Online Branding: Authenticity

Online Branding: Authenticity image crowd1Online Branding: Authenticity photoAs more businesses go online and the number of pure play stores (one with only an online presence) increases, the role of online branding increases to a critical level.

But, online branding is seriously different from branding in an offline world. Part of this difference is due to technology — since you can interact in a meaningful way with employees of a digital company and the rich atmospherics of a store are missing. For instance, Amazon really lacks the look and feel of real bookstores, which encouraged readers to get comfortable with the latest novel or magazine.

Part of the difference between online branding and offline is the expectations are different. Consumers allow businesses to build their brand offline using traditional advertising and PR, but online branding requires a different communication style — one relying on authenticity.

Authenticity in online branding

So, what is authenticity in online branding, you ask? Simple (but NOT so simple). Authenticity requires communication that looks and feels more like a conversation between friends. And, you wouldn’t walk into a friend’s house, grab a megaphone, and start shouting about how fabulous your business is, right? Why would you think it’s OK to dominate the online conversation by talking only about yourself? Despite this, many, many brands try to fill their social media campaigns with nothing but conversation about themselves and may even delete conversations about other topics or silence anyone who complains about the brand. — BAD FORM!

Now, maybe you’re saying:

I don’t dominate the conversation by talking about my brand, but I’m not getting the ROI I expected from my social media marketing campaign. What’s wrong?

Building authenticity requires more than just limiting the amount of selling you do in your online communication.

Becoming authentic

The biggest improvement in your social media campaigns comes when you learn authenticity. Start by thinking about how you talk to your friends, then talk to your online audience the same way. For instance, as I craft each post, I imaging talking to someone I met recently — someone interested in learning about social media. I don’t start with a sales pitch for my agency or to hire me as a speaker, I start with things I know they’ll find valuable. And, I talk to them in my head and write down what I’m saying. That ensures a conversational tone rather than one that’s academic and impersonal.

Traditional media was so polished — every word, every action consciously performed by trained actors (my daughter, the actor is quick to tell you the term actress is no longer politically correct). New, digital media involves spontaneous utterances without all the polish and sterility. People make mistakes — it’s human. Having every Tweet go through layers of bureaucracy is counter-productive because it lacks authenticity and the timeliness of human conversation. For instance, after the tragedy at Newtown where children and teachers were killed by a maniac, some brands kept talking about the usual nonsense, while the rest of us stopped talking about anything except the tragedy.

Next, I don’t just talk AT them, I talk with them. I ask them for feedback and, on my social networks, I engage them. I thank everyone who shares, comments, or Likes one of my posts. I realize that sometimes I miss a few because they don’t show up in my listening post, but everyone who engages with me gets a thank you. If you ask a question or write a comment, you get a personal response within 24 hours. Even if I can’t help you, I write back to let you know I can’t help and offer other suggestions. I treat EACH individual as someone important, because they ARE!

Self disclosure is another element of being authentic. That means you share personal stuff or at least let your network behind the curtain — give them VIP access to what’s going on behind the scenes. This makes them feel special and important.

Empathy makes you authentic. You should understand the anger, frustrations, and pains of your network and try to help.

Trust. Build trust and earn that trust EVERY DAY! Online branding requires you produce the highest quality of products and services, stand behind your brand and fix anything that goes wrong, and ALWAYS keep your promises.

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