The Real Measure of Social Media Success is Return on Authenticity

Like a bad date, Easy Street Night Club in San Antonio was the kind of place that got better looking after a few beers and as the evening went on. And that was perfectly fine with its owner. Still, it stung when the joint got a few one-star reviews on Yelp for its smoky atmosphere and rundown pool tables.

“We are the epitome of a dive bar. That’s what we do,” owner Nolen Olive told me. Olive unlocked his Yelp account, responded to customers and embraced the bar’s role as the neighborhood watering hole, offering weekly promos for beer pong tournaments. Soon, the site was sprinkled with five-star ratings.

In life and social media, it pays to be yourself. The real measure of success is not the number of followers, likes and retweets, but the ROA — return on authenticity.

Can you engage your audience without pretending to be someone you’re not or sacrificing who you really are?

Know Thyself

Whataburger, the Texas-created burger joint of legend, has grown its Twitter account to more than 362,000 followers by tapping into some of its most fanatical customers — the late-night drive-thru crowd.



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As a former editor and social engagement manager at The Business Journals, I routinely covered social media–related topics. For me, it was fun to watch the Whataburger social team grow its audience in a thoughtful way.

“Your points of difference as a business are often the same points of difference for your social communications. One of those points for Whataburger is our late-night service. We’ve had great success posting after 11 p.m. on Twitter,” the social team told me for The Business Journals article. Figure out what you do well. Do more of it.

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Yes, Virginia, It Is About the Sandwich.

The “I-don’t-care-what-you-ate-for-lunch” argument against social media is just wrong. For example, lots of people want to know what New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady is whipping up for breakfast.

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And 10 million fans were really interested in the fun he had on a recent family vacation when he launched into a cliff dive:

tom brady

Think about the way you connect with colleagues every day. It is the little things — food, music, inside jokes, photos of family, bad days — that connect human beings. As my friend, social media guru and startup tech consultant Alan Weinkrantz says: “It’s all about the humanity.” Show a little in your social media.

Your Wall Tells It All

Whether it’s Instagram, Pinterest, Facebook or Twitter, an audience can measure your authenticity in one fell swoop: by looking at your Instagram feed or your Twitter timeline. Are you a bullhorn of one-way promotional posts or is there evidence of a two-way conversation with the audience via retweets, comments, replies, likes and shares?

A good example of a healthy mix of listening, educating and sharing can be found at clothing company Stitch Fix. Take one look at the Stitch Fix Twitter page and you’ll find evidence of a brand actively engaging with its fans — not just the cranky customer service complaints.

stitch fix

Is Your Social Media Voice Sustainable?

Just like in real life, it takes consistent interaction to build authentic relationships. If your social media persona or tone is not true to yourself or your brand, it will not prevail. It’s too much work to maintain a façade.

Those who are having fun like Michael Graef, social media community manager of the San Antonio Water System Twitter page, knock it out of the park. Tweeting for a municipal water system could be a drag, what with all the infrastructure talk and customer service issues. But Graef avoids social media “droughts” by using potty humor, great content and real-time response to build engagement.

SAWS Twitter post

Graef taps into the great human equalizer — a good laugh — which pries even the most-focused worker bees away from their daily tasks for a few seconds. This works because it’s fun, delightful and unexpected. The brand feels human, not simply utilitarian.

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What are your favorite examples of brand authenticity and humanity? Share them here so we can all learn.

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