Have you ever noticed how many buzz words there are in business? Like, sometimes I think entrepreneurs are secretly just a collective of bees. We’re inundated with them. Words like ‘synergy’ and ‘resonate’. They’re almost always used in the wrong context so they become meaningless, bordering on ludicrous. Or phrases like ‘return on investment’ and ‘move the needle’ and ‘core competency’ that everyone seems to say, but nobody seems to understand.
‘Content is King’ has been one of the big buzzwords for years now, and for good reason; sometimes they’re correct, even if they are overused. But one of the biggest buzzwords bandied about when it comes to content creation is authenticity.
Always be authentic in your content creation. That’s what the gurus tell us. But, as with most buzzwords thrown about by self-proclaimed experts, most of them fail to elaborate. They don’t do a deep dive into what authenticity means in the context of content creation and business. Nor do they truly explain the ways in which you might inadvertently be inauthentic in your business.
So, to lay your questions to rest, let’s clear up a few things about authenticity and ensuring you really are authentic in your content…
Skip To The Best Bits...
What Do We Mean By Authenticity?
Before we go further it’s useful to properly define what is meant by authenticity when it comes to business and content. At its simplest, it can be taken to mean be genuine. Don’t misrepresent who you are, what you do, how you do it, or what you can achieve for people.
Being authentic in how you run and market your business means remaining true to yourself, your values, and those you serve. Yes, it means not lying, but there are many ways of misrepresenting yourself – intentionally or otherwise – simply by neglecting to mention things.
The deeper meaning of ensuring you’re authentic in your business – and by extension in your marketing and content creation – is to be transparent. To share all the salient details of who you are (as a business) and what you do (professionally), without evading areas, glossing over things, leaving parts out, or hoping nobody notices something.
Why It’s So Important To Be Authentic In Your Content Creation
Authenticity brings a human element to business that is highly valuable. Being authentic isn’t just good business because it elevates and enhances your reputation, and places you ahead of the competition. It’s great for that, but the more salient point is that it makes you more relatable. It allows people to truly connect with you and your brand, to believe in you, become loyal to you, and feel safe and confident in repeatedly buying from and recommending you.
You’re worthy of clients and customers investing in a long-term relationship with you. They trust you not to treat them badly, abandon you, or cheat on you with that skank your mum insisted you be friends with because her parents go to church.
What Happens When You’re Inauthentic?
Being inauthentic or ‘fauxthentic’ in your business can have rapid and drastic consequences. From mass unfollowings on social media and your email list, to boycotting your brand, and even actively badmouthing you to others. If your audience feels you’ve been less than authentic, you will soon know about it.
And it likely won’t be pleasant.
Look at Naked Juice built a reputation on their ‘All Natural’ slogan, only to have it proven in court to be false. People had bought into the idea of a completely natural product and totally lost faith when it was exposed as anything but. The court loss cost the company millions, but the brand never recovered.
Olay encountered a similar issue when they used a retouched photo of Twiggy to promote their eye cream. The backlash was immense and many customers who had bought their products for years abandoned them as a result.
How To Be Authentic In Your Content
So, now we’re clear on all of that, how do you ensure you’re being authentic in your marketing and content creation?
Only Speak The Truth
We’ve all been there with an ex at some point. They have an encounter, or a dalliance, or they outright cheat on you, and when you later find out and confront them about lying to you the only answer you get is:
I never lied to you! I just didn’t tell you!
Believe me, when you’ve just discovered your boyfriend has been banging your best mate, hearing that particular hair split as justification only increases the rage and betrayal you’re feeling.
And marketing is much the same.
There are many things we prefer not to tell people about our businesses. Maybe you don’t like having the price on your website. Perhaps you avoid mentioning that your products are tested on animals. Or maybe you really fucked something up and feel the best way to handle it is to simply not mention it and hope nobody notices.
You’re not lying. But you are being inauthentic.
Or, as Olivia Rodrigo would put it, “Guess you didn’t cheat, but you’re still a traitor”.
Transparency Is The Best Policy
There are some things that feel uncomfortable. My other half hates sharing his prices for fear competitors will undercut him. My former boss was completely incapable of telling anyone straight – client or employee – that they were unpleasant to work with and he wouldn’t be doing it anymore. And I have a real hangup about telling people I never actually finished my PhD on account of a mental breakdown.
And yet, prospective clients will often change their minds about working with you if you’ve withheld your prices and they find they’re high. On the flipside, those same clients will frequently still get in touch and go on to work with you if those exact prices are clearly displayed on your website.
People like to know what they’re getting into and have a chance to make an informed decision on whether speaking to you is worth their time. Knowing how you value your own time helps with this, while avoiding them feeling like you’ve purposefully hidden information from them in order to lure them in.
You may feel you’re being kind by not giving feedback on how not to behave with you, but the only result in avoiding explaining to people you no longer want to work with them is that they don’t go away. They linger. This is annoying. Not only that, it’s unfair to them as it prevents them from finding someone to work for them, or someone to work for, who actually believes in them and will build a long-term profitable relationship with them.
Having a ‘what to expect from me’ guide and a ‘how to get the best out of me/my product/my service is a great way to build trust. Let people see it all – the good and the bad.
I may not be proud of the fact I never finished my PhD, but I am still proud of the fact I earned a scholarship to do it, and dedicated three years of my life to researching a very cool subject. Who knows, one day I may actually go back and finish it. But in the interim, I like to mention it on occasion when it’s relevant. To do so without also mentioning that I’m not a Doctor, because I didn’t finish, would be very misleading.
Transparency ensures your audience never feels tricked, misled, or lied to. Yes, it can be uncomfortable.
Do it anyway.
Don’t Put On Airs
Some years ago a friend of mine auditioned to be a newsreader. She was experienced, professional, charismatic, and would have been great for the station in question. She was unsuccessful, however, because she didn’t speak ‘The Queen’s English’.
If you’re unsure what that sounds like it’s how the upper echelons of the British aristocracy sound. It’s a dialect. Much as Geordie or Scouse is distinct and easily recognised, so too is The Queen’s English.
Evidently this station felt that anyone who didn’t sound like a posh Brit had no business reporting on the news of the day.
Their loss. But it did for a time leave my friend questioning her own (Mancunian) accent and wondering if she should learn to speak differently for the sake of her career.
Thankfully, she decided against it. But the thought lingered in her for years.
Would she be more successful if she sounded different?
Many people have this issue when creating content. If they’re writing they avoid the conversational tone they actually speak in and write formally. When recording videos they dress differently, do their hair and makeup differently, feeling they need to look ‘the part’.
But what part?
It always addled my brain that in a country as diverse as the United Kingdom, with so many dialects and regional accents, that any news station could think we would all want to listen to the news read in a specific voice.
Even the BBC abandoned this policy and let everyone just speak naturally some time ago.
Why? Because unless you happen to be Hugh Laurie, you’re never going to convince people that you’re anything other than what you are. And trying to do so just makes you sound like a tit.
Consciously Develop Your Voice
Given that I’ve just said not to fake it when it comes to who you are and what you sound like, the notion of developing a brand voice may seem contrary. But here’s the thing, you are not your brand. Your brand may include facets of you and your personality, but at the end of the day it serves a function: to market your business.
That’s the voice you need to develop.
The one that’s designed to market your business.
My mum is a minister and few people understand the impact of a finely developed voice more than public speakers. Standing on the pulpit every sunday for years, mum developed what I came to call her ‘Sermon Voice’.
It was genuine, authentic, and from the heart, but it was very carefully regulated, modulated, and pitched so that it achieved the desired outcome: to command attention, engage interest, and exude authority and respect.
She can still pull that voice out of her dog collar whenever the need arises, despite the fact she’s been retired for several years.
It is part of her, it is genuine. But it also sounds nothing like her normal, conversational, every day voice.
This is what is meant by developing a brand voice. It doesn’t mean making up a way of speaking or lying about what you do. It means hone all the natural aspects of your business into a single, coherent tone that is carefully crafted to achieve your objective.
If your objective is to entertain it may be lighthearted and jokey. If it’s to inform and educate it may be very precise. If it’s to inspire it may be highly oratory.
The conscious development of a voice that’s aligned to your audience and objectives is essential.
There’s little more confusing than a brand that sends mixed messages. This can be literal, in that they may publish content on one thing then switch to another, then post about something else unrelated to either. Or it can be visual. One day they’re using one logo, the next a different one, the colours chop and change, the style varies wildly.
The problem with inconsistency is that it isn’t recognisable.
And the whole point of having a brand is to create a sense of knowing, of trusting, of understanding, of recognition with your audience.
Inconsistency will kill this in a heartbeat, but it also comes across as very ingenuine. Your authenticity can take a real hit if your content lacks consistency. That doesn’t mean it can’t evolve in style and substance. Merely that chopping and changing back and forth between different looks and feels is very undermining to your message.
Tell Your Stories
One way to really build an authentic rapport with your audience is to share stories with them. That may be personal stories from your past and experiences, or professional stories about your clients, work, and other aspects of your business.
Working stories into your content grounds them. It shows your audience that you have real-world experience of what you’re talking about and you’re not just paratting what you’ve read on someone else’s blog.
If you’re offering advice, a story about how you were once in a similar predicament and resolved it lends credibility to your proposed solution. If you’re making a point, relating it back to real world situations helps you demonstrate it.
There are so many benefits to storytelling in marketing, but creating a real sense of authenticity is one of the most powerful.
Why Video Is The Bestie Of Authenticity
For years I’ve been advocating video as the most powerful form of marketing content. That’s become increasingly true year after year and is likely to continue to do so until technology invents something even more relatable and accessible for people to prefer.
The good thing about video is that it builds trust.
People believe what they see. Yes, to some extent it’s what they hear. That’s why Podcasts are so popular. But seeing is believing.
Sharing videos of yourself, your team, your business behind the scenes, your processes, your methods, even your office antics is an incredibly powerful way of demonstrating your authenticity.
Simply recording a blog in video form and embedding it in the post lends that post credibility. Why? Because people can see there’s a real person behind the words. They watch your body language and facial expressions and are convinced.
Whether you’re vlogging or hopping on TikTok, getting those videos out there should be a top priority.
When Authenticity Hinders You
There’s an old expression: if you can’t say something nice, don’t say nothin’ at all.
Sometimes, discretion is the better course of valour. On occasion, voicing you genuine opinion is not going to do you any favours. At times, it’s kinder to be quiet than to say what you think.
A few examples of authentically voicing your opinions spectacularly backfiring.
A few years ago comedian and performer Nicole Arbour released a video called ‘Dear Fat People’, which was meant to be a funny analysis of the obesity epidemic in America. Nicole was clear on her distinction between those who had medical issues that led to them being overweight, and those who were simple that way through poor diet and lack of exercise. She encouraged the obese to take healthy steps to lose weight such as parking as far from the shop as possible and walking to the door to burn extra calories.
Technically speaking – and as a fat girl I have to say I watched this video multiple times and dissected it when it was first blowing up the internet – what she’s saying is no different to what health professionals have been telling us for years.
Obesity is dangerous. There are things you can do to improve your health.
It was her delivery that was the problem. Despite the fact Nicole was being her own truest unfiltered authentic self, she came across as a complete and utter see you next Tuesday.
No, I don’t usually shy away from profanities in my content, but that one can be very divisive and truly offensive, so I used the polite version.
Was that inauthentic of me? No, it was simply being respectful of how damaging and demeaning some people experience that word and avoiding it.
Would that Nicole Arbour had taken the same approach.
She was slated.
Her career took a huge hit, she lost a job as a result of the video, and to this day if you Google her name the suggested content to go with it is ‘Dear Fat People’. She explained herself. She’s posted multiple other open letters like ‘Dear Black People’ and ‘Dear Feminists’ and they were (for the most part) taken in the spirit they were intended.
To raise awareness of important social issues through comedy.
But that one video still haunts her to this day.
Another example is J.K. Rowling and the whole transgender issue. To cut an extremely long story short this beloved author made some comments in support of a woman who stated that transgender women were not biologically women.
All hell erupted.
Again, factually what was said was not incorrect – individuals who are born male and choose to transition to female are still genetically speaking, male. Many women feel threatened and uncomfortable having trans women in private areas like bathrooms and changing rooms as a result because – and I cannot stress this enough – of biology.
Yes, a person may be transitioning, but if they are still in possession of a penis that penis can be, to some women (trans or otherwise) and some men (straight or gay), utterly terrifying.
There’s no escaping the fact that men with dicks are walking around with a built-in weapon and the only thing preventing them from using it against someone else is morality.
Unfortunately, a lot of women (myself included) have learnt you can’t always trust the inventions of people.
So expecting women to be comfortable with a walking weapon in the bathroom with them isn’t always reasonable.
That was the point J.K.R. was originally supporting. Unfortunately, it was taken as transphobic, and it rapidly escalated. I’m not going to go into whether I believe her to be a transphobe or not, that isn’t the issue. But regardless of her stance, her comments and the subsequent statements she has made to clarify her opinions have caused a WAR.
People who have been die-hard Harry Potter fans for most if not all of their lives now refuse to speak her name and SLATE her. People who have re-read the books religiously multiple times a year have burnt their books.
In both cases, what was said was an authentic statement of opinion. And in both cases, it could have been said differently.
There is a difference between speaking the truth and completely abandoning tact, thought, and care for other people’s feelings. Whether you’re commenting on fat people, transgender individuals, or the general public, your words have the potential to cause them serious emotional damage.
Handle with care.
Can You Be Authentic And Hire A Copywriter?
You may be wondering how, as a copywriter and ghostwriter who professionally creates content for other people, I can possibly lecture you on the importance of authenticity. Well, it’s super simple. You can be 100% authentic in your content creation even if someone else actually creates it for you.
That is true if you’re a huge company with hundreds of employees, but also if you’re a solopreneur who works alone with the exception of outsourcing your content creation.
If you consider business marketing as a whole, it would be ridiculous to say that content creation can’t be authentic unless you do it entirely yourself.
For starters, what if ‘yourself’ isn’t the owner of the business or the ‘face’ of the brand, but instead is a manager, writer, social media monkey, or even an apprentice.
Companies are seldom individuals. Even those built around individuals develop extra people. An accountant, a VA, an assistant, whatever. Running a business is bloody hard work and doing every single task associated with it alone isn’t realistic.
Then there’s the fact that your brand isn’t necessarily you, personally, even if you are the boss, the founder, the only, the ‘face’.
A great copywriter or ghostwriter will spend time getting to know your brand, helping you hone a voice that is authentic to you, whether ‘you’ are an individual, one of several heads of the company, the content manager, or whatever.
Authenticity isn’t about doing everything yourself.
All you’ll achieve by trying to do that is rapid burnout.
No, authenticity is about ensuring your content always aligns with your values, your ethos, your methods and practices, and never misrepresents you or what you do. I said earlier that video is the most powerful way to ensure authenticity in your content because people can see it’s really you, being genuine. Yet you can record video content that was scripted or prompted by a member of your team who’s better at it than you are, or by a copywriter or ghostwriter who’s exceptional at it.
One Last Thing…
If you’re wondering, yes, I wrote this myself. BUT I don’t actually write all my copy myself. Certain things I outsource despite being a copywriter, either because I don’t have time to do them, or because I really just don’t want to do them!
You can make notes for your writer, share your stories with them, edit what they write so it sounds more like you, and in time they will learn all these things and you will start to wonder if you actually did write that shit yourself.
That’s how we roll in the Shire…