Has "Authenticity" on Social Media Become Another Box to Check?

Each Tuesday Morning I sit at my desk, sip my coffee, and catch up on my favorite political podcasts. While talking about the number of people adding their name to the list of Presidential Candidates, Jon Lovett uttered the words, “Authenticity is all about seeming honest.”

This sentence struck me so abruptly and so sharply that I had to rewind, pause, and write it down. Then write it down again. And again. And this time in red marker.

After watching the Fyre Festival documentaries on Hulu and Netflix, the candidacy announcement speeches of every Democrat in the country, and countless bloggers post “real” captions under fake photos, these were the exact words I wanted to formulate, but couldn’t.

Any social media guru or digital marketing company will tell you that authenticity is the key to growing your following and earning your customers’ trust. We preach this concept constantly, reminding ourselves that audiences want to “see realness” and “interact with humans, not brands.”

While these concepts are true, I fear that there has become a new normal for what an “authentic” caption should look like. Think about it. We’ve all seen the mom or fitness blogger posts that start off with “Let me get real with you for a minute…” but barely scratch the surface of vulnerability. Even Instagram goddess Jenna Kutcher seems to have a formulaic rhythm behind her quasi-real posts. And here’s why...


Authenticity is not an intrinsic quality.

When we say that we want our Instagram idols to be authentic or complain that our Presidential candidates aren’t being authentic enough, it’s because we’ve created our own image and expectations for them to live up to-- and hope that they will. In fact, the actual definition of “authentic” is, “made or done in the traditional or original way, or in a way that faithfully resembles an original.”

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So, we’ve collectively decided that there is an original way to speak, share, and act on social media, and have faithfully boxed our brands into that tradition. This is only becoming more and more obvious as marketers begin to hear the “authenticity is the road to success” mantra, and put their fake-real captions into play.

With so much noise online these days, it can be difficult to pick out the few brands consistently cutting through with honest, vulnerable language. But they are there. And they are crushing it. One of the best examples on my timeline of a brand using their vulnerability to build an empire is Alexandra Elle (@alex_elle). She uses her honesty and transparent life to fuel her work as a writer, podcaster, and speaker, but I think anyone in any industry could be doing the same.

Unlike authenticity, which simply pantomimes the illusion of honesty, real honesty is simple, unpretentious and unsophisticated. It is “the quality of being free of deceit and untruthfulness; sincere.” And there should be no reason your brand needs to deceive customers. (If that’s the case, your social media presence is the last thing you need to be worried about.)

As you schedule your content for the next week or month, take a look at what messages you’re serving your audience. Is authenticity just another box you’re checking, or are you being open with your customers for real?

For examples of authentic vs. honest captions, and for help writing your next post, download our free guide, The Engaging, Long-form Caption Formula.


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Olivia BausoComment