How to Tell Authentic Stories (and avoid cliché) Through Your Social Content


Building authentic relationships online is tough. On dating apps, we filter the pool of contenders based on age, distance and gender; in display and social ads, we use hyper-targeting to get our message in front of the right customers. Whether you're looking to find love or sell a product, there's a real desire to make meaningful, beneficial bonds in a space where emotion and human connection don't always translate. Getting specific with your audience is one way to increase your odds.

Another “connection-making” strategy commonly used by brands is sharing quotes or inspirational imagery. The goal is to build trust with the audience by showing relatability and eliciting an emotional response. This, however, gets lost in translation if enough effort isn’t put in, coming off as gimmicky or fake.

It's 2019 and people are not fooled if your brand suddenly cares about ‘self-love’ or supports pride once a year with a stock photo + “uplifting” message. Just like with dating, the message has to come directly from the brand with a personalized touch so people know it’s real.

Here’s a quick guide to creating social posts that avoid cliché and encourage rapport with your customer.


Know your audience

Knowing your audience is crucial if you want to get through to them and connect. Listen to the language they use, check out the comments they leave, find out which topics, stories or posts they tend to share the most, etc. We encourage a good deep-dive to be able to understand truly how the audience engages. You’ll see trends and commonalities, around which you can shape your social content.

It’s not just your audience, but the culture they embody that you need to be aware of, too. Customers today are very sensitive to inauthentic attempts to pander to them. If you try to be part of a community without understanding the influential figures, trends, language, history and rules of that culture, you will be rejected (and possibly humiliated in the process).

A lot of the time you’ll see brands lazily using slang and lingo they think their audience uses as a way to sell their products. In a worst-case scenario, your brand will be called out publicly for being embarrassingly clueless and out-of-touch.


The execution of the message above lacks depth, emotion or even a basic understanding of the audience they’re trying to reach. No one is going to stop scrolling for that. Avoid blasting content filled with meaningless hashtags and imagery just to sell a product.

To prevent cliché, use images that are visually interesting or unusual. The more original the imagery, the better, since they’ll be more likely to connect it with the brand itself. Look for more than just a “pretty” photo and focus on visuals that will intrigue, captivate, and connect with the audience.


Curology is an example of a brand doing a great job telling stories with unusual and authentic visuals. This photo of “nana” isn’t a stock photo we’ve seen a million times before. It’s unlike almost all of the images clogging our Instagram feeds. It makes us pause and then the caption gives delightful context. We assume Nana is a relative of someone who has been using ‘Curology’ for a long time and has passed down her beauty secret down three generations. And with the hashtag #belikeNana, it encourages the audience to take on Nana’s skin care routine tradition. It brings in a first-person narrative and shows vulnerability and authenticity.


Build trust with vulnerability

We all know someone who shared a “Keep Calm and Carry On” or “Live, Laugh, Love” post. As much as we love and respect their intentions, these posts are almost always unoriginal (the lovely “rasterized” marks are a dead giveaway).


The goal behind these motivational quotes is to emit vulnerability so the audience can relate to the brand as if it were a person. But sharing an image you simply copied and pasted sends the message, “I kind of care, but I’m not making a full effort to show it.” These kinds of images have been around for roughly 10 years on the Internet so the likelihood of your audience having seen them before is very high.

You’d be a lot more successful sharing real quotes and real-life experiences from the people who work for or represent your company. Providing real stories sends the message, “hey, we’re actually human too.”

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Refinery29 does a great job at pulling quotes from their team or readers that relate to topics their audience is involved in. When they create these social images they mock tweets, and this immediately becomes visually recognizable to the reader. The format of the message is relatable, as well as the message itself and the individual behind it. All of the components needed to create an authentic post!

Bottom line: A little effort goes a long way. Creating original content with references to real experiences and people removes the “recycled message” feeling. This is where the authenticity comes in. Legitimate and relatable stories validate the vulnerability being shown. The thought, time, and effort that goes into it is what makes it authentic and turns your audience from, “Oh I’ve seen that before *keeps scrolling*” to, “This is beautiful. I support all of this.”

You can’t appeal to everybody, so know your audience first. Let your audience insights guide the kind of content - vulnerable, authentic, relatable - that will build a real relationship with your customer.