A Step-by-Step Guide to Using Authenticity and Transparency to Improve Trust


Authenticity and transparency are two of the latest marketing buzzwords thrown around.

Just because a word is catchy doesn’t mean it’s meaningless, but it also doesn’t necessarily mean it’s meaningful.

There are plenty of buzzwords that lost their meaning.

But these two are different, I believe, because they represent two aspects of modern marketing that can have a great effect on your results, especially when it comes to content marketing.

Entire blogs have been launched with these two principles as guides for every aspect of those blogs.

Take, for example, Groove’s blog, which I often mention. The transparency and authenticity in their content marketing have helped the company grow their revenue to well past their initial goal of $ 100k per month.

That being said, most marketers have no clue how to use these concepts effectively in their content.

It’s about time we fix that. I wrote this post in order to teach you about authenticity and transparency as well as to show you when and how to use them. 

But before we get started, there’s one more thing you need to understand…

Transparency and authenticity are not the same: Both of these are independent aspects of content even though they are often confused with each another.

Transparency refers to how much you’re willing to share. For example, when talking about revenue numbers, you could use:

  • Low transparency – We had a good month of February.
  • Medium transparency – We had a profitable month of February, with a profit margin of 20%.
  • High transparency – We made $ 10,000 during February, with a net profit of $ 2,000. 

Hopefully that makes the concept crystal clear. The more detail you share, the more transparent you are. If it seems like you’re hiding important details, you’re not being transparent.


Authenticity, on the other hand, has nothing to do with how much you share. It is about what you share.

Being authentic means being true to who you are as a person, writer, or company.

It means writing what you believe even if it might be unpopular or controversial. For example, you don’t see me writing posts on black or grey hat SEO techniques like building private blog networks (PBNs).

I believe that for almost all business owners and marketers, a white hat approach is better. So, although I could get extra traffic by covering those shadier tactics, I choose to write on my honest viewpoints.

If that all makes sense, we can dive in. If it’s not totally clear, it will become clearer in the coming sections.

Step 1: Understand why readers respond to transparency

There are two key elements of effective content that transparency can affect:

  • Value
  • Trust

People value content for many reasons but mainly for its usefulness.

Transparency can help make content more useful. By providing personal examples and experiences in detail (high transparency), you help the reader see your advice in action.

Not only that, by writing about personal experiences, you can provide context for the reasons—the why—behind your decisions.

It can go far beyond just sharing personal numbers, even though that’s a great start.

For example, Buffer not only shares revenue numbers but also explains what those numbers mean as well as what the team does to improve them.


If I were launching a similar business, I could learn from those insights.

And then there’s trust.

While it varies, many online readers are rightfully skeptical.

People will claim anything if they think it will help them make sales. When someone is reading a product review or case study, their skepticism radar is at full alert.

Earning a reader’s trust isn’t easy, but transparency goes a long way.

Think of it this way…

Whom do you trust more: a complete stranger or someone whom you know pretty well?

In 99% of cases, you trust the person who is more open with you. You feel that if you know someone better, you can more easily predict their intentions and behaviors.

But that also brings up a good point. If you’re a terrible person, transparency will not be good for you. Hopefully, you and your company are not terrible.

Is transparency always good? The unfortunate part of transparency getting so popular is that people who don’t understand it try to use it.

Technically, telling your readers what you ate for breakfast is highly transparent, but unless you have a food blog, it won’t add any value to your content.

Step 2: Understand why readers respond to authenticity

One of the main reasons why I believe authenticity is often confused with transparency is that they both affect the same element of content:


Inauthentic content marketers are a lot like politicians who flip-flop on their opinions, depending on whom they’re speaking to.


If you pander to a specific audience, you could be departing from what you really believe in order to please them.

When such a politician tries to convince you that they care about an issue close to your heart, do you believe them?

Of course not.

But when you feel that someone truly believes in what they’re saying (being authentic), of course, you will trust them.

That air of authenticity is developed over time by not only speaking about your actual beliefs but also following up with action.

I said earlier that I believe white hat SEO is the best approach to SEO in most situations.

But what if my readers saw that I wrote a guest post “X reasons why black hat SEO is the best”?

How could they trust anything that I write, including the content about white hat SEO?

Being inauthentic often happens by accident when you’re trying to appeal to different audiences. However, the result is often that you lose the trust of your most loyal readers or have a low conversion rate when you try to sell something.

If you find yourself writing for a different audience but don’t feel that you can voice your honest opinions, don’t write at all. You will not only attract the wrong audience but also damage the trust you have with your existing audience.

Does that mean you can never change your mind? No, it does not. And this is also where transparency starts to intertwine with authenticity.

The best way I can explain this is by giving you another example.

Back in 2014, Google absolutely slaughtered PBNs. With the exception of the highest quality networks, many black hat SEOs lost all their rankings overnight.

Wouldn’t that suck if you were a vocal supporter of PBNs?

Spencer Hawes, who runs Niche Pursuits, was that very type of blogger. He supported PBNs because he was able to get great results with them, and so were his readers.

And then he got hit—hard.


Remember that authenticity is about honesty. If you honestly change your mind about something, it’s okay to change your viewpoint.

Spencer wrote this post that went viral in the SEO world, saying he’ll never use PBNs ever again.

He did a 180 overnight.

The reason why Niche Pursuits is still going strong is because of the transparency Spencer showed.

He could have hid the consequences he suffered as a result of those Google actions, but instead, he showed them to his audience.

He then explained in as much detail as he could what was going on inside his head and why it made sense to focus on white hat SEO techniques from that point on.

If he, all of a sudden, just flipped on the subject without an explanation, most of his readers would’ve felt wronged.

But because he had always been authentic and explained his change of heart so well, readers didn’t feel tricked. Instead, they understood that his opinion genuinely changed and that he was pivoting to reflect that.

You shouldn’t be changing your opinions frequently on a whim, but as long as you’re honest, readers won’t feel deceived. You may still lose some readers, but that’s the price you pay for long-term loyalty and success.

Step 3: Decide on a level of transparency

At this point, you should have a good grasp of the concepts of transparency and authenticity.

Now, you need to put that knowledge into practice.

You need to establish what you are and are not comfortable sharing.

Common things to consider are:

  • Personal information – your name, address, etc.
  • Business information – revenue, profit, behind the scenes problems
  • Personal business information – your business’ processes and suppliers that your competitors could potentially steal

Transparency can be a great thing, but I realize that not all people are comfortable giving out their real names as I am.

Decide on what you are and aren’t comfortable revealing, and then stick to that when you’re creating content in the future.

Step 4: Authenticity is binary

The question “Do you think he/she is authentic?” is a yes or no question. There’s never an answer: “He’s kind of authentic.”

Unless you are, or want to be, a terrible person whom no one likes, I recommend being authentic.

This is actually the last part of this post involving authenticity. You’ll never need to force yourself to consider it once you decide that you care about authenticity.

Assuming you’re trying to be authentic, all you need to do is pay attention to how you feel while writing content. Do you feel like you’re lying? If so, you’re not being authentic.

Step 5: Inject transparency into content (when it makes sense)

The tough part about transparency is knowing when to use it.

The key is to recognize the most important parts of your content where you can add value through additional transparency.

It takes experience to recognize them, so I’ll show you a few great examples.

Example #1 – The Groove blog: Groove is always the first example I think of when it comes to transparency.

At the time of their launch, very few blogs for entrepreneurs revealed intimate details about revenue and profit.


Groove proceeded to share everything, including their business processes, reasons behind certain decisions, and even the results of hiring a business coach.

Since then, many others have followed suit, using this type of transparency.

My public $ 100k challenge is an example of it.

Example #2 – Domino’s Pizza: If you live in the US, you’re familiar with Domino’s, which is a popular pizza chain.

However, they weren’t exactly known for their high quality pizza.

What they did was create a video where they went behind the scenes and publicly read out their worst customer complaints.

In that video, they show what work went on behind the scenes to improve their pizza.

After seeing that display of transparency, most previous customers would give them another chance.

It can be a good thing to put your weaknesses right in the open and confront them head on as long as you actually try to fix them.

Example #3 – Patagonia: Patagonia is a large business that sells clothing.

You may or may not know that there is a lot of concern over clothing being produced in sweatshop conditions, even by major businesses.

Patagonia responded by creating a footprint map, where they show exactly where they source all their materials from.


They revealed the working conditions of their employees and contractors in order to show that they have good business practices. This is again the part where you have to be a good person or company to use transparency effectively.

If there is a common worry within your industry, consider being fully transparent while showing that you don’t participate in bad practices. 


Authenticity and transparency may be popular buzzwords, but they’re also concepts of real value.

I hope this post helped you understand the difference between the two concepts. As you can see now, although they often interact, they are two completely independent principles.

At this point, go back and answer the questions in steps 3-5 if you haven’t already. Once you’ve done that, keep those answers in mind as you create content in the future.

Finally, if you’ve used either transparency or authenticity (or seen them) successfully, I’d like to hear about it in a comment below.

Quick Sprout

Social Media Authenticity Lessons From Nicki Minaj

Matt See - InstagramIt’s All About Her

With 1,600 brands, 1.2 million registered players, 1.1 million Facebook fans, and 176,000 forum followers, HSN is a giant in the retail television world. But how does one stay engaged with such a large and diverse array of participants across all social networks? Does it involve masterminding a complicated series of social personas and accounts, each with its own unique calendar catering to the interests of each and every brand that they represent? Or perhaps a multi-layered collaboration with each brand’s social team and contracts that dictate how much social time is allocated to each brand depending on the volume of sales and interest?

Thankfully, no. It’s not actually as complicated as one might think. Matt, who is a pro at managing the HSN consumer relationships, says it’s all about the buyer… and in the case of HSN, it’s all about her.

Who is she? What does she like? How does she spend her time? And, most importantly, how can we add value to her daily life? With those simple questions, Matt has built a solid community for his customers and brand ambassadors like Nicki Minaj that improves relationships and closes sales.

In This Episode

  • Why focusing on the consumer means putting the product second
  • How a well thought out toolkit leads to a profitable celebrity endorsement
  • Why “building awareness” doesn’t always mean “pushing sales”
  • How non-monetized programming can lead to organic engagement that beats paid social


Quotes From This Episode

“We love to talk about our customer. That’s really what we focus on.” —@MatthewSee (highlight to tweet)

“I build it first with good content, and once it starts to break through, begin layering on the paid.” —@MatthewSee

“You get more interest in the product when it’s not about the product.” —@JayBaer (highlight to tweet)

“It’s about being strategic. Rather than focusing on how many products we can get in front of her, focus on how can we tell her a story to where she feels connected to us. That will drive her to the site, make her feel more in with HSN, and make her more excited about being part of this great business.” —@MatthewSee

“While we’re trying to build awareness around what products we have and what we’re doing, we’re also trying to build awareness around the great programming we have.” —@MatthewSee

“At some level, you have to make it about the social and not about the media.” —@MatthewSee (highlight to tweet)



See you next week!

Convince and Convert: Social Media Strategy and Content Marketing Strategy

marketing authenticity

Marketers are increasingly pushing for “transparency” and “authenticity” in their brand communication. But, for many brands, this is surface-deep. They want advertising that makes them look authentic and transparent without actually being authentic and transparent.

Filmmaker Johan Liedgren wrote a snarky satirical open letter replying to a request to produce “authentic” looking commercials for a brand:

“I count no less than 14 instances of the word “authentic” in the brief. Counting synonyms like “real,” “true,” “genuine,” “not fake,” and “actual,” the tally rises to 28 … I don’t view the opportunistic call for “authenticity” as a hope for a our industry, but rather as an all-time low point for a trade that is no stranger to constantly lowered ambitions for the communication between organizations and real humans. Why? Because you don’t really want authenticity.”

The more you have to shout about how authentic your brand is, the less it probably is. Much of authenticity advertising is authenticity washing. It’s boasting about authenticity without really practicing it. Practicing it requires far more of the organization than the marketing department.

Scott Monty at Ford Motor wrote an interesting article earlier this year about transparency and authenticity in business, focusing on a case study from McDonald’s Canada.

McDonald’s faced an online rumor that its Chicken McNuggets were made from “pink goop”, along with a photo circulating on the internet claiming to show the process. Rather than combat the rumor with a faux-authentic commercial of chicken farmers in a bucolic setting, they filmed their entire supply chain and manufacturing process and shared it step-by-step. So far, that video has been seen nearly 4.4 million times. This was all part of a McDonald’s Canada program called “Our Food. Your Questions” that has answered 20,000 questions from consumers with this level of candor since 2012.

This program may be transparent, but does this lead to authenticity? McDonald’s after all was the target of Morgan Spurlock’s Super Size Me 10 years ago. They’ve struggled with an authenticity gap, which is why consumers believed the “pink goop” story in the first place. But the McDonald’s brand in Canada saw a 60% increase in brand trust as a result of this program. That’s an important step in the right direction for the brand.

McDonald’s Australia launched a related program called “Track My Macca” that let’s you track all of the ingredients in the food you’re about to eat, using the GPS from your phone to track a particular McDonald’s outlet, a QR code on the food packaging, and the time you received the food to tell you the origin of each ingredient, from the lettuce to the farm that supplied the beef.

That story reveals the potential that many brands see in advertising with transparency and authenticity. But it also shows how it requires much more than a marketing comms campaign. It takes the full organization. Consumers can see right through shallow marketing spin and authenticity washing. To work, it has to go deeper.

Transparency and authenticity require far more than a brief to an agency. I’d love to hear your thoughts here.

Here’s a cartoon I posted on this topic last year.

(Marketoonist Monday: I’m giving away a signed cartoon print. Just share an insightful comment to this week’s post by 5:00 PST on Monday. Thanks!)


Tom Fishburne: Marketoonist