Joining the social team here at Sprout has given me a crash course in brand authenticity on social media. A lot of marketers talk about the importance of connecting with your audience and being authentic on social, but for us, these qualities are the core of our social strategy.
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 #SproutChat, developing attention-grabbing content and engaging proactively and reactively with our community.
Additionally, as part of a team that loves to #DataDance, I’ve learned how to leverage industry data, our own performance metrics, social listening analysis and strategic intuition to create a social strategy that puts authenticity front and center. 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.
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Why brand authenticity matters on social media
Social media is all about connection. People join social platforms to connect with family and friends, stay informed, get inspired and more. The better we as social media marketers can understand people’s personal motivations for using social, the better we can develop strategies that reach and engage them.
Our research has found that 64% of people want brands to connect with them, and they see social media as the number one channel for brands to use in building those consumer relationships. The majority of consumers say their loyalty to a brand increases when they feel connected, and more than half (57%) say that they’ll increase their spending with a brand and buy from that brand over a competitor (76%) when they feel connected.
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: transparency, authenticity and empathy.
According to industry research:
- 81% of people believe businesses have a responsibility to be transparent on social media.
- 90% of consumers say authenticity is important when choosing the brands they like and support. On top of that, 83% of marketers agree that authenticity is “very important” to their brands.
- 51% of consumers define feeling connected to a brand when the brand understands them and their wants—that is, demonstrating empathy.
Anyone can blast out promotional messages. But developing a social media strategy that embodies authenticity, demonstrates transparency and creates real connection with your audience—while delivering on your social and business goals—is a different story.
The challenges & rewards of creating an authentic social media strategy
Anyone who uses Instagram has read more than a few captions about the authenticity trend and how we present ourselves on social media vs. real life. 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.
- Is what we’re posting relatable?
- 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 our all of the different team members representing us on social, are we sending quick, empathetic and engaging responses?
To do this effectively, I have to to truly understand our audience. It’s one thing to know your audience demographics on a given platform; it’s another to really have your finger on the pulse of what your audience cares about, what makes them tick and what makes them interested in your brand. This is tough for a lot of social pros—our annual Sprout Social Index found that 43% of all social marketers say identifying and understanding their target audience is one of their biggest challenges.
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.
That said, the rewards of prioritizing brand authenticity and connection on social are huge. Warby Parker, for example, has used social as a powerful tool for encouraging their customers to share personal style, snapshots of home try-ons and enthusiasm for the brand. 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 pair of Warby Parkers. They also demonstrate how much they care about highlighting their audience with features like their weekly UGC Instagram Story roundup, Frame Crush Friday.
Focusing on building this kind of warm, inviting and genuine social presence isn’t just great for your customers. It’s also great for your social media budget. If you can 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. Last but never least, leveraging UGC 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, 68% say they’re more likely to recommend that brand to friends.
So, how can you make it happen?
Step 1: Start by taking 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 five core inputs to make sure I have a holistic understanding of Sprout’s audience:
- 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.
- Content performance: I look at Sprout’s Reporting tab daily to check in on how our different posts are performing and see how our audience is responding to our content. Additionally, I 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.
- Social listening: Tools like Sprout’s Sent Messages Report are great for per-post metrics, but social listening helps you find patterns and evaluate trends in what topics and content resonates with your audience across the entirety of social. You can also 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.