To be honest, when I first thought of writing a piece to kick off the New Year, I wasn’t quite sure what exactly I’d write about. The only thing for certain is that it had to be focused around Social Media Marketing in 2019. However, a quick Google search of those keywords showed me “About 728,000,000 results.” That’s A LOT of content to compete with. Even with an SEO and promotional push, I knew this would be a tough crowd, and I definitely didn’t like those odds. So I decided to narrow it down a little and really dig deep within my expertise.
And that’s when it hit me. Instead of writing about trends and technological advancements within social media marketing, I’d focus on the one thing I’m concerned with (and I’m sure my fellow Social Marketers are too) which is:
Authenticity on social media for brands
“About 12,000,000 results” — still a lot, but I like those odds better.
Which brings me to this, in a world of automation and chatbots, how can companies maintain authenticity on social media?
My goal really is to give you specific tips based on my real experience about cutting through the social noise and connecting with your audience on a deeper level.
But first, let’s take a step back — notice how instead diving into my chosen topic, I decided to let you in on my thought-process and topic-decision journey? This brings me to point number 1 on how to increase authenticity:
1. Embrace Story-telling
From the beginning of time, storytelling has been used as a method to communicate, share, learn and connect. Whether it’s how your parents used to read bedtime stories to you before you slept, to your friend venting about her bad experience at the airport, storytelling is such a personal part of our lives. If marketers can utilize this to creatively connect with their audience on a deeper, more emotional level, and sell the human side of your product instead of just the actual product itself, it’ll help you stand out in this undeniably fragmented online world. Paul J. Zak wrote a piece for Harvard Business Review which showed that great stories release oxytocin — a chemical that leads to a “bonding” experience — which is what marketers should pursue with your audience. When you form a powerful connection with your audience, it helps build trust & authenticity.
If I haven’t convinced you yet, just look at Humans Of New York. One of the most successful storytelling initiatives in digital history. Why does this connect with people and lead to over 26 million followers? Because it gives us a genuine and authentic view of real people, not a glamorized or glossy version which, in turn, ignites a feeling — whether that’s joy, fear, anger or trust.
Even just looking at social media features, the “storification” element is undeniable. I’m talking about the Story Feature. We no longer just consume content in the traditional downward scroll on a website or blog, now we’re all about the left-to-right scrolling in a vertical format. Snapchat started the Story era, with Instagram jumping on this bandwagon and now….even WhatsApp & LinkedIn are into it. People are looking for bite-sized content that’s transparent and real. Around 400 million active users interact with Instagram Stories daily, with currently over 970 million accounts who post Stories daily on Instagram, WhatsApp, Snapchat, and Facebook Messenger combined. So, let’s face it, Stories are dominating social media & changing how we share and consume content.
Now let’s dig into more specific tactics to improve brand authenticity:
2. Highlight Your Employees
You’ll find me saying this during meetings and business discussions (I’ve even said this in a job interview) — your employees are your greatest assets, treat them well and they could be rockstar social advocates for your company. It starts from the inside.
One of my most exciting projects when I worked in NYC was gathering social ambassadors at work to highlight company culture. No one can tell your company’s story better than the people working it. Make sure your Social Media strategy involves your employees sharing your brand messaging and vision. 84% of consumers say they trust products and services recommended by friends and family and messages that are shared by employees “reach 561% further than when shared on branded channels.”
At the base of it, create a company culture where your employees would naturally want to boast about or support your brand online. You cannot force your employees but you can make sure you cultivate a healthy company culture wherein they’ll want to share your company’s work and mission. Give shoutouts to your employees for milestones, offer incentives to encourage them to share online content, if needed, and most importantly, get your Management involved.
When a CEO or Executive team have a presence on social media, they come across as more authentic than your regular company social media platforms.
I always tell my Dad to establish thought-leadership through his social channels. Recently, the company he works for opened up a new office site and invited the Mayor of the town to inaugurate the occasion. While he was proudly telling me this story, the marketer in me couldn’t help popping out and the first thing I said was, “Did you show your appreciation for the event on your social profiles?” And as soon as he opened his Facebook app to do so, he saw that the Mayor had already posted a beautiful & thoughtful update about it! Not only did this make my Dad feel proud of his work, he also appreciated the buzz about it coming from an authoritative figure. I advised him to share the Mayor’s post and include his insights on top of it. This was great, collaborative content which he shared to his personal & professional connections. Not only did this effort elevate his employees who were photographed in the post, but also gave the entire situation an authentic feel by the CEO himself shining light on the occasion online.
Video has already changed the social game, and continues to grow more in popularity. The fact is, your audience doesn’t just want to hear from you, they want to see you. 70% of marketing professional report video converts better than any other medium.
Pro Tip: keep your video short and use subtitles! Our attention span is shorter than that of a goldfish and majority of social media videos are watched on mute and on-the-go.
4. Reply To Messages/Comments ASAP
Real-time communication & timeliness is what it’s all about. Not only does this make your audience feel heard and appreciated, they’ll be more likely to keep engaging because they know you’re listening and responding. An amazing example of this is Fenty Beauty’s Instagram response rate. It’s genuine, it’s fast and speaks to the audience more like a friend than a company or seller. A+ to their social team!
5. Participate In Industry Chats
Probably one of the best decisions I made for my career this year was get more heavily involved in industry chats, especially on Twitter. Not only is it a pool of great content and knowledge, it’s also a great digital networking opportunity. Brands host weekly sessions where topics are discussed in real-time and all the intel is aggregated via the brands’ official hashtag.
6. Let Your Social Marketer Use Their Name Under Your Brand (when necessary)
I noticed this become more popular in 2018 where Social Marketers & Community Managers sign off on comments with their names at the end. Talk about humanizing your brand! Jen from Social Media Examiner does this really well and it helps make the brand seem more personable, friendly and approachable. See below for one of many authentic instances when I posted on my Twitter about Social Media Examiner’s chat and Jen responded to my tweet:
7. Own Up To Your Mistakes
In the world of online security issues and speculations, the best tool you have on your side is honesty. Your audience will respect you more for it. They can smell BS coming from miles away, they’re smart, so don’t try to fool them. Always remember, everyone makes mistakes. It’s how you handle your error that says more about you than the deed itself. The same applies to your Social Strategy.
Remember early 2018 when KFC ran out of chicken? Now that’s definitely not an ideal situation, but instead of blaming someone or covering up their mistake, they decided to be open and transparent about it. Not only that, they also introduced some humor into their apology to lighten the mood by rearranging their “KFC” logo to spell out “FCK.” However, the copy of their message was genuine, stating, “it’s been a hell of a week, but we’re making progress…”
Although this was a newspaper advert, it didn’t take long for it to make its way in the social media world with fans showing a positive reaction & accepting their apology via their social channels.
The takeaway here: honesty is the best policy. Own up to your mistakes in a timely manner before others can shine a negative light on it.
8. Start A Community
“Social Media Community” was definitely a buzzword of 2018. In the midst of algorithm updates and organic content seeing a ranking decline, emerged the concept of social media community. This is normally a closed group (usually on Facebook) where members can engage in a private space and have more focused & specific brand discussions. It’s a great tool for marketers to interact with their audience on a one-on-one basis. Along with fostering a sense of belonging, having a social community encourages more inbound traffic, potentially increasing your conversion rates, building buzz and boosting your bottom line. All in all, a mutually beneficial setting based on delivering and gaining value.
9. Find A Healthy Balance Between Automated & Organic Content
Unpopular opinion: I don’t *completely* believe in the reliance of automation for social media, specifically. The words “automation” and “social” together sound oxymoronic.
Now, all things considered, I do understand its inherent need for scaling & optimizing, especially for SMB’s who are low on manpower, but my advice is to play-around and find a happy balance. The fact of the matter is, automation cannot yield REAL relationships and interactions. I repeat, a real relationship cannot be automated.
And for all of those who believe social media can be taken over by automation, I’ll tell you to look up the word, “spammy” :)
A recent example that blew me away: Gary Vee responding to a tweet about his automation with a REAL-TIME video — what a class act! Even though an automated “happy birthday” message made the user happy, getting a real video from Gary Vee was definitely the icing on the cake. This is what I mean by having a healthy balance.
10. You Can’t Fake Authenticity
As much as you can follow the above strategies to increase brand authenticity, if you don’t genuinely care for your brand’s audience and online presence, it won’t be effective. Don’t do it because you have to, do it because you care, and that will show. A survey from Social Media Today revealed that 86% of people say authenticity is important when deciding what brands they like and support and 70% of the time, people can identify fake content.
Bottom Line: It’s not about followers, it’s about interaction. As much as social marketers need to embrace new technologies and features, it’s important that you don’t forget to build trust with your audience and deliver value. In a world filled with fake news and people trying to portray a vacation-filled and tension-free Instagram feed, brand authenticity is what you can count on to cut through the social media clutter and truly engage with your audience.
Everyone has a story, don’t be afraid to share yours. With authenticity being a marketing hot topic, I wanted to shed light on what that actually means and how to obtain the authentic status in digital marketing. At the base of it, brand authenticity is the “extent to which consumers perceive a brand to be faithful toward itself, true to its consumers, motivated by caring and responsibility, and able to support consumers in being true to themselves.”
Successfully portraying brand authenticity will have your audience emotionally invested in your brand and give them a reason to care. Consumers today aren’t looking for the picture-perfect experience — give them the authenticity they deserve and they’ll be loyal and long-time customers.
About the Author: Charu Misra works in the Digital Marketing industry as a Social Media & Community Manager. Holding a B.S degree in Advertising & Marketing Communications, her Marketing career originated in New York City where she chose her niche in Content & Social Media Marketing. Charu is currently based in Manila, Philippines.
Disclaimer: I have contributed this article in my personal capacity. The views and opinions expressed in this article are solely mine and are not shared, supported, or endorsed in any manner by another organization, company or employer which have been, will be, or are associated with me in a professional or personal capacity, unless explicitly stated. This is a personal post.