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Five Ways to Humanize Your Brand In Social Media

By: Guest | August 4, 2011 | 
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Today’s guest post is written by Tammy Kahn Fennell.

If you haven’t already, it’s time to get real. In order to maintain relevance in the social world, brands have to interact with their community in a way that is organic and unquestioningly human.

This is not easy for everyone, and many brands still don’t get it. Customers are savvy about your “realness” and they know when you are trying too hard.

So what does it mean exactly to humanize your brand, and how can you do it a real and natural way?

Five Ways to Humanize Your Brand

  1. Understand the brand. Understand the vision, and the culture. You’ve been hired to handle the social media, so hopefully you are already a cultural fit. Get in the heads of the company leadership. Start by observing; watch the online community and gauge the public perception. The better and more intimate your grasp of these things, the better you can communicate its message in a natural way. Be the personal extension of the brand personality.
  2. Be short and sweet. Your job is to figure out how to turn a corporate announcement into interesting content. You are competing for attention and time. Honor that and tell your story in a meaningful, but pointed way. Each social media channel has its unique constraints and requires different execution. Translate that story into a variety of digestible points for the various outlets.
  3. Don’t be afraid to get playful. Consistency of messaging is important, but don’t let that stand in the way of being conversational. It’s easy to fall into the “corporate messaging” trap. Social media offers a unique way to get a little playful with a brand. Make sure you know your audience so you can judge the appropriateness. Do this with caution. Remember the sarcastic quip from the disssatisfied customer of a major airlines that received an inappropriately playful response from the staff. Know the context. Pay attention, and if appropriate, have fun.
  4. A picture is worth a thousand words. Show your message. Posting relevant photos adds a nice human element to the brand. The Next Web has found that their Facebook updates with photos receive 300 percent more engagement than text-only updates. Photos can range from employees in action at work to showing events, conferences, or anything the brand may be involved in. You may want to let the community do the “shooting” for you by encouraging fans and followers to submit their own pictures of the brand in use. St. Helen’s Farm, a milk brand in the UK encourages customers to submit photos of themselves drinking their milk along with their own story. The company publishes many of these photos on the back of the milk carton.
  5. Start conversations. It’s Twitter’s mantra: “Join the Conversation,” yet so many ignore it. Social media is called social for a reason. Get in the trenches and talk with the people who you are trying to target. You’d be surprised how responsive someone is to a simple @reply on twitter, or a comment on a Facebook post, and how many brands allow mentions of their company to go without response. Don’t miss an opportunity to engage when someone is already talking to you. Go beyond that and also engage with potential customers.
    • Ask questions: Can you resist a question? It’s almost human nature to want to answer a question. Especially when you give your audience the opportunity to talk about themselves.
    • Be useful: People are on social media to find answers. If you monitor properly, and you solve someone’s problem, they will forever be endeared to you and your brand.

A final note: Before you hit the publish button, read it out loud and ask yourself if it sounds natural: “Would I say this in real life?”

The more you can get in there and interact (humanize your brand), the further you can spread your message. Social media is inherently viral. Plant enough seeds out there, be helpful, fun, entertaining and real, and your efforts will grow exponentially over time.

Tammy Kahn Fennell is the  co-founder of the social media marketing dashboard, MarketMeSuite.com. She also runs WeAreSocialPeople.com, the community driven blog, by MarketMeSuite users, for the world.

62 comments
ValerieDeveza
ValerieDeveza

I totally agree with you.  Nobody would really love to engage unless they are engaging with a live human being, not some robot who doesn’t show any emotions.  It’s always all about communicating and getting your message across while remaining true to yourself.  

 

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MelonieDodaro
MelonieDodaro

I just love the final note: will I say this in real life? Yes, the thing that will give personality to what I share online will be what I truly believe in offline. If it’s not something that I can really utter in front of other people, then that would mean that I might just be as embarrass to share it with the online universe.

smotm
smotm

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Jens-Petter Berget
Jens-Petter Berget

Very interesting post Tammy. I agree with @Steveallan we need to develop a personality, and we need to tell a story.

I am running a Facebook Page for the University where I am working, and I have been thinking about if I should use my name or just the brand name (the name of the University). And that by using my name, it's another way to humanize the brand? So far, I haven't revealed who I am, but I think that I have developed a voice and I'm doing my best to be personal and help the students.

I spend a lot of time to ask the students questions, and that to me is a great way to humanize the University.

Jens

Steveallan
Steveallan

To truly humanize your brand you have to develop a voice, a personality. you have to have a point-of-view and stand for something. You are either serious or whimsical, matter-of-fact or funny. You must not be boring. You must be consistent. The 5 tips above, while useful in developing a social media presence, fall far short of "humanizing" a brand.

glenn_ferrell
glenn_ferrell

Fascinating - what this triggers for me is the question "What are the key quality factors we want to maximize in branding and in what order do those influence conversion ?" Humanity, Relevance, Product Quality, Reliability, etc.... Correlating something like that with the studies that have been done on the order in which visitors click on pages as they come to a conversion decision -- that would be an interesting path to think through :)

seanrieger
seanrieger

@jenniferwindrum Good article. Many fail to understand that listening is just as important as speaking, when it comes to social media.

JayDolan
JayDolan

I wouldn't say these tips make a brand more human. This post could be titled as "Five tips to elicit more engagement." or "FIve tips to increase your comments" and they would still be an appropriate and effective post. These are five tactics to elicit engagement in a manner that is more accessible. As you said, most of it is the performance of turning corporate speak into something that an average human might consider reading and responding to.

It's near impossible to make something that is inhuman (a corporation) into something that resembles a human being. If anything, it is people and individuals that begin to humanize a brand. Putting the people of a brand, along with their faces and voices, is what begins to makes the massive, inhuman entity human. When people realize they are taking to human beings, not logos or avatars, that is when a brand stops being a brand and becomes people.

YasinAkgun
YasinAkgun

Couldn't agree with the 5 ways more. I especially like the question "would I say this in real life". Very true and I extend it to writing articles or spreading ideas online. And commenting too. In fact, I wish more people would ask themselves that question when commenting.

Ryan Critchett
Ryan Critchett

I really really align with understanding the brand. It's like.. you're an extension of the brain of the company. Huge deal. And yep, pictures really bond people. I'm fascinated by that. It's soooo human.

Howie Goldfarb
Howie Goldfarb

Hi Tammy love this post. But @ginidietrich didn't warn you that I am a data hound. I will elaborate on number 4. The data from Netweb is bad. It gives no numbers just a Percentage increase. Typical marketer smoke and mirrors. Did it go from 1 click to 4 clicks? Of from 1000 to 4000? Big difference and they purposefully omitted that stuff from the graph.

That said I run a page for a client and I post photos/fliers on the Facebook page then use the link to the photos on Twitter. We get exponential traffic from twitter to the page. Way more than the Facebook fans are clicking on the picture.

I personally don't believe the Facebook impressions data. And really only trust their visits count.

But everything you wrote is dead on including number 4 even if I had an issue with NextWeb.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

Tammy, thank you so much for a much-needed blog post! One of my favorite thing to say to clients is, "When you go to a cocktail party, do you walk up to someone and say, 'I sell widgets. You should buy my widgets.'?" They start to get it at that point. Or they just roll their eyes at me.

Ameena Gorton
Ameena Gorton

#3 and #5 - I struggle talking to a logo in all honesty - it annoys the hell out of me. HOW do I start a conversation with a brand name and a logo? As a consumer you CAN'T. You don't feel like you are being taken seriously which is why many brands email you from X person. Humanising a brand goes beyond these 5 points - giving a face on social media to the person who can held accountable is priceless - it's too hard to hold a corp accountable.

NancyD68
NancyD68

I am not allowed to be playful at all, which misses the point of social media I think. We do need to be serious about certain things, but when we are so serious all the time, it becomes just broadcasting. At that rate, you don't need to be on social media, you just need to crank out press releases.

dilennox
dilennox

@sassoftware@sasanalytics@Jens-Petter Berget @Steveallan, e.g., list the names/Twitter handles of the contributors. Best of both worlds, and you only need to change the profile if the staff changes.

Steveallan
Steveallan

@Jens-Petter Berget The decision to reveal yourself is a strategic one.You have developed the voice of the University. Heck. you are the voice of the university. If you should leave the program, who takes over? Another "Jen" or someone who continues to write in the style you have developed.

Now, if you are concerned about people knowing the people behind the page you can always list the owners publicly...assuming you want to expose yourself to that.

TammyKFennell
TammyKFennell

@Steveallan Thanks for the comment. I agree, you can't be boring. I think if you can do a combination of what I mention above, and of course, there is more than just what I mentioned, you will be well on the way to humanize a brand.

TammyKFennell
TammyKFennell

@wuup and dont try to convo this i accidentally deleted the original tweet ^TKF

TammyKFennell
TammyKFennell

@JayDolan I disagree. I think that if a corporation works hard at connecting more directly, it gives them a distinctly human quality. For example, the other day I realized my credit APR wasn't comparable to that of mastercard. I tweeted @askamex and a person replied back, almost instantly, asking me to DM them with more details. Within a few hours the APR issue was resolved and I was one happy customer.

I totally agree with your statement: "When people realize they are talking to human beings not logos or avatars that is when a brand stops being a brand and becomes people." Well said!

~Tammy, CEO @marketmesuite

jennwhinnem
jennwhinnem

@Ameena Falchetto I have to say, I fought to use a picture at work (instead of a logo) and was shot down. I understand the concern - it's "who should be the face of CT Health?" additionally, I've got another co-worker who likes to tweet (yes!). We both include our initials with every tweet so people know there's a person there.

TammyKFennell
TammyKFennell

@Ameena Falchetto It's definitely a hard thing to do for a larger brand. In my comment above, I think American Express does it right by having a special twitter account just for engaging. @askamex is a lot less scary than trying to tweet the big juggernaut american express!

Lisa Gerber
Lisa Gerber

@Ameena Falchetto (MummyinProvence) I agree. The avatar is something that merits discussion. For larger corporations it may make sense to have the logo especially when a variety of people may be manning the account. I like when they include that in the bio and when someone "comes on duty" and sort of introduces themselves or announces their arrival. That can be a good workaround.

Ameena Gorton
Ameena Gorton

@NancyD68 You don't need to be playful to be human. If it's not in your nature to do it then don't. Similarly, you are so right that if there is no place for playfulness then trying it can look really tacky and distasteful.

Howie Goldfarb
Howie Goldfarb

@Lisa Gerber@ameena Funny you bring this up. @markwschaefer convinced me to get rid of my Alien Avatar and be my face. I will always be in debt to him and dragging him into blog comments because of this.

But there are times this is incorrect. One reason I loathe Mashable is the Pete Cashmore mugshot that won't go away on the Twitter. Yes I hate them. Yes I was banned from commenting under SkyPulseMedia's twitter handle for always slamming their poor reporting. But that mug is not mashable. everyone knows their logo and they are a faceless entity in my view.

always exceptions to the rule.

NancyD68
NancyD68

@Ameena Falchetto What I mean is I can't kid around at all. period. I find good stuff to tweet, and really can't give any of it my own small bit of personality. It make me sad.

Lisa Gerber
Lisa Gerber

@spinsucks@TammyKFennell @jennwhinnem was take the down the logo. Recognizing however, that not everyone can do that, I agree with the signature idea. I still sign my tweets sometimes because we're still educating people that it's not Gini aka Gina behind the tweet. :)

bdorman264
bdorman264

@HowieG@Lisa Gerber@ginidietrich@NancyD68@ameena But I was serious when I got started in Vlogging; there is a time and place for everything and sometimes there is just too much frivolity going on and it's best to save that for FB. Twitter is serious and strictly business.......

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