The Criteria Series: Five Things That Lend to a Sense of Transparency and Authenticity In a Weblog

2010 Canadian Weblog AwardsThe Canadian Weblog Awards are juried awards in which the finalists and winners are chosen using a specific set of ten criteria. The eighth instalment of our ten-part Criteria Series is about transparency and authenticity.

When we speak of transparency and authenticity, what we are really talking about is honesty with regard to purpose and personality, and I will be the first to admit that judging a weblog for its transparency and authenticity can be difficult. If a weblog is geared to help creative professionals write better copy, then its honesty about purpose is likely already apparent. If a weblog is a personal weblog about an individual’s life, it can be a lot less clear why that individual is blogging and whether they are presenting themselves or their material honestly.

This is not to say that we expect all weblogs to publish only true-to-real-life content. There is definitely room for outright fiction. What we do expect, though, is that we will know that we are reading fiction and not be deceived into believing that we are reading about real life events.

Weblogs, being both a public and social medium, entail a public relationship with their audience and its individual members, and, no matter what type of weblog is at hand, readers develop a relationship with the perceived author of the weblog’s content. We trust, unless otherwise noted, that the things about which we are reading have a strong basis in reality, and an author who is not honest about the state of their information breaches that trust.

Transparency and authenticity are not about a blogger’s obligation to their audience, although it can often be misconstrued that way. Transparency and authenticity are about grounding the veracity of your writing in trust, whether it be about how to find freelance work, the latest baseball news, or your new cat, Tootie.

Of course, a blogger’s transparency and authenticity can be difficult to ascertain, but a sense of transparency and authenticity is often felt clearly by a reader, and a blogger’s ability to ground their weblog in that sense is a skill worth noting. It establishes an author’s respect for both their readership and the material they are putting forth, which in turn lends credibility to their material.

Five Things That Lend to a Sense of Transparency and Authenticity In a Weblog

  1. The blogger establishes their identity and/or purpose on the main page or through a link to an About page.
    This is often just an oversight, but if a blogger doesn’t tell you who they are, it can make people wonder if they don’t want you to know who they are.
  2. The blogger supplies contact information and has open comments.
    The absence of an available way for the audience to communicate with the author can breed mistrust.
  3. The blogger is able to show both their strengths and weaknesses in the public forum.
    If the blogger is unable to admit when they are wrong or their weblog only serves to tell you how right they are, it is hard to believe that they are who they portray themselves to be. It is also difficult to trust information from an author who will not admit to faults.
  4. The language a blogger uses shows a unique voice.
    Language that sounds like it could come from anyone, such as that found in corporate copy, divorces the audience from its ability to relate to the blogger.
  5. The blogger’s purpose for writing is clear.
    If it seems as though they are using the medium and their audience to serve an unstated agenda, it is less likely that readers will develop an ongoing relationship with the weblog.

    For instance — and here’s me being transparent! — I once followed a weblog for over a year that turned out to be a work of fiction and was never forthright about that fact. The person in whom I had invested myself and my time did not even exist, and I ended up distrusting the true author when she later spoke in her own voice. Do I read her books now? No, I do not.

When it comes to your weblog's appearance of transparency and authenticity, allow for communication through comments and/or e-mail, make your identity clear, let your humanity come through, use your own unique voice, and be clear about your weblog’s purpose. Not only will readers appreciate it, but they might actually stick around, and you’ll be able to communicate with more people more effectively.

What are your thoughts about transparency and authenticity?


Elan Morgan

Elan Morgan is a blogger, designer and consultant, and speaker who blogs and works from, spreads gratitude through the social network, celebrates quality blogging with the, and speaks all over. She has been seen in the Globe & Mail, Best Health and Woman's Day magazines, TEDxRegina, and on CBC News and Radio. She believes in and works to grow both personal and professional quality, genuine community, and meaningful content online.