social media

Engagement, Authenticity, Influence: I’m Calling Shenanigans

Oh, how we love our buzzwords, eh?

My head is spinning lately, and unfortunately it’s not with great stuff. It’s with frustration, distrust, and apathy. Those are heavy words, I know – but I’m feeling them.

How I do love these social media. I really do. Connections I’ve made on Twitter, Facebook, through my blog and by attending valuable events like Podcamps and PAB have literally changed my life. I’m a better writer now. I’m a public speaker. I’m teaching others how to work and play and grow their businesses with digital communications. 3 years ago I’d have thought none of it was possible.

And that’s why I’m so upset by what I’m seeing these days. The proliferation of snake oil salesmen, bad advice, and buzzwords that mean nothing is making me crazy. People are being swindled into paying thousands of dollars to attend conferences so they can be sold more fluffy eBooks and hardcovers. They are being forced to listen to the same presenters drone on about the same old stuff, as if it’s the wisdom of the ages. And people are getting suckered into it left, right and centre.

Be Authentic! Engage with your Customers! Increase your Influence!

Wait…wait. Think about those three words for a minute.

Authenticity. Well, I don’t know about you, but when I was a kid, my parents told me over and over again, “Just be yourself, and people will love you!”. If I lied to my parents and they found out – ZAP! No TV for a week. I was encouraged to be authentic, honest and truthful in my interactions. If I wasn’t, there were consequences. Therefore, I grew up being…well….Authentic.

Engagement. Being a military family, we moved around a lot when I was a kid. We were always posted in the summer, so the first step upon moving into a new neighbourhood was that my brother and I would have to go out and meet the other kids. Mom would stealthily identify in advance which houses on our street had kids my age, then she’d give me a gentle shove out the door. “Go to number 45, I think I saw a girl your age over there.”

“But Mom, I don’t want t…”

“Just go knock on the door, dear. They won’t bite!”

I’d suck up my courage and walk down the street and knock ever so quietly on the door. A parent would answer.

“Is your daughter home?”

“She’s in the back yard. Why don’t you go around?”.

I’d wander cautiously into the back yard, walk up to the little girl, and say “Hi, my name is Susan. It’s a pleasure to meet you. I like your Barbies.”, just like my Mom taught me. Say your name, be polite, compliment the other person. Engage with them on their level. Hey – that sounds familiar.

Yep – apparently I learned Engagement when I was 6 years old, too.

Influence. On the playground, we always had to figure out what game we were going to play next. Hide and Seek? Tag? Red Rover? The bigger the group, the harder it was to decide. But, there were always those in the group that seemed to be able to sway our opinions. They’d give compelling reasons like, “Well, there’s 15 of us today, so Red Rover would be the most fun”. Sometimes we’d listen to them because they’d provide a more risky option – one that, if our parents found out, we’d probably get in trouble.

These select few had influence over the group. Why? Well, sometimes they tended to be the older kids, so in our eyes they knew more. But age didn’t always define it. Sometimes the influential ones were just the ones that said stuff that made sense. If we did it their way, we’d for sure have more fun. We’d take a bigger risk. We’d try (and maybe even learn) something new.

Soon, I learned how to come up with creative ideas that would influence the group. I’d voice my opinion, and sometimes, other kids would listen to me too. I may have not been the most popular kid back then, but I discovered I could influence when I wanted to.

So I guess I learned Influence on the playground.

So, if the concepts of Engagement, Authenticity and Influence were learned when we were kids, why are we hanging on the every word of the people who know little, and do nothing but tow the line? Someone telling me that in order to be successful in social media, I need to Engage, be Authentic, and increase my Influence is like someone treating me like I’m 6 years old. And that’s kind of insulting, don’t you think? Can you see why I’m frustrated?

To be human, you need to understand these three concepts. It should go without saying that all of your interactions, online, offline, in person, in social media, writing a letter, going to the post office, visiting your Grandma, should be Authentic, Engaging and Influential. That’s humanity, not social media.

Well, maybe this doesn’t make any sense, and I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments. But before you do that, please watch this 4 minute video from my friend Andrea Ross. Because she is the embodiment of the things we SHOULD be paying attention to when it comes to being successful in this space. Thank you, Andrea, for your thoughts, your wisdom and your inspiration. You’re the real deal.

[photo credit: albyper on Flickr]

14 Comments

  1. I wish more people could see the simple common sense that so many are presenting as strategy. Thanks for pointing it out so eloquently. It's sort of how you really earn influence, huh?

  2. Thanks for talking about this subject which has really peeved me in the last year, Susan. As someone who has spent the last two years developing my chops in social media, it really ticks me off when so many industry “role models” turn out to be nothing more than buzz word slinging, empty headed people with very little action behind their work. At the same time, this seems to be a topic that very few people in social media are willing to talk about because I feel that by calling out this insincerity, they feel that they might be lumped in with bad eggs. Thanks for writing this. It needed to be said.

  3. Bravo. Well said. Influence-talk is in the air this week, witness this silly Fast Company influencer contest. Bleah.

  4. This is such a relevent blogpost. I've just gone through an exercise that forced me to figure out who the real me was for my business. What I learned was not rocket science, it was that I know who I am, what I'm good at and how to deliver it. So with that, I've changed the way I do business, gone back to basics and figured it out.

    The video with Andrea is the most inspiring I've seen in a long time. Thanks for sharing it.

  5. Adegbenga Agoro

    It is a great article that strips all the nonsense and just shows you how to be a better person but instead of knocking on the door and all that, we are using tools. The new playground is the internet and this just makes totally sense as the best way to conduct yourself. Thanks for the article

  6. Agree, everyone talks about “Social Media” and many people are trying to teach people how to be “Social”, which I think most of us did learn by the time we were 6. I have seen an increase of SM “Rehash”, taking the same ideas, putting a little spin, and reselling them for sure and it is a bit frustrating.

    One place I think there is still a lot to learn, is not so much in how to be “Social”, but how to properly use the tools available, identifying your target audience, and trying to figure out how to produce a message that is relevant. I've seen some great resources coming out lately containing more practical advice on the nitty gritty of SM which are quite refreshing (i.e. how to configure all those blasted Facebook settings).

    Thanks for a great blog!

    Garry

  7. While I agree that we learned these skills as children, it is amazing to me how many business people hide behind their business and don't communicate or engage in conversations with their customers except to push out their latest sales pitch. While it might seem like common sense, I think many need to be retaught those lessons and to embrace them as business people communicating via social media. As children we did not think of the buzz words as that, we just did it. Many adults, I think, need the buzz words to remember and embrace the concepts defined in an adult/business context.

  8. I so agree with you here. Sometimes we overlook common sense in the name of making ourselves look better, smarter, more influential.

    Most relationship lessons can be traced back to kindergarten, we tend to forget that.

  9. You make complete sense here, and I agree that we (should, at least) learn these concepts early. I'd also agree that the people who just toe the line add nothing of real value to the discussion. Sadly, however, the fact of the matter is that most companies don't act like this, even though they're comprised of people who should know better. They don't engage with others; they don't act authentically and still think they can buy influence. So, as frustrating as it is to keep hearing these things (and I feel that frustration too), much of it stems from companies acting differently from the way that the people inside them would individually.

    Make sense?

  10. Thank you! Not only did you make sense and provide great examples, the video (which I played parts of twice) really touched me. Seems like you are talking in the dark sometimes and then you realize people were listening…

  11. Two thought directions.
    One – results without the work. It's the online version of the get-slim-quick pill. Ties in with the sense of entitlement kind of hanging around the generation like a cloud. Demonstrating the three character attributes you discuss takes time and energy and really should be a cultural thread woven within organizations rather than traits demonstrated by a select few.
    Two – Vulnerability. To engage, to “be yourself” whatever that position may be, and to possess influence, I think those traits make people (and companies) vulnerable. It's the weak ones who see the vulnerability as a detractor to their credibility, rather than the magnetic pull of approachability that it really is.

  12. For sure we learned a lot of these things when we were kids but as adults sometimes we become dense. Add to that a business mind that has learned one way of doing things now in front of a bunch of new tools and old behaviours. When people repeat, authentic, engage and influence I think it is a reminder to themselves and others as the tools sometimes mask the humanity behind them.
    In reality, this happens all the time even face to face..think about it Sue. The one I can speak to most easily is the doctor patient relationship but you can find it anywhere. Doctors hide their authenticity behind the clip board and white coat and we want them to sometimes. In fact, however it has been shown that once they touch their authenticity and enter into engaged exchanges with the patient, different healing occurs. When they meet human to human. The professional exchange of services still occurs but the influence comes from a relationship of trust.
    It is easy for those that have integrated these skills to get frustrated with the ignorance of some who have forgotten the humanity in the social space but that is where it is a catch 22 maybe. Being authentic also can mean screwing up big time. If we want things to be better then helping educate is one option open to you…closing barriers and putting on a white coat is another.

  13. Thank you, Susan. I'm touched.

  14. I loved this, particularly when she says, “And I began to see that our audience was large, loyal, appreciative and quiet.” Emphasis on quiet.

    Numbers never tell it all; numbers often get it wrong. :)

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