In the not-so-distant past, the online presence of CEOs and thought leaders was rather mute. It could be said that the “polished” social channels of business leaders tended to reflect a more self-congratulatory tone, whereby the propensity to glorify hard work and positivity as the key ingredients to success was fairly commonplace. The message was upbeat, but unoriginal and predictable. It also wasn’t particularly relatable.
Fast forward to today, and the situation has dramatically shifted. Leaders have unleashed their authentic voices across social media, Youtube, and podcasts, speaking out about every possible topic relevant to their personal and professional journeys. Thought leadership has taken the front seat, and entrepreneurial influencers are now shedding light on their business failures and blunders, their dreams, and their fears. Not only that, but many are passionately advocating for important issues such as mental health challenges, racial inequality, the gender pay gap, and their own childhood traumas. It seems that today, almost nothing is off-limits. More leaders are wearing their hearts on their sleeves.
There is no question that “authentic leadership” has become a wildly appealing phenomenon in today’s new media age. And while the concept has undergone numerous transformations throughout history, and its meaning may vary between individuals, it can be generally stated that authentic leadership entails being true to your core values in both your professional and personal life, thereby earning the trust of those around you.
What is inspiring and joyful to watch, is that today’s entrepreneurial influencers are paying attention to what their followers, fans, and audiences crave, and by trusting in the power of authentic human connection they are able to step into their truth.
It is worth noting that for the “traditional” leader, it may seem counterintuitive to think that by ditching the tightly knitted corporate script they could actually be more influential over the masses. So why does authenticity hold so much social power? If we dive briefly into our innate programming, we humans of course are heavily dependent on social relationships during childhood and adolescence, and the hypothesis that our brains have evolved to detect social cues and nuances is supported by a large body of research in developmental psychology and neuroscience. Unlike animals such as wolves, foxes, or bears who fend for themselves by foraging and hunting, human children rely on their parents, peers, and community to survive and thrive. As such, our cognitive abilities have evolved to discern subtle cues of distrust rather than possessing an acute sense of smell like many other creatures.
With that said, it seems fitting that more and more executives are using social media to provide a human touch to their brands and professional identities, fostering a sense of trust and closeness with their audiences. The impact of this approach is further cemented in research. A recent BRANDFog study found that “77 per cent of respondents were more likely to purchase from a company whose values and objectives were articulated by means of CEO and executive leadership involvement on social media,” which demonstrates that executive activity on social media can significantly impact public opinion and consumer choices.
With that said, the impact of social media on our emotions and behaviour has grown inarguably wearisome for millions of users and endless research has pointed to the very real threat it poses to mental health globally. Consequently, a counter-movement has emerged across social media platforms for users to showcase unfiltered, everyday reality. This can be observed in the increasing popularity of raw and unpolished content on platforms such as Instagram, where users freely share a plethora of photos, and through TikTok’s push towards natural beauty and the rejection of traditional beauty standards.
Moreover, the growing movement towards authentic and unedited content has given rise to an entirely new breed of social media platforms. These platforms, including Cluster, We Heart It, and Dispo, offer a refreshing departure from the polished and artificial experiences found on Instagram and Snapchat. Meanwhile, Thursday and Anyone prioritise fostering more mindful and genuine social connections.
Nevertheless, it’s worth mentioning that this shift in online behaviour has also given rise to a fresh visual vernacular.
It is therefore perfectly rational that audiences would be appreciating the same authentic style of output from their favourite brands and entrepreneurial influencers.
Of course, navigating the intricate and multifaceted signs of evolving user behaviour can present a substantial obstacle for leaders when they are representing the face of an entire brand. They must effectively target their audience, ensure that their products and campaigns are in sync with the current cultural climate, and communicate in a language that resonates with their audience. Individuals who have effectively cultivated their brands have discovered how to strategically employ their self-awareness to create deeper relationships with others – relationships that directly contribute to daily business achievements.
As we have discussed previously, humans possess an innate ability to detect jargon and murky language. Employees, in particular, observe their leaders closely and can discern when a CEO’s rhetoric contradicts their behaviour. This is why authentic leadership, at its core, hinges on truth and honesty. Authenticity transcends buzzwords in management; it’s a manner of behaviour and communication that motivates allegiance.
Additionally, brands and business leaders should seek out platforms that prioritize a deeper understanding of the human experience. By following today’s behavioural currents and aligning themselves with the authentic moods and attitudes of users, brands can enhance their chances of success in this dynamic market. With that, they also need to be ready and nimble enough to shift with the current as it evolves into tomorrow and beyond.
By Sophie Simpson, Founder & Managing Director, Atteline