You Like Me, But Are We Friends?

How and Why Brands Should Get Personal in Social Media


Food Truck Ribbon Cutting

The photo that changed how I approach facebook management.

I’ve been managing the social media community for one of our brands for a year now – Facebook and Pinterest primarily. My M.O. has always been to represent the voice of the brand–not my own voice. My passion for food drives the content, but I’ve always stayed in the background. But then…

When the brand launched a food truck this fall, I did something I had never done before:  I posted a photo of our team at the truck, along with some fun facts about us, on the brand’s Facebook page. This was the first time that I had chosen to share personal information on the page, stepping out from behind the anonymity of the corporate username. And fans responded—not to the brand, but to me personally.

I had a lovely conversation with a fan about signed cookbooks. It was the sort of conversation that not only did we both enjoy, but that facebook saw as valuable, due to the two-sided back and forth. Given the success of this post, I encountered the question that many social media managers face:  do you always have to be the brand, or can you, should you, be yourself? Everyone knows there is a real person behind the posts, but how should that come across? And if you enter into un-anonymous territory, what do you need to think about?

First, here are some great things a personalized approach will enable you to do:

1.  Make a Stronger Connection – If you look at many brands on facebook right now, you will see the same types of posts:  fill in the blanks, happy national X day, “like this if,” etc. Brands are following best practices, because these are the posts that get likes and comments. But although they generate positive metrics, they sound generic and impersonal. We spend so much time measuring how frequently fans like our posts that we forget to actually connect with our fans.

Of course, just putting a face to your social media won’t drive your thousands of inactive fans to suddenly storm your wall, so have realistic expectations. But the people who do post, who already engage, are interested in hearing from you. Start there. Try re-posting things with your own commentary, or tell them something funny and relevant that happened to you today. Don’t be afraid to put your personality into it–if you want real engagement, you have to be engaging.

2. Work the Feedback Loop – Once you establish more substantive connections with your fans, your finger will be on the pulse of your audience. You’ll know what interests them and what types of posts they like (funny? self-deprecating? complimentary?), and you can play this up, generating more and more engagement. You’ll also learn more about your fans’ interests, hobbies, and what they want from your brand (there’s your ROI.)

3. Take Customer Service to the Next Level – People will inevitably use your social media for customer service. Comcast and Starbucks were two companies that initially excelled at handling this shift. What made them different?  People knew it was Frank Eliason behind @ComcastCares and Brad behind @Starbucks. Fans were able to form a connection with the voices behind the brands. They trusted them to respond and help, and they could chat about their interests on the side. Eliason sees this shift towards social not just as a chance to turn customer service around, but to build stronger brand advocates by doing so. This is another chance to get to know your customers. So when addressing questions, comments, and complaints, think twice before going back to corporate jargon. Fans post on your social media because they want a more personal interaction-if they wanted to talk to a voicebox, they would call your 1-800.

Here are the caveats:

1.  Use “First Date” Behavior.  Ask your fans about themselves–don’t just talk about you! And although we know to always be polite, things can be taken the wrong way in print. Think twice before hitting “enter.” Silly though they may be, emoticons can also help you get the correct tone across.

2.  Choose the Right Person.  Your social media manager is the voice of your brand, so choose wisely. Pick someone who really understands your values and your audience. A passion for the subject is a plus. And make sure that evaluation and adjustment is part of their process–the data tells me what’s working and lets me adjust timing and subjects.  Feedback is your friend.

3.  Have a plan for complaints. It may be tempting to give in to demands when everyone is watching, but if you do, you may send the message that people can get anything they want by blasting you in social media. If there isn’t a quick fix, try to take the conversation off your public wall and into a private message so that you can get into the specifics. And if someone is publicly being difficult or rude, don’t rise to the bait.   And don’t sweat it too much—other people can see when someone is just causing trouble.

Got advice to share? We’re all learning — love to hear your comments.