“Authenticity”—there’s no question that it’s one of the biggest social media buzzwords. But don’t be fooled—authentic marketing is only becoming more important.
According to this year’s Sprout Social Index™, the number one reason consumers follow brands on social is to stay informed about products and services. But at the same time, the Index also found that authentic, non-promotional content is the number one thing consumers don’t see enough from brands.
These two things may seem at odds but they are not mutually exclusive—in fact, they go together like peanut butter and jelly. There are many ways to keep your audience up-to-date on product offerings through authentic content, and brands who get this right have much to gain.
In this article, you’ll find authentic marketing examples, tips for getting it right and what brand authenticity really means. Let’s get into it.
What is authentic marketing?
Brand authenticity on social media refers to whether brands come off as genuine, tapped into their customers on social and true to their values. It’s partly achieved by creating customer-centric, genuine content that feels relatable and aligns with the company’s voice and values. And it’s a key ingredient to building trust and loyalty with consumers, and marketing to Gen Z.
Personally, I call it “foot-in-the-door” marketing. Content that’s interesting, relatable or valuable to your audience gets your foot in the door. Then you can follow up with sales messaging—but you must continually build interest and trust, too.
Consumers have grown wary of inauthentic posts and brands treating them like dollar signs. And we’ve seen a unique pushback from audiences and creators alike. Look at how audiences have embraced lo-fi content over highly-polished posts, or the rise of deinfluencing.
The rise of creators has also put new pressure on brands to feature real, trusted faces and customers on their channels. And call-out culture has rightfully made brands think twice about posting topical messages if they can’t take action.
While authenticity in marketing is associated with social content, it’s an omnichannel concept. You should apply it to all of the tactics your brand uses to engage audiences—on social, through creator partnerships, in ads and traditional broadcasts, and beyond.
3 authentic marketing misconceptions
As we mentioned, authenticity is more than just an overused buzzword. In fact, it should be added to your list of social media best practices.
Before we dive into how to bring authenticity into your content and strategy, let’s debunk three of the biggest authentic marketing misconceptions out there.
Authentic marketing can only come directly from the brand
Not all of your content has to be created by you. Featuring real people—from creators to customers—is one of the best ways to achieve more authentic digital marketing.
Nearly 40% of consumers say they like to see customer testimonials or real customer demos on social media, according to The 2022 Sprout Social Index™. Featuring real people enjoying or even creating tutorials with your products on your channels is a solid form of building trust and social proof.
Kodak, for example, features photos taken by people who use their film and products.
Reposting user-generated content (UGC) created by your customers is one of the most authentic marketing tactics you can use. It’s organic, genuine and can even serve as a visual “review” of your product.
Creating an authentic influencer marketing strategy brings trusted voices into your content, too. In fact, according to a Q3 2023 Sprout Pulse Survey, 47% of marketers say enhancing brand authenticity and trust is the most valuable opportunity with influencer marketing.
AI poses a threat to authentic marketing
Social teams are no strangers to AI—and the fears around it. But as marketers bring these tools into their workflow, the conversation around AI has shifted from “will it replace me?” to “will it make my brand sound inauthentic?”
It’s a valid fear. Marketers and consumers alike have started calling out brands who respond with AI-created, impersonal messages.
But AI only poses a threat to authentic marketing if you let it. The key is using AI copy and creative tools as a starting point—not a final product. Edit AI-generated materials, like post and comment copy, to keep your content authentic, true to your brand voice and personalized.
AI tools are becoming an essential tool in marketers’ toolkits. According to the Index, 81% of marketers say AI has already had a positive impact on their work. When you use these tools right, and with discretion, they speed you up without taking away your authentic voice.
Authentic marketing means always taking a stand on issues
A few years ago, brands were expected to take a stand on tough issues—it was non-negotiable.
But there’s been a shift. According to The 2023 Sprout Social Index™, today only a quarter of consumers think brands must speak out on causes that align with their values to be memorable.
Consumers have grown skeptical of brands taking a stand, and are wary of performative activism. Over the past few years, we’ve seen many brands called out for putting out empty, inauthentic statements.
This doesn’t mean your brand should never take a stand on issues. But when you do speak out, make it count. And in your day-to-day, there are other areas to prioritize to build regular authenticity and trust—more on all of this later.
How to get authentic marketing right
We all know what authentic marketing means, and even what it looks like. But bringing it into your strategy can be challenging.
Let’s get into six key tips and authentic marketing examples to see how you can get it right in your strategy.
Go behind the scenes
Part of authentic marketing is removing the “curated” barrier between your brand and audience. Posting behind-the-scenes content (BTS) is a fun, engaging way to give audiences a peek behind the curtain.
BTS content can be lighthearted, fun and as simple as showcasing your team. Think: using lo-fi content for a “meet the team” social series, showing your workspace, or jumping on a trend and recruiting your coworkers to step in as social video talent—like this Grammarly video.
But BTS content can go even deeper to build trust. For example, the Index found that consumers don’t think they see brands post enough transparency about business practices and information about how products are made.
Featuring how your products are made and sourced, who makes them, the start-to-finish process, etc. provides this level of transparency—like Nisolo does with content about their sustainability report cards.
Be selective about taking a stand
We already mentioned the shift in consumer skepticism and expectations around brands taking a stand. This doesn’t mean you can never take a stand on an issue.
But to stay authentic, your brand should only do so when the issue directly aligns with and reinforces your company values. And, ideally, your statement should always be backed up with action.
Sometimes that action comes in the form of a donation or direct support. Or, the brand talks the talk and walks the walk in more unique ways.
Take L.L.Bean’s social pause. Their “Off the Grid” campaign for Mental Health Awareness Month went beyond a simple post. Their social team took a month-long break from their brand’s social channels to embody their company values and get outside. On top of this, they also donated to relevant mental health-related causes.
The result? Their channels were not negatively affected, and their bold move was celebrated. L.L.Bean’s pause was backed up with action in the form of a social media break that demonstrated commitment to their values; authentic marketing at its best.
Put customers in the spotlight
People trust real people and stories—not just brands alone. Turning to your customers for content is more than just a social calendar filler; it builds trust.
Customer testimonials, repurposing reviews into campaign and ad content, reposting effective UGC—all of this brings your customer into your strategy and social feeds.
UGC can be as simple as customer-posted photos featuring your product or service. But remember: consumers are content creators, too. From “try-on hauls” to how-to tutorials and decorating, there are so many ways customers use lo-fi content and authentic posts to feature your product…and hopefully get featured on your account.
To find UGC more easily, encourage your audience to tag you in their content and use a branded hashtag, like Aerie’s “#AerieReal.”
Using a social media management tool makes tracking this content easier. With Sprout Social, track specific hashtags, and find all your tagged content across your social networks in one streamlined feed, saving yourself search time.
Find the right partners
When building an authentic influencer marketing strategy, it pays to be choosy. You already know you shouldn’t just partner with any creator. You need to find partners with an audience that is either similar to yours, or that you want to reach.
With over half of marketers saying 26-75% of their marketing budget goes toward influencer marketing in a Q3 2023 Sprout Pulse Survey, it’s no secret that brands should ramp up their creator partnerships. But that same survey found that finding the right influencers for campaigns is a primary challenge for brands.
To offset this, over half of brands reported using dedicated influencer marketing programs. If you’re struggling to find influencers and creators, adopting a platform like Tagger to find and manage these partnerships is a great option.
But sometimes, you need to look no further than your audience to source partnerships. According to that same survey, half of marketers hire influencers who are already genuine fans of their product—a key way to ensure authentic influencer marketing partners.
One way to find influencers in your audience or industry is by using social listening. Social listening enables you to uncover conversations about your brand and products even when you’re not tagged. Using Sprout’s Social Listening solution, you can find your biggest influencers in the conversation—or even poach influencers in your competitor base.
Don’t be afraid to skip trends
Authentic digital marketing is as much about the trends you skip as the trends you jump on.
Trends can help when they’re natural. But they can hurt you when forced. Audiences can spot a brand trying to jump on a trend that doesn’t fit their brand a mile away—and will call you out for it.
Using relevant trends is a great way to ride a popularity wave and reach new audiences. But trends aren’t everything. 38% of consumers say the most memorable brands on social prioritize original content over following trending topics, according to the Index.
For example, makeup brand Glossier leaned on trends to build their TikTok account. But they’ve since shifted focus to more original content—read more about their short-form video strategy.
Before you jump on a trend, step back and ask yourself if it fits your brand and feels authentic.
Ensure you’re responsive
If you truly want to build trust and an authentic connection with your audience, be responsive. According to the Index, over half of consumers say the most memorable brands on social are those that respond.
The Index also found that 70% of consumers expect a company to provide personalized responses to customer service needs. And directly engaging with your audience and prioritizing one-to-one customer care will make you more memorable.
You can’t have authenticity in marketing if you ghost your audience. This is your sign to prioritize social media customer care every single day, and to provide extra social media customer care training to align your customer service and social efforts.
Create content that feels native to each social platform
Hear me out on this one. We’ve all seen a Reel with a TikTok logo on it—and there’s something inherently inauthentic when you can tell that a brand is simply copy/pasting content from one platform into another.
Sometimes, this is necessary and even warranted. But part of authentic marketing is creating content that feels true to the platform consumers are consuming it in.
As much as you can, create Reels and TikTok videos that feel native to those platforms by using the fonts or text-to-speech voices each platform provides.
Let’s get real: Enhance your authentic marketing strategy
New platforms will come and go. Content format preferences will ebb and flow. But the need for authentic marketing will persist through every evolution of social media.
Use the tips and tricks in this article to bring more authenticity into your marketing strategy—your audience, and leadership team, will thank you.
Part of authentic marketing is understanding what consumers want, and the latest overall trends in the social media environment. Download The 2023 Sprout Social Index™ to keep your team and strategy one step ahead.
Social media target audience: How to find and engage yoursPublished on December 7, 2023 Reading time 7 minutes