With increased concerns about false information online, consumers have lost trust in social media platforms and search engines in recent years. Tech giants like Facebook and Google are addressing these issues in court, highlighting the importance of the safety of consumer data and digital content. So, in this new era of online communications, how do brands keep from getting caught in the crossfire?

In order to connect effectively with audiences, brands need to work harder to build authentic relationships with them. Here are six tips that can help you develop real relationships with your followers.

1. Tell human stories

It’s easy for larger organizations to talk about the company only on a macro level: Global networks. A suite of services. Millions affected. But these concepts can be hard to communicate through social media channels without tangible explanations.

Whether you have 500 or 500,000 employees, each person contributes to your organization’s growth and culture. The stories of your people are the ones your digital audiences will relate to the most, because they help to humanize business jargon and processes. Rather than just say you sell a quality product, spotlight the people who help your product exceed customer expectations.

The 200th anniversary of University Health Care System in Augusta, Georgia, gave the heath care provider the opportunity to set itself apart as the leading provider in its region. University ran TV, print, billboard, radio and digital ads with real stories about individuals that illustrated how its services and staff are unmatched.

University published a video series to showcase its quality care and service through the lens of both staff and patients. The profiles provided an emotional measure of University’s impact on the community.

2. Use your own history

Looking to share a story that is uniquely yours? You may already have it. There’s no better base of content than your company’s history. It includes stories that demonstrate how you’ve stayed true to your company’s values and how your company has grown over the years.

Graybar, a wholesale distributor of electrical and data networking products and one of the largest privately held companies in the United States, is currently celebrating its 150th anniversary. In crafting a corporate anniversary campaign, Graybar wanted to show that it has consistently delivered the same high quality of value-added services for generations. One aspect of Graybar’s marketing strategy includes a social media campaign with fun facts about its history, connecting the past to the present and future.

The post below discusses the origin of the iconic shield logo in 1925, when the company that was founded in 1869 changed its name to Graybar:

By explaining the origin of its logo, Graybar proves that it has a track record of putting quality at the forefront of its business strategy.

3. Give it personality

Have you ever bought a product just because the person selling it was so genuinely charming? You can do the same with your social media strategy.

Make your brand more relatable by giving it a personality. It’s much more enticing for someone to engage with you online if they get a real conversation rather than a generic autoreply.

For example, MoonPie, a century-old consumer brand, lacked the name recognition among younger consumers that it had with baby boomers. Sales had plateaued in recent years.

To connect with a wider audience, the brand revamped its social media strategy with a supercharge of sass and humor to connect with the daily struggles of younger generations online. Tweets like the one here make MoonPie a brand that people relate to like a friend.

The result? Without needing to change products, distribution or paid ad strategy, MoonPie increased sales by 17 percent within a year.

4. Admit when you’re wrong

It’s hard to stand out in the daily flood of social content. Taking a new approach raises the risk that you’ll go too far. If this happens, the only way to fix the issue is to own up to your mistake. By acknowledging the error, you demonstrate to your audiences that there’s always room for growth, no matter how large of an organization you are.

One important example is the Monterey Bay Aquarium in California, which went way off message in its attempt to gain likes and shares. The aquarium tweeted a photo of Abby the otter in December, with a caption full of trending words to describe her, including “thick,” “absolute unit” and “c h o n k.”

The tweet went viral, with more than 17,000 retweets to date, but the aquarium faced backlash for the appropriation of words that some considered offensive. To address the issue, the aquarium published a series of tweets apologizing for the inappropriate use of those terms.

By admitting it was wrong, the aquarium owned the fact that it had deviated from its mission of inspiring conservation.

5. Create a two-way street

While a social media manager’s job is to create great content that generates buzz, you alone are not responsible for your brand’s social media presence. To create an authentic connection with audiences, you must create campaigns that get people excited enough to share and respond to your content. The more interactions that take place, the more visibility your page will have.

One of the easiest ways to grow audience engagement is through a hashtag campaign that makes people want to talk about something directly related to your brand values.

In 2018, Disney showed its ongoing support of Make-A-Wish® with a social media campaign, #ShareYourEars. For every post that used the hashtag, Disney donated $5 to Make-A-Wish. The concept was simple. It allowed room for creativity and made it easy to support good cause.

As part of the campaign, Disney set up photo ops across its theme parks and other branded experiences, which helped to extend the campaign beyond just the digital sphere and promoted in-person participation.

The latest installment of posts created major buzz online and brought $3 million in donations.

6. Take a stand on social issues.

Entering 2019, consumers have higher expectations for brands to take a stand on social issues. According to the Edelman Trust Barometer, two out of three consumers are “belief-driven buyers.” This means that someone will purchase, switch or avoid a brand based on the social values it stands for.

Social media is a powerful tool for showing that you stand for a cause, but be careful about what you choose to support. Make sure the cause or causes directly relate to your organization’s values. This approach will help you stay rooted in your organization’s heritage, so you can authentically justify your position if you receive online blowback.

Earlier this year, Gillette proved the power and risk of taking a stand on a politicized issue. In a video that it shared on social media a week before the Super Bowl, the razor company asked a question:

“Is this the best a man can get?”

The question, a riff on Gillette’s slogan, “The Best a Man Can Get,” challenges our nation to do a better job addressing issues such as bullying and sexual harassment.

The video sparked a huge response, both positive and negative.

Still, the ad was deemed a success, according to Procter & Gamble CFO Jon Moeller.

“That campaign was aired once and has generated significant conversation,” Moeller said, “which is important and has generated a huge number of impressions.”

Whether you’re looking to encourage more user-generated stories or spotlight your own communities, it’s important to remember that social media is a tool to build relationships with your audiences. Each of these tips can help you create a more authentic social media strategy.

Want to learn more about what makes content authentic? Check out my colleague’s blog on the 5 essential ingredients for authenticity.


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