Why Authenticity is the Holy Grail on Social Media, and How to Get it Right
One of the fundamental ways brands fail at coming across as authentic on social media is that they try too hard. Social media is one of the most organic of communication channels, where anything remotely contrived stands out, and not in a good way.
A great example of a brand that just gets social media is Innocent. They are famously quirky, with a slightly cheeky tone of voice and a relaxed communication style. This flows through entirely naturally on social media so that this touch point with the brand feels exactly the same as it would offline. Their presence on Twitter, in particular, feels really relaxed and they’re not afraid to laugh at themselves either. Innocent have clearly decided that social media is a tool for engagement and they do that by sharing fun content and conversing with their followers as if they’re friends. They are a bold brand, unafraid to steer away from contrast promotion and instead rely on personality and human relationships to do their legwork.
In contrast, Sky have recently been slammed for their management of customer enquiries via social media. A recent high-profile boxing match which viewers had to pay to watch was beset with technical problems, and many were unable to view it. Their attempts to contact Sky via Twitter were either met with seemingly automated responses, or worse, no response at all. In some cases, where Sky did reply they later deleted the message trail, possibly as a damage limitation exercise. However, all this did was imply they were trying to cover something up, and as a global telecommunications business this is a potential PR nightmare. Although people were irritated about not being able to watch the boxing match they had paid for, what irritated them more was the stock, corporate responses they got which made them feel they were being swept aside; quite at odds to Sky’s vision to make ‘every day extraordinary’ for their customers. In recent years social has become a place for consumers to reach out to brands quickly and easily, whether it is for technical support or curiosity. Brands need to adapt to this and provide customer services or relationship management quickly and in the moment.
Whether you use your social media channels as a customer service tool, or whether you regard them as essential for brand awareness and engagement, it’s important that you don’t try to be something entirely new just because you’re using a ‘different’ channel. It can be tempting to try to be more exciting, and this can work within reason, as long as a brand doesn’t deviate too much from what they’re really about. There are ways that quite functional brands can still be interesting but in a genuine way. Transfer Wise is a good example. They allow people to transfer money abroad at much lower cost than high street banks, which is largely process/technology driven so doesn’t lend itself all that well to storytelling on social media. What they do is focus on the end product; what transferring money enables. Consequently, their social media timelines are filled with shared photos of people travelling, posts from people sharing what transfer wise has done for them, and even links to blogs from people talking about how transfer wise helps them to do things work remotely abroad, and what impact this has on their standard of living and wellbeing. Developing a social strategy can enable brands that sell of offer serious or sensitive services to still come across creative and entertaining.
For brands using social media for a real mix of engagement and customer service management, achieving authenticity can be especially challenging. They strive to maintain the right sense of personality but they also need to have the right knowledge and person at the end of the keyboard to help resolve queries. This is where bringing in external consultants for the strategic work, but managing the day to day in-house is appropriate. For example, a hotel chain might need help defining what their overarching social media strategy and approach should be, and the creativity and external perspective of a specialist agency will be hugely beneficial to them. But that specialist agency probably shouldn’t be responding to customer questions on Twitter about how much a taxi journey from a hotel in Glenrothes to the town centre would cost, or what time the spa opens. This communication is visible to anyone who visits the brand’s page or profile, and with more people consulting social media before making a booking than ever before, they’ll feel reassured that if they do have any questions, they’ll be responded to by someone in the know. A true and successful social strategy should never be taken fully out-of-house.
Admittedly, developing a sense of authenticity on social media isn’t without its challenges. Managing content across multiple platforms can be time consuming, and maintaining a personable brand when social media and the digital landscape appears to evolve at lightning speed can be tricky. Interestingly, some of the most influential and successful brands on social media have relinquished a lot of control, and stopped regarding authenticity as something they ‘create’. Instead they see authenticity as something which will happen if they stay true to their brand values, and commit to an interesting dialogue with their followers which is never purely sales driven, but which feels like a genuine conversation or sharing or mutually interesting and entertaining content. Of course, they might get it wrong sometimes, but if they’re transparent, honest and true to themselves in the process, they’ll maintain a loyal, and engaged following.