Don’t Be a Phony | Authenticity in Social Media

Jennifer Vance | @jennifercvance


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As an advertising student, it has become clear that one of the most important qualities of a great brand, is the presence of a brand voice. A key aspect to developing a brand voice is connecting to an audience through authenticity, and one of the most successful ways to do this is through the strategic use of social media.

Entrepreneur magazine shares how important having an authentic voice on social media truly is. Successful brands are able to find authenticity through utilizing an honest and consistent voice.  This means connecting to the audience through “helpful, real, verifiable and meaningful” information. These are all elements of authenticity.

An article in Forbes highlights the recent findings of popular tweeter Jeff Pulver who explains that “Finding that balance that allows you to share your humanity, to share your vulnerability, and to be present every day” is key to having successful communication on social media.  These concepts point to the necessity of having authenticity, and Pulver urges his followers to be open to experience and express this vulnerability to attract and relate to consumers. He sums his argument up by stating that brands should “keep it real and say things that matter.”

There is growing emphasis on the importance of brands to exhibit authenticity in the ways they reach out and interact with the public sphere, especially through social media channels. Consumers look to connect to crisis_image3brands on an emotional level, and brands that are able to provide this- find the most success. Authenticity is hard to come by as is; and many brands struggle to find their authentic voice.

It is no surprise that many of today’s most successful companies are those that engage their consumers authentically through social media.Brands such as Starbucks are argued to be the top most authentic brands in a study by Cohn and Wolfe, which has been referred to by various media sources such as Ad Week.

Which brands do you think exhibit a strong authentic voice that resonates throughout their presence on social media? Does anyone disagree with the research findings by Cohn and Wolfe?


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This Article Has 20 Comments
  1. Nicole Lygo says:

    Jennifer, you bring up a great point. Although, in my mind, authenticity is not something that should be developed so much as simply done. The most important part of authenticity should not be the voice that the company has for itself; the most important part should be the company behind the voice. The worst thing that can happen to a brand’s authenticity is to have that image betrayed by some failing on the company’s part. I think it is important for companies to live up to their authenticity before they build that brand.

    • Jennifer Vance says:

      I agree, authenticity should be present before and during a brand’s journey to finding its voice and place amongst the marketplace.

  2. Polly Irungu says:

    Great post! In my opinion, Taco Bell does a great job with keeping their voice consistent on social media. They do an excellent job interacting with customers from the good and bad to keeping up with what is trending.

    • Jennifer Vance says:

      I have heard many great things about Taco Bell’s engagement strategies, and how they address all issues – good and bad. I think there is some sort of barrier preventing me from appreciating many of these large, commercial brands as authentic, though I am trying to overcome this.

  3. Rebecca Rhodes says:

    Great post, Jennifer! I love the quote: “Finding that balance that allows you to share your humanity, to share your vulnerability, and to be present every day.” The same is true with personal, face-to-face interactions as well. Apple is another company that comes to mind when thinking about the seemingly-authentic brands that I frequently encounter. I would be particularly interested in looking into how using humor on social media contributes to a brand’s authenticity, because I know that I’m far more likely to follow a brand online if they use humor because it does make them seem more human and relatable.

    • Jennifer Vance says:

      That is a great thought actually. I hadn’t thought of my following habits but it is true that companies that use humor successfully capture my attention in comparison to brands that do not. Thanks for bringing this up! Humor is an incredibly important aspect of how we interact with one another on a personal / authentic level.

  4. Kayla Gordon says:

    Great post Jennifer! As I read your post I thought about Nike and their brand presence. Maybe it’s just because I grew up in Oregon, but I’ve always loved Nike’s brand presence, messaging and marketing. To me, their humble roots and innovation add to their authenticity.

    • Jennifer Vance says:

      Nike definitely came to mind for me as well. There is no doubt that they have found success through successfully relating and communicating with their consumers.

  5. Alexis McNeal says:

    I totally agree with you when you say “many of today’s most successful companies are those that engage their consumers authentically through social media.” A voice is so important to have and I know that when I look for products I definitely go to a company that seems personable and that I feel will be able to connect with me on a personal level. I feel like Nordstrom does such a good job doing that. I think we have talked about this in class before, about how great their customer service is, but I also think that their voice is general is just really personable and welcoming. Some brands I feel intimidated by how they portray themselves but I feel like Nordstrom does a good job in making themselves fill the role of a friend instead of a superior. Awesome post!

    • Jennifer Vance says:

      I agree with this as well! Nordstrom does an excellent job engaging customers on a personal level. I also understand where you are coming from when you mention being intimidated by some brands. I have experienced this most with brands that are considered to be “luxury.”

  6. Lauren Garetto says:

    Great post! Personally I’m always interested in seeing if a brand is being authentic and sticking to their brand voice, so this post was very interesting to me.
    I personally think that Target does a good job with engaging their customers and sticking to their brand voice. Most people can almost immediately tell when a target commercial comes on and they constantly engage with consumers on social media.

    • Jennifer Vance says:

      So true! Target is welcoming and inviting both through their advertising and in store experience. Always love Target. 🙂

  7. Rachael Arnold says:

    I think your post has great insight on brand authenticity. One brand that I think has proven to be authentic is Powells, a popular book store from Portland, Oregon. Powells is constantly interacting with its consumers, retweeting their photos and engaging in conversations about events and books of interest. This has made Powells a stand out, successful company and helped ensure trust between the brand and its consumers.

    • Jennifer Vance says:

      Oh Powells! I am not from Oregon but always hear great things about this bookstore. Successfully engaging and responding to customers is a great way for a company to stand out from those around them. Thanks for sharing this!

  8. Kalie Browne says:

    I really like the idea of brands having voices on social media. I think that it makes the whole experience that much better. If brands and companies are going to be on social media they may as well make it entertaining. Image if brands sounded on social media like they do on billboards or commercials. No one would want to follow them. I think that Cosmo (the magazine) does a really good job on Twitter of tweeting in the voice of their followers and responding to the people that reach out to them in a fun way. It’s more fun when brands have fun online.

  9. Tatiana Skomski says:

    While I was reading your post, I immediately thought of Nordstrom. Not only is the company a personal favorite, but I think it is a great example of how a brand exudes authenticity. Nordstrom has always been consistent with who they are as a brand and that is extremely important when establishing brand presence.

    • Jennifer Vance says:

      You aren’t alone in thinking Nordstrom is an exceptional authentic brand! They do a great job welcoming and interacting with customers!

  10. Sijie Li says:

    Great post and good point! I totally agree with you while you were saying, “many of today’s most successful companies are those that engage their consumers authentically through social media.” It’s so important to interact with the target audience of the company, and social media is the easiest but also the smartest way to do that. People do care about the authenticity of the company or business or brand they always keep eye on. It’s different from the unidirectional adverting on the TV. It’s a mutual communication to delivery authenticity. Of course, it maybe more convincing because it is important for customers that their voices are heard by the company. I think Qdoba did a really good job on social media to interact with its fans. Qdoba’s social media profiles cover the whole breadth of online sites, including Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, Google+ and Pinterest, which are effectively utilized for the purposes of customer relations, brand advertising and promotional activity. Its sleek professional image across the websites is combined with consistent, interesting and interactive updates by a small marketing team, who provide personalized responses to all customer communications, particularly on Twitter, where the company has accumulated more than 24,000 followers.

    • Jennifer Vance says:

      I will check out some of QDoba’s social media! I am not familiar with it, but it sounds like they are doing a fantastic job utilizing the various social media platforms!

  11. SSM Student says:

    Our generation has a love affair with authenticity. I think it’s funny that a megamillion corporation like Taco Bell can manufacture authenticity and appear to be “just like one of us.” The people that make those ads feel like guys I know right now, the person running the Twitter account right now sounds like a guy I’d like to be friends with… but are they? I feel as though corporation will become so good at this, that it will be overdone to the point of parody. Kinda like when TV ads started to have “real people” testing their products on camera, with obviously fake reactions. But I mostly hope corporations use social media in a more responsible way.

    -Alexander Cano

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