Authenticity: What Does It Mean to You?

by Amy Stapler, CPA

This summer, I taught a class at my church comprised of approximately 35 high school and college-aged girls. Having a soon-to-be tween daughter of my own, I admit I was a little nervous about hearing stories of all the obstacles in this social media crazed world that she would soon have to face. Although these girls’ lives are quite different from my car-bag-phone college days, I ended the class feeling encouraged. Why? Because I see a common need and desire among this generation: AUTHENTICITY. Webster defines authenticity as “real or genuine; not copied or false; true and accurate.” The hard reality is, “Would we even recognize what is real or authentic when Facebook, Linked In, and other social media sites give us opportunities to portray our lives as nothing short of perfect?”

Don’t get me wrong, social media is a great tool for keeping in contact with your friends, your family and your favorite businesses. According to a blog post written by Hootsuite, approximately 4 billion people are internet users, of which 3 billion of those are active social media users. Furthermore, in a survey conducted by MarketingSherpa, 58 percent of internet users follow their favorite brands on social media. Social media has become a great tool to reach customers, find out what interests them, increase company exposure, as well as stay on top of customer reviews and keep competitors close. However, in a social media savvy world, it is vital to remain true to who you are whether that pertains to your business or personal life. People are more adept at spotting fake or misleading personas and will be more unforgiving for it.

So, how do you remain “authentic” in a world where most communications are done through the written word on the internet? The world is fast-paced and constantly changing, but a personal touch can reap huge benefits. Since businesses must use social media just to stay relevant, it is necessary to humanize your brand, even online. Creating meaningful posts that show your values and beliefs as a company can help promote authenticity. Highlighting key moments or employees can also contribute to the human factor.

I have found that, more often than not, most potential clients have done their homework. They have most likely researched you online or inquired from others about you before deciding to engage your services, and it is important to demonstrate the authentic approach in person. Taking the time to understand why a client feels a particular way or why they want you to perform a certain task carries great weight in helping them see you as a trusted advisor. Additionally, do not be afraid to say no. If you are truly invested in serving your client’s best interests, it might be imperative to say no from time to time. Remain respectful and always use tact, but how much can you trust someone who always says what they think you want to hear? You must evaluate your client’s needs and come up with what you feel is the best solution for them. Putting your clients’ needs ahead of your own builds a sense of confidence that they should listen to what you have to say. Most assuredly, your client will be more likely to believe you have their best interests at heart even if they may not necessarily agree with you.

As you are striving to be more authentic in your life, remember, each person is unique and has a distinctive history that has helped shape their lives, beliefs and tenets. Drawing upon these experiences in our relationships is what makes all of us authentic. Likewise, as a business professional, it is imperative to always remain professional and courteous in your relationships whether internal or external. People will appreciate the feeling that they know the real you and will trust you more for it.

When I was studying for the CPA exam (which just involved pencil and paper back then), acrostics became one of the best tools for me to remember key points of the exam. I have continued to use acrostics throughout my career.

To me, authentic is to be:

A – Action minded
U – Understanding of the needs of my clients
T – Team player – working with other trusted advisors to help serve you best
H – Honest and truthful
E – Emotionally connected
N – Navigator of solutions
T – Teachable
I – Intelligent and always seeking to learn
C – Caring and compassionate

If we all incorporate these ideas into our client and coworker relationships, maybe we can inject a little humanism into this social media crazed world and feel comfortable showing our “true” selves. I don’t believe it is just the high school and college age girls that crave authenticity – we all do. Cinderella once said, “The greatest risk any of us will take is to be seen as we are.” I think it’s time I find my glass slipper.