The best brands on social media exude personality in a way that draws users in and drives superior levels of engagement. So why are so many brand social channels dull and devoid of character?
I logged on to Twitter yesterday afternoon to discover the hashtag #KFCAdminIsBored trending in the UK. Of course, I had to find out why. It turns out this tweet from KFC UK was the cause.
As content goes, this is as basic as it gets – and about as low-cost as you get too. No image, no video; just a promise of a £10 voucher. The tweet received over 2,000 responses, 1,200 likes, 200 retweets, sparked off a series of conversations between users and the KFC admin and was one of the top trending topics in the UK for most of the day.
Not too shabby.
A little personality goes a long way
KFC isn’t the only brand to inject a little personality into their social media. Most of those who do – the successful ones, at least – tend to adopt a similar tone: cheeky, self-deprecating, not overly serious. They feel authentic and relatable; more like your mates down the pub than a faceless corporate behemoth.
Innocent Drinks is a good example of this. Their Twitter feed is entirely consistent with most people’s mental image of the brand.
The same is true of Yorkshire Tea, whose brand tone of voice has a distinctly Yorkshire no-nonsense flavour to it.
You may recall the furore that erupted earlier this year when Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak posed for a photo with a pack of Yorkshire Tea. This resulted in (baseless) accusations that the brand was taking political sides, leading to an exchange that will forever be enshrined in the Social Media Hall of Fame.
A handful of brands go above and beyond, raising awareness of activist causes and being unafraid to challenge those in a position of power. Take this example from earlier in the week from ice cream brand Ben & Jerry’s. They chose to highlight the plight of refugees attempting to enter the UK by sea, tagging Home Secretary Priti Patel in the process.
This earned its ultimate reward by goading Patel (or “a source close to” her) into a petty response. This only served to amplify the original tweet as users gleefully promised to add B&J’s to their next shopping basket.
All this free coverage is earned because brands such as Ben & Jerry’s, Innocent and Yorkshire Tea dare to show a little personality.
This all rather begs the question: why don’t more brands do this?
Risk aversion and mistrust
There are two basic answers to this question. The first is that many brands are fundamentally risk-averse in their approach to social media. They see the potential upside but are fearful of getting it wrong, particularly in the growing climate of cancel culture. The risk isn’t worth the reward in their eyes.
So they play it safe. And ‘safe’ often translates to tight controls, corporate-speak and a social media manager who lacks the freedom to be any more than a 280-character customer service agent.
The other reason is, quite simply, that many companies don’t value their social media manager.
While a TV ad campaign is marketing’s Cinderella, visible at board level and getting the full attention of the Chief Marketing Officer, social media is more often the ugly step-sister. You wouldn’t put a junior, lowly paid employee in charge of a million-pound ad campaign. But that’s often who ends up managing the social media channels – and they end up undervalued as a result. It’s safer to control them than to trust them. So even if they have great ideas, a safety-first approach often overrides them.
Major brands invest huge amounts of resource to define their brand positioning, from colours, logos and fonts to tone of voice. But a brand is not what the brand guidelines say it is. A brand is whatever consumers take it to be.
Social media channels are often the most tangible face and voice of a brand. Companies will happily invest seven-figure sums in glitzy (and frequently terrible) TV ads that they run for only a few weeks a year. And yet they will equally happily put social media – which can speak to hundreds of thousands of people every day – into the hands of a low-paid junior employee, whose hands are tied by rules and given no freedom to be creative or inject some personality into their posts, just in case something goes wrong.
Bizarre, isn’t it?
Is there another way?
Of course there is. The social media manager doesn’t have to be underpaid, untrained and undervalued. Make the social voice of the brand someone who is immersed in the brand, media-trained and has enough autonomy to make their own decisions without fear of getting sacked at the first sniff of controversy.
They don’t have to work in isolation either. When difficult PR situations or emergencies arise, make them part of the crisis management team. Let them work with other marketing and communications teams to translate core messages into something that truly speaks with the brand’s voice, with the safety net of having their colleagues at their back. And then pay them a salary commensurate with that level of responsibility.
In the same way that top marketing talents are worth their weight in gold, a top social media manager who can balance brand personality with brand safety is someone to be sought out and nurtured. It’s that magical combination of ability, responsibility and trust that makes the leading brands in social media truly stand out.
Written by Tim Liew.