Spend some time in any of the social networks out there exploring the topic of "social media" and you will find the word "Authenticity" being thrown around. If you are choosing to participate in social mediums, and engage in discussions and relationships with others, you are encouraged to "Be Authentic". Although I agree wholeheartedly with the sentiment, I find it a bit disappointing that something so common sense needs to repeated so often that it's reached the point of getting beaten over the head with a cast-iron frying pan.
Engaging in new media avenues should start from a place of authenticity because we are creating a model of connecting with others online as opposed to in person, but those in person rules still apply. Nobody wants to hang out with the guy who is trying to push his own agenda or brag about how wonderful he is. You want to invest your time with the guy who is going to give you something in return for your time, be it entertainment, information, or even friendly debate. We naturally gravitate to those people that make us feel good about ourselves and help us solve problems in our lives. This same behavior carries over into our social graphs.
New media author Brian Solis says in his book "Engage: The Complete Guide for Brands and Business to Build, Cultivate, and Measure Success in the New Web" (affliliate link) that you have 7 seconds to entertain before you lose someone's attention. So while at the in person networking event, you were stuck talking to braggy guy or slimy sales guy until you could find an escape route, online you can navigate away to a new page, tweet, comment, or close your browser altogether. People have the freedom to leave it and leave it quickly- they no longer have to take it.
When the Big Guys Walk the Walk
I am a big fan of Chris Brogan. I started following him on Twitter after I found out that he was going to be a luncheon keynote speaker at a conference I was planning to attend. (Social media is a great way to get the inside scoop on these experts prior to seeing them in person- a very valuable conference planning tool!) What I enjoyed (and still do) about Chris's tweets is that he is always personable and informative. He comes across as a genuinely nice guy.
At the conference, I was getting ready to go into the first breakout session when I saw a slightly rumpled man studying the items on one of the vendor tables. It was none other than Chris Brogan. He was completely alone and I saw a great opportunity to meet someone that I admired. I walked up and introduced myself, and was delighted to find Chris was as warm and genuine in person as he is online. We had a short conversation and he inquired about my experience so far with the conference. Then he gave me a little insight on the presenters at the session I was attending next (who he was acquaintances with). In five minutes, if I hadn't already been a fan, I would have been converted that day.
Chris's book with Julien Smith, Trust Agents (affiliate link) went to the top of the New York Times bestseller list just a few days before the day that I met Chris. He is exactly who he is both online and in person, and is a wonderful role model for the concept of social media authenticity.
So I hope that as you find your way around the new media sandbox, you always start out from a place of your own truth and values. That's really all they're talking about when you hear "Be authentic". Then ask yourself: What you are you bring to the table? What can you give to those that are investing their time to talk with you? People will choose to engage with you because of who you are and what value you are providing to them. Be respectful of that.