Joining the social team at Sprout has given me a crash course in brand authenticity on social media. A lot of marketers talk about the importance of authentically connecting with your audience on social media but for us, these qualities aren’t just the nucleus of our social strategy—it’s part of Sprout’s core values.
Our team’s mission is to build a social presence that’s genuine, approachable and engaging for a wide variety of audiences, all while using social to support our larger business goals. That means building awareness and perception of our brand as well as creating raving fans. So in my day-to-day, I focus on connecting with our audience through initiatives like Year in Social, developing attention-grabbing content and engaging proactively and reactively with our community.
Additionally, I’ve learned how to leverage industry data, our performance metrics, social listening analysis and strategic intuition to create a social strategy that puts authenticity front and center. I’ve also learned the value of collaborating across teams, especially with our public relations team.
In this article, I’ll share why brand authenticity is crucial to creating meaningful connections with your audience and outline the steps to creating a social strategy that blends data, brand values and creativity. I’ll also share a free downloadable worksheet that you and your team can use to brainstorm and put these steps into practice.
What is brand authenticity?
Brand authenticity refers to if consumers believe a brand is genuine about their products/services, promises to customers and their brand values.
In the age of social media, brands can’t hide anything from their customers. Your audiences can find out everything they need to know about your business from other consumers, media and the internet.
Companies can’t just “talk the talk” anymore. For example, it would be unwise to claim that you’re devoted to customer service if you never respond to their messages on social media.
Honesty is an integral part of being an authentic business, but there’s more to it. You’ll also have to uphold a certain integrity level, including transparency, because today’s consumers are aware–they know brands are trying to sell a product or service.
According to the Twitter #RealTalk report, 80% of respondents agree they don’t mind being sold to on social media as long as “it’s fun, useful, entertaining, informative or moves me in some way.”
Brands be like “We know this is a difficult time. We are all in this together. Please enjoy 20% off our WACKY, BENDY KRAZYSTRAWS™️. Use Code “Pandemic” at checkout.”
— jon drake (@DrakeGatsby) April 4, 2020
Fashion Nova finna be like “We just SLAPPED 40% off your whole order so you can Chris Rock whatever you want this summer ☀️❤️😘”
— malik burgers (@macburgz) March 28, 2022
Every brand makes promises to its customers, but you need to take additional effort to prove you’re delivering and following through with your claims, especially now that call out culture is stronger than ever. People know they are being sold to and they aren’t shy about speaking up when they sense a lack of authenticity or dishonesty.
If you want to do a quick gut check of your brand’s authenticity, ask yourself these questions:
- Do you deliver what you promise to your customers in terms of service, experience and product features?
- Are you true to the values that your business claims to have? Does your messaging and mission change constantly?
- Is your business consistent in delivering value? How do you make sure you’re serving clients properly?
Why is brand authenticity important on social media?
People join social platforms to connect with family and friends, stay informed, get inspired and more. The better social media marketers can understand people’s motivations for using social, the better we can develop strategies that reach and engage them.
Our #BrandsGetReal data report found that when consumers feel connected to brands, more than half of consumers (57%) will increase their spending with that brand and 76% will buy from them over a competitor.
But how can brands create the real connection people want from them? By focusing on the three key elements that make consumers feel connected to brands on social: shared values, transparency and authenticity.
According to the 2022 Sprout Social Index™, company alignment with personal values is 74% more important to consumers than it was in 2021.
Of course, your products and services are still important, but consumer preferences are fueled by shared values and beliefs. And consumers want brands to demonstrate transparency by illustrating how important these values are to brands on their social media.
Some 71% of consumers think it’s important for brands to raise awareness and take a stand on sensitive issues, while 48% of marketers believe businesses need to speak out on social issues to stay relevant on social media.
This is partly why more companies are adopting and embracing holistic brand activism. It’s also why public relations and social teams need to work together.
Since a brand’s online presence is tied to brand image and voice, collaborating with social media teams is essential to managing an organization’s communications. When executed properly, it can improve your brand awareness.
Plus, this partnership can also help public relations professionals practice brand safety and crisis communication. A social post that goes against a company’s proclaimed values can easily skyrocket into a PR crisis.
Our data from the Sprout Social Index™ also showed US consumers are craving authenticity across the board—it’s even listed as the second most important creator trait. Consumers want to see genuine, less-produced content that highlights a product or service in a bona fide way.
Anyone can blast out promotional messages. But developing a social media strategy that embodies authenticity and demonstrates transparency and brand values to create a real connection with your audience—while delivering on your social and business goals—is a different story.
The challenges and rewards of building brand authenticity into your social strategy
While I’m very selective about what I post on my personal accounts, when I’m representing @SproutSocial, I have to be even more thoughtful about the brand we’re building. I ask myself these questions:
- Is what we’re posting relatable and/or relevant to our audience?
- Does our audience feel like we really get them?
- Are we being true to our brand and our honest stance?
- Do we have an effective mix of content, tailored for our audience on each channel?
- Across all of the different team members representing us on social, are we sending quick, empathetic and engaging responses?
To answer these questions, I have to truly understand our audience. It’s one thing to know your demographics on a given platform; it’s another to really have your finger on the pulse of what your audience cares about, and what makes them tick and interested in your brand.
Even when you do have that understanding, you have to translate that into a strategy that serves up the content, support and community that people want from your brand. Balance that with your responsibility to actively promote your organization and its products, services or cause, and your social strategy becomes increasingly complex.
This is tough for a lot of social pros—our research discovered that social execution is the third biggest challenge for social media teams.
But, don’t fret, let’s go over my steps for building brand authenticity.
How to build brand authenticity: 3 steps to start today
Step 1: Take a deep dive into understanding your audience
Quantitative and qualitative data are both important when it comes to knowing your audience like you know your best friends….or like I know Taylor Swift. In my work, I rely on six core inputs to make sure I have a holistic understanding of Sprout’s audience:
1. Audience data
Whether it’s looking at overall demographics or reading an individual’s personal profile, there are a lot of data points you can gather about your audience on social. When I’m in the Sprout Inbox, I find Profile Cards really helpful—you can hover to see a snapshot about an individual or click in for more information and detailed conversation history.
2. Content performance
I look at Sprout’s Reporting tab daily to check in on how our posts are performing and our audience’s response to our content. I also work with our paid social strategist to conduct a quarterly analysis of all of our social creative (videos, images, GIFs, ads and so on) to see what’s performing best in terms of impressions, engagements, clicks, downloads and more.
3. Social listening
Through social listening tools like Sprout Social, you see what people really think of your brand. Social listening helps you find patterns and evaluate trends around the topics and content that resonate with your audience the most across your social networks. With Sprout, you can also track what followers are saying about competitors.
You can use listening to better understand the questions, opinions and sentiment your audience feels around your industry or brand, as well as the overall demographics of an audience talking about a certain topic or brand.
4. Cross-team collaboration
There are probably more teams I do collaborate with than teams I don’t.
I speak regularly with our sales and customer support teams to share information about our audience, the feedback we’re receiving and what our customers care about.
But my partnership with our public relations team has become extremely significant. We collaborate to amplify Sprout’s voice and carry out our public relations marketing efforts. Working together frequently allows us to maintain cohesive brand storytelling across our social handles and media coverage.
5. Diversity, equity and inclusion
Championing diversity, equity and inclusion is one of Sprout’s core values, so I make sure to illustrate how important it is to us on social media. Brands like Sprout are already rewriting the rules on inclusion. Being inclusive will make your brand more authentic and relatable to a wider range of experiences and cultures within your audience.
Our social shopping report shows that 60% of consumers say they’re more likely to buy from a brand with inclusive marketing, another testament that brand diversity in social media isn’t just a fad.
But just one or two posts during a cultural heritage month isn’t going to cut it. Marketers and public relations teams need to show how their brands are supporting inclusive campaigns throughout the year on social.
We collaborate with diverse creators because it can bring your teams new insight into what could resonate with your target audience. It’s a great way to show your brand values diverse cultural and creative expertise. Plus, leveraging their perspective on ideas and execution can help you avoid cultural appropriation.
6. My experience
While hard data is a great foundation, talking to our audience via the Sprout Inbox over the years has honed my intuition as a social media manager. I’m in the weeds of social media every day, learning what our community wants, what content resonates and what questions they need answered.
Our community is also unique because our audience consists of social media practitioners across every industry and team size. I get to learn from them about their strategy, wins and challenges every day.
It’s impossible to perfectly predict a winning social approach every time, but my experience guides me in turning all of the inputs I’ve mentioned above into more holistic takeaways.
Step 2: Turn audience insight and goals into social strategy
Take the same deep-dive approach you applied to your audience to think about how you can build brand authenticity through your social content.
- What are your brand’s values?
- What differentiates your brand?
- Why do employees and customers choose your brand over others?
- What stories from within your organization aren’t you sharing?
Consider using our “open, real and empathetic” framework. We have a downloadable template you can use with your team to turn ideas for becoming more authentic on social into strategy.
First, brainstorm how your brand can create real connection by identifying ways you can be more transparent and the brand values, interests or affinities that matter the most to your customers. Consider what specifically you can share and how it aligns with your audience.
Next, think about two or three social goals for your brand. Last but most importantly, think through potential content ideas to fuel your strategy.
Engagement is a great opportunity to show off your brand’s personality. Think about how you can interact with your community and create genuine moments of connection every day, and build that into your strategy and priorities as well.
People can sense generic responses from a mile away, so one of our top priorities is personalizing every interaction. For example, you can use people’s names or reference a prior conversation with your brand using conversation history.
After you pinpoint the greatest opportunities for your brand to showcase more of your beliefs, culture and stories on social, it’s time to share with the rest of your team. You can share your strategy via a presentation or a written document or video, but the most important thing is to communicate to the rest of your organization why focusing on brand authenticity will make a difference.
Step 3: Measure success and iterate
A focus on brand authenticity and connection, when done right, will result in more conversation around your brand. As a social media manager, you’ll feel more connected to your audience because they feel more connected to you. You’ll find that your insight and intuition are more often on point, validated by audience responses and content performance.
At Sprout, our team tracks social impressions and engagements as the primary indicators toward success in our awareness, perception and customer goals. When we’re delivering more engaging and genuine content, we see these numbers grow. More importantly, we hear online and off that our customers feel more connected, and when we ask for feedback, we get more of it (both positive and constructive).
We also test different types of content to learn what people like the most. For example, we have a few different social copy formats that we use as a go-to when promoting Insights articles. We’ll try formats like:
- Using bullet points or a list to call out key takeaways (example)
- Asking a question (example)
- Highlighting a statistic, quote or brand example from within the piece (example)
Observing the performance of these different types of posts helps us understand how our audience wants to consume content and what positioning actually moves them to click and read the full article.
Brand authenticity examples to learn from
Now that you have the steps for creating your own strategy, let’s review some examples of companies who embody brand authenticity:
Fenty Beauty is known for its wide range of makeup products for people of all skin tones and types. Along with showcasing diverse models on social media, the beauty brand encourages user-generated content. By curating user-generated content, they’re able to show the diversity of their customers and help potential new customers explore what they might look like in a Fenty face.
They also demonstrate how much they care about their audience by referring to their followers as “the Fenty family” and hosting giveaways and contests like the #TheNextFentyFace.
Leveraging user-generated content can help build a sense of connection to your brand by seeing other real people who love it—and when people feel connected to a brand, our research shows 68% say they’re more likely to recommend that brand to friends.
It’s also great for your social media budget. If you earn a groundswell of word-of-mouth recommendations and customer advocacy—as well as pictures, videos and testimonials from fans that your social team can use as content—that frees up more of your advertising budget to reach new markets, test a hypothesis or focus on campaigns further down the funnel.
The North Face’s social presence is another great example of being real and empathetic. In this video, the brand showcases how their jackets are more than just a protective layer—it’s an item connected to the stories and memories of their customers.
It puts the viewer directly into the North Face’s products while providing a relatable, welcoming window into what the brand cares about.
On their TikTok, they showcase adventurous sports like bouldering, hang gliding and snowboarding—all key interests to their audience.
Chobani uses their Twitter to highlight their brand activism. If you scroll down their timeline, you’ll notice that they’re constantly amplifying what the brand is doing to address important issues such as child hunger, food insecurity and natural disaster relief.
Students who rely on free meals at school are left without a plan when schools close for Spring Break. That’s why over 50 Chobani employees came together in Twin Falls, ID, to pack 3000 meals, 5200 snacks, Greek Yogurt & milk to fill feed students who rely on these meal programs. pic.twitter.com/TVMyLSyCHk
— Chobani (@Chobani) March 21, 2022
They also accomplish this by sharing facts about the environment:
The yogurt brand balances this with light-hearted content on their Twitter, but what’s most important is that they show up throughout the year for the initiatives that are important to them and their audience.
Take the brand authenticity org-wide
Building a brand that’s authentic, meaningful and unique isn’t just the role of the social team or of the marketing team. Every employee has a hand in shaping processes, communications, designs and products/services that ultimately influence your customers’ experience and perception of your brand.
For that reason, it’s critical that you share your efforts with other teams. We’re always looking for opportunities to translate social insights about our customers into value for the entire company.
I hope this article has given you some inspiration for how to bring greater brand authenticity to your social strategy and even inspire the rest of your organization.
Another large part of crafting brand authenticity is crisis management. If you’re ready to learn more, read our social media crisis management guide.