My sister recently posted a simple but heartfelt update on LinkedIn, not expecting much from it. In it, she talks about how she decided to change her LinkedIn profile picture from standard professional headshot to a more casual selfie, indicating that she was working from home and looking more “personal” these days.
She described how her new photo is less conventionally “professional” but more in line with the reality of today — working from home, not dressing in so-called business attire often and generally blending our personal and professional lives in new ways. She shared some casual observations and a bit of vulnerability about her own work situation in these strange times, and it went viral! She even got featured on Good Morning America!
This is one of those amazing moments that happen out of nowhere. My sister wasn’t even trying to promote anything by making that post. But her post really resonated with people for a lot of reasons. I believe that there are larger lessons to be learned about the power of authenticity in how we build our professional images and how we conduct marketing for our businesses.
What can this moment teach us about the power of authenticity?
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We’re all in this together
Ever since the COVID-19 crisis began, we’ve seen a lot of conversations in the media and in advertising about how these are “unprecedented times” and how “we’re all in this together.” But it’s not just marketing-speak, it’s really true! Everyone is going through this situation together. None of us are alone in this, especially if you work online, you’re a knowledge worker or your business enables you to work from home. No matter what line of business you’re in, everyone is dealing with a “new normal” of working from home, being on Zoom all the time and staying productive among the disruptions.
People are responding to expressions of hope and solidarity. It’s OK to acknowledge the problems that we’re all facing. It’s OK to ask big questions about how the circumstances of 2020 are causing long-term change — with the potential for positive change as well as the downsides and challenges.
People crave authentic connections
It’s OK to be “real” with people, in business and in life, especially in difficult or uncertain times. People love and crave authenticity, especially in a time of crisis. No one needs to pose or posture anymore; we can be a bit more vulnerable and unpolished with each other than we might have been used to. Next time you’re on a call with a client or customer, don’t be afraid to talk openly about the situation. You don’t have to act like everything is fine. Acknowledge the shared situation that we’re all dealing with. It’s OK to be vulnerable about how you’re adapting to challenges.
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Personalize your professionalism
It’s pretty clear that the traditional idea of being “professional” has been upended when we’re on Zoom calls in the living room. This is true in the “new normal,” and it might be true permanently. This doesn’t mean you should stop trying or not look your best for a video call, but it does mean you should be willing to be authentically human with people.
It’s OK if your child runs into the room while you’re on a work call. It’s OK if your dog barks or if the delivery person rings your bell. It just means your a person, and people like to get to know their business partners and colleagues as people.
Of course, sometimes tough business decisions still need to be made, but ultimately this COVID-19 year is reminding us of the importance of personal relationships and human connections. You can be a great business person and still be real and personable; in a way, that human element matters more than ever.
Related: The Case for Corporate Citizenship
How to bring more authenticity to your marketing efforts
One viral LinkedIn post is fun to read about, but what does this really mean for your marketing? I would suggest a few ways to bring more authenticity and constructive vulnerability to your marketing strategies:
- Include personal stories.More than ever, customers want to see “behind the scenes” stories and photos of people who are helping bring their products and services to the world. Whether it’s sharing photos and videos of your workplace safety measures or your team working together on a Zoom call, there are lots of ways to be transparent and authentic in your marketing.
- Have a point of view. Industries have been upended by this crisis. What do you want to change about your industry? What are some long-overdue changes that need to happen faster? What do you want to see happen in the world beyond 2020, and how is your business helping? Mission and values are more important than ever. Sometimes taking a stand on a particular issue or speaking out on a situation in the world, whether it’s racial justice and social inequality, sustainability in the face of climate change or other aspects of environmental, social and corporate governance can be good for your business too.
- Keep taking risks. Being an entrepreneur, starting a business, marketing, making sales — it’s all about taking risks, putting yourself out there and reaching out to build connections with people. Entrepreneurship is rooted in vulnerability and authenticity. Being vulnerable doesn’t mean you’re not confident in your abilities; it doesn’t mean you’re weak. Vulnerability is a strength. Some of the best entrepreneurs have a sense of “realness” about them that shines through in everything they do. It’s OK to be vulnerable and be able to laugh at yourself and look less than perfect sometimes. It’s OK to make mistakes. It’s OK to fail, because failure helps you learn faster. Being vulnerable and authentic with the world is a form of honesty and power.
I hope you’re all getting through 2020 with a sense of hope and resilience. Things have been tough this year for so many of us, even if we’ve been lucky enough to avoid the health-related impacts of the pandemic. Just like my sister showed on LinkedIn, people are craving those real stories of how we’re all navigating this year and holding on to our human strengths, in ways large and small. Stories like my sister’s help me stay optimistic and remember that business, at its best, is about cooperation. We’re all getting through this together, we’re all hanging in there, we’re all trying to get through to the other side of the crisis and build a better future together. I hope it will be true for all of you.