Authenticity in the age where traction is bought

Imagine spending more time, effort and money on garnering fake traction for your content than on actually creating quality content that is authentic and credible. Many are doing this, and perhaps what becomes most disheartening to content creators is that this lack of authenticity is bringing in more business than ever to content agencies, influencers and freelance content marketers. When public validation becomes a mere commodity rather than a way to propel a brand organically, you know you are entering strange territory. 

Let’s take a look at how bought traction can actually affect brands adversely.

  1. 100 Instagram followers can be bought for as little as INR 150, and 1000 followers for just INR 575. The problem is these accounts are often either inactive or are simply bots, which means apart from showing everyone a huge follower count, they will add no value in terms of engagement.
  2. Now, your massive following and huge number of likes (not taking into consideration Instagram’s latest like-ban roll-out) might seem impressive at first, and may just lead to some organic followers purely due to a herd mentality. But after this following is achieved, if your content is not honest, engaging, interesting and insightful, then you will begin to lose organic followers rapidly.
  3. Marketers and influencers might argue that their content is great but that bought traction is required for the initial take off, as well as to convince brands that they are a viable option. However, when a brand comes on board, they demand impact. This can either be in qualitative terms such as brand recall and connect, or in quantifiable terms such as sales conversion rates. But with zero or very little engagement rate, how will traction buyers with 10,000 followers justify low impact?

In such a global scenario, how can brands and their PR and marketing partners ensure authenticity on every level?

Don’t just sell, be a guide

Hard-selling is the most counter-productive approach to reach out to a consumer base. Merely claiming that a brand’s products and services are the best makes no sense anymore, because there are millions of options, and if consumers took every option at face value then, well, we’d all end up with storage rooms full of the same product from different manufacturers. So, in an approach to make marketing more holistic and impactful, these are the questions that quality content must answer:

  1. How does your product/service add value to the consumer’s life?
  2. How does this value addition have an edge over competitors providing the same or similar products/services?
  3. What kind of R&D has gone into ensuring that a brand creates a favourable impact with its products/services?
  4. The first three questions lead up to the fourth: Does the brand care about the consumer’s experience and if so, then what does it do to ensure sustained customer satisfaction?

These questions are best answered through avenues such as thought leadership articles and features where third-party experts verify that the brand is indeed on top of its game. These very questions are also the base for other authenticity essentials, which we will come to next.

Retain the human element

Content creation is carried out by humans, for humans. Whether it is exploring the stories of people from the consumer base through platforms like Humans of Mumbai and Human of New York, or telling employee stories to the audience, there is something wholesome and engaging about knowing the people associated with the brand. While influencer marketing provides the audience with a relatable representative of the brand, employee stories ensure that consumers know how the brand functions internally, how it treats its own people, and whether it actually lives up to the values and principles that it conveys to the general public. And it’s not just employee stories that matter; it’s also what employees think about the brand and its products. They are the true brand ambassadors, and if after knowing all the nuances of the brand’s manufacturing process, for instance, they choose to use the product, then it speaks volumes of the brand’s credibility. 

Stay honest and personalise

Every brand has a voice that largely depends on the nature of its product and the demographics of its average consumers. While Fastrack watches cater to teenagers and young adults, Titan the brand, remains a legacy that caters to the more seasoned and sophisticated individual. The former keeps its voice edgy and quirky, provoking thought with its content and consistently opting for alternative music to back up their ads. The latter, however, had a strongly established customer base long before Fastrack came into being. Though Titan Company Limited encompassed Fastrack as well, Titan the brand has kept its identity focused on sustaining and retaining its loyal customer base. The voice of the brand matters hugely in content. Heavy language, complicated jargon and fancy terminology, all mean nothing if the brand lacks a unique voice and perspective. And personalisation should not remain confined to the brand voice but should also extend to customer care provisions, feedback portals and customer follow-ups. 

While developing an edge in the content approach and coming up with new ways to reach out to the audience, one thing that should never be compromised on is honesty. There was a time when it worked for skin care brands to throw about seemingly scientific terms like “cellular” and “DNA repair mechanism” in the most absurd contexts. However, this is no more the case. People are increasingly aware of their rights as consumers and have information at their fingertips to verify and contradict ridiculous claims. In the world of earned media, although we are at a stage where traction is bought and sold, one thing that can never be turned into a commodity is trust. And trust is built on honesty, authenticity, credibility, and ultimately, humanity.

Asif Upadhye on Twitter
Asif Upadhye
Director at SPRD
Asif Upadhye, Director, SPRD | Stories.PR.Digital, a new-age Public Relations think tank backed by ideators, wordsmiths and design junkies focussed on delivering bespoke services. He sees SPRD as a Digital First Communications agency that partners with Public Relations & Corporate Communications teams to spread the good word!

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