You can’t speak in your own voice if you don’t know what you want to say

Authenticity matters a lot these days. I think it matters a lot more online than it did even 10 years ago. In a world where celebrities can get their Twitter accounts verified, people are willing to pay more for the real thing. It’s so easy to spoof — to pretend to be someone you’re not.

I’ve run a neighborhood email list for more than a decade now. Back when it started, we were in a different world, technologically. But from the perspective of my email list, not a lot has changed. People who are interested in what’s going on in East Nashville subscribe to my list. They decide if they want to read the list online, or if they want a digest email or to receive each email individually. I help people with problems with their passwords, and I try to keep the shouting to a dull roar.

It may surprise you, but the volume of crazy on my list of 5000+ neighbors isn’t that different from the days when I had 300 subscribers. There are some network effects there, things that react in ways I wouldn’t have anticipated. One situation that drives most regular list members nuts is when an anonymous [a not-my-real-name member] posts something rude. And they always want me to “do something” about it.

From the cost-benefit perspective, it’s an easy answer. I’m volunteering my time to manage the list, and this doesn’t happen all that often, and plenty of polite members of the list are anonymous as well. So I’m not going to require some name verification process to join or post to the list.

But I do see the positive results of authenticity there, on a daily basis. People who are willing to put their names to their words benefit, especially when they share valuable information.

There are a number of parallels between this free neighborhood email list and the online communities I’ve helped clients manage over the years. And the authenticity rule is a clear parallel.

People who speak with a real voice — and even better, who put employee faces and names to the company brand — are rewarded with trust and loyalty, but for this, you need to learn to Communicate Like a Master. Too many companies are still hiding behind an anonymous brand identity, with an anonymous voice. I think there’s a variety of reasons you see companies doing this, among them:

  • They’re scared of losing control of the message.
  • They’re scared of their employees developing a following — thinking it will be detrimental to their brand equity.
  • They haven’t figured out how to represent their organization’s personality online in one-on-one customer communications.
  • They don’t actually have a plan about engaging their customers anyway.

Those are fixable problems, if you’ve got the will to fix them. Be for real online. It matters, and you’ll be rewarded for it.