« Social Media Marketing: When Authenticity Becomes Offensive » social media marketing this photo depicts the concept of curse words in an inoffensive way

I love the emerging participatory methods of marketing. Blogs, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube all add up to make it an energizing and innovative time to be a marketing professional. I must confess, however, that one aspect of the social media phenomenon puzzles me.

The Authenticity Enigma in Social Media

Successful social media and content marketing strategy emphasize "authenticity." I have no problem with that. Since the beginning of time the best communicators have always been authentic. My problem is with the evolution of social media's definition of "authentic" (at least as I have seen it develop over the past year). What prompted the writing of this piece is that several respected business bloggers whom I read regularly have posted rants in recent weeks, complete with negative observations of potential clients and competitors as well as nasty, vulgar language. Here are a few lines from three different authoritative business blogs I read regularly (all of which prompted positive comments from readers for their "authenticity"):

EXCERPT SET #1: A financial marketing professional (whose readers, I'm guessing, are banking industry marketers) wrote the following:

"5 reasons banks s*ck at blogging"

"The content on bank blogs s*cks"

EXCERPT SET #2: A social media thought leader wrote the following about the "bullsh*t" side of social media marketing (which, among the three excerpt sets included in this post, received the most rave reviews for its "authenticity"):

"Call it what you will — reposting, featuring, scraping — plagiarizing is a d*ck move. Do you your own d*mn work. Write your own d*mn stuff."

"*ss-kissing will get you anywhere, but where is that, exactly?"

"Speaking of long-term, “*sshole” is not a long-term strategy." 

EXCERPT SET #3: A user experience design expert who provides services to ad agencies wrote a rant that included:

“Ad agencies, in particular, are soulless holes…”

"...advertising, as it is widely practiced, is an inherently unethical and, frankly, poisonous endeavor that sees people as sheep to be manipulated, that vaunts style over substance, and deems success to be winning awards."

Thoughtful, Elegant Blog Writing Should Be the Goal

I'm posting this piece today at the risk of being labeled a dinosaur who simply does not "get it" when it comes to the new, loose, straight-from-the-hip style of business social media marketing and blog writing. But, I argue that I do "get it," and perhaps a lot better than some of the esteemed business bloggers quoted above. We all need to blow off steam from time to time. I get that, too. The point I'm trying to make is that it should not be done in writing -- especially within material that is intended to enlighten your readers (many of whom are potential customers). I learned in college journalism classes and through years of professional writing experience that the goal should be honesty, simplicity and elegance in every word that gets published. Achieving a polished, well-crafted piece that is also authentic is hard work. The writer of such a piece takes great pains to revise and rewrite until he/she achieves the ideal without risk of blatantly offending any group of readers. Anything less, in my opinion, is undisciplined writing and unprofessional.


When Communicating Volatile Messages, We Can All Do Better

I will continue reading the bloggers cited above. For the most part, I value their posts and learn from them. But I think they can, and should, do better than the excerpts included in this post. In the words of Dale Carnegie: 
“Any fool can criticize, condemn, and complain but it takes character and self control to be understanding and forgiving.”
"Understanding" and "forgiving" are part of being "respectful." One of the top five characteristics I look for in clients and subcontractors with whom I work is that they are, in fact, respectful. None of the writing in the blog excerpts cited above achieves anything close to that ideal.


What Do You Think?

Do you find social media "authenticity" increasingly a license to be offensive? Do you expect more from the thought leaders you follow on the web? Is it out-dated to think common courtesy in business-related communications is imperative and that anything less is undisciplined and unprofessional? Please share your thoughts in the comments section. Thanks for reading.

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