Blogging: Writing truthfully under imaginary circumstances.

“The secret of success is sincerity. Once you can fake that you’ve got it made.”

— Jean Giraudoux

One of the biggest ironies of the social web is that almost any post you read will pontificate about the need for “authenticity.” It has been repeated so many times we are beginning to believe it.

I heard a guru guy speak about this last week. Authenticity. Authenticity. Authenticity.

Yet his Twitter avatar photo is 10 years old. At least.

His blog is covered with badges about this list or that list he is starring on. Most powerful Twitter this or that.  Some of the lists are made up by his friends. Some of them are made up by him.

Most of his blog opinions are simply repeated quotes from the other gurus that he has commandeered as his own.

“Authenticity: Conforming to an original”

I’m not picking on him. We all do it, to some degree. Point is, we are NOT authentic. And why would you WANT to be?  Isn’t the social media “you” a lot better than the real you?  When was the last time you read a blog post about somebody being constipated, smelly, or horny? Do you really want that in your RSS feed? On the social web, I think people more often present the person they aspire to be.

Last week I had shoulder surgery. I have been sleep-deprived, wracked with pain, medicated, and working with one arm packed in ice. In this period, I haven’t been transparent about almost anything in my life, but I have been honest, writing about challenging issues that have been on my mind. I think that is a better contribution to the world than showing up as the whiney, miserable bitch-man that I authentically am at this moment!

But there is always an expectation for honesty.  Yes, there is value in that. Honesty. Truth, as we see it. Can we use those words more often?

Ladies and gentlemen, we are writing and connecting and tweeting in Oz.

In Wonderland.

Is anything as it seems?  Is anything authentic? In one way or another, everybody is pretending to be the Wizard of their world, pushing the buttons behind their curtain. Nothing wrong with that … as long as we can try to be truthful under these imaginary circumstances.


All posts

  • claudeoggier

    I think you are very brave to continue delivering top content day after day with your shoulder in pain. You deserve a break and I appreciate your sincerity!
    Wishing you a speedy recovery and I won’t blame you if you decide to post every second day until you have fully recovered.

  • jennwhinnem

    Be nice to your shoulder, Mark. I don’t think you’re in Oz right now, but in that cave with all the flying monkeys. They’re the ones who brought you there.

    Other than that, false photos on Twitter are one thing. On a dating site, they are a crime. I think we need to admit that to some extent we’re all used car salesmen.

  • Feel better, Mark! I had half a blog post written on this very subject…building the “perfect me” online. Online, I never snap at anyone, I’m always having a good day, the sunrises are always perfect, and I have infinite patience. Is there a way to bring that person home to my family?

  • Hi Mark,

    Even though my situation is “less than ideal” I do my best to keep my blog as upbeat as possible. I think that honesty is important, but it should not be so blatant that it makes others uncomfortable.

    No one wants to read the real truth, so I filter it and present it in a way that makes the fact that my life is so uncertain less scary. I have been trying to not blow sunshine while things are legitimately hard.

    However, since life is not always horrible, I do try to blog about the brighter side of life and the lessons I am constantly learning.

    I try to keep it honest, but not too depressing if that makes any sense

  • LizReusswig

    As always, I appreciate your honesty…and yes, authenticity!! Great post…hope the shoulder is feeling better soon!

  • Mary Habres

    I always enjoy reading your very “down to earth” posts and I’ve never doubted for a minute that you are authentic. Feel better!

  • One could even argue that even in IRL circumstances, authenticity is questionable. Honesty online is even harder to come by. I do know that my more “personal” or tranpsarent posts have been better received than my “pontificating” style ones. My boss at my previous job even came up to me saying “I like the honest personal posts you’ve been writing. Keep that up.”

    People respect honesty…and for that I’m positive they’ll like this post as well.

  • Interesting post Mark. I’ve always believed that vulnerability in a person’s content makes them interesting and authentic. But you can be vulnerable without behing whiny in my opinion. When people paint pictures of themselves about how amazing they are, my bs detector goes out off and I wonder if they are compensating for something.

  • Taking a cue from a former POTUS, it all depends upon how you define “authentic.”

    I don’t spend my days reading many of the social media marketing blogs, with a few exceptions, so I guess I don’t really care what these so called EXPERTS say. I read those that have some meaning to me. I read THIS blog because Mark shares what is important and meaningful to him. I try to do the same on my blog, although I deal with very different subject matter. That IS authentic. I am not making up my opinion to please my readers; rather I am writing about what I believe and explaining WHY. If my readers appreciate that, they will return, if not, they won’t. I am OK with that.

    I appreciate that Mark does not pontificate, rather he explains, he teaches. If I cannot learn something from reading a blog, I rarely return. I don’t need to hear about the blogger’s every ache and pain, the joys of potty training the new puppy, or the large personal loss in the stock market, unless it is pertinent to teaching me something or helping me to see the point of the post.

    Mark, keep on keeping on….and DON’T abuse that shoulder–Dr’s orders.

  • i hope this didn’t come across as a pity party! I was just using my current reality as an example that we certainly do not present our authentic selves to the world. Thanks Claude!

  • To some extent. Might be an interesting guest post?

  • Wow. That is such a powerful sentiment Rosemary. The other day I complimented @jaybaer and he sent a note back “Yeah, I tell my wife that they love me on Twitter.” Why? Because on the social web we try to present who we aspire to be! Many thanks for this great comment.

  • I think that does make sense. We’re not too people and the offline reality can’t help but bleed over to the online persona. A few months ago I was really feeling down about a lot of stuff I saw on the social web. I could not be honest without exposing that raw edge. So I think that is an example of what you’re describing. Thanks Nancy. Hope the job interview went well!

  • Thanks Liz!

  • Thanks very much for caring enough to comment Mary. Much appreciated.

  • Agree and you know from our conversations how I really push for that vulnerability because it is at the heart of originality. But in the true sense of “authentic” as described above, I do not think our online version of ourselves is a true copy of the offline person in general. Thanks. Have been enjoying your pictures on Instagram!

  • Ha! Thanks for that!

    Really great points here Alice about the value of trusting a blogger’s honesty. Great addition to the conversation!

  • I was taught years ago this little maxim: ” most things are the opposite of what they appear” and it has always held up.
    After a little over a year of wrestling with the online ideals presented to me by a selection of the digerati. I stand upon that maxim.
    You are one of a few people that I have found to be honest and clear about yourself.
    I watched you at SoSlam when I could, and I saw more than most would. I value and appreciate the childlike spirit and educated insights that you offer here.
    I guess the reason why I have not stormed the digital terrain with blustering gusto is that I can’t put up that kind of a show.
    I think of Banksy and derison which he holds the art crowd as a pretty good reflection of things as a whole.
    I wonder if I was to speak a lot about spiritual things that I understand, and how they can be related to business and life, if I would be ignored?
    Today you gave me a salad of thoughts to consider and ponder.
    Thanks Mark.

  • Karen Highland

    This is a great post and discussion… I think we’ve taken “authenticity” too much out of the context of professionalism in the social media world. If I was standing at the register in my “bricks and mortar” small-town store, I wouldn’t be “authentic” either. I wouldn’t complain to my customers about anything…my indigestion, my headache, the last customer that pissed me off….I don’t think that there is anything non-authentic about presenting a professional image.

  • itsjessicaann

    truth and honesty show that we’re human. and that leaves us open to vulnerabilities. we all put up digital walls, but underneath it we all want the reassurance that we’re not the only ones who feel vulnerable. so maybe if we were a little more honest about embracing our struggles, our online “wizardry” wouldn’t come across so inauthentic. thanks for sharing a part of your authentic self, and hope you feel better soon!

  • kadeeirene

    People aren’t as dumb as some “gurus” would like to think and can pick up on real vs. fake quite easily. I think there are definitely those bloggers that not only preach authenticity but live it as well and those are the ones with the most success. If you’re fake, if you write about something you know nothing about or have never experienced, or if you’re regurgitating someone else’s opinion, there will inevitably be a glass ceiling in your success. There’s a ton of BS on the web, most people are smart enough to see through it.

  • I appreciate the honesty in this post – and I hope your shoulder feels better! I was hooked at the title – a variation on what Stanislavski said about acting (“living truthfully in an imaginary world”) that caught my eye. I don’t want people to be surprised by the man behind the keyboard curtain.

    Authenticity and honesty is something I strive for in my communication – online or in person, you’ve got to be real. Looks like you are the real deal, Mark – thanks for sharing this information.

  • claudeoggier

    Different culture different perception…
    Maybe a little bit but no pity party. No pain no gain;-)
    Maybe it’s also because if I put myself in your shoes (after a shoulder surgery) I don’t think I could keep going as you do. I would be more vulnerable.

  • I think that as long as the message that you are trying to convey is authentic and it is a good message that will help someone, it doesn’t matter how you get there.
    Hang in Mark, I find that a shot of whiskey can cure all. ;o)

  • It’s an interesting piece Mark. Would this also true in the real world? The image projected when one is out with friends, at work, or during a sports game?

  • I doubt it Mr. Mountain Bike Hiker Skiier! : )

  • You are wise. Nuff said.

  • The term has been bastardized and abused. I cringe every time a social media guru calls for authenticity. Nobody is. Nobody wants it. Thanks Karen.

  • Thank you Jessica. I push myself to expose the edges a little on the blog and am usually rewarded when I do. We’re all learning. We’re all in this together.

  • You know I think you are really right here and it’s amazing how you cna sniff out BS and not even meet these people. Well said!

  • You know, I have not seen that quote. Amazing. Nice catch!! Thanks Chris!

  • Many thanks for sharing your wisdom today Mary Lynne!

  • In some respects but I think it is a lot easier to maintain an online persona versus an offline persona. I’m sure you’ve heard the adage that 80% of communication is non-verbal. We can hide that online. Thanks for stopping by sir!

  • I think there’s an art to letting people in upon the little nuances and tendencies that make you human.

    For instance, you’ve done a great job of this Mark in this post here revealing how you really feel as the result of having had surgery. Not too much, not too little.

    There’s something about getting a peek behind the curtain that we all love when it comes to people we admire. I personally believe that when you reveal the humanness along with the authority/Wiz and sometimes a hybrid of both, you endear yourself to an audience made up of people not too unlike you.

    One of my favorite quotes relevant to this is, “The more personal you think something is, the more universal it is.”

  • Name the guru guy, @markwilliamschaefer:disqus! #witchhunt #guruhunt #salemstyle

  • Great point. I think authenticity is one those things that means too much to too many people and now it means nothing at all except a buzzword.

    What is authenticity anyway? Before social media, no one new what authenticity was. I remember reading an article somewhere from the 70s about politicians being authentic. Critics said they lacked tact, supporters said they were honest. In real life, we pick and choose what becomes our “authentic” self that we express to others. It’s all a matter of perception and reality. It’s just that today with social media, each person has simultaneously less and more control control of their reality. That is the paradox of authenticity.

  • I think we took it too far because for the first time, the “professionals” are on the same platform having cross conversations with the “nonprofessoinals” who post every single complaint and problem and detail. We just have to figure out where that line is about what is too much and what’s professional.

    In real life, things like charm and charisma are something that takes practice to figure out, much like figuring out online what to share and what not to.

  • Ooh ooh! I love this topic. I could go on and on. My favorite philosopher is Jean Baudrillard who claims media manipulates reality (creating a hyperreality) thus society will never know truth. I’ve sided with this argument for some instances (think of media behavior in Iron Man) but I just did a video blog about this theory and whether if it is valid in social media. Tweets, blogs, etc in social media that pave the way for our perception. I got in a discussion last night about this topic (and whether if its neurological but that’s a whole other real I argue that there IS authenticity in social media. Why? Humans have a desire for (human) interaction so they are driven to a large pool of humans – social media. They can put on any kind of front – fake avatar, user name, be openly personal or not…..but underneath all of this? They’re humans naturally wanting interaction and that’s what (and should) makes social media authentic. The desire isn’t fake no matter how imaginative they’re trying to be. We are humans behind a technological front. Unless we’re talking spambots.

    I will stop here. I loved this article. Sometimes I go back to the claim that we should just resign to the hyperreality. I’ve always been a Oz fan 🙂

  • That is an awesome quote! You taught us a great lesson here today. Your comment is a true gift! Thank you!

  • Next time I see you in New York. If I see you for coffee, then it’s not gossip, it’s business talk! : )!

  • This is too deep for me to process on pain killers. : ) Really brilliant. You are really a gifted thinker. You are amazing in this community.

  • You had me at Iron Man.

    Clearly we need to have a beer again soon and revisit this. Do you know @jonbuscall? He would also enjoy this conversation. Why don’t you leave the link for your video in a comment so everyone can see it?

    Thanks for the superb comment Anne!

  • I’m going to say just one thing for now-feel better soon, sir!

  • I find your kindness so very reassuring Mark. Thank You!

  • Great post and part ofhe opposite end of the same argument that @deanna espoused in her Forbes article yesterday on “Awesome” – (great read too Surely (like in real life) “moderation in everything” is a sound editorial policy. I guess it depends on what strategy people are working to as individuals and businesses – a dose of authenticity – a dose of performance works for me. Isn’t that who we all are really? ( and by “we” I mean the folk who make the social medium really work) .

  • Right! So right, Mark! And when you add in the fact that, quite often, we are interacting with the VIRTUAL versions of each other, rather than in “real-time”, then things get even more bizarre.

  • Dr. Rae


  • Clearly. Or two. I’ll go check out Jon! Here is the link to the video!

  • If this was a Tweet, I would favorite it 😀 Thank you for the awesome compliment. It means a lot coming from someone like you.

  • I have point of view that being authentic and honest should be the goal we aspire to be whether online or offline. If you engage in social conversations and blog often then it is difficult to keep a fake persona for a long time. This is the power of commenting versus liking or retweeting. Also, being authentic and honest doesn’t mean that I have to take my personal problems onto the web. There is a place for personal stuff and a place for social stuff – the two don’t need to mix. Overall, it is a great article Mark and the conversations below are very interesting

  • thanks!

  • Thanks for the link and for adding your wisdom today Simon!

  • Really good point Lori. Thanks!

  • HowToMarketToMe

    Good luck with the shoulder recovery Mark and feel better!

    So true! I’ve been considering getting another Twitter account just so I can manage my “fun” and “professional” sides. Talk about personality split! On my professional account, I would never post about political beliefs, inappropriate anecdotes (“god, I have a terrible hangover”) or anything I wouldn’t want my future boss to know. That being said, I think you can be professional AND authentic–like Karen’s point about being behind the counter.

    The “authentic” pendulum does swing the other way though. Some people, instead of muting themselves, go overboard in their quest to be authentic. I’m talking about the people who amplify their personality to unreal extremes to try to seem relatable. I recently wrote a post deeming this “Zooey Deschannel Syndrome”–where quirk trumps content. It all goes back to Mark’s point: emphasizing authenticity above all creates problems. Maybe we should try authentically helpful instead.

  • I hear what you’re saying Anne. But isn’t Baudrillard talking about the demise of the authentic self in a world of hyperreality too?

    For Baudrillard the authentic self has no voice in an era of hyperreality because the only voice is that of late capitalism. Every space, including the personal, inner, and sub-conscious, is created, shaped, sustained and consumed by the channels of late-capitalist communication.
    We can’t escape the logical of late capitalism because it cannibalises anything that gets in its way and uses it to sustain and grow the system. (I love that idea of Baudrillard’s that we’re just part of a network of terminals in a communication chain, all working for the good of sustaining capitalism).
    In this way, Mark’s comment about authenticity is quite interesting because, for Baudrillard, there can be no authentic in a hyperreal world, just as there is ultimately no authentic self. There is only the voice of the hegemonic system: i.e. capitalism. So when a social media guru starts to talk about authenticity, engagement, trust, etc, it’s ironic because there can be no authenticity in contemporary culture.
    Mark’s comment, which on one level I really share, also reminds me of Don DeLillo’s novel Libra, about Harvey J Oswald. In it DeLillo (with one foot in modernity and one foot in the postmodern era) seems to lament the loss of the old world, the loss of the self. As Lee Oswald becomes lost in the reruns of the TV reels, emerging as a rebaptised hyperreal “Lee Harvey Oswald” (Delillo’s narrator Lee is confused by the sound of his name uttered in full with the middle name), Delillo seems to be identifying a precise moment in culture where the self is lost and the hyperreal self is created by the (capitalistic) TV. Maybe today DeLillo’s protagonist would be a tweeting, Facebooking, blogging, vlogging spectre; a self that only exists online in the discourse of social and so-called “authentic engagement”.

    In grad school I thought DeLillo was kind of cool because he was critiquing the loss of the authentic self, lamenting the loss of the old at the hands of capitalism culture; but then he became super successful and was incorporated into the capitalist flux of consumerism. As always the logic of late capitalism is to amass anything dangerous, critical or edgy and turn it into something popular and profitable. So for all the talk of authenticity and innovation, I have a healthy skepticism for the potential of social media.

    Or something like that.

  • Thanks for adding the dissenting viewpoint Abdallah. Much appreciated.

  • Before you split accounts (and your personality!), read chapter 12 in the new edition of The Tao of Twitter. It addresses this topic specifically. If you are still looking for employment and can;t afford it, let me know and I will send it to you.

  • Very true. Well said Drew!

  • : )

  • HowToMarketToMe

    Thank you for your kind offer, it sounds like something I definitely need to read. Funny story–I actually bought the old version on Kindle RIGHT before the new one came out! Talk about bad timing. This time, I’ll go for a hard copy. That way you can sign it when we meet again!

  • LOL… online “interactions” can sometimes be surreal. (Just wanted to thank you for your reply. Keep up the good work!)

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