Walking The “Be Human” Line In Social Media


It started innocently enough. My buddy Matt Sullivan read an article on Fast Company about Chobani tickling the taste of Pinterest. He thought it sounded similar to the love letter I had written earlier, so he sent it to me via Twitter knowing I might want to check it out.

The “flavor Tourettes” line is in reference to a quote found in the Fast Company article. When discussing how fanatical people are about engaging with the Chobani Facebook page, Chobani’s digital communications manager Emily Schildt is quoted as saying:

“We call it ‘flavor Turettes’ in-house,” she quips. “We get about a tweet per minute, and I would say 50% are about our newest flavor, apple cinnamon.”

No. Really. That was printed in Fast Company.

I wouldn’t call myself easily offended but I was surprised to see that when speaking on behalf of Chobani, Emily told the entire audience of Fast Company that internally the company refers to their Facebook page that way. That’s probably something you want to keep in-house. Or, you know, not do at all.

But it didn’t end there. @Chobani saw that Matt had sent me the link and decided to “engage” and “hop in the conversation”.
They did so with the following tweet:

That sound you just heard? That was Chobani falling in the 6-foot hole they had already dug for themselves.

This post isn’t meant to jump on Chobani. They made a mistake (and apologized for it) just like every company is prone to make mistakes when they enter new territories. But that’s the point, we’re all prone to these mistakes and some of us don’t all have the “forgiveableness” of an established brand like Chobani.

If you’re entering social media, you or someone on your team is going to do something stupid. I mean colossally stupid. What can you do to help avoid the mistakes instead of bulldozing right into them?

These three things.

1. Learn how to best leverage “human” for your business

We hear all the time how social media allows us to put a human face on our business, but I’d venture to say that most brands have absolutely no idea how to use that. It’s great advice for talking points or to sound really smart when you’re talking to your higher ups, but what does human business really mean for your brand? What is it going to get you?

I look at the idea of human business or social business as an opportunity to find an engaged audience by leveraging what is weird about you. To me, being human means accepting that we’re all weird and strategically letting our customers see what’s weird and authentic about us. It’s about picking what’s real, relevant, and appropriate for your audience and then serving it to them.

You probably want an example.

How about Buckley’s? If you’re not familiar with Buckley’s, it’s a Canadian cough syrup that I was first introduced to via another Fast Company article about authenticity vs perfection. In the article, Steve Jones writes about how Buckley’s has found an unlikely way to stand out in its market. Instead of trying to hide, sugarcoat or make excuses for what people have been saying about the product for years, Buckley decided to base its marketing around tackling it head-on and just admitting it.

Buckleys – It tastes awful, but it works.

That’s actually the product’s slogan. And it’s been effective. Buckley’s isn’t going after everyone who is sick, they’re going after adults who are sick and need some tough love. And, personally, I think it’s genius. They’ve found a relevant, real and appropriate way to market themselves in a crowded market. I’d venture that most cough syrups tastes pretty awful, but Buckley’s is the only one I know of that admits it, uses it, and doesn’t apologize for it. They’re not perfect and, you know what? You’re not either. Their honesty makes it easier for customers to trust the brand.

2. Create a company-wide social media policy. (And then stick to it.)

With a vision for how you’ll use social media in mind, you want to make it official and create some guidelines that employees (and even yourself) will be able to use to direct their involvement.

Matt already wrote about how companies shouldn’t make Tourette’s jokes on social media. And obviously he’s right, but these are exactly the kinds of things that happen when you attempt to “wing” social media or when you’re engaging with an unclear purpose or an undeveloped idea of what your company voice is. When you don’t take the time to iron down these details beforehand you open yourself up to employees going a little too far or making a quick that, in hindsight, maybe they should have saved for company IM instead of the company Twitter.

By writing a corporate social media policy you get the opportunity to ask and educate your staff on those important “where is the line” questions before you need to know them and put everything down on paper. In the post linked above, we went over some important questions that every business should ask when coming up with their own corporate social media plan.

For example:

  • What is your purpose for being in social media?
  • How does social media integrate into your employees’ existing roles?
  • Who are they and what is their role?
  • What sites should they be engaging on?
  • What are the best practices for engagement?
  • How should you handle common issues?

The best way to avoid someone driving off the road and creating a horrible, horrible accident is to teach them how to drive the car before they get in it. Not after they’ve already crashed.

Define what “being human” is NOT

Okay, so let’s be real. You never want to tell an employee they have full permission to “be weird” and “human” while speaking in the voice of your brand because they’re not going to know what that means. You also can’t tell them to “use common sense” because, well, not everyone was born with it. While you’re laying out the ground rules for what is expected of your team in social media, you may also want to explain what behing human does not mean.

For example, giving life to your brand does not mean:

  • Being disrespectful.
  • Being offensive.
  • Being rude/difficult to deal with and calling it “authentic.”
  • Being viciously snarky
  • Talking to your audience like you’re both drunk at the bar.
  • Sharing every thought that enters your head.

That sounds like stuff everyone on your team should already know, right? Yeah, they don’t. And you don’t want that one bit of stupidity to bring down your entire company.

Social media is helping all of us to pull back the curtain and let our customers see more of us and our brand. But that doesn’t mean letting everything hang out in the process. Have a vision, create a plan, and then put it into action. Because your customers are listening. Know what you’re telling them.

Your Comments

  • Eric Marshall

    Lisa – I applaud you for pointing out Chobani’s mistake and not completely assaulting them for it (even though that may have been justified). You used their negative example (that you were directly involved with and that they took responsibility for and apologized for) and turned it into a positive that you passed along to all of us, and I think that’s a social media lesson all in itself. It seems that too frequently individuals and companies are so quick to take offense and go on the attack…and with social media it’s way too easy and/or tempting to do. Social media is so awesome and powerful because it is instant, but I think sometimes we need to slow down and think about the ramifications of what we’re going to say or how we’re going to respond to others.

    • Lisa Barone

      Thanks, Eric. I think it’s important that we DON’T immediately jump on brands the minute they goof. We’re all encouraging them to enter the waters, to talk to us, and then they slip and we bop them on the head. It’s not productive, IMO. However, I do think there’s always something we can learn from these types of slip ups. They’re universal.

  • Todd Mintz

    Making public jokes about people with disabilities went out of fashion about 1982…

  • Mark Longbottom

    @Eric absolutely take time and be relevant, I do like the idea of when best to be human – all the time. If businesses need to think about being human then for me there is the problem and a result of the mass marketing, advertising and greed from the back end of the 20th century which became a by product for the industrial revolution.

    Back to being human and what as humans we have always done well for over 100,000 years and that is basically communicating and building communities. Which is now much much easier to do with the available technology, using strategic planning and guidance. Making mistake will happen as that’s also being human, the winners will do as suggested and work it out by talking about it with all concerned.

    • Lisa Barone

      I don’t think it’s a matter of “thinking about being human” its remembering what the feels like. :) We’re so used to talking to consumers in a certain way that sometimes it feels awkward to change it up.

  • Laurie

    Good post, Lisa! It’s really a matter of balance, isn’t it? Striking that balance between excessive formality/corporatespeak, and inappropriate talking-as-if-you’re-drunk-in-your-best-friend’s-dorm-room casualness. Not everyone has good judgment around that – as you pointed out, companies need to be explicit in their policies and definition of “appropriate.”

  • Leanne

    “I’d venture that most cough syrups tastes pretty awful, but Buckley’s is the only one I know of that admits it, uses it, and doesn’t apologize for it. ”

    Clearly you’ve never tasted Buckley’s… Most cough syrups *do* taste pretty awful but this one is exceptionally awful. What makes them so effective in admitting it is that they also (or at least did a few years ago when I still lived in Canada and tried it) back it with a money-back guarantee. If it tastes awful to you and doesn’t work, we’ll give you your money back. And they make good on it. They gave me my money back.

    • Lisa Barone

      Ha, I admit that I have not tasted Buckley’s, but, see, now I’m curious. :)

      And that’s an awesome story. It’s one you’ll remember and share. That’s marketing.