I was out running my usual Saturday errands in my neighborhood in NYC yesterday, when I heard someone mutter, "Please buy me food". While these may seem like normal words to hear on the streets of New York, there was something about it that made me turn around and face who said them. You see, I have offered food numerous times to homeless people in NYC and have been rejected. They want money, not food.
I asked the woman if I had heard her correctly, and she nodded. "I don't want this food, though," she said under her breath, motioning towards the French cafe I was standing in front of. "I need this, if possible." She then took out a scribbled, sparse grocery list on the back of a crumpled up receipt.
"Alright, then, let's go grocery shopping," I said, and went went into the nearest market. I encouraged her to get more than what was on her list, to make sure she could keep full for awhile. She insisted that she only needed the cheapest version of noodles, spaghetti sauce and meat that we could find. She wanted to make sure I didn't spend too much.
When I encouraged her to get more than one pack of Ramen noodles, she freaked out that it was too much. She couldn't accept it. I insisted. We also added butter, milk and eggs to her basket.
During check out, I asked her if she had any children, wanting to make sure we bought enough food. She said, "You're sweet, so I don't want to lie to you. I have one son, he's six years old, but I don't have him anymore. They took him to a Foster home because I made mistakes, I made so many mistakes." She started to cry.
I explained to her that the best of us make mistakes, and not to internalize it all. She nodded, and then looked at the three sacks of groceries on the checkout counter. "Are these all mine?"
I smiled. "Yes, all of them."
Her face lit up as though she had never been crying, and she carefully, proudly grabbed each bag. "Thank you. Thank you so much."
We then had some more intimate words with each other, and then she happily disappeared down the street with her bags of groceries, as if they were the best prize she had ever won.
Now, I could easily say that the only reason I took that homeless woman grocery shopping is because I wanted to write a blog post on it and blast it all over my social media --> "I am an awesome person. Look at what I did with my Saturday afternoon!" That's not the truth, though. I did it because it was something I could easily do to help another person in need. It took absolutely nothing out of my day to spend 15 minutes in a grocery store with an incredibly kind woman. In fact, I would argue that I am the one at the end of the day that received the best prize. My eyes were opened during her stories, and she taught me that I should never take anything for granted, and people are so lucky if they can buy a stick of butter.
The reason yesterday worked out for both the woman and me is because we both were genuine. She truly, honestly needed food to cook in the shelter she's staying at, and I honestly wanted to take some time out of my day to help her. Ladies and gentlemen, that is authenticity. It's not the buzzword being thrown around social media that means to manipulate your messaging to look like you care as a brand. It's not rewriting your social media strategy so you sound like you give a shit about random issues, when maybe you don't. It's not about applying an Instagram filter to make your photos look more worn and real.
Authenticity means creating stellar content that honestly reflects who you are as a brand, so you can attract consumers that genuinely want what you have to offer. It means taking all of the fluff and glitter out of the equation and presenting your consumers with exactly who you are. Authenticity means a follower on Facebook could show up at your business and get the exact same lovely experience they had with your brand on social media, because you are putting nothing but genuine material out on social.
I challenge you to think of whether you are truly being authentic as a brand, or you are just making minor changes to make it look like you are an authentic brand. Believe me, there is a HUGE difference, and it is more transparent to consumers than you think.
At the end of the day, it's better for you and the consumer if you pair up based on mutual interests, not material that's cloned from some blog post you read ;)
I didn't help that woman because I wanted to look like some nice person. I helped that woman because that's something I do. Looking for ways to serve others is something that's authentically in me, and it benefited both the woman and me by staying true to ourselves. The same goes for brands on social media. Think about it.
- Marji J. Sherman