Be authentic are the key words at Social Media Week (#SMWChicago), a week-long program (November 16-20, 2015) part of a global conference which combines social technology, creativity, and human interaction to discuss the latest trends and best practices for social media.
Bloggers vouched for it. Marketers and journalists agreed.
I am going to explore different bloggers and brands who are authentic and personal. I will evaluate the argument for finding the middle ground of creating an authentic brand, while also putting personality and yourself into the social media messaging.
What is a Brand?
To clarify, a brand is “the practice of creating a name, symbol or design that identifies and differentiates a product from other products,” according to Entrepreneur.
A blogger can operate under a separate brand name. For instance, my name is Amanda Elliott, but my brand is “Windy City Cosmo.” Some bloggers operate under their name. Journalists do this as well, creating a separate brand for themselves, while operating within the brand of their employer.
Authenticity means “true to one’s own personality, spirit, or character,” according to Merriam-Webster dictionary.
In writing, you need to have a voice, a tone and an objective that relates to your subject matter and audience reading your blog post or article. This is part of what authenticity means to social media marketers.
Brand Authenticity has four parts according to Digital Intelligence Today:
- Continuity (brand being faithful to itself)
- Credibility (true to its consumers)
- Integrity (motivated by caring and responsibility)
- Symbolism (support consumers in being true to themselves)
Brand Example: Elite Daily:
A good example of brand authenticity is Elite Daily, an online publication for the voice of Generation Y.
To create credibility, it only employees Millennial writers to share personal anecdotes for its Millennial audience.
It also has standards, the integrity component of authenticity, in its style guide. Elite Daily won’t accept posts that are racist or against the LGBT community. The brand further creates becomes overly personal about all things related to Millennials to help Millennials tackle their own battles on dating, world news, and women’s health, which provides symbolism.
Notice, when you view their Instagram account, Elite Daily uses statements that resonate with Millennials to add a deeper connection.
One post reads,” How do girls contour their face I’m lucky if I brush my hair.”
Elite Daily didn’t post a video of a girl brushing her hair while trying to contour her face. Now, the publication might publish a post, “Contour Fails: How I Tried to Look Like Kim K,” because Millennial women have probably attempted to contour their faces and just can’t.
You can be yourself and add personality as long as you are consistently tying your content back to your readers.
There was a big controversy about brands posting photos with #prayforparis last week. Some people found it ingenuine to post them because they felt it was just to draw attention to their brands and get “likes”, rather than feeling a reverence and empathy for the attacks and the French people.
Bloggers who Balance Authenticity and Their True Self:
There are some bloggers, that do a very good job of this.
Lamise Mansur is a yogi and runs a very powerful and active Instagram account under her name. She has 46.2K followers. While focusing on yoga poses, she also adds in food photos that tie into the yogi lifestyle she curates. Mansur and I went to high school together.
Apart from growing up in school as a fellow classmate, her quotes and her photography have help me to see her a social media influencer. On Instagram, she shows personality in her yoga poses and the fact that she is a more modest yogi, compared to others who do yoga in bikinis.
While creating personality, she isn’t overly personal. She’s personal in the realm of yoga and health and growth, but she’s private in the sense that I don’t know a lot of detail about her personal life.
Continuity: Does One Brand Mean One Topic?
Ultimately, your brand doesn’t have to just talk about one thing, like yoga. You can incorporate other areas and passions of your life while maintaining the integrity and authenticity of your brand.
On Wednesday, November 18, 2015, Social Media Week had a Foodie Chat, “Not Just #FoodPorn: Social Media and The Impact on the Way We Eat,” session at 5 pm. Three Chicago food bloggers talked about their success and tips for blogging and building an audience on social media with brands they want to work with and followers they want to attract.
I asked the question about how to remain true your brand while also exploring and writing about other topics.
One blogger, Monique Volez, founder of Ambitious Kitchen, who is predominately a food blogger, is recently writing about travel. She says that she’s found ways to incorporate her love for travel while also maintaining the focus of her blog on healthy food for Millennials.
Another food blogger, Julie Gordon, founder of Inspiring Kitchen, said that when she travels, she reports on restaurants at hotels to tie back into her brand.
You have to get creative with how you present your ideas and your stories because even you, the brand, can get bored with one topic.
Does Personality Bring You More (Social) Currency?
I’ve met a few bloggers in Chicago who are working with powerful brands. After establishing your brand, it becomes easier to receive samples of products or get invited to events to produce blog content.
As you grow your brand, getting paid for your work is a much harder feat. Yet global brands, like Coca-Cola, reach out to bloggers who are influential and wealthy in social currency.
You can’t pay for your bills with macaroni samples and heartfelt notes from followers, but you can get influence that gives you social currency. Unlike monopoly money, you can cash that in. Because that’s what professional brands really want—an engaged audience.
With personality, a brand transitions from a salesman in a suit to a best friend.
It’s interesting that bigger brands are paying for audience and personality from smaller brands like bloggers, who have limited means of creating revenue beyond contracts from companies.
Convincing readers to pay for content is an ongoing challenge. With the saturation of the blogosphere and the fragile state of publications (see Details Magazine) it seems naive to even think it’s possible, which hurts to say as a writer myself.
However, there is hope. When bloggers and brands balance the line between authenticity and being themselves, they can create something where that are paid two-fold. They are paid in their impact and appreciation from the community they built, but also paid by a professional brand, who uses them as a new level of influence to increase new user acquisition.
One of those brands is Coca-Cola, which has reached out to a few Chicago bloggers to promote and generate content. One speaker as Social Media Week Chicago, Jocelyn Delk Adams, founder of Grandbaby Cakes, writes and promotes on behalf of Coca-Cola and Pillsbury to name a few.
Adams, who has 70 percent of brands reach out to her for social media and content creation services said that when she works with brands, “It has to come from me. It has to be my voice.”
She spoke about the struggles of building an audience and how important it is to be authentic to the brand she built to continue to grow her brand and keep her audience.
“When you start a blog you start with one follower, and that’s your mom. If you find someone whose reading your blog who you didn’t know, you’re like ‘yay.'”
Another popular food blogger, Kit Graham, founder of The Kittchen and co-founder of Windy City Blogger Collective, started blogging in 2011 according to an interview with The Blog Issue.
Like Adams, she also writes and creates recipes for Coca-Cola.
Both of these established bloggers have generated income on their own by creating their own cookbooks, Grandbaby Cakes: Modern Recipes, Vintage Charm, Soulful Memories and The Gourmet Grilled Cheese Cookbook ,as well as working with brands.
Chicago foodie blogger and deal finder, Maddy Osman, founder of Chicago Cheap Ass, created a brand that was authentic to her personality. Much like her brand’s name, she is open and honest and tells you the deals and advice you might be too afraid to ask for. One of my favorites is, “Spend Your Birthday Collecting Free Stuff.”
When I met Osman, I felt like I was meeting someone who was savvy, and professional, but also true to the person she is. People love her and her brand for it. Osman recently started solely freelancing and is continuing to help other brands achieve that authenticity.
Platforms: The Thing About Snapchat:
While bloggers and brands create different content for various platforms, Snapchat helps to provide a behind-the-scenes feel. Brands become more personal on Snapchat, taking you in the car or airplane with them on their journey of eating, dancing, dressing, and other everyday activities.
The Chicago foodie, 312Food on Instagram, is one brand that uses . The account is run by Erin Byrne, and she only engages with her audience on that platform and Twitter. After starting her brand this summer 2015, there are 8,143 posts under the hashtag, “312food” on Instagram.
On a platform known for food and selfies, Byrne focuses on the local restaurants she patrons and discovers daily. You can see where she goes and who she is eating with based on her tags, but she maintains a strong, authentic brand that feels like I personally like her, yet professionally appreciate her work.
I think what Byrne is doing is what we all want to achieve in the social media world. We want to be liked, but taken seriously (and as a business, paid for being all of that through products and services).
On her Snapchat (Snap312food), you see a more personal brand. The behind-the-scenes of where she goes helps me to feel involved with her work and apart of her brand.
Adam Soko, another Chicago Foodie, has also made a name for himself, at 24 years old this month, he has 19.2K followers. He actively posts his smartphone taken photos on Instagram, and then takes you behind the scenes on his eating adventures and the friends he enjoys them with on Snapchat (adamsoko).
On Snapchat, Soko revolves his content around food. He also takes it a step further and takes selfies and videos of friends dancing in living rooms. You get the personality behind the food. This made me like his brand on a different level.
I’ve had drinks with both Byrne and Soko at blogger foodie events. They are both awesome people, with great personalities. I was impressed with 312Food before I met her, and knew it was only one person, and I learned about Soko’s online presence while at a Violet Hour private tasting.
Walking the Line of Too Much Information:
When I first started managing a company’s Twitter account in 2010, I noticed that people who I was so intimidated by as an intern at the time, were tweeting about 80’s music and bonding over plaid socks. I only met with them for an hour about every other week, and who they were online and who they were in that meeting, were vastly different. There was personality, life behind these people, they had music taste and style.
It made them human, it put them more on my level, but it also slightly changed my professional view on them. It seemed we could talk about anything online, but not when we were face to face. There was a difference.
As I develop my own brand, I am torn between what is too much information and what gives me to be enough personality to be human and relatable instead of just a generic product or an idea.
I find more and more you can like the product, but hate the person, or hate the person, and love the product, but the most social media influence derives from liking the person people think you are and the product or idea that you are selling.
Examples of Brands Who Got Personal:
Brands and bloggers, have found ways to grow communities that help them in both their professional and personal life.
I met yogi, Margo Kellison Lightburn, who is a former Nike Yoga instructor, at a park before bible study last year. I am going to pause and say that while editing this very piece, I toggled with including “bible study” into the article, because that’s a personal detail and religion is not a main part or any part of my blog, Windy City Cosmo. I even thought about changing “bible study” to simply “meeting,” because that is more authentic to my brand. But I decided to keep it in to make a point about authenticity v. being myself. I can still be the person who goes to bible study, but I don’t have to tweet to my audience, “Church on Sunday RT,” that’s too personal and doesn’t relate to my brand.
Back to Lightburn, I have since followed her on Facebook and Instagram. I love the way she incorporates her son growing up, and even his attempts to learn yoga, into her professional brand as a yogi.
PR Communications Founder of Geben Communications in Philadelphia, PA, Heather Whaling, shares posts on her website, PRtini. I have followed Heather since about 2012, and she always has good tips on PR advice and strategic communications. Sometimes, I was a bit suprised, but touched by how personal she got in her newsletters and posts. In one post, she mentioned her pregnancy, specifically that she gave birth prematurely and had to make quick changes as a company owner, to take maternity leave early. It was a very private and personal anecdote from her life, and quite frankly it was the first time I read a story like this from someone who I came to respect professionally.
At the Foodie Talk at Social Media Week, Adams said, “They love when you get personal.”
In a way, I believe it sometimes creates a bigger bond, like it did with Whaling.
However, ask yourself, do you link your Twitter, a more social and relaxed platform, with your LinkedIn, a more professional one?
Bloggers and brands alike are aware that they can be insensitive or overshare.
Blogger and speaker at Social Media Week, Gordon spoke about how she was promoting a French festival event in downtown Chicago, but in light of the current attacks in Paris, has refrained from heavily promoting the event, for instance.
Tips to Balance Your Personal and Professional Life Online:
The key tip is to include yourself in the brand, but curate content that always relates or brings your audience back to your mission statement.
- Remember your audience. Your content should always be created with them in mind.
- Keep your message consistent. Create a mission statement. While you can add different categories and products to your brand, make sure they resonate with your brand’s mission statement.
- Explore different social media platforms to create a stronger bond with consumers and followers.
- Your goal is not to be related, but relatable. Get personal, but not too personal. Gage when an audience is ready for heavier content, and when personal details may not be appropriate.
- Check yourself. It’s easy to forget that real people see your content and are affected by your brand if you are developing a new brand. What you do matters and people are watching what you do in the beginning, even if you don’t see the impact right away.
While a brand may be part of you—a big part of you, it’s not all of you.