Researching Authenticity: Q&A With NYU's Professor Watson, Sway Group's Wiley

What is authenticity? Dr. Jared Watson, an assistant professor of marketing at NYU Stern and Danielle Wiley, Founder & CEO  of agency Sway Group, partnered on a study, launched pre-pandemic, to find the answer to that question.

“We always had a gut feeling that our push for authentic content was a major driver of the high engagement rates on our campaigns,” Wiley explained. “When we realized that Jared and his colleagues had the capability to actually MEASURE this for us, we couldn't resist.”

The study helped to reveal how authenticity is actually manifested within a piece of content. “Certain words, use of emojis, type of photos -- it's been just so interesting to get all of this juicy data, and we can't wait to translate those learnings into improved post instructions for the creators in our network,” Wiley added.

Charlene Weisler: Is this the first time such a study was done?

Dr. Jared Watson: To the best of our knowledge, this is the first time sentiment analysis has been used to explore the effectiveness of influencers. There has been other research that concludes that authenticity helps influencers, but that work was based on subjective evaluations of authenticity, while we are using a methodology that tries to objectively quantify authenticity.



Weisler: What was the methodology?

Watson: Sway Group provided us with data from 20+ campaigns that include captions of  social media posts along with various engagement metrics like likes/comments/shares/etc. We then used the Linguistic Inquiry and Word Count (LIWC) software program to convert the text of the captions to quantitative scores for a variety of categories.

Because our focus is currently on authenticity, we then used simple linear regressions to understand the impact of the authenticity scores (as quantified by LIWC) on the engagement metrics (as provided by Sway Group)

Weisler: What is the definition of influencer? Of authenticity?

Danielle Wiley: These days, an influencer can be anyone, from a fellow mom at the playground to a celebrity that you follow on Instagram. That said, for the purposes of what we do at Sway Group, influencers are anyone with at least 1,000 followers on any social platform, usually Instagram, Facebook, TikTok, Twitch or blogs.

We define authenticity as content that is relevant and meaningful to the influencer. Are they writing about a product or service that they actually use and are excited about? Are they using their own words and unique voice? Will the content feel real and relevant to the influencer's followers?

Weisler: What were the big takeaways?

Watson: I think there were two big takeaways. Posts that are deemed as authentic receive more engagement than those that do not (in this data, posts that receive a 50 or greater LIWC engagement score receive over 3x more engagement on average than those that score under 50).

The second is that while we often think of authenticity as a subjective evaluation of the influencer, LIWC's classification seems to capture authenticity quite well, suggesting it can be easily measured and tracked.

Weisler: Were there any surprises?

Watson: I think the biggest surprise for us was how few posts scored high on authenticity. From a pure mean split perspective, less than 10% of posts in this dataset (and less than 5% in another dataset) recorded authenticity scores greater than 50 (out of 100). So while the industry continues to buzz about authenticity, sometimes the pursuit of it actually might lower perceptions of authenticity.

Weisler: Are there any differences in gender, age and region of the country?

Watson: The dataset provided was spread out throughout the country, and consisted mostly of millennial mothers. In some of our experimental work, we find that the effectiveness of influencers is highly predicated on gender (women are more influenced than men) and age (younger vs. older people accept influencers more easily).

I'd also add that while we don't see much variance across the various campaigns in our dataset, most of these campaigns were affect-laden things that really impact people's feelings. In another dataset, we have more technology-focused products, and we find that authenticity plays a much weaker role -- probably because people are more concerned about quantifiable attributes like battery size, screen size, etc.

Weisler: How can we best use these results?

Watson: These results suggest that there are some guidelines by which we can help influencers more authentically communicate their message. For example, use “I-first” language rather than “you-first.” That is, influencers can speak about how a product has impacted their own lives vs. telling their audience how the product might impact their lives.

Similarly, there are benefits to speaking about feeling-states (e.g., this product makes me happy) vs. just product attributes (e.g., this product has a 12x zoom). Naturally, these guidelines may vary for individual products, but we can better provide advice for the influencer community on how to communicate their message more authentically.

Next story loading loading..