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Last year we looked into all aspects of how brands should approach social media while still maintaining brand identity.

One discussion I kept returning to was; how do brands articulate themselves on social media while staying 'on brand'? 

Every brand approaches social media in a different way and, as we grow into a new, more mature era of social, we learn there is no definitive right answer (although there are definitely a few wrong ones!)

So for this post I’ve gathered together opinions from four key brands (including first direct) to demonstrate how they walk the tightrope of being social and staying on brand. 

O2

O2 tailors its tone of voice to the customer, not to the brand. This is a bold strategy, and one that Paul Fabretti, Head of Social Media for O2 endorses:

The business has so many diverse customers and customer needs, if we had a certain tone and we stuck to that for everybody, then clearly we’d be doing the customers a disservice, but also we’d be limiting the personality of the brand. 

O2 furthermore empowers its social media team to think for themselves and even use humour. The majority of the team comes from a customer service background and all have experience dealing with hostile phone calls.

This, according to Fabretti, gives them “an ability to be cool under pressure, to be calm, to exercise good judgment which they then apply to Twitter”. 

Despite this seemingly casual approach, O2’s social media strategy was put to the test in July 2012, (a date most of its customers will remember). The network provider faced around seven million connection problems as its anguished customers swarmed to Twitter to complain.

Even the thought of a crisis like this makes most social media managers quake in their boots! However, O2 stuck to its social strategy, and it paid off. During the crisis, O2’s average followers rose from 155 to 13,500 per day and O2 received a 4,836% uplift in people talking, @replying and re-tweeting the channel.

As well as having lively social media channels, O2 also host a successful website which offers exciting deals for its customers.

These deals are not restricted to phones and technology, but also incorporate a broader spectrum of offers, including items such as concert tickets.

Recently, O2 announced that its customers would receive 48 hours of exclusive access to tickets for Beyoncé’s UK tour dates, as part of its biggest ever Priority campaign.”

YouthNet

The youth support and advice charity YouthNet has created a set of social guidelines for both staff and agency use.

What is unique about YouthNet’s guidelines is that they were not created by marketers, but by staff at all levels. By creating guidelines democratically, YouthNet encourages compliance, and empowers staff by giving them a sense of ownership over the tone of voice.  

YouthNet also encourages its staff to use their own social media channels to act as brand ambassadors for the organisation.

It’s certainly a refreshing idea, as staff can be the most valuable asset a brand has, and empowering them can help a company network, draw connections and improve brand reputation.

That said, its interactions still adopt a formal tone, as YouthNet is a charity that deals with sensitive issues, yet the posts on both its Facebook and Twitter accounts remain friendly and approachable, further encouraging people to get in touch. It also hosts live tweet sessions from time to time.  

first direct

At first direct we have staff monitoring our Twitter channels 24/7 and ask that each of them tag their comments with their own initials (e.g. ^TG for our CEO Tracy Garrad).

This lets our customers know that they aren’t just talking to a brand, they are talking to a real person right here in the UK.

We also use a different tone of voice for different channels. We use Twitter, for example, as a social news channel (not just for first direct communications) as we are keen to keep our customers informed about news which we feel will be relevant to them.

Furthermore, we like to mention who is behind our tweets, making it easier for our customers to engage with us.

In contrast, we try to make Facebook a lot more fun and friendly because we understand that Facebook is more about social interaction between friends. We certainly don't want to be seen as imposing corporate messages upon customers’ news feeds.

The page is ‘chilled out’ and quirky, as we tend to incorporate amusing questions into our statuses to encourage users to engage, such as this:

 

first direct also works alongside many charities and we keep the public updated about various projects via our website. We also let people know how they can participate and donate.

In the past year, 100 first direct and HSBC employees and customers carried out the Glencoe challenge on Sunday 6 October 2013.

We believe that tailoring the correct tone of voice to the right social network is more important than having a single branded tone. Understanding the difference in these networks is similar to understanding regional differences.

If you didn’t, you might as well write content directly for the ‘Condescending Corporate Brand Page’. 

The Met Office

The Met Office has been developing relationships with its followers for years. 

Its strategy is to provide an unmediated response to any engagement and to become a valuable source of information. It has achieved this by maintaining a continuous social presence, answering weather-related questions in remote regions to provide weather warnings. 

As a result, when it comes to a crisis, the Met Office is able to respond in a calm, rational tone, thus guaranteeing that its loyal followers come to the rescue.  

For example, when Daily Mail columnist James Delingphole criticised the Met Office, it responded by writing a simple blog post calmly addressing the key points and laying down facts to support its argument.

The Met Office then sent out a single tweet promoting the post. Unsurprisingly, the post went viral, having been shared by supporters who were desperate to show loyalty and gratitude for the Met Office’s consistent help.  

By developing relationships like this, the Met office can respond to a crisis without altering its tone of voice or engaging in heated debate; it enables its ‘fans’ to pick up the mantle whilst it maintains a calm and collected tone of voice. 

Of course, all of these social strategies have merits, as I highlighted earlier. In social there are no right answers, only wrong ones! It is down to your brand to figure out what works best.

Your ideas might be autocratically or democratically developed, in a single or multiple tone of voice… 

Whatever you choose, I wish you the best of luck. 

Lisa Wood

Published 3 April, 2014 by Lisa Wood

Lisa Wood is Head of Marketing at first direct and a contributor to Econsultancy.

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Comments (1)

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Joe

Really enjoyable read, although not sure why the part from First Direct is written in the first person?! ('we' and 'our') Does the writer work for them too?!

The strategy of 02 is so interesting and feels very refreshing, in comparison to more rigid approaches. Also like the collaborative approach taken by YouthNet.

Joe Downie, WaterAid Social Media Manager

over 2 years ago

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