If you’ve spent much time in the technology/marketing/PR side of social media over the past couple of years, you’ve probably read your share of blog posts about “authenticity” and “realness” and “transparency.”
You’ve also probably stumbled across a few “real” personalities who pride themselves on a hardcore lack of editing.
This is often treated as a badge of authenticity, as with the old uncle in every family who says all sorts of chauvanist and racist things… but is generally (and fondly) referred to as nothing more than a “character.”
This is the “real” that is the topic of at least one panel at every unconference, the “real” that riddles the backchannels at SXSW, and the “real” that people demand — with pointy blogfingers — from any company or public figure they think might be more conscious of their PR than of living in a suitably glassy house.
But is all this “real” getting us anywhere good?
Where are the limits?
Is it okay to engage in major verbal battles with people in public channels because you feel the need to “call them out”?
Is it okay to blast companies for the slightest infractions in customer service before you give their normal channels a chance to work?
Is it okay to tweet publicly about your boredom during sessions or talks that you find less than interesting?
Is it okay to leave diatribes in comments that, if delivered face to face on a street, would leave someone trembling in shock… or land you in the ER, needing stitches for your fat lip?
Is it okay for you to reveal information about others in public channels that simply isn’t yours to share?
Is it okay, in other words, to wade into social media like a toddler with Tourette’s?
It’s a tough balance to strike, sure.
Some people love the gritty, “Fight Club” feeling in their channels, where anyone can say anything, and all that matters is the pursuit of dirt — err, truth — while others are a little taken aback by the amount of people who want to put “badass” in their bio.
Knowing your goals and your audience will ultimately dictate how you feel you need to behave and interact with others. And maybe you want to take off your shirt and brawl.
But I want something else.
What I want from companies is not to bow and scrape whenever the slightest thing goes wrong. I want them to give the best service they can, and to respond politely with help when I come politely with a concern. Someone in Head Office shouldn’t have to don sackcloth and ashes because a flight attendant forgot to bring me water. Norma Rae wasn’t dealing with long lines at the Apple Store. It’s tempting to wield your public voice like a bat, but when you’re constantly forcing damage control over real evolution, you’re not doing anything to improve a brand.
What I want from the people who read my blog or listen to me speak is to offer constructive feedback or opinions, delivered with respect. Or to find a way to communicate with me privately if they can’t help but “tear a strip.”
What I want from people who offer editorial and criticism in this space is to value sensitivity and integrity as much as they value traffic and provocation. To give me views and ideas without the shock tactics. To stop shouting into the canyon to hear their own voice bounce off the rocks. Why force your readers to wade through tabloid language to find the point… if there was one, all along?
What I want from people who cover news in this space is to respect journalistic ethics. If they want to be taken seriously, they should take their responsibility seriously. I shouldn’t have to wonder if a story is being covered because the editor had a beef (even if this is a major problem in the MSM, too. After all, aren’t we trying to do better?)
What I want from people who go to community gatherings is to engage with the opportunity, and show some empathy to the people who are willing to stand up and share what they know, instead of acting like the late show crowd at an improv open mic night.
Politeness is not synonymous with fakery.
Grace isn’t “blowing smoke up someone’s ass.”
Dignity isn’t opaque.
And the ability to say something isn’t always tantamount to the wisdom of saying something.
I’ve erred on the wrong side of the balance more than once. I’m sure I will again (with apologies.)
But I’m still wondering if it’s time we tried for a better kind of “real.”