Social Media Is for Humans, Not Brands

June 6, 2014

9:01 am

This post includes extra content from Startup Mixology, my upcoming book on starting up – including how to prepare yourself for the harsh reality and celebrate positive moments along the way. Go here to pre-order the book (due July 8) and subscribe to updates!

From Brian Solis to Rohit Bharava to Seth Godin, social media experts seem to agree that word of mouth is one of the most powerful instruments in your marketing toolbox. But how do you cultivate it?

Here, authenticity goes a long way. By being genuine and human, you gain trust and credibility.

You can choose to have a real person as the “face” of your social media accounts, even including their image as the profile photo. TechStars mentor and PivotDesk CEO David Mandell recommends having all your employees write blog posts and build relationships with customers. “Encouraging all of your employees to engage with your customers via social media without a corporate filter is one of the best ways to build an authentic connection,” he says.

Gary Vaynerchuk really believes in being human on social media. “I want to live through the humanization of business. I want brands to act like normal people,” he says. “For example, when you retweet something good about yourself, that’s bragging – and that’s not humble bragging, that’s bragging.”

If you make a mistake, admit it. When the social media sharing platform Buffer was hacked in October 2013, they posted detailed, clear updates every two or three hours to keep their users and the general public informed. Joel Gascoigne, founder and CEO, wrote a blog post that included this line: “I wanted to post a quick update and apologize for the awful experience we’ve caused many of you on your weekend.” He put a name and face on Buffer, one that people could identify with even in light of the tough situation.

Gascoigne went on to explain that the hack had come through the MongoDB database but added, “I want to be clear that this is still our fault.” It could have been really easy to blame MongoDB, but he didn’t; he took full responsibility. He also responded to everyone’s emails. Thanks to Buffer’s genuine and speedy efforts, nearly all the responses from customers were positive. Buffer was hacked, but Gascoigne handled the situation in a respectful way and it helped his brand. He told his story, and his story continues today as I retell it (another example of word of mouth).

How you feel about a struggling brand (Buffer) is nothing compared to how you feel about a struggling founder (Joel); it’s the difference between outrage and sympathy. In your moments of crisis and your moments of celebration, you want to be connected to your community on a human level.

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Frank Gruber is the cofounder, CEO and Executive Editor of Tech.Co (formerly Tech Cocktail). He is the author of the book, Startup Mixology, Tech Cocktail’s Guide to Building, Growing, and Celebrating Startup Success. He is also a startup advisor and investor to startups. Find Frank Gruber online and follow him on Twitter at @FrankGruber.

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