way. You won’t necessarily reach everybody (you wouldn’t have, anyway), but by showing up as you are, you’ll have stronger connections with the people you do reach.
In this process of being transparent, our leaders, employees, partners, and customers have all begun to flex muscles we didn’t know we had, and that’s accelerated our growth as a company.
Try contributing to the quiet — and even the loud — conversations on social media that you understand and feel passionate about. When writing a company blog post, take a position that’s true to your values, and don’t waiver. Avoid opportunistically sharing opinions you think might be “good for business” that you don’t really agree with.
- Intimately know your big picture. Simon Sinek has a compelling philosophy he calls “Start With Why” that encourages leaders to understand why we’re doing what we’re doing before we get into the how and what. Defining your core reason for doing what you’re doing will help build the foundation for your brand’s authenticity.
To get started, consider a few questions: Why do you believe the problem you aim to solve is worth solving? Why are you motivated to do so? Why does what you’re doing matter, and to whom?
Once you know your purpose, don’t lose sight of it. Paint it on your walls, or tattoo it on your wrist — and use it daily as a sounding board. When you’re sharing something on social media, writing content, or launching a new product or marketing campaign, bounce your strategy off your brand’s purpose to make sure it’s on point.
- Stay the course online and offline. It’s easy to jump on the latest app that offers access to audiences a million strong or to shake hands on what could be a deal for a big partnership. Take a chance on new opportunities, but evaluate them against your business goals, as well as the things your brand stands for — and find the courage to walk away if they don’t line up.
For example, in interviews, we ask candidates tough questions about how their personal values align with our own. No amount of work experience will cause us to choose a candidate whose values don’t match up. We also get to know potential partners over beers and learn about what matters to them. The cheapest price or the biggest contract doesn’t win our business; people do.
It takes time, bravery, vulnerability, and conviction, but being real online is actually less work. When we stop worrying so much about political correctness (even the politicians themselves are proving this idea’s antiquated) and how we’ll be perceived, we free ourselves to bring our true value to the table. We stop holding back because of the things we aren’t and show up with our genuine strengths in hand.
Sure, funny cat videos will always trend, but it’s the honest and meaningful ideas that we’re most compelled to share with those closest to us. If you’re willing to be real, your brand will build meaningful connections that people will want to share, stand behind, and support. Sinek’s TED talk has more than 26 million views to prove it.
Image Credit CC by: Bart Everson