Personal versus Perfect: How Brands Walk the Social Media Line

Social media has dramatically changed how businesses communicate with their target markets. A reliance on one-way communication through mass media channels is now complemented by a more flexible, interactive channel. In addition to the interactivity characteristic of social media, companies that take to social networking sites have the opportunity to "humanize" their brands. Employees that are the voice of a firm's social media accounts can create personal interactions between buyers and seller. Twitter users who interact with a business to share a complaint, for example, may interact with Jeff or Janie rather than a nameless representative of the brand. Bringing a more personal touch to customer relationship management can lead to more satisfactory experiences and greater customer loyalty.

Is Perfection the Ideal?
We think of brands as being "always on." Product or service failure is a negative reflection on the brand; we always have our guard up to protect brand reputation and should act quickly to resolve any situation that could put a brand in a negative light. But, is this quest for perfection attainable? More importantly, do customers even expect it? Research by Disruptive Communications of UK consumers into what people dislike about brand activity in social media suggests that brands must walk a line between giving off a personal feel and maintaining consistency that is a hallmark of branding. A survey of 1,003 UK consumers found the number one misstep brands can make on social media is using poor spelling or grammar in their posts (see infographic below). The other big no-no is making too many posts aimed at selling products. Other social media faux pas that turn off consumers are posting updates too often, trying too hard to be funny, and not posting updates often enough (further evidence that you cannot please all of the people all of the time).

Source: Disruptive Communications, 2013
Common Sense and Common Courtesy
Findings from the Disruptive Communications study are insightful as they validate what was widely assumed: Using common sense and common courtesy will go a long way toward using social media to nurture customer relationships. Common sense says to pay attention to detail when posting to social media accounts, making sure not only that information is grammatically correct but that offers and claims are accurate, too. Common courtesy should be exercised not to encroach on your community's social space by bombarding them with sales messages. In fact, selling should be far down the list of social media objectives for most firms. 

Use the privilege of connecting with customers and others to listen, share, and discuss. I do not know many people who joined Facebook or LinkedIn in order to be hit up with marketing messages. Also, common courtesy suggests to not damage customer relationships by posting insensitive or controversial content on social media. Sounds like common sense would prevent that, but we can point to many examples of a failure to exercise common sense. Remember this clueless tweet from Kenneth Cole during the uprising in Egypt in 2011?

Social media should be embraced as a unique opportunity to build a community in ways that marketers of previous eras could only have imagined. But, with great power comes great responsibility; in the case of social media this means respecting your community's space by being a participant with them rather than a seller with a digital megaphone.

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