Sometimes, a word becomes viral and everyone starts to use it. In Social Media, words are going viral all the time. Bloggers use the word influencer, then passion, then transparency, then maybe authenticity, engagement *cough* and others. But here’s the thing. I am pretty sure we are all working on different definitions of all of these words.

Most of the time, that’s kind of okay. However, there are two words that I think might be leading people astray when it comes to simultaneously making money and engaging online. Those two words are transparency and authenticity. I thought I would offer you my definitions here, but these are in no way authoritative. I’m open to suggestions!

Transparency: When you think of transparency, you think of something that’s kind of see-through. It’s transparently obvious, for example. Somewhere along the way, though, I think transparency in the world of Social Media morphed into meaning, “Does not sell online.”

I’m not really sure how that happened or when that happened, but it may be having dastardly effects upon efforts to build business using Social Media.

Here is what transparency means to me.

  • It is obvious who is presenting your content. People know who is blogging & tweeting for you
  • It is obvious what your intent is online, meaning people know what you’re trying to sell
  • It is obvious when you are getting paid to do something (like affiliate links)
  • It is obvious when you are using a client/customer for a case study or example

Transparency should not be thought of as a cage that restricts. It should be thought of more like a glass house. You can do whatever you want, but you should not be afraid to show anyone who pops by what you’re up to. There should not be any deep dark secrets.

Authenticity: Authenticity is a close cousin to transparency. In the online world, it is the act of proving that you are not a spammer or a person who will drive people to links that have flashing dollar signs on them. There is not really a methodology for proving authenticity online other than to just be authentic and real. However, I think some people translate this as meaning that you cannot sell online because that would make people doubt your authenticity.

Enter transparency.

If you begin your online presence with transparency, part of the process of building your authenticity will be earning respect and trust as a manufacturer or psychologist or author or whatever you are. If you introduce yourself to people on Twitter as an author and you don’t tweet at them every 5 minutes that they should buy your book, you are building trust as a real person who happens to be an author. If they ask you about your writing or if they ask something related to your writing, you can respond authentically because your motives are transparent.

The two work hand in hand.

Where the danger lurks

There are a lot of pitfalls that can trap the innocent and/or new, and I think these pitfalls are so grey and blurry that they scare people away from trying to build their businesses online. For example, it’s extremely easy to see a tweet that someone has sent out with a link. The tweet makes the link seem interesting and you’re in a rush, so you retweet it without checking. It turns out to be a spam attack which you have now sent to your followers. This can harm peoples’ view of your authenticity.

One problem I have encountered a few times is registering for a webinar that seemed interesting only to find that it was pretty much a promotional event for a book. This damages my view of that person’s authenticity, and it is also an instance of their not being fully transparent. Similarly, I once clicked on a link from a reputable person that I thought was going to take me to a blog post, and instead it was a plea for SXSW votes.

These are things you don’t want to do.

But what do you think?

This is how I define these words as they relate to the online space, and these are my guesses as to why some people may feel that selling online is not transparent or is not authentic.

But really, I want to hear what you think about these words. How can one engage with transparency? How can one engage in an authentic or an inauthentic way?

Share your thoughts! I’d love to hear them.

This is post #55 in The Engagement Series. I hope you’re finding this series useful!

Image by John Boyer.