Authenticity and the new digital age

As a reader of the Kissmetrics Blog, I found the recent post on authenticity in the digital age as one of the most thorough explanations of how we all can and ought to approach interacting with each other over this depersonalized medium. Authenticity is now a buzzword and the paradigm for online interaction.

At the heart of the post is a summary of how authenticity rose to prominence. “The more virtual our lives get, the more we hunger after something genuine. What people really want now is not just a product or a service, it’s an experience. An experience that is more honest and transparent… more authentic – and businesses are going to have to keep up with growing consumer authority and give people what they want if they want to survive”

What does that mean?

Authenticity is sort of a state of grace. When you are perceived to be authentic your work gathers a sense of weight and gravity; extending your words in to actions.

So who is being honest and transparent… and having fun with it.

If you haven’t been reading online: Flickr, a part of the “rising-phoenix” Yahoo, has been revamping and recently had sustained 4 hour outage during their update. With this image and tweet they have changed their dialogue about their outage:

The tweet and error page combination got the following reactions:

That’s a pretty positive consensus about a basically negative situation. Flickr’s downtime issues normally would cause mass panic-to-anger, but they remained on top of their situation and flipped a negative to a positive through authenticity.

Let’s dissect how they did it. First, Flickr deserves a big round of applause for their preparedness. Flickr’s failover page is something we have always recommended for emergency situations and their use of Twitter to stabilize and broadcast status information to their customers really help set expectations. Those actions broadcast honesty and transparency out to your audience and allows you to control the collective experience of the outage by both your staff and customers.

Flickr has been updating it’s page as part of Yahoo’s overall attempt to rebrand itself. The update promised 1 terabyte of storage space for users to hold full-resolution photos at the highest quality This big promise is likely the large undertaking that let them know that they needed to be prepared for outages in the future.

Second, their sense of humor has hit the right spot with the twitterverse and their customers. Humor is so difficult to dissect and replicate because every great comedian has their own voice and timing. But it is clear that Flickr nailed it by being cute with a) the small girl with a hilarious expression b) the cute animal (sort of) c) it is kind of an absurd photo d) most important, their hashtag and its connection with the copy of the error page. The #badpanda hastag allowed things to trend across twitter and get on the The Next Web main page to garner media attention quickly.

Third, they put themselves ahead of the game. This might be the most important and authentic part. Think, for instance, if Flickr had tried to shrug off the importance of their downtime. Downtime, we all know is a reality of every internet company and every server. This fact can lead most of us down a pretty cynical path of ignoring outages or treating them as insignificant to your customers. And cynicism is that caustic enemy of innovation and authenticity.

Being ahead of the game meant most of all letting the downtime be a twitter trend. Instead of being hyper protective of their errors and mistakes, Flickr chose to put themselves in a position of honesty and transparency. #badpanda has none of the look and feel of a corporate denial of liability or the stink of a bad PR team’s diversions.

And that is how Flickr won the authenticity game just the other day. Through advanced preparation they turned a bad situation into a good media-marketing boost. Despite, the fact that outages are almost always bad, Flickr, by being true and authentic, made it feel like they are a real, responsible company. Authenticity is a feeling that we get from the way people behave and this ladies and gentlemen of the jury is how to behave to your customers: prepare for breaks in your system, be honest about those breaks, and maybe be funny about them.