Whose words are these? Authenticity in online public relations

by Steve Seager on July 6, 2009 . Views: 84

Beth Harte from marketing profs  has kicked off a lively discussion about whether public relations can be, or has ever been, ‘authentic.’

As she says, by authentic, she means: not false or copied, but genuine and real. She refers to the fact that many articles, presentations, blogs, or twitter posts are not written by the people that claim to publish them, but written by pr agencies.

‘Authenticity’ is a particularly relevant issue in social media. Many social media ‘experts’ claim it’s the biggest factor for businesses engaging with consumers in social media. I have also encountered many a client that worries about handing over responsibility for social media communications to online public relations practitioners.

These fears are based on, as she puts it: “I don’t know about you, but these days when I read an article, a tweet, or a blog post I want to know that the person’s name on the article is the person who actually wrote it.”

Well, I would disagree. Authenticity is not about authorship, it is about intent and purpose. Would you be disappointed to know that Mr. Kipling doesn’t actually make his own exceedingly good cakes? And it is not him on Facebook? Are Obama’s words less authentic because the rather brilliant Jon Favreau wrote them?

Speeches are a perfect example. Does ghost writing make a speech less authentic? I have written speeches both for business leaders and diplomats. When I have done my job well, they have expressed that I help them articulate their ‘story’ better than they could have done alone. Does this make their speeches less authentic? I would argue it makes them more authentic.

The key is in teamwork between the client and the pr. To help any client better articulate themselves, any good pr must do the basics:

  1. Research and understand what makes the brand or person tick
  2. Work closely with the client to clarify the intent and purpose
  3. Ensure the story is targeted and relevant to the audience
  4. Adopt the personal or brand tone and style of the client

If your pr has done these basics, they can help you better articulate your value to those you address. If this content results in trust from those who read that content, then your pr has done his job. You are authentic. Even in social media.

Of course, there are exceptions to the rule. Sometimes the name on by-line should be the writer. If you are a CEO writing your blog, then I wouldn’t advocate ghost writing. But that’s where a good pr slips into editor mode. An editor can help you hone and sharpen your message so it sticks. So it is authentic. Again, it takes teamwork.

‘Trust’ not ‘authenticity’ is the key to creating great stories in social media. I certainly wouldn’t trust the fact that everyone is who they say they are in social media. But when I read consistently relevant, meaningful and valuable content from someone, I don’t care who wrote or edited the actual words. I trust them. Don’t you?

Authenticity in online public relations

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