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Social Pro Files: Considering the human costs of social currency

5 min read

Brands & Campaigns

This post was written by Troy Janisch and Mark Anderson. Both contributors have two decades of digital marketing experience and lead social-media activities at American Family Insurance, a Fortune 300 company. Janisch blogs at and Anderson shares his art at

Many companies judge social networks’ value by what they can get out of them.  In reality, the value that these networks provide is better judged by what a company puts into them.

And sometimes, that amounts to very little.

The bulk of outgoing brand communications are self-centered: press releases, company announcements, product information, links to a company blog, company-oriented retweets and sweepstakes that are more focused on collecting e-mail addresses than rewarding followers. Companies fill their Facebook wall and Twitter stream with selfish content and wonder why their presence on social networks isn’t driving customer interaction, recommendations, publicity or purchases.

Social-media pro Tara Hunt, author of “The Power of Social Networking: Using the Whuffie Factor to Build Your Business” and co-founder of, said self-serving communications have little value on the social Web. “The greatest value activities are human activities: falling in love; being sad; being happy; getting a new job; eating the best bologna sandwich of your life, reliving a childhood memory; being proud of your kids,” Hunt said. “These activities let people in. They tell people who we are. They identify how we differ and how we are similar. Ultimately, they connect us.”

An important aspect of socializing any brand is humanizing it. Consumers “like” and “follow” brands that they can identify with. Humanizing your brand means “loosening the reigns” and expressing your brand’s personality:

  • Favor a human voice over a brand voice. There’s a lot of talk among marketers about establishing a “brand voice.” Often, this means responding professionally, consistently and without emotion. It’s not human. On social networks, it’s OK to use an exclamation point! Common social phrases such as “check this out,” are better than “read more.” Sharing “congrats” is better than sharing “congratulations.”
  • Consider the “social mission.” The things you care about define who you are online. What kinds of things can your company contribute to social networks that aren’t specifically related to your products? How can you make the community smarter about your industry? What information can you share that doesn’t mention your products? You fans already know what your company does. Chances are, they can find your website when they’re ready to buy something. What other contribution can you make? The causes supported by your company (and the passions expressed by it) are a meaningful part of its social profile.
  • Connect to human emotion and milestones. Help your fans celebrate good times and endure bad times. Find ways to connect to the milestones in their life: Birthdays, vacations, their family, their job, their personal dreams, the frustrations they have on social networks.  If you’re going to distribute coupons, tie them to your customer’s lives.
  • Use the social elements Facebook provides. Your customers are on these networks for one reason — to initiate social interaction.  Allow reviews, discussions, and polls. Adjust your Facebook setting so that fans can share their own photos and video.
  • Show human a human face — literally. If you’re not using human faces on your Facebook page or as your Twitter avatar,  regularly post photos of employees, customers and company-sponsored events.  At most, they should be “one click away” on social-network pages. The more they get to know your brand, the more followers want to see the faces connected to who they are talking to.
  • Use the “delete” key sparingly. Humanizing your brand means tolerating negative sentiment on Facebook. Test the tolerance of your brand to accept critical posts. If your brand has 300 or more active fans, it’s possible — maybe even likely —  that one of them will respond to criticism on your behalf. Give your fans an opportunity to come to your defense.  As a last resort, if your brand is uncomfortable with this, you can set the default view of its Facebook wall so that only the company’s comments appear by default.
  • Align your brand with others. Gain fans by sharing your fans with other brands. Peer relationships are an important aspect of social networking. For companies, this means social networks are an ideal environment to explore co-branding. Brand partnerships aren’t new. For ideas, visit a grocery store, and you’ll see dozens of examples. Promote brands that your customers like. Ask those brands to promote your brand to their customers. Research shows that both brands will receive increased awareness, consideration and brand lift. It’s the commercial equivalent of “friending” or “liking” another brand.

Brand that hide their human aspects behind layers of advertising, packaged messaging and control find it difficult to gather momentum and achieve results on social platforms. Hunt, named one of the most influential women in technology by Fast Company magazine in 2009, said brands need to stop treating customers like second-rate citizens. They need to stop designing for monetization and start designing for people.

“I’m not getting sucked into your sales funnel, dude.” she said. “This is a long-term relationship.”

Image Credit: Mark Anderson

The Power of Social Networking: Using the Whuffie Factor to Build Your Business