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

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.

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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.

Download a PDF version for this step by step guide.

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.

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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:

Trust.

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

image01

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.

image05

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.

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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.

image02

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. 

Conclusion

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.

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There are important changes on your website that will grow your traffic. Quick Sprout tells you how to make those changes.

Comments

  1. Hey Neil,

    Thanks a lot for writing this! We are into transparency since 15 months and when you have a chance to read some of our posts : http://www.codeinwp.com/blog/transparency-report-15/ , I would love to hear your thoughts about it and how do you think we can improve.

    Despite the fact that we have shared our revenue numbers since 15 months, I am thinking to stop doing it, while the initial value for people was to get a better idea about the market size and potential of different niches/strategies, now doesn’t seem too useful for our readers to me.

  2. Scott Miller :

    Thanks for the great piece, Neil.

    Our business is about helping [B2B software] companies get their customers on the record at scale, and authenticity (honest opinions from real customers) and transparency (disclosure of review sources and the role of reviewer incentives) are at the heart of what we do.

    We also firmly believe that authenticity and transparency add up to trust — hence the name!

    • That’s a great way to think about it Scott. Trust is one of the most important things you can attain from your customers

  3. Tiffany Simpson :

    Hi Neil,

    Thanks for sharing this. Will definitely be incorporating some strategies to focus on transparency.

  4. Autocad school :

    Know, like and trust you

  5. Rafi Chowdhury :

    Great article Neil, thanks for sharing and keep up the great work

  6. Kaity Moreira :

    Incredibly relevant and excellent topic choice… Thanks Neil for this great post!

  7. Shubham Kumar :

    Hi Neil,

    I’m not posting any new article on my blog (http://mycodingtricks.com) due to my exam (JEE Advance) preparation.

    Do you think it’s a good idea to share to my users that I was busy in my exams preparation?

    I would love to hear your thoughts.

  8. Aman Gautam :

    Thanks for the great article Neil,

    We are a group of freelance developers and designers. In the last 1 year we have shared our processes with the client and made the whole thing very transparent to them. So your points make a whole lot of sense even at a small business level.

    People tend to trust more if they see more transparency. Thanks again for sharing this knowledge.

    • You’re welcome Anam, glad this helped. When people can see what you’re intentions are, it receives so much distrust in the conversation.

  9. Hi Neil,

    I think is easy for tech companies to get into the transparency and authenticity train. But what about no tech companies?

    We sell software for dietitians, they are totally not tech people. How would you show transparency in this niche?

    Thank you very much for another great post!

    • Through communication and website messaging. If you can show honesty and sincerity in your copy… for example the way you break down testimonials or users leave reviews… it will help. But it can’t be too “corporate”… it has to have the personal touch.

  10. Thanks for sharing this. I believe that site trust plays a big role in whether a site will succeed or fail from a search perspective.

  11. Arbaz Shaikh :

    Hey Neil
    Great guide can u pls suggest me some good guide for event based blogging?

  12. Jonathan Lee Ching :

    I am very new to the concept of online marketing in practise, but your posts have been extremely valuable to help me get started slowly but surely. Thank you!

    Transparency really is a huge issue in my particular niche: weight loss and improving quality of life. I feel that it is very unfortunate and I see the necessity of being honest with your potential leads and current readers can make a big difference.

    I guess my question is how far can or should one go. The startup company I am an affiliate for, for example, has a fantastic meal tracking/weight and measurement tool. I suppose showing them that in relation to my own wight-loss journey would be a good example of transparency – personal enough, yet relevant.

  13. I think past month SEO is just abut link and keyword ,…
    but i find marketing is the endless road.
    tanx Nile for this clear guide

  14. Jacqueline Tsuma :

    Thanks for sharing this Neil! It’s amazing that it’s almost coincidental that I have a post get lots of love on Medium and I wake up the next morning and find your mail in my inbox on the exact same principles I used, without even knowing it! In my post I shared authentically about my early career experiences, even posted a graph of how my earnings increased the minute I stepped out to study abroad. I’m sold on transparency and authenticity now, and have a name for the strategy. If you’d like to check out the post, click on my name to visit it.

  15. Hi Neil,

    Great article on building trust by authenticity and transparency. These both factors are very important to build trust. All the points mentioned are very useful. Thanks for sharing this with us.

  16. Does HTTPS help?

  17. Jake Keenum :

    Thanks Neil!

  18. Mudit Saxena :

    Hi Neil,

    Right now I am totally into Content Marketing but really want to learn more and have deep knowledge in one of the aspects of marketing , What will you recommend for somebody in the startup context ?

    Regards,
    Mudit Saxena

    P.S. The venture is working out to be a very successful one 😉

  19. Great post Neil. I really like the examples and I believe your $100k/month series is another great illustration of this type of content.

    I’ve got something similar in the works but I have to admit that it scares me to put everything out in the open. Fear of failure is the biggest one.

    But I believe that this is the exact reason why transparent and authentic content works. People recognise that vulnerability and respond with trust.

  20. sreela banerjee :

    Thanks Neil

    Love it all, such a clear and comprehensive post.

    I hope you don’t mind – I have copied a little bit of it to use in my e-learning unit for young people – we are a small charity. I will link users directly to this post from within the course references..

    Best wishes, and carry on with what you do – you clearly do it well.

    Sreela

  21. hi.
    beautiful post.
    i love the way each post in here gets me more closer to understand blogging in simplicity.

  22. How to become trustworthy then? Still wonder about your tips. I think a lot depends on niche and on business type. Great article but everyone have to apply what is right for his business. Mind if I’ll quote you with an example from it?

  23. Robbins Hood :

    Hi Neil !
    Thank you for sharing yours best guides with step by step tutorial. It is really helpful for me to get quick knowledge. It is comprehensive resources.

  24. Bhuboy Villanueva :

    I can totally relate into this, we must really be ourselves especially online, that people on the other side of the computer doesn’t know us personally, and it what makes you stand out among the rest because there can only be one YOU

  25. Rojer Martin :

    It’s really very good post for those who wants to make their true place among their customers on account of trust & loyalty. Whatever Spencer & Dominos did was really an awesome step which not every business bothers about. Great thanks for this post as I really appreciate product quality, customers experience, trust factor.

  26. Hi Neil,

    Thank you for sharing so openly about your thoughts on how to improve trust. We will surely be doing some of the tings that you have shared here. Thank you.

  27. Great Thought Neil

  28. Donald Trump is transparent and authentic, but will that make him a good president? The debate continues…

  29. Leonardo LaVito @ LargerList.com :

    “If you’re a terrible person, transparency will not be good for you. Hopefully, you and your company are not terrible.”

    I’m glad that I’m not. 🙂

    Let me prove it by being totally transparent with you…

    For a pre-dinner snack, I had two soft, mouth-tingling buns. They were pretty nice.

    I dipped them in organic ketchup, which added to the flavor by approximately 15.8%.

    Each bun costs me 99 cents each, but after eating them, my satisfaction rating went up by a factor of 28%.

    The ROI was through the roof!

  30. cong ty moi truong :

    Hi Neil,

    Thank you for sharing so openly about your thoughts on how to improve trust. We will surely be doing some of the tings that you have shared here. Thank you.

  31. Wow, what are some of the ways to build email list faster here… and building trust is difficult and breaking it, can be like in second.

  32. Jenifer John :

    Great article Neil 🙂
    In our area of services the trust is essential, but to earn it is almost impossible. I`ll try your advises thank you so much 🙂

  33. Thanks for sharing this. Will definitely be incorporating some strategies to focus on transparency.

  34. Great post..
    We are a group of freelance developers and designers. In the last 1 year we have shared our processes with the client and made the whole thing very transparent to them. So your points make a whole lot of sense even at a small business level.

  35. starloveshop :

    I like the sharing of quicksprout.com . Help her get new knowledge very helpful.

  36. hi Neil,

    I agree about transparency. But I think it would be related to marketing sites mostly otherwise cooking, wedding and informative websites are there to give you accurate and interesting information and is not really personal such as a digital marketing blog.

    How do you show transparency in other field websites?

    Please advise.

  37. Great Post

  38. Hi Neil,

    Thank you for sharing so openly about your thoughts on how to improve trust. We will surely be doing some of the tings that you have shared here. Thank you.

  39. Fantastic blog! Do you have any suggestions for aspiring writers?

    I’m planning to start my own blog soon but I’m a little lost on everything.
    Would you recommend starting with a free platform like WordPress
    or go for a paid option? There are so many options out there that I’m completely overwhelmed ..

    Any ideas? Appreciate it!

  40. www.hartlarsson.com :

    Excellent post. I was checking consttantly tuis blog and Iam impressed!
    Very helpful information specifically the closing part 🙂 I take care of such information a lot.
    I was seeking this particular information for a long time.
    Thanks and best of luck. http://www.hartlarsson.com

  41. Hey Neil thanks for this, I’ll definitely be bookmarking this article. I wrote an article just last week on why it’s good to mess up and make mistakes, and even shared with everyone that I had messed up as well and gave them examples. I wrote the article on my blog and sharing it for anyone out there who may feel like a loser because they mess up in order to help them get pass it http://www.5y2m.com/mess-up-and-stick-with-your-goals (if linking in comments aren’t allowed you can delete it)

  42. Neil Patel is not transparent :

    I see you’re transparent when it comes to your website checker…

  43. Good to know you’ve also made a post on authenticity and transparency.

    I know that when you do write a post about it, you do take action to improving your own transparency and authenticity Neil!

    But my question would be if you could update this step-by-step post to include more examples of transparency and authenticity used in Digital Marketing, or in a Digital Agency?

    I know for sure that my company for example advocates Transparency as one of the key philosophies for why we’re the top in our area.

    So may you include some examples please for the post (as I’m sure readers here come from the digital world too!) for digital agencies which offer the typical services like seo, ppc, web design?

    Transparency and authenticity is important for a digital agency, but for that same reason there are still agencies using black hat techniques which is not at all ‘transparent’. It may be authentic lol

    Kind regards,

    Mic

  44. Valuable information! Looking forward to seeing your notes posted. The information you have posted is very useful. Keep going on, good stuff. Thank you for this valuable information.
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  45. Hi Neil,

    Thank you for sharing so openly about your thoughts on how to improve trust. We will surely be doing some of the tings that you have shared here. I am also just entered blogging .These tips will be really helpful
    http://www.alltechbytes.com/torrent-stream-controller-apk-download/

  46. Cynthia Ann Leighton :

    Hi Neil,

    I appreciate learning from you today!

    Had not thought of authenticity and transparency before. Your examples on building trust are great ideas.

    Thanks.

    blessings,
    Cynthia

  47. Thank you for sharing so openly about your thoughts on how to improve trust. We will surely be doing some of the tings that you have shared here. I am also just entered blogging .These tips will be really helpful

    http://www.gudtechtricks.com/2017/04/touchwiz-home-has-stopped-fix.html

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