Dec 23, 2015

Living the Digital Life: The Paradox of Social Media Authenticity


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By Joanie Bier, Brand Marketing Coordinator

Our fair-trade morning coffee, our backwoods wanderings, our conscious-consumption choices. We’re mindful. Beholden even. Heck, we’re #blessed. But while we may think the carefully crafted casualness of our lives makes us original, we are in fact one of thousands—maybe millions—using aesthetically pleasing photos on social media to feign authenticity.

A disconnect is forming in our understanding of what authenticity—both in the world of social media, and more broadly as an existential pursuit—really means. And for brands, this may pose a difficult challenge in the pursuit to win over customers.

In its simplest form, social media provides a forum for people and brands to express themselves and share moments. But in recent years, we’ve seen a transformation in which these moments are being planned to a T—accompanied by the ideal variety of hashtags for optimum likes.

It’s a performance. Many of us go to insane lengths in order to create the perception of an idyllic digital life. And the madness behind it all is finally being acknowledged. Last month, Australian Instagram model, Essena O’Neil, went viral calling out social media by revealing the truth behind her speciously fabricated Instagram “dream life” ( The result? Mass-media coverage and public outrage that lasted all of a week until we were back posting that #OOTD shot and casual 14er pic from our weekend festivities.

There have been other recent exposés that have also gained a proliferation of media attention. Two of the most noteworthy examples are Socality Barbie ( and Instagram Husbands (—each a parody satirizing the ridiculousness of what goes into curating the perfect digital persona.

If the way in which we use social media has caused an evolution in the ubiquity of authenticity, what does this mean for brands?

Despite these revelations, it is still a universal truth that consumers are looking to connect with brands that portray some level of authenticity. Enter the paradox: brands must find a way to be genuinely authentic in an era when that is becoming almost impossible.

So the answer? Aim for the heart. Genuine emotional moments cannot be faked, meaning customers know the real thing when they see it—and they’ll remember it. Take Coke’s new holiday ad that films real peoples’ surprise moments ( or Dove’s Real Beauty Sketches campaign from a few years ago that offers a refreshing look into the reality of our deprecating self-awareness that is all too familiar ( There is a rawness—an element of vulnerability and transparent exposure to the moments within these campaigns that make them remarkable, yet completely relatable at the same time.

With long-form content ads, brand narratives, and YouTube videos, brands can tap into the emotion of the stories that live behind a single snapshot or Instagram photo. Real moments. Real people. Real emotions.

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