A year or two ago, it was common practice for professional digital marketers to say that to be successful on social media, your content had to be ‘authentic’. But now, the term ‘authenticity’, when it comes to online marketing or more specifically, content marketing, has become kind of passe.
That buzzword always made me a bit crazy anyway. It's not very actionable. What does it mean to be ‘authentic’ and how does that translate to an effective marketing strategy?
As with any industry, the digital marketing industry has its own collection of buzzwords that are used to describe an approach to or way of being online related to marketing. In tech related industries, things change quickly so the buzzwords should too.
A buzzword is defined as “a word or phrase, often an item of 'jargon' that is fashionable at a particular time or in a particular context”. Jargon has an interesting definition too: “special words or expressions that are used by a particular profession or group and are difficult for others to understand” – also known as slang. What tends to happen is words get tossed around as if their definition is a total no-brainer without the specific details of its meaning ever actually being investigated. I find my clients have to hire me because so much of the digital training world is defined by systems or approaches that are really designed for agencies not your average artist or entrepreneur.
What brought me to this line of thinking today is I saw a news story on tv, where an ‘influencer’ (ugh, are we still using that term too!?) was discussing authenticity and social media. Now granted, it was a tv segment so perhaps the audience wasn’t a savvy one but again, to say being effective on social media requires authenticity seems so, I don’t know, 2014 to me. According to PEW research, about 86% of the adult population in the US are internet users and of that 79% use Facebook – that’s nearly 8 in 10 adults in the US! So while it may have been, well, trending (sorry, couldn’t resist) to use the term authenticity in recent years, I’m going to venture a guess that most of these folks get how social media is used.
What doesn’t seem obvious to everyone (thank GOD or I wouldn’t have job!) is how that translates to a marketing strategy. What may be simple for a ‘solo-preneur’ like me may not be so obvious to small or medium-sized businesses. It may seem large corporations ‘get it’ but don’t kid yourselves; they’ve hired people who get it. In most cases. Pepsi & Kendal Jenner may be the most recent and most obvious exception. Regardless of the size of a company, you can`t deny that there are some very clever marketing materials out there today. The good news for small businesses and entrepreneurs is that you can learn as the industry evolves. Some of the most savvy social media users don’t have an MBA or a marketing degree. What you really need to do in order to connect with your audience is to use social media the way it was designed to be used. That means avoid `pitching` your audience at all costs. It’s too transparent now because social media is a place where people go to be social, as in to check in with friends, to see pictures of nieces, nephews, to look at beautiful images of far off lands, to catch up on current events. A pitch looks like an infomercial to these users and they will shut you out and down in a nano-second.
Let me sum up with some tips about what tone and approach are useful for a business to take when creating content online.
It’s possible that the term ‘authenticity’ has been a buzzword for so long simply because the online community is trying to communicate that it`s important to be genuine. Or maybe a better word is transparent. You have to be real. You have to be human.
How do you translate genuine human qualities into a content strategy for a small business? Strangely, within the boundaries of ‘authenticity’ there needs to be some perception that what you’re doing and who you are is just a touch more interesting than everyone else. You see this on Instagram and you see this in selfies all the time. A good content strategy requires genuine humanness within social media parameters.
For example, if I posted pics of me with my spoon in a tub of ice cream with my hair a mess while wearing a pair of sweats, every time my hormones took over, I wouldn’t get very far with my online business. Unless that's what my digital persona was intended to be and it was a choice to create a 40-something, sweatpants-wearing character. But as a business person who ‘gets’ social media and coaches entrepreneurs, artists and small businesses on how to create marketing strategies, I rarely get that genuine on my public profiles. You can bet I do on my private ones though and there are many mom`s who have built a solid digital following using this type of `let`s get real` approach. You don’t have to be online long to see that good content is built on a kind of ‘polished’ version of our human selves.
How I have come to describe an approach to social as a marketing tool, is to imagine you’re creating your own online magazine. Professional photos, interesting stories, human interest pieces. And that’s where the polish and the real intersect. Find those photos among your clients online content. Show how your product or service changed a client’s life or the life of an employee by creating a human interest story with your product or service. Letting people see into our day-to-day is what social media really lets us do and that`s what people have come to expect even from businesses. I just started using a super cool app called Co-Schedule that helps you manage your content strategy. As I love using social media to connect with folks, I hopped onto their Twitter to say how much I love the app and discovered one of their co-founders Justin Walsh, is using the hashtag #overheardatcoschedule and has built a ton of funny content just by focusing on silly things he hears in the office. It gives the impression that they are having fun over there and it gives us, the readers, a wee bit of insight into the company. Not one single 'sales-pitch' yet they have created an enticing image of the company. So don't be afraid to use images or videos of your CEO or your Director of Marketing doing something like putting in their office while on a coffee break, or running back from Starbucks with coffees for everyone in the office. Show people that you are all a bunch of regular folks, just getting through a work day, like everyone else. That`s really what everyone wants to see - that we are all the same. How often have we seen a `flare up` because someone voiced an opinion that differs from that of what's popular?
The takeaway here is that the days of pitching people strong-armed marketing campaigns that keeps them separate from you by clearly flexing your corporate chops, are gone. Maybe that’s where the idea that people need to be genuine comes from? Don’t pitch. Invite. Share with them. Let them see who you are. But keep it polished because the trick to having people want what you have it to be relatable but just fancy enough that they want you to show them how you got where you are.
Need some more insight into creating a strategy for your small business? Reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org and let's see how we can work together to accomplish your goals.
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Catherine Mellon is a Social Media Director with 5 years experience helping entrepreneurs & small businesses use the internet to grow their business.