Authenticity in Social Media: They’ll Know It When They See It

In 1964, United States Supreme Court Justice Potter Steward famously defined the threshold for obscene material as “I’ll know it when I see it.” Without creating a tedious litmus test, he managed to define non-protected speech by a sort of collective gut instinct feeling rather than particular fixed parameters.

So, too, can it be said for authenticity in the social web. Every brand is different, with a unique set of characteristics that make it up its system of beliefs and values. Though customers can spot inauthenticity in social media a million miles away, and they know it when they see it. Authenticity, specifically as it relates to brand voice, was the topic of Valerie Buckingham’s, North American Head of Marketing for Nokia, presentation today here at Social Media Week New York as she talked about Nokia’s journey to be a more social brand, especially in the eyes of millennials – a demographic with a notoriously effective filter for inauthentic speech.

One of the surest ways to achieve authenticity is to start by gathering intelligence and listening to what customers are saying a brand product or issue in social media. Combine these fast moving insights (listening posts, trending topics, search data) along with deeper cultural and behavioral research (for Nokia, this was that mainly millenials saw their parents as friends and allies, and that many were not as keen to flee the nest and previous generations).  Finally, optimize the language and brand voice by analyzing at what resonates and what doesn’t.

Combine those streams and you’re on your way toward developing a brand voice.  This usually takes the form of a playbook or set of guidelines socialized through the organization, along with some front line training for the core digital or social team. And it’s constantly evolving.

Brands that fail to ground themselves in the vernacular and spirit of their communities and consumers risk the chance their marketing and communications efforts get caught in the personal message shield that we all use.  This is critically important because after all, we know inauthenticity when we see it.