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 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 2019 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 resonate 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.
- My coworkers from other teams: 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 who we’re reaching, what feedback we’re receiving and what our customers care about. I also work with our paid social lead to understand who she’s targeting and compare that to our organic audience. Finally, I’m constantly talking to our content teams about who they’re trying to reach and what topics they’ve found most engaging for our audience.
- My intuition: While hard data is a great foundation, spending half the week talking to our audience via the Sprout Inbox has also helped me hone a social media manager’s intuition for her audience. I’m in the weeds of social every day, learning what our community wants, what content resonates and what questions they need answered. Our community is also really unique in that its members are also social media experts, with representation across every industry, type of organization and team size, and 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 intuition guides me in turning all of the inputs I’ve mentioned above into more holistic takeaways.
Step 2: Turn audience insight & brand goals into social strategy
In this step, 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?
At our recent Sprout Sessions Live event series, we shared our “open, real and empathetic” framework with participants to get them started. For this post, we’ve built the worksheet out into a free, downloadable template you can use with your team to turn ideas for becoming more authentic on social into strategy.
First, you’ll brainstorm on how your brand can create real connection, starting with identifying ways you can be more transparent, considering what specifically you can share and making sure it aligns with what matters most to your audience. Next, you’ll think through potential content sources (using a few suggestions from our team). Last but most importantly, you’ll use your social goals as a lens to come up with series and post ideas to bring these qualities to life.
The North Face’s climbing-focused Instagram account is a great example of being real and empathetic. In this video, the voiceover talks about the importance of valuing where you come from and feeling inspired by your history. It puts the viewer directly into the The North Face’s brand story and provides a relatable, welcoming window into what the brand cares about.
How else can you show your brand’s personality? A great opportunity is through engagement. Think about how you interact with your community and how you create 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 to personalize every interaction—for example, by using people’s names or referencing a prior conversation they’ve had with your brand using Conversation History.
Once you’ve identified 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 with your team as a presentation, a written document or even a video, but the most important thing is to communicate to the rest of your organization why focusing on authenticity and connection will make a difference.
Step 3: Measure success & iterate
How do you know when your efforts have been successful?
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 like this one. We’ll try formats like:
- Summarizing the primary theme of the article (example)
- Using emoji bullet points 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 types of positioning actually resonates and gets them to click and read the full article. It doesn’t mean we eliminate other content altogether, but it gives us new ideas to riff on and share with our creative team members as well.
But again, we don’t just rely on social metrics to understand how we’re doing. This is another area where we go back to our team and ask other colleagues how they think we are delivering on our goal of connection. Our support, sales and customer success teams are closely attuned to our customers and can give us a broader picture of what we’re missing and where we’re hitting the mark.
Don’t stop there—take the conversation 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. I mentioned that at Sprout, we test social copy, but we also report quarterly on the performance of all of our creative assets on paid and organic social. We share our takeaways with our marketing executives and our entire creative team so that we can be more strategic about content that fosters connection and gets results. We also share intelligence from social listening with our sales team, communicating the major themes in what people think about our industry, product and content so that they can learn how to better connect with our audience. We’re always looking for opportunities to translate social insights about our customers into value for the rest of the organization.
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. If you’re ready to put everything we’ve talked about into practice, download our free worksheet and get started! We’d love to see what you come up with—share with us @SproutSocial.
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