Authenticity is the Key to Virality

Feb 2, 2015


Authenticity is something so many businesses struggle with. They have fallen prey to the idea that commerciality and branding polish is the key to presenting your business in the most professional manner. While polish is never a bad thing there are times that too much polish may blind your customers to the real you and thus they’ll treat you like every advertisement on TV…skip it with the DVR.

Imagine for a moment. You’re scrolling through your news feed. It’s a typical workday afternoon. Your boss is as disinterested in work as you are and you’re just perusing the interesting lives of those who seem to have time for posting on social media. There’s the inevitable selfie, the gratuitous baby pics with sweet story attached, the plethora of food pics displaying gastric feats of wonder to all the world, the novel length diatribe by your favorite activist, a smattering of trending news items, and the seemingly ubiquitous advertisements from video games to your local flower shop.


Your mind¬†has become adept at filtering the massive amounts of data being streamed to your visual cortex. You know to look for certain things that interest you. You know when the picture of a baby is someone you need to comment on for fear of hurting their feelings, you have an affinity for that flower shop down the street ever since they did your deceased grandmas flower arrangement, you know to skip over those indulgent selfies of the perpetually fit friend from high school, and you know that the video game advertisements mean you’ve spent too much time on Angry Birds. All of this is being processed by your brain in fractions of a second and you are responding based on an almost subconscious level.

Here’s where all of this comes down to authenticity. You follow your local mall to find out when they are having an event for the kids to be entertained for 30 minutes. The only problem is that they constantly post pictures of models wearing the latest fashion or promote a new too expensive shopping option "coming to the mall near you". As you’re scrolling through your news feed you happen across an image of some stranger wearing normal clothes, having a less than perfect body weight and complexion, and you slow down. It’s a post from the local mall. They are sharing a story about how this woman won a door prize for being the 99th person through the door on a Tuesday afternoon at your favorite almost affordable shoe store. You like the story not because it’s about a giveaway or because the woman is somehow worthy of it. You like or +1 and maybe even share the post because it’s authentic. It’s not a commercial with perfect people and it’s composed on a smartphone and shared in the moment. That like, +1, or share influences the distribution and reach of the mall’s post. You have created virality.

Virality is the key to reducing your social media advertising budget. ¬†Authenticity is the key to virality. The consumer you, as opposed to the producer you, stopped because there was an image of something that wasn’t an advertisement or annoying. You slowed the scroll because the image wasn’t immediately filtered out by your brain as being irrelevant or annoying. This resulted in you taking interest and engaging with the content. This simple engagement (like, +1, share, comment, link click) resulted in feedback to Facebook, Google+, Twitter, or your favorite social media network. Some people will argue that this doesn’t really apply to Google+ or Twitter or some of the other networks. You’d be partially right. I’d warn you that the reality is that reach is still impacted by your engagement with that post and that despite Facebook’s active manipulation of your news feed the other networks lack of manipulation has nothing to do with the relative virality of a post.

A little note on authenticity. It’s not as simple as taking mediocre photos of moments in your shop. It’s about knowing why people like doing business with you. You need to know your customers and know why they care about your company. If you engage with your customers regularly you’ll have no problem with this. If you treat social media as a one way conversation that involves you talking at your customers instead of with them…then you’ll lack the authenticity of being a person instead of business. Just like the used car salesman pictured above…fake won’t win you friends and will leave people feeling a little less comfortable talking to you. Be authentic and things will work out for you.

Tell me in the comments how you stay authentic on social media.

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