Like I had mentioned in my last blog post, as a PR agency, we handle social media communication channels on behalf of our clients. We do not explicitly disclose if, for example, a twitter profile for a client is being handled by us (as in, the PR agency) or by a direct employee of the client – this is based on a discussion between us and the client organization, based on their comfort.

Some clients feel that such disclosure makes them look like they do not have enough time to handle their own social media channels and do not want us to disclose the role explicitly. And, we respect that decision – after all, what matters most is the relevance and context with every single tweet (in case of Twitter, that is) we generate.

2587628680_08e570806aLast week, we got a DM (Direct Message, for the Twitter-challenged) from someone we followed on behalf of one of our clients. It asked a specific question, ‘Is this someone from <client organization name> or a representative from your agency?’. In such cases, we are obliged to share not only the fact that we’re the client’s PR agency, but also the name of the person from our agency who is handling the Twitter profile. We did, but also asked an additional question, ‘Does it really matter?’.

The response was, ‘Of course it matters. Honest disclosure is a must on the social web space. Please do not do the mistake of hiding identity’. So, were we hiding our identity? I had explored the changing role of PR professionals given social media outreach by many PR agencies earlier, but really, is managing a profile on twitter equivalent to hiding our identity? Why is authenticity such a dire necessity in the social media universe alone?

Just because people have a way to talk back – in many cases, almost instantly? Is that the only criteria?

How about authenticity in other areas of communication? How about a well known actress ‘acting’, quite seriously, as a committed and coy housewife (The new Dettol campaign starring Vidya Balan)? I do agree that is done with enough cues about it being fake and put-on, it works (Asin as a vegetable vendor in the Fanta campaign; Rani Mukherjee in many avatars for Munch, Saif/ Dhoni for the Lays campaign, for example). But again, for every one of those, you have a Swini Khara (the child actor from Cheeni Kum) acting as a – what else! – child to a couple in a ICICI ad. Are these ads hiding the identity of a celebrity and merely cashing in on their star presence? Do people see these stars as celebrity actors acting in an ad or as that character? Taking to another level, what about models posing as doctors in ads for hand-wash liquids or even hospitals? Isn’t that fooling people?

With pervasive communication tools like Facebook and Twitter, I’m sure people can vent out their opinions on these questions too. A 50+ year old star can pair with a 18 year old actress – no, not as Dad and daughter, but as a romantic pair! People have quite a few tools to talk about the age difference. When Omar Abdullah created a ruckus in the assembly about an allegation against him – it saw tons of opinions on Twitter. Shah Rukh Khan’s detention in the US is still being discussed on Twitter and Facebook now – one side says its all a publicity stunt, the second group (including NDTV’s Barkha Dutt) completely misses the point and exclaims ‘How can US be part of a publicity stunt?’, while a third group simply says the actor ‘used’ the situation as an opportunity to promote his thematically-relevant Karan Johar film, ‘My Name is Khan’!

Another example within the social media world – how about a book review by a well-known blogger, Samir Balwani – a book by his friend, Tamar Weinberg? Samir makes his associations very clear in the review and at the end of it. He’s clearly doing it to avoid allegations of bias if people found it through other channels. Or, how about Chris Brogan promoting the hell out the Thesis wordpress theme? Closer home, Rajesh Lalwani, one of the leading social media practitioners in India, blogs about a client brand (Samsung) and uses instances of one of our clients too (Nokia), all with complete disclosures and total relevance to the topic of the post. Are we overdoing the authenticity bit for social media channels alone?

The point is, the era of authenticity is not restricted to content/ opinions generated via social media alone. It could be about anything in this planet – just that there is a group that now has an increasingly credible voice – to air their feedback. That places the onus on many things to be authentic and honest – its a balance mechanism really – you lie…you’re exposed. The scope of that exposure is dependent on the number of people who passionately want the truth to come out and the size of their online network.

There are issues too – Rakhi Sawant made an entire TV show about a mock Swayamwar and the country was glued to it, for sheer entertainment value. There were many, many tweets predicting the fact that there will be no wedding at the end and that’s what happened too. It was a facade, it was viewed as a facade and people complained about the facade while fully knowing the facade right from day 1! The show got incredible TRPs and took a fairly obscure TV channel from NDTV, to the top. The social media feedback did not affect the proceedings in this case, despite the overwhelming criticism. Does it prove that social media is still not a credible/ viable enough communication medium – at least in India?

Going back to my earlier question of using client-level discretion to disclose our role in managing a twitter profile – my opinion is a firm No! We are completely clued in to our client’s business and understand their overall brand personality really, really well. And if asked, we do answer honestly. It really does not take away the fact that we’re doing a great job on behalf of our clients since we are paid to that job well.

And no, in this case, the client does not want an explicit disclosure about our association with their twitter profile – so, I’m not at liberty to let you know which client I’m referring to. See, we can keep a secret and still be authentic, where it matters!

Picture courtesy: .FAKE via Flickr.



2 thoughts on “Authenticity in the social media? Why only social media?

  1. I am in the process of completing a SMM exercise in its true earnest for a Bengali (Indian vernacular) movie with an excellent director and starcast.
    I had built up a captive community of over 1500 members in one single forum. I was raring to go for even higher numbers with innovations by roping in people from other forums.
    I knew from start that people would start asking me very soon about my true identity. I revealed my true identity and merged it as a member of the crew seamlessly. I gave out all my contact details.
    Members from various forums appreciated my frankness. We have had close to 20,000 interactions. The film did very well in the box office and earned rave reviews from the mainline media.
    The point: The best option for us SMM consultants would be to gel well into the clients scheme of things while revealing a watered down version of our own identity.

  2. Good point. As long as we sound and seem relevant across any identity, I’m sure our revealing of the true identity would perhaps only evoke respect (that we’ve been honest and relevant in each role) and not annoyance.

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