One term that gets thrown around quite a bit in social media best practice advice is ‘authenticity’. Experts highlight the need for your brand to have an ‘authentic’ voice, to have an ‘authentic’ and real presence through your social media profiles. This is definitely true, authentic is the way to go, but what does that term actually mean? How do you develop an authentic voice for your brand?
Here are three things to keep in mind when establishing your brand voice, in order to communicate with authenticity:
1. Understand your brand mission
This is the seed from which your social media presence can grow – you have to understand who your brand is, what your brand does and what its mission is in order to guide how you interact on social platforms. For example, your brand may be a clothing retailer, and your starting point might be ‘We sell functional clothing at affordable prices’. But that’s not a mission statement, that’s what you do. So from there you need to ask ‘Why is that important?’
You answer this question as many times as you can and you’ll start to see themes developing, purposes that extend beyond the ‘what’ of your business and into the ‘why’. This is what you need to get to to form your mission statement. From this, you might summarise your mission as:
‘We provide affordable, high-quality, durable clothing for everyday life – because most days, you don’t need to pay the high fashion price tag.’
This (while admittedly not amazing) states exactly what the brand aims to do, its place in the world of the consumer – sure, this won’t appeal to twenty-somethings that are looking to wear the most in-fashion clothes at all times, but they were never going to shop with you anyway.
This isn’t the most interesting brand to market; it’s not aiming to be exciting or fresh, because it’ll never be seen that way. It’s aiming to communicate its place, its mission. Once you know that, you can formulate marketing strategies based on the purpose, which also relates to your brand voice.
2. Understand your customers’ perspective
With your mission statement clear in your mind, the next part of developing an authentic voice is understanding what your customers are seeking. Ideally, your mission statement will give you a guide as to what you’re aiming to communicate. Understanding your brand mission helps clarify who you're aiming to reach, and you can then work on understanding how to best communicate with that audience. In the above example, it’s clear that the focus is on helping people in their day to day life - there’s no push to make people think you’re high fashion, you’re not trying to impede on every marketing category for clothing, you’ve clearly defined your place.
This helps dictate your brand voice because you know the perspective you’re representing, the idea that you’re underlining with every interaction. This means that when you tweet out a special offer, you can focus on aspects of the mission – if you have an offer on workwear, understand that your target audience want good quality clothing that will hold up to their daily demands and not rip or break down. Understand that the concern people have about affordable clothing is that it’s lower quality, and highlight why that’s not an issue. Put yourself into the shoes of your target consumer and think ‘what are the aspects I need to know about before purchasing this item' – bearing in mind your brand mission. This helps you target and specify your message. The same goes for responding to queries – your mission statement will guide your response because that’s the platform from which you’re communicating.
For example, if someone asks if you have blue school pants available, you can respond with the product that best matches the query, with notes about durability and information specific to school use (quality material, colour-fast tested, etc.). The mission statement gives you a clear angle or focus for your communications, and your interactions should align with it.
3. Have an opinion
This is more for your content, blog content specifically, but is a big one for defining an authentic brand voice. No doubt you’ve read a heap of blog posts in yuor time that go something like this:
‘A new study has found X. President Smith from Generic College says ‘X is very bad for the world’. Will X be bad for the world? Time will tell’.
It’s bland. It’s empty. It’s basically an expanded paraphrasing of someone else’s work. The best posts are the ones that have an opinion, that put forward the author’s own thoughts and add something to the discussion. If you want to be known as a subject matter expert, as even just as someone who knows what they’re talking about, you need to present your own thoughts in your work, have an opinion on the information you’re presenting. Often people don’t realise they’re softening their work, but go back and look at how many times you use the word ‘could’ or ‘possibly’ or ‘might’. Now go back and see if there’s a way you can make those statements definitive – replace ‘could’ with ‘will’, ‘might’ with ‘is going to’. You can’t do this for every statement in every blog - if you genuinely don’t know, you shouldn’t state something as fact - but if you’ve done your research, if you know what your opinion is on the topic, state it. Take out weakening statements where you can and replace them with definitive language, using your own experience where you can. Your aim is to showcase your research and knowledge, that’s what makes a post interesting, alive. Take this very basic headline example:
‘New Invention Might Change How You Look at Life’
‘New Invention Will Change How You Look at Life’.
Which would you be more likely to click on? Use the definitive and avoid the passive, wherever possible – this will underline your unique brand voice and perspective.
Authenticity can be somewhat vague, but hopefully these notes have provided some talking points on how you go about developing your own brand voice and how you use that to underline your social media presence. The key is understanding your target audience, knowing what information they’re seeking - as opposed to the information you want to tell them - and communicating that in line with a consistent brand mission to guide the way, underlining your brand purpose with every interaction.