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, She also runs, the community driven blog, by MarketMeSuite users, for the world.