Companies should be themselves in social media

by Tom Albrighton 26 April 2010 Digital and social, Tone of voice

I’m always amused by the savage beatdowns that are meted out to firms who are perceived to have failed in social media (see this page on Nestlé and Facebook for a recent example). What do people expect? At the end of the day, it’s one person doing the Tweeting or the wall-writing. They’re at work, not relaxing at home, and they’re obliged to ‘be the brand’ online. It can’t be easy. And if you push them far enough, they’re bound to snap.

Personally, I welcome it. At least we know they’re human. What’s the alternative? Everyone loves to flame the failures, but would we really be happier with a smoothly oiled PR machine, trotting out relentlessly positive, shallow responses to critical tweets, like a politician?

Although social media has a diverse user base, there’s a recognisable ‘SM personality’ that seems to predominate: young (or young at heart); generally positive; informal; chirpy (bordering on facetious); marketing and new media literate. When people berate companies for having the ‘wrong’ social media voice, they usually mean that the company in question has taken a tone that’s too far from this norm. But if your firm’s true ‘personality’ doesn’t conform, should you affect a different tone of voice to fit in?

Many firms have struggled to find their voice in social media. Some have rather stiffly adopted it as a purely ‘push’ channel, conducting a monologue rather than a dialogue. Some, like Habitat, have been hauled over the coals for underhand techniques. And some, like ASOS, are blessed with enough photogenic, web-savvy, Twitter-literate staff to give them all usernames and let them loose (see @ASOS_Amy, @ASOS_Nat and others).

A while ago, I blogged on the topic of honesty in marketing: the idea that by promoting a message that accurately reflects what the organisation is really like, we can be more congruent, more confident and (I believe) more effective in terms of reaching new customers. So why shouldn’t firms’ negative character traits come through in their social media? It may not fit the rigid stereotype of ‘engagement’, but perhaps it’s more honest in the deepest sense.

Tags: , , , , ,