4 Myths of Social Media Authenticity


One of the great big whopping lies about social media is authenticity.

Because – let’s face it – there isn’t much that’s authentic about social media. There’s lots of spin, cherry-picking, and bright-side propaganda from both individuals and brands going on. Few people and brands are truly genuine about their attitudes, personalities and opinions on social channels.


Because few people are authentic when they are being watched. When you are being scrutinized you put your best face forward. It’s only natural. And for brands social channels are for marketing and communications. In other words, “planned” content. Planned content, by its nature, is not authentic.

So let us count and debunk some of the most popular myths about social media authenticity:

Myth #1: Consumers demand that brands be authentic on social media

Reality: Consumers want brands to fit within their perception of what the brand stands for. What people really mean by saying they want brands to be “authentic” is that they want brands to be on message. To reflect their brand. If the brand strays outside of the boundaries of that perception – they are routinely punished for it.

Take last year, for example, when the American Rifleman magazine published a tweet that read in part “Good morning, shooters” right after the Aurora, Colorado mass shooting.  American Rifleman – which is a magazine for, well, shooters – was savaged for it. Its tweet, while badly timed, was most definitely authentic. In the storm that followed the publication deleted not only the tweet, but also its entire Twitter account. Why?  It’s too risky being authentic when it means supporting guns and bullets.

A second example is Chik-Fil-A. It is a brand that is authentically conservative Christian. That philosophy is built into the brands DNA (the restaurants are closed on Sundays as a result). Chick-Fil-A found itself out of the frying pan and into the fire last year for speaking out against gay marriage. It’s a stance that’s about as authentic as you get, but no one was celebrating that fact.  Chick-Fil-A’s opinions led to boycotts and people demanding that Chik-Fil-A keep its authentic opinions to itself.

Myth #2: People are authentic on social media

Reality: People lie like crazy on social media.  And if they aren’t outright lying they are certainly painting their lives in the most wonderful light. Facebook has turned us all into our own private publicists. That’s why restaurant and vacation photographs are so popular – look at me doing awesome things!  Few people write about the daily drudgery of their lives or the challenges of being married or a parent. A recent survey about women and dishonesty on social networks was very revealing.

Here’s what the Telegraph noted in its story on the survey:

“According to the OnePoll survey, one-third of women surveyed admitted to “dishonesty” on social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter at some stage.  Almost one in four admitted to lying or exaggerating about key aspects of their life online between one and three times a month while almost one in 10 said they lied more than once a week.”

I think it is safe to say men would likely rank about the same. Don’t we all what our lives to appear more glamorous or important to our friends, family and colleagues?

Myth #3: Brand authenticity is appreciated and rewarded on social media

Reality: Not even close. Do you want to know what is really authentic? Mistakes. We all make them. But if you’re a brand and you make a mistake on social media? Then you get a kick to the head for it – even if you retract it and apologize.

Look what happened when American Apparel tweeted out information about a sale they were having just before a big storm – just in case people got “bored” riding it out.  The storm, unfortunately, was Hurricane Sandy. Hundreds, if not thousands of people turned on American Apparel on social channels to rip them about their tweet – even though it was written before the storm struck.

Or how about Kenneth Cole’s tweet linking the riots in Cairo with a sale of his shoes? He was hammered for this error in judgement even after apologizing for it.

Myth #4: Authenticity humanizes brands and that behavior is rewarded

Reality: Human beings don’t run the social media channels at brands. Groups of people do. And those groups are usually PR and marketing experts and all they are trying to do is sell things: messages, brand identity and products and services. Brands are a lot of things, but human isn’t one of them.

But that doesn’t stop “human emotions” from occasionally making its way onto brand social channels. And when that happens? Trouble. Nestle is a perfect example of this. When its Facebook page was attacked by Greenpeace activists angry about the brand’s use of palm oil and its connection to destroying rain forests, the flustered community manager at Nestle reacted in a most human way: he become frustrated.

And when he vented this frustration through a few snarky remarks about the rudeness of the activists, he was, of course, roundly and loudly denounced and criticized for reacting like, well, a human being.


What do you think about authenticity on social media? Another buzzword? Or do you think it is what makes social media social? Would love to hear from you in the comments.


Why Women Constantly Lie About Life on Facebook via The Telegraph

A Single Tweet Can Cause A lot of Damage

There is No Authenticity Online

13 Responses to “4 Myths of Social Media Authenticity”

  1. Seems like authenticity used to mean there was a real person behind the tweets, posts and status updates a la “Frank” at ComcastCares.

    Now, if brands make a social media mistake — like Epicurious and its “New England” recipe posts around the Boston Marathon — everyone assumes an intern is about to get canned.

  2. Hi Alison:
    I think you might be right about that. But isn’t there a person behind every Twitter account? I think we have always confused “authenticity” with “on-brand” when it comes to companies.

  3. Nice post!

    Authenticity is a tricky feature even in real life relationships so we couldn’t expect it to be any different on Social Networks. When we meet someone for the first time, we always want to show our best attributes and only leave the truly “authentic” ones for when the relarionship grows. That’s the meaning of getting to know each other for what they really are. But that doesn’t make us any less or more authentic… Only human.

    Of course there are people who are more spontaneous and with a more WYSIWYG attitude than others. It all depends on their personalities.

    Maybe people mistake authenticity for willingness. Willingness to show who they are, willingness to be there, to react, to respond, to demostrate, to apologize and to communicate. And that’s what the brands should focus on instead of only looking to be “authentic” when it is so difficult to achieve. We all have things to hide.

    Although a very nice aspect of Social Media is humanizing brands, let’s not forget that there are only a few people speaking on behalf of the group of people behind the brand. We are people dealing with people and that requires tactfulness, objectivity and respect. And yes. Honesty should be a must. Wouldn’t it be ideal?


  4. Hi Virginia:
    Thanks for your insightful comment. Come back anytime! I like how your linked authenticity to willingness. I need to mull on that for a while, but it sounds about right.

  5. Hi George,

    Thanks! I will be back. 🙂

  6. Social Media Authenticity?

    Genuine Imitation Virgin Vinyl

  7. Authenticity is always going to have a question mark on it when it is related to being social whether it be in real life or on social media platforms. People want them to be famous and popular and this makes them do stuff that is not authentic. But that doesn’t mean everyone around there is fake, you got to look for the genuine ones if you need them.

  8. Hi Dave:
    I agree that not being authentic isn’t the same as being fake. I think the key word in your comment is “genuine.” Does the person seem open and honest – or at least real. The same can be said about brands.

  9. The Power Of Authenticity!

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    World leaders do. Social Media Marketing gurus do. CEOs do. SEO high priests do. Charismatic motivational speakers do. Y don’t you?

    heartfelt_$incerity_generator templates also have thousands of emoticons, for adding that “special touch” of $incerity and awethenticity to your heartfelt expressions!

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    heartfelt_$incerity_generator: We’re Awe$ome, We CARE: We’re AWETHENTIC!

  10. Hi Mark:
    Nice use of $ as an “S.” Thanks for your input…

  11. If a product or service is truly top notch, there’s no need for marketing buzzwords or “high-minded” phrases. Of course, fast food franchises, small “marketing” companies in a brutally competitive environment, and car dealerships, among others, use these “methodologies” and “best practices”. Can you imagine Tiffany, Cartier, Bergdorf Goodman, Paul Stuart, Le Cirque, Brioni or others of their caliber, saying: “We’re Authentic!” or “Our Customers Are Our #1 Priority!”? Or, dissecting the attributes of “authenticity” in online blogs, for others to see how “authentic” they are? Allow the customers to determine the quality and value of your products and services, without promoting the sanctimonious, and often duplicitous, self assessments of your degree of “authenticity”. Just be real. Genuinely love what you do each day. Love your life. Love yourself. Love others. It’ll show in your products and services.

  12. Hi Mark:
    No brand is authentic. The idea that they are is ridiculous. Every brand is manufactured with marketing messages, advertising and public relations. Whether the messaging matches the output is what makes a brand authentic – even Tiffanys or Cartier.


  1. 4 Myths of Social Media Authenticity - May 6, 2013

    […] post first appeared on High Talk and was written by George Snell, Senior Vice President of digital/social media for Weber […]

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