Keeping It Real: How to Build an Authentic Voice on Social

“Just be yourself!” This often-used piece of advice is one that probably caused you to roll your eyes when your high school guidance counselor said it, but is something worth repeating when considering your social media presence. Now that you’re (slightly) older and (much) wiser, you’ve probably recognized that there’s much more value in staying true to what you represent, and sharing this honestly, than attempting to live up to trends or what you think others want. The same principles can be applied to your professional or branded social media accounts.

Building and maintaining an authentic brand voice is key for businesses on social media, but is a challenge for many. Finding that golden area between being relatable and honest, without looking like you are trying too hard or compromising your company’s name is a tricky balancing act. The following information and tips can help you navigate this gray area, honestly.

Why do I care?

As a marketer, it’s easy to separate yourself from your audience or customer in an “us” versus “them” mentality, but we are all consumers of something. You are the audience for the brands that you are a customer of, and therefore know both sides of the marketing coin well. Recognizing this, you probably have favorite brands, or ones that you enjoy following and engaging with on social media more than others. Think of those brands and you’ll probably come to realize that one of the reasons you’re such a fan is because of their authenticity.

While there are countless ways of expressing authenticity, Bonfire Marketing explains it simply, saying “an authentic company owns up to their mistakes and is honest with customers. Doesn’t sugar coat anything or sweep problems under the rug.” Acting like a human rather than a robotic brand through social media messages and posts undoubtedly increases a brand’s likeability and allows the audience to feel a more genuine connection.

While getting the warm and fuzzies for a brand is all well and good, there are numbers and facts that emphasize the importance of using an authentic voice on social media. As Bonfire Marketing shares, “Honesty builds loyalty and trust among a brand’s social communities, and it’s valuable for increasing profit margins.” In fact, 63 percent of those surveyed in a 2014 study state that they buy or would buy from authentic brands over their competitors. Authentic traits such as communicating honestly about products and services as well as environmental impact and sustainability were considered by those surveyed globally to be of more importance than the product’s actual utility and popularity. With this in mind, there are a few reliable ways to build and maintain an authentic brand voice on social media.

Keep your cool

It’s been said before, but this advice is worth repeating. An authentic voice on social media is one which aligns with your brand’s style, tone, and key messaging. This means that if your brand is a highly serious, businesslike finance firm, your brand voice will most likely differ from the voice of a local indie skateboard shop. This is of course not always the case, but the odds are that the audience’s expectation from one type of business will be different from others, so the brand voice should match with this.

As we discussed here, when brands try too hard to follow a trend or to be cool, it usually has the opposite effect. If you are not a necessarily “hip” brand, nobody’s asking you to use high school slang or make internet-speak memes. Staying true to your brand mission and purpose is beneficial 99 percent of the time, as your audience can see through your attempts at fitting in, much like a classic high school bully could. Our Ashley Jane Brookes described the ways brands fail at being cool, and therefore inauthentic, including the following faux pas:

  1. They’re too late to the party:Cool hunters are constantly seeking the niche, and brands are constantly picking up on what’s being mass consumed. And therein you have the problem.”

  2. They broke the wrong rules: “Brands who fail at being cool are often those who don’t understand the distinction, and tread into territory that is considered offensive or distasteful.”

  3. Wrong audience, wrong incentive, or both: “They want to be rewarded for their affiliation with a brand, whether through discounts, freebies, or validation from friends or on social networks. But both the action and the reward have to fit the context.”

  4. They’re inauthentic: “Before deciding to chime in on a trending hashtag, ask whether it fits with your core brand identity and communication strategy.”

  5. They have no place in being cool: “It will only emphasize the glaring gap between the cool image they’re trying to portray, and the actual touch-points with customers which will remain unchanged.”

Throw your ego to the wind

Nobody’s perfect, and a brand who recognizes this is golden. While traditional advertising is a place for brands to bring attention to the great things about their product or service, social media is the place for a dash of appropriate, good-humoured self-deprecation to take place. This is a way of further humanizing the brand, allowing the audience to see them as genuine and relatable. You can put these notions into practice by:

  • Being vulnerable: An example of this, as discussed by Digiday, is pop icon Taylor Swift, who highlights and pokes fun at her embarrassing moments through her Instagram, Twitter, and (mostly) her Tumblr account. As Digiday explains, “This frankness may open her to attack from the some of the more cynical denizens of the Internet, but the more Swift embraces the hate, the more popular she gets. If brands could have a sense of humor and be a bit more vulnerable, they would find more social media success.”

  • Being self-aware: While a brand can be extremely authentic on social media, the ability to recognize and highlight the fact that at the end of the day, they are a brand and not one person is a valuable asset. As Brian Honigman explains, “the only really genuine thing a brand can do is acknowledge the absurdity of trying to pass itself off as a person. Any attempt for a brand to take itself too seriously on social media is inherently disingenuous and will likely be ignored at best or scorned at worst.”

Behind the scenes

As consumers (including you) have more access to information and reviews, this savviness is accompanied by increased skepticism towards companies. With consumers able to read other customer reviews for a product or service, as well as social media conversations and comments directed towards brands, it’s a good idea for businesses to get ahead of these through strategic transparency. If your social media updates, shares, and posts are not consistent with the brand voice you are presenting, this discrepancy can cause distrust amongst your audience and customer-base.

You can use social media to practice transparency in many areas of your business, from your employee’s work culture to your company’s environmental impact, all of which will contribute to the brand voice you are putting forward. Many consumers are no longer satisfied just seeing what companies are presenting with their best face forward–they want to go behind the scenes and see how things are really being done. As Neil Patel explains, “Being open about your business is a great way to gain people’s trust and loyalty. By sharing problems you may be facing, or by sharing your financial numbers (whether they are good or bad) you can help build a larger following.”

For showcasing this kind of transparency, Snapchat has been a recent favorite amongst brands. Numerous brands have jumped on the Snap-train including BuzzFeed, Taco Bell, Acura, CoverGirl, and Everlane. Everlane (whose tagline is “Modern basics. Radical transparency”) is one of my personal favorite companies to follow due to not only their aesthetic, but the way they offer exclusive behind-the-scenes look at the lives of their employees and customers, as well as Snapchat-only offers and news. Declaring Snapchat the “de facto social channel for Everlane,” the brand explained their love for the network by saying “Snapchat gives us the chance to explore transparency in a completely new way. No fancy cameras. No editing. Just raw, live, footage. It’s beautiful, and it’s the platform for the modern generation.“

This emphasis on transparency is something that social media has brought to the forefront for businesses as an authentic brand voice becomes the golden ticket for organizations.