Can Brands Ever Be Truly 'Authentic' On Social Media?
Writing my dissertation on the use of social media influencers by fashion brands has had me thinking about the role that authenticity plays on social media with specific regard to brands and businesses.
I cannot begin to count the number of times that I have been followed by a small business on Instagram, only to find their stream of images to be poorly taken and executed, uninspiring and with the knowledge that they have been following every person they could manage to. Before even examining the company - I consider them amateurish and therefore, will not buy from them.
However I am equally put off by overly glossy Instagram accounts. Surely I must not be the only person who loses interest in fashion bloggers once the fun, quirky and cheaply cheerful car boot sale hauls turn into perfectly packaged and ultra-professionally photographed outfit posts totally furnished free-of-charge by Missguided?!
Many informational blogs would have you believe that social media marketing is the easiest of all kinds. It's free! They declare, flinging their arms wide open and shrieking at the top of their lungs, 'ANYONE CAN DO IT! You needn't be a PR maven to undertake this practice!' - well, they're right. It is free and 'easy' to a certain extent.
Anyone can learn to use Instagram or Facebook (although I find Facebook to be an increasingly useless marketing method, but more on that in another blog post) but the curation and creation of quality, high conversion-rate content remains difficult to get right. Furthermore, on a social networking space intended for individuals, brands are having to strike a delicate balance between the professional and the personal: and getting this wrong can have negative consequences.
This leads me on to the even harder to answer question of: can brands ever truly be authentic on social media?
It would be downright moronic to suggest that all companies and businesses are created out of a greed for money, and with the corporate world in mind. Many small, self employed people started out their businesses out of a sheer determination to have more autonomy over their lives, and to pursue something they feel strongly passionate about. The trend for coffee guzzling, socially conscious, big-on-ego but also big-on-eco Hipsters has also blessed the world with a multitude of small start ups favouring corporate social responsibility and community interest... So we cannot ever deny that there are authentic feelings at the root of some businesses. However this does not mean that owners find it easy to translate these very real, very true feelings onto social media.
@ASOS does a good job of keeping it's social media profiles down to earth, even as a huge company. You can see that they do not exclusively post clothing or stock, and emphasise an aspirational lifestyle of tasty meals and hilarious pug companions to keep followers engaged.
One could argue that the curation and creation process itself makes authenticity inherently void - how can something be authentic when you have taken the conscious decision to share it in a certain way, as opposed to it being beamed out across the world without your knowledge or consent?
Some might also add that the simple use of social media networks that were created as platforms for real time human interaction by brands and companies is an infiltration of what should be a 'non corporate' space, and perceive this as a negative decision. They therefore see all company use of social media as hypocritical and serving only as another means to advertise on.
I disagree with the latter - specifically for when small businesses and one-person operations are concerned. In many ways, entrepreneurs are so incredibly intertwined with their own businesses that the operating business forms a substantial part of who they are (RE: A history of entrepreneurs calling their business ventures their 'babies'). Is it then yucky, and *shudder* salesperson-like of them to promote their business via social media? No - if it's done properly.
Whilst true authenticity in social media is impossible to achieve (and I'm not about to advocate a 24/7 CCTV state in order to correct that), there are ways that entrepreneurs can use social media that are less threatening, less pressurized, and therefore far more enjoyable and memorable for their online consumers.
@FemmeDeBloom does a great job of infusing her Instagram feed with snapshots of herself, her buys and her inspiration. As pointed out by Jacon's article on the great website Etsy-Preneurship!
Research has already indicated that consumers do not expect to be met with a hard sell when it comes to online marketing. Hard selling on social media is seen anathema to the platforms that focus on the personal, the meaningful and the social. As users turn to social media to imibe their lives with a more meaningful narrative (for example, the use of photographic filters on Instagram that mimic old analogue photographs) so do they expect their brands to do the same. They want to see the behind the scenes workings of the business, not just the products that they could access of their own accord.
It has also been shown that customers feel more positively towards a brand that is willing to apologise for it's mistakes and rectify them - whether this is by interacting with consumers one-on-one to answer their questions, or publicly responding to reviews - the internet has opened up the possibility for almost-unlimited transparency and brands now have the duty to face every issue out in the open, and consequently must consider their tone and type of response carefully. (For a company that couldn't care less about being polite, click here to read about my awful experience when Glint Shop stole my money - I still haven't received a penny back to this day. It's also worth reading up on the various trials and tribulations of hugely popular cosmetics company Lime Crime, with an doe-eyed owner more controversial than most...)
It is the responsibility of small business owners to make their social media activities as authentic as they can be, given the philosophical constraints to 'honesty' that social media poses, by sharing content that is not all glossed over and high production value all of the time. A behind the scenes photograph of staff for example, will put human faces to a brand and begin a virtual relationship with them in the mind of the consumer. My favourite bloggers are the ones who post everyday thoughts on their twitter, as well as links to blog articles - any blogger or brand who is on Twitter who uses it simple as a feed for hyperlinks is missing a trick: one person operations and small businesses have the opportunity to thrive on such a platform, that almost feels quaint due to it's microblogging format and highly personal interaction style.
Share your imperfections, and you will find that ,unsurprisingly, other imperfect human beings will be compelled to follow you. After all, it's hard not to respect and admire someone for pursuing their dreams and many of us wish we were brave enough to do the same - and this is why small brands on social media continue to thrive with their narrative and approachable, 'what I did today for my business' format.
Good luck, and happy posting!
I also run an FREE online HQ photography resource for bloggers, which you can find here.
As always, thanks for reading and leave any comments you have below!