It really sounds like the simplest task: be human. We’ve all been doing it for quite a while, some of us more flawlessly than others. But there’s something about doing it as part of your job, on behalf of your company, that feels… wrong. The professional world has conditioned us to feel as though informal = unprofessional. However, the times they are a-changing. Once true to most industries, creativity and informality is taking over, especially when it comes to B2C social media. More and more often, professional brands are changing up their tone of voice to be more relatable.
Social media managers are pushing the “human” tone of voice approach. For good reason, too, as it seems to be trending pretty much every day on Twitter. But, as we dive further into the idea that “brands sound like people now”, we start to notice a few problems with this approach. Sometimes, the harder some brands go, the more it becomes clear it could be just that – a trend.
On a platform like Twitter, almost everyone is treated the same – sort of. You cannot become an influencer or partner like on other platforms. Although you can become verified, verification doesn’t lead to monetary gain. This means brands and individuals are on the closest equal footing. You can find single people with millions of followers and companies with a hundred, and while either of them can put some money behind a post, ads don’t quite work in the same way as they do on Facebook or Insta. More important are retweets and hashtags, and therefore the secret to making it big is going viral. And to do that, you’ve got to be real.
So that’s what companies have been doing. By pushing for this more personable approach, other users are more likely to like and retweet. Either because they’re assimilating successfully, or they find it weird that a company with strict rules on bias like the BBC are making clear endorsements online now.
A happy accident was when this tweet from Sunny D, initially about a football score (because, for some reason, brands tweeting about sports is completely normal now), went viral when users thought it was a genuine cry for help from a company. This led to countless brands joining in on the fun (can this be classed as fun?), going from Pop-Tarts asking if they’re okay all the way to PornHub offering them a tissue.
Sometimes, being human means making mistakes. That’s exactly what an Amazon Help employee did when they stated that Northern Ireland is not part of the UK and therefore they do not have the rights to show the Six Nations in the country. They were wrong, obviously, but that didn’t stop them from becoming the focal point of a viral moment. This was obviously not intentional – but the fact that the tweet wasn’t redacted and there doesn’t appear to be any further clarification just goes to show that it doesn’t really matter. Once your big corporate brand is humanised, there’s no going back. And for some reason, people love it.
Another help account, this time Virgin Media, went viral for the opposite reason. Ex-Spice Girl Mel C tweeted them about her slow internet speeds and got a completely matter-of-fact, inhuman approach from the account. Celebs being treated like regular people seems bizarre, especially given how informal brand accounts tend to be on this platform.
But how would this tone of voice work for your brand? For this, you have to look at and identify your audience to figure out what they respond well to. Internet humour tends to start with the young and climb its way up different age demographics until it goes extinct. Memes that were once funny to millennials are now barely touched by grandmothers on Facebook. Even a tone of voice that millennials find relatable might not resonate with Gen Z-ers at all. It’s an exact science, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.
When it works, it works. But when it doesn’t, it really doesn’t. Trying to remain on that exact plane of relatability is like walking a tightrope, and if you veer too far to one side, your brand might not recover.
Nathan Allebach, who is a vlogger and ex-social media writer for large brands including American fast food company “Steak-Umm”, wrote a really insightful tweet on the subject:
Remembering that there genuinely are humans behind every company’s social media accounts is important. While it might be a fleeting fad that brands are suddenly uber-relatable, hopefully, the notion of these brands having humans backing them is not.
If you are absolutely flummoxed by all of this and want us to give you a helping hand in the world of social media, our social media management services are for you. Get in touch with us via our contact page or check us out on our socials: Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.