Marketers are suckers for a catch phrase, from “join the conversation” to “think like a publisher.” Now, thanks largely to Facebook Timeline for brand pages, the new marketing slogan has quickly become, “humanize the brand.”
Humanizing a brand simply means trying to interact with each customer on a personal level. But for a company to implement that style, there needs to be a shift in how it responds to customers, particularly via social media. Here are 10 ways to get started.
1. Think Like a Social Network
I recently asked Alfredo Tan, Senior Director of FacebookCanada, if the company distinguishes between business and consumer brand pages. “We don’t draw a distinction between your mom and a bar of soap,” he says. Social media is egalitarian. If the world’s largest social network believes companies and people are on equal footing, maybe you should, too.
2. Start With Staff
In Smart Business, Social Business, author Michael Brito writes, “while many organizations are trying desperately to humanize their brand, they are failing to understand that they need to humanize their business first.” In other words, your employees are the most authentic expression of your brand. Start with them.
Take Maya Grinberg, a social media manager with social commerce platform Wildfire Interactive. Grinberg features in-office traditions, such as cheeky “spirit days” when staff plays dress-up, and heads to the company’s social channels as a way to generate conversation with fans about their own corporate cultures. She says posts about Wildfire’s inner workings are consistently among the company’s most popular updates.
3. Keep the Suits in Check
Not in all cases, but certainly in many, it’s a good idea to keep executives off of company social media accounts. It’s just that, often, the executive team is simply too far removed from the daily customer experience to understand how to best interact with them. That’s not something any company wants floating around online.
4. Create Access
Maybe you can’t invite everyone into the boardroom, but you can give them access to other parts of your business. Few social strategists understand their audience better than Liz Philips of golf giant TaylorMade. “We are, first and foremost, golfers,” Philips says. The company expresses this identity by sponsoring a TaylorMade PGA tour van that travels to weekly PGA events with a correspondent who live tweets to followers.
5. Treat Customers as Partners
Some brands treat their customers as the face of the company. Levi’s, for example, has created an entire series of videos featuring customers in their products. They’ve also developed a line that meets the needs of a key customer group: urban bike riders. Levi’s has moved beyond conversing with customers on social networks to co-creating content, even products, with them.
6. Reach Out To Key Individuals
While searching for a new SUV, small business owner, Marc Girolimetti, received a surprising phone call from Alan Mulally, CEO of Ford Motor Company. Mulally had organized a special test drive of the company’s new Edge Crossover for Girolimetti, at the urging of social strategist Scott Monty. Not only did Girolimetti go on to buy the vehicle, but thanks to his highly connected network, his positive experience spread quickly online.
7. Own Your Mistakes
Want to prove your brand is human? Admit when the company makes a mistake. During a panel on brand journalism at South by Southwest, Twitter’s editorial director, Karen Wickre, said making such an admission should be ‘on message’ for every company.
8. Put Your Fans to Work
Remember that loyal fans are often willing to do some of the heavy lifting for your brand. Cisco Systems created a sticky community on Facebook called the Cisco Networking Academy, where it gives its passionate and knowledgeable fans moderator privileges.
9. Be Open to Debate
People periodically argue. Likewise, a brand should be willing to engage in public debate. When a competitor attempted to recruit Eloqua’s entire sales team on LinkedIn, we were unsure of what to make of the situation. Was it a clever use of social media? We didn’t know, so we took the debate public by asking our blog readers what they thought. The post’s transparency, a hallmark of a humanizing a brand, resulted in a groundswell of public support.
10. Be Present
Creating a social media presence is essentially an invitation for dialogue. Brands that foster the culture and processes required to engage in widespread conversations can create vibrant customer communities. Those that don’t might be better off with no social presence at all. The reason: to be on social media but not present on social media is a broken promise.