Authenticity is a widely used word in the business world. Companies strive to be perceived as authentic and human, but being authentic also means being ready to show vulnerability. In recent years, authenticity has become such an overused word that it diminishes its meaning in the business context; after all, do companies really need to be authentic? How can they be authentic? What does it actually mean for a company to be authentic? Do the companies need to be authentic or do the people working there make the company authentic?
To set this topic strait and clarify these questions, we hosted an #eventprofstalk Twitter chat on 16 September discussing authenticity vs professionalism on social media and asked our community how they define authenticity and when authenticity crosses the line and stops being professional.
How do you define authenticity in the business context? Who should be authentic: the company, the experience or the person/team running the company/event?
According to Valerie Wagner, blogger and podcaster at Hotel O Motion, ‘The people can be genuine and authentic and not companies. But above all, the representatives of a company should be authentic. People buy from people.’ According to Irina Graf, founder of The MICE Blog and Event Planners Talk, ‘Both companies and employees can be authentic. From the company’s perspective, they can do good, contribute to societies, economic development etc.; for example in regard to social enterprise, sustainability and corporate social responsibly.’
Valerie added that ‘it’s always the people behind the accounts. They should also show their faces. Often you write to a company, but you can’t address anyone directly because you don’t know their name. The company needs a face, and that is (mostly) the social media team. Social media shouldn’t be used just as a sales channel, and instead, event planners should appear human—that means keeping the community in view rather than just wanting to sell.’
According to Sabrina Meyers, founder of the YouTube channel Hot Hospitality Exchange and Managing Director at Orchid Lily Events, ‘Everything you mention should be authentic because if you’re authentic in one area and not another then there’s no consistency, and then it will seem that you’re not really authentic.’ Katrin Lüthy, Founder and Green Event Specialist at Green Event Planner agency agreed, ‘Authenticity is key in marketing. If you want to get people excited about a product or an event, you have to tickle their emotions.’
Lisa Chuma, Founder of the Event Creators Academy, shared that it’s the company that sets the tone for authenticity, ‘Being able to openly communicate who you are, what you do, what you stand for and what makes you unique either as an individual or company is authenticity. The company needs to be authentic to attract and work with authentic people and teams. The company sets the tone.’
AirLST, an online management system for events, shared that ‘Authenticity in the business context means combining motivation and storytelling with transparency and pragmatism. If the people who make up the company, the management and the team act authentically, the experience will also be authentic.’
Irina commented that ‘It begins with a story—why you do this, the mission, purpose behind the business or the event. You should live and breathe it every day, making actions speak louder than words. For companies, their WHY is their DNA, and actions of employees should be aligned with a company’s purpose; then, both the company and the team come across as authentic.
According to Johnny Martinez, Head of Marketing and Business Development at Shocklogic, ‘Authenticity is when you are true to your values. When you meet someone who is able to walk the walk and talk the talk, and it gives you the feeling that you can trust them.’
What do you think is the best approach for #eventprofs: post as a personal account, or post as a business from a corporate account, or both, and why?
Katrin highlighted that having a good mix between both personal and professional accounts is a good strategy. That way, the person seems approachable while not oversharing.’ Lisa also highlighted the aspect of approachability and that ‘People do business with people. People want to connect with people. So if event planners can post as themselves using their personal account in a professional manner, they can cover both channels in an authentic and strategic way. It shows they are human and makes them approachable.’
According to Valerie, ‘If a person is a company’s ambassador, they can post from a personal account. Then, however, the rules that apply to all influencers apply in this context, meaning that the ambassador/ influencer should feel comfortable with that and stand 100% behind it. It brings nothing only to share content.’
Sabrina suggested that it depends on the objectives of the personal branding strategy. She keeps business and personal areas separate because the focus is on MICE, whereas personally, it could be unrelated and not relevant content. Calgary TELUS Convention Centre shared that they believe that it can be both because they think it’s very important to make companies more human, more approachable, and social media is a great tool for this. Valerie agreed that it’s a mixture; otherwise, social media makes no sense and added that companies not only should post but also share and like other posts.
Becky Dempsey, Programme Account Manager at The Collaboration Company, added that she thinks it depends on what you are trying to achieve, ‘Generally, I think corporate accounts are more information led, whereas personal accounts can be more involved in deeper debate and discussion.’ Johnny also highlighted the importance of personal opinion and the role of influencers, who ‘are people, not companies. If your game is to create and drive influence, then definitely post as yourself (or at least your super persona).’
Irina said that it’s good to have both, but split and adapt the content to each channel, ‘Key company insights should be shared on the company account, and this channel can also offer customer support. Perhaps it is also good to say who’s behind the company account to make it more personal. On personal accounts, the person can share about attending events, speaking engagements etc.’
How can brands/ #eventprofs showcase their personality and be authentic while remaining professional? What is not appropriate to share as a business or a businessperson on social media?
Valerie suggested that very private things should not be shared online, ‘Holiday pictures on LinkedIn are inappropriate, and the community on LinkedIn is also often vocal about it. Content must fit the target audience and channel. Companies and individuals should always ask the question “How do I want to be perceived?” That doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t even share personality, but not (example!!) new-born photos during the first steps. Nobody is interested in this in a business context.’ ‘LinkedIn became much personal in the last couple of years’, suggested Katrin, ‘in a way that there‘s now a facebook-y tone to a lot of posts, which is a bit weird.’ Irina thinks that LinkedIn became more personal in a way that people post more things related to the causes they support and to raise money for charity, but also sharing stories such as getting married or getting kids to promote parental leave or equality. ‘It’s very tricky how these things will be perceived by colleagues and clients.’
Katrin continued, content aside, ‘I think frequency is key. I‘m following marketing professionals who use their business accounts to post “Time for coffee“ or “In dire need of a cookie“ five times a day… it‘s a.) not interesting and b.) pretty annoying. There is no value added for the audience. People follow professional accounts because they want to learn or discover new things for their business.’
Irina commented that ‘in order to let the personality shine, both people and companies need to be approachable because that’s what social media is about! Like, comment, interact with fellow event planners. I think that both business accounts and personal accounts should respect the time of their professional audience and share relevant information to the industry and the business context’.
For Sabrina, it has to be relevant and content related to her focus, which is showcasing her experiences as an event planner on venues, hotels, shows, destinations and suppliers. And how she delivers that content with effect, humour and personality makes it authentic.
Calgary TELUS Convention Centre listed the following aspects that are important to showcase your personality as a business. First, be human! Show the personality and the faces behind your brand, the people that make your company great. Second, apply a conversational approach because it’s a great way to showcase personality and to be authentic. And lastly, form real connections, know your audience and interact with them.
When does authentic stop being professional?
According to Irina, authentic stops being professional when ‘It misses the context of the hashtag or discussion, when it goes for the “sale” instead of trying to engage in a meaningful discussion and when the online persona doesn’t correspond to the offline persona.’ Sabrina suggested not to use offensive language, try to be diplomatic and open minded to see topics from both sides and don’t blatantly copy others.’ Becky added to this that it is important to ‘not to try too hard to be funny/topical/ and on “trend”, then it stops being authentic.’
It’s clear that what came from this discussion is that trends are a favourite ‘playground’ for brands to use to express their voice and shine the spotlight on their authenticity. But that should also be used with caution. Valerie said, ‘Being trendy is a good keyword! Sustainability, for example: it feels like all the companies in the world are suddenly sustainable. Why? Because the hashtag is just climbing well or because they are really doing something about it?’ The key to authenticity is to use the hashtag and talk regularly about sustainability, but not because it’s trending at a certain moment.
Authenticity is associated with storytelling, knowing your ‘why’, having a clear vision and leadership style and being true to yourself. How can #eventprofs maintain and strengthen these values when their business grows, their needs change and the industry evolves?
Robert Kenward, Chief Talent Officer & Co-founder at YOU search & select commented that the ‘Problem here is that most agencies don’t really know what they stand for themselves. Marketing push out some culture/value buzzwords, maybe a bit of training, but they don’t really live and breathe it, so why would their teams?’
Authenticity can be regarded as a buzz word in the business world that is used in presentations and marketing material. So, as Robert suggested, in order to make it real, brands really need to live and breathe it. Robert continued, ‘Authenticity is really just being truthful and honest about who you are, what you stand for and what you’re trying to achieve. It’s the brands that try to please everyone that fail miserably.’ Irina added, ‘Actions speak louder than words. Show what you do and how you evolve as a brand/company. With growth comes going out of your comfort zone, so show how you adapt to new environments or situations and the transition you go through. Change is an opportunity to stand out.’
Katrin shared that from a personal branding point of view, it’s recommended to ‘pick 2–3 topics you‘re passionate about and run with them. If you want to stay authentic, you can‘t share everything under the sun and expect your followers to get you. Hence, my focus on sustainability.’ Sabrina added that ‘If you stick to your personal brand values and message, then despite the changes, you’ll adapt and react accordingly. Social media is a platform and one that is constantly changing, so it’s really about educating yourself constantly on how to continue to deliver the content.’
Valerie highlighted the importance of being open to other opinions and not just your own, ‘Showing attitude on the net is difficult for many, also because one must always count on the fact that others also write their opinion and perhaps do not like it. You have to be open to other perspectives and show a want to enter into dialogue, not to convince but to talk to each other. Agree to disagree.’
Do you think that being too professional stops #eventprofs from being authentic? How can event planners find the right balance?
Irina commented that ‘having an opinion is very important, such as being in the position to make a recommendation and take a quick decision. That will be both professional and authentic because it’s based on personal recommendation and experience.’
Both Robert and Sabrina agreed that ‘you can never be too professional—the only downside is that you can come across as boring rather than unprofessional.’ Sabrina added that ‘The most important thing is finding the balance between delivering what you know (content) and who you are (personality) professionally.’
Katrina and Sabrina empathised the importance of personality, ‘You can only have an engaged audience if your content is authentic and relevant to them. They need to get it and get you, otherwise they are not who you want following you in the first place. It’s important to know the person behind your live marketing vision (the event planner). What decoration does the event planner like? It‘s not like we‘re selling insurance—a personal touch is important in the event business, and here’s where the personality comes across.’