Authentic engagement is an important but often overlooked aspect of digital marketing and communication. Consumers are ever aware of a brand’s reputation and are less likely to be swayed by empty gestures. As the digital landscape changes, authentic engagement with consumers is becoming more important than ever. I’ve spoken with five experts to get their opinions on authentic engagement in digital marketing and here is what they had to say:
Kimberly Taylor Ph.D., a professor at the FIU College of Business noted a shift in expectations that consumers place on brands and how they engage with the public. “Consumers often expect brands to engage authentically with an issue or with a consumer group, and not just post on social media during a particular month (such as for Black History or Breast Cancer Awareness.) For example, in our study of breast cancer survivors, they said ‘I’m a cancer survivor all year!’ (not just in October), and they wanted to know what exactly a company was doing to help the cause beyond simply slapping a pink ribbon on a package.) Moreover, a younger generation of consumers is not only accepting of brands actively engaging with social causes they support, but they have come to expect it, viewing a company’s silence as some level of complicity or disagreement.” These new customer expectations are part of the shifting landscape of digital marketing. As companies engage further on social media, and as those same platforms have waves of social and political engagement, the companies are also held to a different standard. The standard neutral stance of past operations has become much more obvious in the current environment.
This changing landscape has also opened opportunities for brand growth and engagement, a sentiment shared with Marketing Manager Samantha Blanken. “This past year has opened the door for us to share more of who we are as individuals. For authentic marketing engagement, we must remember that we’re speaking to a human being, not a job title at a target company. Authenticity invites stronger connection and more meaningful engagement.” So even while expectations for organizations have risen, to have opportunities to connect with small groups of customers on a human level in a way that creates lasting relationships.
A Friendly Face
These kinds of relationships are built on a clear knowledge of your brand’s values and goals. As noted by Catherine Whitlock, Associate Vice President of Online Communications at Parkinson’s Foundation, organizations can build trust by intentionally shaping their messaging through their goals. “When you’re communicating something about a serious and frightening lifelong disease like Parkinson’s, knowing that there is someone or some entity like the Parkinson’s Foundation who’s friendly and in your corner can make a huge difference. We actually define what we mean by friendly. We mean we’re approachable, but we’re not unprofessional. As an authority in helping someone live well with Parkinson’s, we can’t be all emojis and slang, but we can have just enough of it so people realize there is a human on the other side of the screen and that human is rooting for you.” This kind of messaging creates consistency in the minds of customers and clients so the organization can seem more relatable and reliable.
There is also a need for brands to implement more authentic and culturally competent marketing strategies, as pointed out by Marketing Executive John Rodriguez. “There is a lack of authentic digital marketing (and overall marketing in general) to Hispanic Audiences. Many clients choose to tackle talking to Hispanic Audiences by casting multiracially and simply translating the work done for General Market. If clients want to truly engage with Hispanic Audiences, they need to push for more bespoke work that will actually be relevant to said audiences. It isn’t enough to cast and old Hispanic woman and push the ‘Abuelita’ trope, they must listen to the needs to Hispanic Audiences and tailor messaging properly.” Authentic messaging relies on a careful knowledge of customers’ home cultures. Clichés and generalizations from outside perspectives are not enough to show a real care for and value of diverse audiences.
Metrics of Success
Despite all this work, authentic engagement is not the only thing an organization uses to determine the success of a campaign, as pointed out by Marketing Coordinator Kaycee Conlee. “Authentic engagement in digital marketing is certainly valuable and important but with many platform’s emphasis on algorithms, it’s not always the goal for companies. Since any engagement, genuine or not, can boost your message on most platforms, a lot of marketers aim to trigger engagement with questions or polls, and authenticity is irrelevant.” While authentic engagement should remain a core value for organizations seeking to establish lasting relationships and value, technological constraints also impact the success of marketing campaigns. Often, marketers must achieve a careful balance between going viral and staying human.
Opportunities for Growth in Digital Marketing
Ultimately, authentic engagement on digital platforms presents a unique challenge and opportunity for digital marketers. The rise in social media marketing has organizations in constant contact with their customers. The largest reach can occur through having marketing campaigns go viral to reach as many people as possible. While this strategy may work in the short term, the success of an individual campaign may hurt the brand’s overall credibility. Keeping brand image, values, and reputation in mind will help in creating more authentic content that will connect with consumers and turn them into loyal brand ambassadors.
Human-centered communication is key for a brand to effectively create authentic content. Consumers don’t want to be viewed as a commodity for brands to acquire. Instead, the modern consumer is looking to form a meaningful relationship with a brand. This relationship has to be built on a human element that connects to the customer’s larger worldviews.
There is pressure on brands today to support causes that connect with their audiences and values. Consumers notice and hold brands accountable if a brand is only supportive of a cause when it is convenient, using terms such as rainbow washing to refer to the performative allyship towards the LGBTQ+ community during Pride Month (June). There is now an expectation for brands to authentically engage with causes year-round, as opposed to promoting their support when trending.
As the digital landscape changes, authentic engagement with consumers is becoming more relevant than ever. The modern consumer is more informed of a brand’s reputation and is more likely to act on their perceptions of it. Authentic engagement can no longer be overlooked and is now a cornerstone of digital marketing.