In the many years that I’ve been managing social media campaigns and accounts for clients, there’s always one question that I’m asked within the first two minutes of my initial meeting with them: “Do you think it’s more important to have a professional voice or personal voice online when it comes to social media?” My response is always the same and is a reference to an Old El Paso taco shell commercial: “Por que no los dos?” — “Why not both?”
One way of looking at this question is to consider that while your digital voice needs to be personable and connect with your audience, it also needs to support a professional image. After all, you are still a business and in order to thrive, you need to generate revenue. You want your potential consumers to get to know you, but first, you need to identify who those consumers are and what the best way to communicate with them is.
Many companies and brands feel that they need to be either strictly personal or strictly professional and not try to find a happy medium. For some, that’s definitely true. From time to time, a company or brand will find great success on their social media platforms by committing to both voices. Let’s look at a few examples of companies using both or either voices:
One company that has found monumental success and gained over two million followers on twitter for their personal, witty and often crass commentary on social media is Wendy’s, the fast food chain. They use high-resolution photography and clips from on-air commercials, but what they’re best known for is the youthful and sassy remarks associated with every social media post they create. In the above example, Wendy’s is calling attention to a tweet that seemed copied and pasted from a generic social media content schedule and posted by both McDonald’s brand and corporate Twitter accounts. In its tweet, Wendy’s makes fun of an ongoing complaint about many McDonald’s locations claiming their ice cream machines are broken. This is a perfect (although extreme) example of use of a professional vs. personal voice.
McDonald’s was able to respond with a smart follow-up post, but not before hundreds of thousands of people took notice and engaged with Wendy’s initial tweet. Even in the follow-up, McDonald’s copy was still professional and a little salesy, but it received a decent amount of engagement. Why did this work for both companies? Both Wendy’s and McDonald’s know exactly who they are targeting and how to do it. McDonald’s has been around for a very long time and knows that their voice on social media doesn’t need an update or overhaul. They know that having a more professional voice is what works in order to engage their audience and they know what kind of content their audience expects.
Thanks to the social media antics by Wendy’s and the media attention they receive from their fiery posts, they have become real competition for McDonald’s, but still struggle to get out of that third-place slot in the fast food race (which includes Burger King). Keeping their personal voice on social media is what will set them apart from the pack and keep their followers loyal.
Unfortunately, not everyone has been around as long or has as big of a physical and online presence as Wendy’s or McDonald’s, meaning they don’t really have the luxury to choose between fully committing to either a strictly personal or strictly professional online voice. For most companies and brands in today’s market, the competition is so dense that standing out or doing something new can seem intimidating or overwhelming. But the goal isn’t to reinvent the wheel: The goal is to engage an audience and create revenue by employing basic marketing and sales tools and data. Understanding who your audience is will help mold your online voice and help create engaging content. The data you gather from engaging that audience will prove helpful in creating future content that will convert that engagement into revenue.
Using data to create targeted content is a trend that many companies are jumping on board for, but its success relies on its execution. This process is called data mining and it has become a very hot topic in the media because of how some companies are choosing to use it. Below is an example of what not to do:
Okay, this very funny. I am actually one of the over 400,000 people who Liked it, but what did the tweet accomplish? It is a very clever idea which they came up with by using hard data, but their voice was strictly personal, thus causing a backlash from consumers criticizing the company of overstepping privacy lines and even being downright rude. The post did its job: It received a ton of media attention and the product mentioned in the post performed better because of it, but in the end, the company’s image was seen in a negative light by many of its consumers.
How could they have done better? Let’s look at an example of a brand that went a step further. The company below used data mining to know what kind of content would perform well, then incorporated consumer-generated content to engage potential new customers using a combination of personal and professional voice:
The Savvy Friend
This post is a homerun. Bobbles and Lace mined data to identify a product in their inventory that was performing well, they then used a captivating image taken by the consumer, engaged the actual consumer with a tag, spoke personally with the consumer while encouraging other consumers to produce similar content, drew attention to the product being showcased and provided the necessary info for other consumers to purchase it. On top of that, they even went one step further by remaining active within the conversation thread. This post had a very clear purpose and it was executed very well. It shows that this company knows its audience and knows how to speak to them in a personal way whilst remaining professional enough to propel their business forward.
Finding the perfect blend of personal and professional voice will take time and troubleshooting, but eventually you will learn what works best for your audience and the resulting improvement will become apparent. One thing to consider is that all the social platforms vary on their limitations and the types of content they support. The voice you use on Instagram might be slightly different from the voice you use on Facebook or any other platforms, meaning that your audiences might slightly vary as well. However, as long as your intent and goals are clear, your voice will be, too.
Finding the Perfect Balance
- Use data from your business to create relevant and engaging content.
- Directly engage with your consumers using a personal voice and, if possible, use user-generated content.
- Encourage other consumers to share content via incentives and initiatives.
- Don’t forget to reference your products and/or business (in a professional voice) as well as provide instructions on how to gain access: website, storefront address, etc.
- Follow through. Stay engaged with the conversation: Reply to comments, answer questions and give feedback.