5 Phony Brand Voices to Avoid on Social Media

September 21, 2017


Have you ever had a cringe-worthy encounter with a brand on social media? It doesn’t have to be one of the intensely bad ones that leads to viral infamy. We’re talking about something that made you die just a little inside, especially as a fellow marketer.

We can’t be too hard on brands that don’t get it right 100% of the time. Social media is tricky. For the most part, people are there to interact with other individual human beings. We’re the voice of a brand trying to provide that same interaction. We can try to blend in, chameleon-style, but there are dozens of ways our camouflage can fail.

To help your brand find the sweet spot, here are five brand voices that can’t help but come across as phony.

1. The Huckster

Like a cheesy car salesman, the Huckster might pretend to be interested in what you have to say, maybe for a little bit. He might offer a conversational gambit or two. But it won’t be long before he steers the conversation back to business.

Your brand might be falling victim to hucksterism if every post is about your product, or sharing your own content. Remember that it’s okay to have conversations that don’t revolve around your solution. Make it a genuine dialog. And remember the 4-1-1 rule: For every promotional post, share four pieces of relevant content written by others, and repost one piece of content from your audience.

2. The Best Friend

Your best friends are always there for you. They want to know how you’re feeling. They ask how your day was. They want to know your hopes, dreams, vacation plans, everything.

Which is great coming from a person, and decidedly less great coming from a brand. What seems friendly from a true best friend comes off as insincere at best and creepy at worst from a corporate account.

As consumers, we know overly-familiar messaging doesn’t work. We cringe every time a corporation sends an email that says it “misses” us, or asks about our plans for the weekend. We want brands to respect boundaries when we’re on the consumer side—why do we try to cross them on the marketing side?

3. The Nag

Combine a little huckster, a little best friend, and a complete disregard for recommended posting frequency guidelines, and you get the Nag. They’re overly promotional. They’ll act frustrated if ignored. And they’ll fill up your feed with posts that don’t add value.

At their worst, a nagging brand will resort to passive-aggressive pleas for attention, begging for and then demanding comments, likes, and reshares. It becomes the digital equivalent of a comedian saying, “Is this thing on?” while the audience sits on their hands.

4. The Grandma

To be clear, this is not a knock against actual grandmas. Grandmas are pretty great—they make cookies, they remember your birthday, they’re responsible for you even existing. Good stuff. However, it’s true that some older folks struggle with the right tone of voice on social media. They’re overly formal and stiff, or they post search queries into the comment box, or they reply to sponsored posts with long-winded stories.

Brands can definitely get the Grandma vibe, especially in more staid industries that have been nervous about getting on social media to begin with. It’s easy to miss the nuances of posting on Facebook versus Twitter versus LinkedIn. That can lead to unintentional comedy at best, and a debacle at worst.

5. The Cool Kid

I’ve saved the worst—and most frequently found—phony brand voice for last. Worse than promotional, worse than overly familiar, worse than relentless or clueless, the Cool Kid is trying to interact with you like the hip kids do. They use slang; they post in nothing but emoji; they use captioned memes. It’s deeply depressing.

Any brand trying to stay hip in the Internet age is doomed to fail. By the time your next meme gets approved, it will be out of date. Ditto the hip slang—if we had a nickel for every time a brand said “On fleek” in 2016, we could solve the national debt. More than any other voice on the list, the Cool Kid is deeply inauthentic. It’s like watching your Dad try to whip and nae nae. He may not be embarrassed, but you’re embarrassed on his behalf.

A More Authentic Voice

It’s hard to get a brand voice just right. There are just so many things a brand can’t do on social media that a person can. It’s hard to have a real conversation from behind the brand mask.

That’s why, studies show, messages from actual people are seen as three times more authentic than corporate posts. The best way to perfect your brand voice may be to let your employees speak with their own voices. Let them come out from behind the brand and speak directly to your audience on the brand’s behalf. Social media is about connecting with people—who better than the people you work with to make those connections?

To learn more about empowering employees to advocate for you on social media, download The Official Guide to Employee Advocacy.

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