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The Authenticity Paradox Online

Authenticity is a paradox online. Herminia Ibarra’s The Authenticity Paradox on the Harvard Business Review focuses on management. Leadership requires molding behavior and strategy to meet current demand.

Many of Ibarra’s examples discuss how true authenticity is to misread in business. Don’t confess or share when doing so creates confusion and destroys confidence and trust. Don’t seek consensus when strong leadership is expected and needed. Authenticity requires matching strategy, context, direction and salesmanship to create a movement others follow.

Online authenticity faces similar challenges including:

  • Movements – Movements require tribes and tribes need movements
  • Organization – Illusion of spontaneity is a CSF (Critical Success Factor)
  • Community – Online starts COLD and warming a website up can sound or feel inauthentic
  • Values – Shared universal values are crucial but can’t ossify or not listen
  • Safety – Consistency and values-based choices over time create trust and a sense of safety


The “new marketing” creates movements customers join, collaborate with, and advocate. Campaigns need followers. It’s hard to build movements without followers – the web’s biggest CATCH-22. The world is a NOISY place these days. Attention demands outstrip attention supply by order of magnitude. Only a tiny number of websites will be seen, scale, learn, and grow.

Some websites, companies and brands have discovered “magic sauce.” These sites, brands, and businesses win hearts, minds, and loyalty exponentially. What works today may or may not work tomorrow. Strategies that work for some may or may not be reproducible by others. There is kismet, magic, and alchemy in how ingredients combine.

Capturing hearts and minds with movements is one successful online marketing strategy. Movements capture emotions, aspirations, hopes, and dreams. And great “movement” marketers include Nike, Coca-Cola, and Apple. Jim Stengel wrote an excellent book, Grow: How Ideals Power Growth and Profit at the World’s Greatest Companies. Stengel’s book stresses “5 Brand Ideals” that power exceptional marketing including:

  • Eliciting Joy: Activating experiences of happiness, wonder, and limitless possibility
  • Enabling Connection: Enhancing the ability of people to connect with each other and the world in meaningful ways
  • Inspiring Exploration: Helping people explore new horizons and new experiences
  • Evoking Pride: Giving people increased confidence, strength, security, and vitality
  • Impacting Society: Affecting society broadly, including by challenging the status quo and redefining categories

Authenticity online requires knowing your “brand ideal.”  Create something others wants to join and advocate. Does your website, digital marketing, and communication walk it’s talking?


Websites are like Broadway plays. Marketing teams set the stage and write scripts. Plays are planned spontaneity and defined collaboration. An audience is crucial.  No matter how much planning, drilling, and repetition what happens NOW is predictable but not known. Every website is an online play.

Web sites, much like HBO’s Westworld, video games, movies or fiction, require suspension of disbelief. Visitors need mystery, seduction, stories, and beauty. However, sites ungrounded in values, ideals or movements will find it difficult to win hearts, minds, and loyalty. The beam between organization, orchestration on one side and spontaneity on the other is thin, precarious and always changing.


Community is hard to predetermine as Leadership Lessons From The Dancing Guy illustrates.

Finding, believing in and sharing anything (websites, products, brands) requires courage, failure, magic, and joy. Every brand, website, and company create a connection, power, and love. Know the love you create is the first rule of authenticity online. Recognize you aren’t in control, listen carefully and evolve is the second rule oof authenticity online.

Values Based

If there is a more important online marketing rule than, “Walk Your Talk,” we don’t know what it is. Never let lawyers dictate copy. Look at every communication as an opportunity to reinforce your brand ideals and core values. Sites and teams that look at “terms” and “return policies” as an opportunity to connect will win. Sites who create rules they don’t follow lose. If your guiding value is the golden rule what more do you need to say? Will a small group of customers take advantage? Maybe, but don’t trip over big money to pick up small.

If your guiding value is the golden rule what more do you need to say? Will a small group of customers take advantage? Maybe, but don’t trip over big money to pick up small. Terms, return policies and other standard and boring web pages are opportunities to share, live by and learn from your brand, company, and personal values.


Google wanted to know the difference between high-performance teams and average ones. Safety was the answer. When team members feel safe they take risks, are vulnerable. Productivity and joy increased. Safety, as Twitter’s recent troll problems prove, is the most important feeling any website creates.

Well known and enforced”rules of the road” creates safety. Twitter said it was against abuse but they didn’t walk their talk. Be present, real and authentic when assuring safety, community standards, safety, and security. Presence and listening beat rules and insistence.

The line between censorship and community protection is often hard to find. We know abuse when we read, see or hear it. Don’t get caught doing the impossible – defining everything that is or ever can be abusive. Create, “We know it when we see it,”  guides. Enforce those guides.

In conclusion, websites are defined spontaneity. Online marketing requires collaboration, listening and a willingness to evolve and respond to what is happening now. We defeat the authenticity paradox created by initially cold digital environments with design, copy, images and room. When our sites are safe, secure and rewarding they grow. When we speak to ourselves about ourselves opportunity is missed.

Harvard Business Review logo image

Authenticity Paradox on Harvard Business Review

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Consistency hero image

Values Based hero image

What sites make you feel safe enough to contribute, collaborate and share?

e: martin(at)Curagami.com

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