The Value of Authenticity


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In 2013, CNN President Jeff Zucker told Adweek that the network is making a series of changes designed solely to win over the millennial audience. In 2014, the New York Times reported that the network invested more in original nonfiction programming and documentaries in an effort to attract a younger audience. And nowwith its recent acquisition of the video-sharing startup Beme, a social media app that was launched last year by YouTube star Casey Nestiat, CNN is making another big step headed in that direction. According to the Wall Street Journal, the deal was valued at about $25 million.

As part of the deal, CNN will use the app’s video technology and will also have access to Mr. Neistat’s millennial following. By summer 2017, the network plans to launch a standalone media company led by Mr. Neistat and Beme co-founder Matt Hackett that will focus on “timely and topical video and empowering content creators to use technology to find their voice,” CNN said in a statement. Mr. Neistat will still retain control of his personal social media channels and accounts.

Mr. Neistat, who began his career as a video artist, created the app to strip away what he thinks are false identities that people create through social media. He believes that people are more interested when seen through unedited images of their lives. That’s why he based Beme’s definition of authenticity on three premises: “authentic self-presentation is disrupted, or sabotaged, by two primary evils: self-awareness, and awareness of public opinion; that personal authenticity is interrupted when you relate to the image or idea of reality, rather than to reality itself; and that to ‘be’ authentic, you must stop ‘performing.’”

While some peoplehavemixed feelings about Beme’s success in fostering authenticity, CNN hopes to capture – and capitalize – on this important trait, in addition to the young users who used Beme because it allowed them to broadcast and share their thoughts without any outside filters.

So what lessons should communicators take from this? And what does it mean for the future of content creation, social sharing and broadcast?

As communications professionals and public relations specialists, being authentic may be the best lesson we can learn from what CNN is trying to leverage from Beme. Authenticity should be a hallmark of our work – including everything from how we create pitches for journalists to the stories we tell on behalf of our clients. We certainly can’t rely on lengthy verbose emails any more than contrived “hooks” to generate coverage. Instead we may need to think about how we can create original pitches and tell original stories that connect people to each other and the outside world in a more genuine way. This may mean more personalized factors for clients and storytellers alike in order to make that effort relevant beyond current events. The CNN deal with Beme may be valued at $25 million or more, but the true value-add could be in authenticity gained. The rest of us would be wise to watch closely.