Social media is, first and foremost, social. But among the hardest things to get right for a brand on social media is finding a human voice that connects to people. That should be easy, right? It’s just people talking to people, right?

As plenty of examples show, apparently not.

It stands out when a brand can be funny, real and responsive, truly connecting with its fans, friends and followers. Funny, real and responsive are all risky, though. So, brands tend to be safe with their content. And safe tends to equal boring. I’m not going to tell you it’s easy, but brands do have to figure out how to take risks and do better.

A few brand accounts have done a nice job staying authentic to themselves and their fans, friends and followers.

Trolling the trolls

Traditional media outlets are among the most followed on social media. (Which is a whole different conversation on the state of journalism, if you ask me, but we’ll save that for another time.) However, most media outlets use social media as a place to feed headlines but not interaction. In fact, many media have a policy barring response to comments about their stories.

I understand that perspective, and media ethics say you should be careful about engaging, but anyone who runs a social media account for a brand gets tired of hearing from the wackos. Oh, man, it’s tempting to respond. In October, the Washington Post did just that. And it was delightful.

The Washington Post tweeted a link to this story covering a recent Gallup poll about Senator Ted Cruz.


The back and forth between WaPo and the follower was entertaining. But beyond that, the conversation became a public record that the folks at the helm of WaPo’s twitter account were empowered to respond to and engage in. The message: If you want to be a troll, don’t assume that WaPo will ignore you.

Show an actual sense of humor

Oh boy, humor can sure be tricky. Especially online. We found a couple of great examples of brands having a sense of humor.

Get to know Tesco 

Tesco Mobile is a bit of a down-market service provider in the United Kingdom, so it really needs to take risks to get attention. I got a kick out of these epic exchanges between the carrier, a customer and several other well-known UK brands.

See a snippet of the conversation here and click through to see more.



Beyond a single (awesome) conversation, Tesco is mentioned over and over as a company doing Twitter “right.”

Live long and prosper

Online chat isn’t exactly social media, but I’m going to include it anyway. This exchange could’ve just as easily occurred on Twitter or Facebook.

Word on the street is that Netflix customer service reps have very few rules to follow when it comes to answering customer’s questions. One rep took that to heart with an awesome Star Trek-reference-laden back and forth about a customer.

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Read more about Netflix’s customer service here.

I think these worked because the people behind the brand were comfortable and fluent in the voice of the brand, and they were empowered to be spontaneous and authentic.

No-good, very bad tweets

As the following examples show, humans are nothing if not fallible. Some humans behind brand accounts should not be holding the keys to the car (even if that person is the brand).

Nevermind, don’t ask.

When your brand’s goal is to be more human, that’s generally a good thing. But when you open up without having the social capital needed for an actual conversation, you may be in for a public thrashing. It’s safe to say it’s worth building the relationship first.

JP Morgan decided to host a Twitter chat where people could tweet questions to vice chairman Jimmy Lee using the hashtag #AskJPM. In theory, a great idea. But in practice, for a gigantic company who has a slightly less than favorable reputation right now, a really bad idea.

Rather than an opportunity to have a conversation and build a relationship, well, this happened (many of the tweets are not suitable for a family audience, but I picked a few):

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The Twitter chat never happened.


You did that on purpose?

I really dislike publicity stunts. I find them inauthentic, pandering and often appealing to the lowest common denominator.

During the Egyptian revolution in 2011, fashion designer Kenneth Cole tweeted:


The Twittersphere was appalled. It came across as a poorly timed tag-on to a current event. Kenneth Cole later apologized for the insensitive tweet.

But then fast-forward to the Syria crisis just a couple of years later, and this:

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No! Could it be that Mr. Cole is doing this on purpose? Well, turns out, yes. Ugh. Well, apparently being an ass on social media and treating your followers like they’re stupid is the new biz strategy. Good luck with that.

The takeaway

Being human is good. Unless you’re a jerk.