Authenticity is essential for engagement on Social Media
Users have adverse attitudes to advertising
From TV to Twitter, we are surrounded by ads that ask us to pay attention. Sponsored content, promotions and shout-outs are part of everyday life online – but users are increasingly desensitised to buzzwords, and are distrustful of big businesses.
Authenticity isn’t a new concept in marketing, but it’s more influential than ever. When Google Panda overhauled the search algorithms in 2011, it turned the tide of online advertising. Since then, the focus has been on quality of content, not quantity. And it’s worth knowing that the websites that sank in the rankings were full of advertising, keywords and links. Wired.com estimated at the time that the release affected 12% of all sites online in 2011. Interestingly, Google’s Amit Singhal noted that there was an 84% overlap between the sites downgraded by the update, and those that users blacklisted with the Chrome Site Blocker. Since then, Google have been walking an internet mile in their users’ shoes.
Fast-forward a few years and Voxburner reports that “the new generation doesn’t trust institutions”, and that their main dislikes about Social Media are “adverts and spam”. Ways of reaching young people online have been so successful that there is a glut of them, and users know how to avoid them.
So if it’s not ads, what influences young peoples’ spending habits? According to Voxburner, the millennial generation are “influenced by their friends’ Social Media posts about products and services”. More than ever before, users rely on product reviews and others’ experiences to inform their buying choices. Authenticity is now the most valuable way of converting customers, because they will leave reviews and will engage with brands on Social Media, leaving a their mark on others’ minds.
When businesses rue the user review
There’s always someone who doesn’t want to work for a good review. There are also cases of “hashtag fails”, where a planned marketing campaign backfires through users’ wrath. Twitter users in the UK who witnessed the subversion of #WhyImVotingUKIP will understand the power of Social Media. It’s easy to see why marketers want to harness that resource, but it’s not always a power that’s beneficial for businesses, or one that can be controlled.
There are numerous tales of “hashtag fails” – Macdonald’s, British Gas and even the NYPD have all fallen into the trap of giving users ammo for backlash. The silver lining of these campaigns is that they were honest: they backfired because the brands behind them were trying to connect authentically with users, and ‘authenticity’ is what they got. It just didn’t reflect on them well, and it wasn’t what they wanted to promote.
The fact that mobile browsing is so common helps to explain why audiences react so passionately when organisations push propaganda into peoples’ awareness. Social Media crosses the boundary between private and public interactions, so appearing impersonal and out for your own gain is as rude as it would be at a dinner party.
“A huge number of people check their Social Media accounts before they even get out of bed in the morning,” says Miranda, Creo’s Social Media specialist. “Social Media is a constant way of intruding upon people’s personal lives through their smartphones and tablets.”
But what about those who cheat their way to good reviews and boost their user interactions?
Cutting corners undercuts credibility
In 2012, Mars, who own Snickers, were investigated by the Office of Fair Trading for paying celebrities to post selfies of them eating the peanutty treat. (In the UK, there are clear trading standards rules regarding the fact that endorsements must be acknowledged.)
Last October, Samsung was fined for faking its own good reviews, and for posting bad reviews on its rivals’ sites. It’s far from the only organisation to have done so. In March this year, MasterCard’s PR agency tried to bribe a Telegraph journalist into sending tweets they’d pre-written about the BRIT Awards.
These incidents don’t just undercut the credibility of the companies involved. The cumulative effect risks crippling the credibility of Social Media as a marketing platform. Recently, MarketingWeek reported that the Chartered Institute of Marketing has found in a survey that “51 per cent of marketers have seen questionable content from brands on Social Media in the past six months”. The result of this is that almost half of the 3000 people surveyed by CIM “find it difficult to trust brands on social networks”. The moral of this story is that being genuine is the best way to bring in business. It’s certainly the most beneficial for business.
“Social Media opens up your company to reveal the humans working away in the background,” says Miranda. “If managed correctly, it can provide insights into your company values, ethos and passion, allowing your customers to become true advocates for your brand.”
For the millennial generation, it’s crucial to remember that they have been surrounded by ads since childhood. According to Time Magazine, they “buy ideas, beliefs, and products from people, not corporations”. They are fluent in brand chat, and cynical about corporate motives. Transparency in a company’s marketing presence builds trust, which increases users’ willingness to buy into their brand message. Being genuine is the way to get the most out of your digital marketing budget – and it will ensure that Social Media remains a powerful marketing tool into the future.