Create more engaging and effective content with these simple visual content ideas, and showcase your brand’s authentic side.

More brands are coming around to the ROI of social media. Companies now realize that social media is an effective way to engage, support, and educate their customers.

But, while more brands are embracing social media, not all organizations are creating content that resonates with their intended audiences. Instead of authentically engaging with current and prospective customers, some brands simply use social media as another sales channel.

Engaging in an authentic, genuine way is crucial for companies. For example, brand authenticity is second only to loyalty discounts in importance for Millennials when they’re choosing companies to support, according to the one Boston Consulting Group study.

But how can brands create authentic content that resonates with customers?

What is Authentic Content?

Authentic content has been called by some subject matter experts as a “new revolution in marketing.” At its heart, authentic content is meant to actually be useful to its target readers—free of overt selling, manipulation, or dishonest tactics.

While it may be easy for brands to avoid dishonesty in their content, some fall into the trap of manipulative advertising tactics. This is partially why 33% of people believe content is biased and unreliable.

Another challenge companies face is that authenticity means something different to a variety of age groups. For example, corporate social responsibility is important to Millennials with 48% supporting brands that are “active in supporting social causes.”

On the other hand, Baby Boomers link authenticity with information. They want useful information on your product or service. And Boomers prefer info delivered in more than 140 characters. Longer content around 1,000 words or so resonates more with Boomers.

So, how does a brand go about creating authentic content? Here are five tactics companies can implement to show off their authentic side.

Engage, Don’t Just Promote

While it may be tempting for brands to use social solely as a way to promote their own content or products, social media isn’t just another sales channel—these platforms are ideal for engaging your target audience.

Creating authentic content means it isn’t just about you. Cultivate conversations among your followers by asking questions, sparking discussions, and inserting yourself into relevant chats. Add some humor and personality, like in this example from ClassPass.

One tactic you can use to engage followers is to ask for their opinion on a visual. Using a tool like a Twitter poll or asking followers to answer in a reply or comment, a brand can post two images (or potential products) and ask which they prefer.

The annual Lay’s “Do Us a Flavor” contest is a great example of how to successfully implement this tactic. Customers submit ideas for a new potato chip flavor and then followers vote on their favorite. Past finalists have included unique options like Southern Biscuits and Gravy, Wavy West Coast Truffle Fries, and New York Reuben, and Lay’s sells the selected winners in stores everywhere.

Since it began in 2012, the Do Us a Flavor contest has grown in popularity. For example, Lay’s received 3.8 million entries in 2013 and quadrupled that in 2014 with 14 million submissions. Social engagement also soared as a result of this contest. The brand created a jingle and commercial titled “Wouldn’t It Be Yummy?” to help drive awareness of the contest, which garnered more than 12 million views on YouTube alone.

Share User-Generated Content

Take the tactic of getting customer feedback on content to the next level. Instead of just asking your followers for their opinions, use your social media channels to publish content they create.

While there are plenty of ways to encourage and leverage user-generated content, two prominent (and successful) examples are Starbucks and Doritos.

The Seattle-based coffee brand launched its White Cup Contest back in 2014 requesting customers to submit designs for the brand’s iconic white cup. Using the hashtag #WhiteCupContest, fans could send in doodles they’d created on the mostly white Starbucks cups via social media. The contest’s first cycle generated 4,000 entries and the winner’s design was printed on a limited edition reusable Starbucks plastic cup.

One thing to keep in mind with user generated content, is to ensure you have the proper permissions to use the content. Just because its out on the internet doesn’t mean a user will be fine with a brand using it to promote their business. When possible ensure you get explicit permission to use a followers content and make sure they know what its being used for. You can never be too careful with getting permission to post user generated content.

Build a Community Not Just a Customer Base

Another way brands can show off their authentic side is to create a community that’s relevant to their products or services. Then, actively engage with that community both online and offline.

Town Moto, a motorcycle store based in Toronto Canada, doesn’t just sell bike gear. They’ve plugged into the local biker community. While they engage customers and motorcycle enthusiasts online via their social channels, they also host events like the recent Grand Prix de Snow 2019 and regular ride-ins to share their love of bikes with their customers.

These in-real-life events also spawn great images to share on Town Moto’s social channels and blog.

Profile Customers and Community Members

If you follow the previous tip and are plugged into a community of followers you have a wellspring of potential visual content at your fingertips. Instead of simply selling your products, let your customers and community members do it for you.

Create a series of profiles highlighting some of your top customers who love your brand and product/service. And it doesn’t have to be a boring case study—find true brand evangelists who love you and share their feedback in a creative way.

Audio equipment company, and Shutterstock customer, NAD Electronics published a series of customer profiles called My First NAD, which highlights true brand fans through high-quality images and video interviews. And the video interviews resonated with fans. The series garnered well over 100,000 views on NAD’s YouTube channel.

Create Educational Content

As we mentioned earlier, authentic content also centers around being useful to your customers and followers. One way to create useful content is to ensure it educates or informs your target audience through tips, advice, and/or data. After all, one recent study showed that people are 131% more likely to buy from a brand immediately after they consume educational content.

That could take the form of data visualizations or infographics like this example from Oxfam, videos breaking down complex topics like this one from NASA, or step-by-step how-to’s like these hair and makeup tutorials from The Beauty Department.

While these are a few inspirational examples to lean from, you’ll need to create educational visuals that make sense for your unique brand and audience.

Moving Forward with Authentic Content

When it comes to creating content as a brand, authenticity should reign supreme. While these are a few tactics you can implement in your organization via social media, authenticity is a tenet that should come across in all your brand communications. As the aforementioned statistics show, your customers expect authentic content and anything less can quickly alienate them.

Top image via Bogdan Sonjachnyj.

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