The more we use digital platforms and channels for business, the more we have to show our humanity if we want to stand out from the crowd.
Human beings respond best to other human beings.
They have far less trust in businesses, corporations, software and machines. That’s why you need to show that there’s a real person behind your blog posts, tweets, Facebook updates and sales promotions.
Do this, you will offer something unique that your competitors cannot possibly replicate – and that’s you!
The trouble is, the business world is underpinned by logic and structure. It works like a machine, often following predictable patterns. And so it can be very easy to come across as a money-grabbing machine, with no feeling for the audience.
The real human world is illogical, deconstructed, emotional and unpredictable. And that’s how you have to come across in your communications. It’s called authenticity. In layman’s terms, it means being real.
There are huge benefits to showing your authenticity…
- Uniqueness – nobody can replace or replicate you. The traits that make up your personality are a DNA that makes your business unique. There won’t be any other one quite like you, meaning you can compete even in a crowded niche.
- Trust – if your website visitors feel assured that you’re a real human, they are likely to trust you. This is why photos, contact details, biography and links to social media accounts are so important. Trust is the key factor behind a purchase, particularly online, where customers can’t see you or the products, and are rightfully wary.
- Credibility – when people know who you are, what you’re about, and where you come from, it gives what you say more credibility. This is why getting across your personal and professional experiences, awards, successes and struggles is so important.
- Likability – when people know your strengths and weaknesses, your loves and hates, your good and bad habits, you become a rounded human being, and therefore more likeable. Any sales person will tell you that getting somebody to like you is fundamental to the process.
- Loyalty – when people like you, they are more likely to listen to what you have to say, follow your social media updates and join your services. As a result, they become loyal fans, and far more likely to purchase from you above the competition.
- Open rates – corporate emails, advertising offers and spam simply don’t get the open rates and attention that personal one-to-one emails get when the receiver knows you are and likes you.
- Referrals, shares and recommendations – all off the above factors will mean people are more likely to spread word about you to their friends and family, and link to your content on social media.
- Goodwill – when your readers, prospects and customers understand that you’re a real person, with strengths and weaknesses, they are much more forgiving when you get things wrong and make mistakes. They don’t think of you as someone out to make money from them, as much as someone like them who wants to help improve their lives.
- Personal benefits – there’s nothing as satisfying as running a business where you don’t have to hide behind jargon, pretend to be someone else, or feel afraid to show your true personality. You’ll feel a huge sense of pride and self-respect to know that you’re building a following of people who like and trust you.
All good in theory of course, but how can you get across your authenticity, in practical terms?
Are you Authentic?
- Be real – use your real name, put a photo of yourself on your site, explain your backstory on your ‘about us’ page and have a social presence online. Ideally that means being on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram. But being on them is not enough, you need to show that you have human interests (favourite music, films, TV shows, pets, family, political or economic views, a sense of humour).
- Caring – you have to show concern for the real problems and goals that your customers have. That means offering free help, tips and advice on your blog, or through free reports, videos and webinars. You should respond to people’s questions via email and on social media, offering your opinions and advice freely, without expecting payment or gushing thanks. You should also stand up for your ‘crowd’, that is, the sort of people in your niche.
- Evangelical – show that you stand for something. Be passionate about your niche. Champion your customer’s ideals and goals. You have to come across as someone who is absolutely passionate about your field of interest, your products and the capacity they have to improve lives.
- Ethical / Social Purpose – if possible, bring out the benefits your website, products and services might have for a greater cause. What are the ethics of your business? What are your views on sustainability or ecology? What are you doing for society?
- Honest – real people have flaws and weaknesses. That’s what makes us human. Be honest about those as well as your strengths. As long as you show those flaws in the most positive light, people don’t mind. For example, you can admit you’re lazy, but perhaps that’s why you’re good at finding shortcuts and cheats for your readers.
- Profit not primary goal – your social media posts, blogs and other communications should be primarily about offering free advice, support, news and information that will improve your prospect’s daily lives. Continually hawking your wares and linking to sales pages and product recommendations will lose your audience.
- Maximising user experience – it’s no longer enough to pump out blog posts and emails, expecting the reader to passively consume them. That’s the old hierarchy where you are the business or publisher, and the customer is your audience. If you want to engage your customers, you need to turn your business into an experience – that means being on many channels and platforms, interacting and communicating on a two-way basis. Encourage feedback, comments and criticism, then make sure you respond.
- Continual improvement – as an authentic human being, you’re just like your readers and prospects: you’re continually learning and developing. Don’t be afraid to share this journey.
- Unique – if you have a very particular viewpoint, or something unusual has happened to you in your life, bring it into your online content. Your combination of failures and successes, experiences and opinions make you unique. Nobody else can possibly have that same combination of traits and experiences.
- Contrarian – if you have a passionate belief or opinion that goes against the mainstream crowd or popular view, then bring it out. It’s another sign of authenticity. Having the guts to say something new, different and fresh makes you an originator of ideas, not just someone passing content on for the sake of it. It shows confidence and consideration for your followers, readers and prospects.
- Dissatisfaction with mass production – as a small independent business, you can position yourself against mass produced products and productions lines. As much as possible, show that you have a hand-made, bespoke, craft approach to business.
- Personal – in all your communications, talk one-to-one, in the everyday language you’d use to speak to a neighbour or friend. Include your daily life, joys and frustrations. Be friendly.
- Creative – human beings make things up, whether it’s jokes, stories, witty analogies, pictures, cartoons or songs. Even if your business is dry and technical, show that you’re a person with a creative life.
- Sharing your passion – enthusiastically share your passions, not only for your products or business subject matter, but anything else that fires you up. You might love horror films, 1950s rock and roll, Strictly Come Dancing or gourmet coffee. Perhaps it’s your kids or a pet that stirs your passion.
At all costs, you must avoid the following…
- Fake – pretending to be something you’re not. Giving yourself credentials, qualities and experiences that you don’t really have. Writing about things you have no interest in or passion for.
- Cynical – rubbishing everything and offering no positive solutions for your prospects.
- Staid – communicating in terse, boring jargon.
- Exploitative – constantly bombarding followers with sales links and advertising, answering every question or feedback request with sales recommendations.
- Cold – coming across as clinical and business-like, as if you are purely there as a moneymaking operation.
- Generic – using the clichés I talked about in the earlier article, following the same expected design, content, style and attitude as everyone else in the niche.
- Mass produced – selling only products that people can get absolutely everywhere else.
- Inhuman – websites that have no author, no voice and no personality, as if they’ve been created by machines.
- Top down – making it all about your business, your products and your content, expecting your prospects to simply consume it passively, with no contribution.
- Mercenary – if it’s clearly all about the money, with obvious attempts to hike prices or pressure people into sales.
- ‘Perfect’ – positioning yourself or your business as flawless, all-knowing and superior. Nobody can be like that.
- Wasteful – here you are online, with all that potential influence and power, and you have no cause, no ethics, no sense of helping individuals or wider society. It comes across as wasteful and exploitative.
(This article first appeared in the November 2015 issue of Digital Upstart)