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Grow Your Business Social Media

Playing It Safe is the Best Social Strategy for Brands

Social media
Credit: Lenka Horavova/Shutterstock

Many businesses that use Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to engage customers and build brand identity are discovering that social media marketing can be a double-edged sword. In the quest to capture people's attention, some companies are taking marketing risks that end up backfiring. 

As a recent report from Sprout Social points out, it's all too easy to alienate customers with the wrong message. Marketers who push the envelope with their social media messaging may be creating disengagement among their customer base, according to feedback gathered from a survey of 1,000 Sprout Social customers. 

A common tactical error that many companies commit is expressing sarcasm or sharp criticism toward competitors or even one's own social media followers – a practice that most of those polled find to be abrasive. The survey shows that 88 percent of consumers are annoyed when brands make fun of followers, and 67 percent feel the same way about brands ridiculing competitors. 

People are also growing weary of political comments appearing in a brand's social media posts. Specifically, 71 percent of consumers surveyed think political commentary from brands is off-putting. Roughly that same percentage is ruffled by social media messages from businesses that contain slang – especially if it comes across as contrived or disingenuous. 

Finally, humor does not necessarily correlate to sales, at least not in the opinion of most respondents. Its impact depends on the nature of the humor and how it complements other aspects of a company's branding strategy, but many believe it does not have a major impact on revenue. According to a recent Sprout Social press release, "while [humor] may grab you a few laughs, only 36 percent of consumers said [it] ... will make them more likely to buy from a brand."

So what's the best way to avoid turning customers off with your social presence? Sprout Social found that nearly half (48 percent) of consumers are more inclined to purchase from brands that interact with consumers on social media. While connecting with consumers on social media helps build trust, brand awareness and loyalty, company leaders at Sprout Social believe consumers simply want brands to use social platforms as a customer care channel.

One of the primary ways to accomplish this is responding promptly to comments, concerns and inquiries. As the report notes, a pattern of declining responsiveness has emerged over the last couple of years: Brands take an average of 11 hours to respond to inbound messages – a full hour more than a year ago.

According to Scott Brandt, chief marketing officer of Sprout Social, effective marketing stems from knowing the characteristics and expectations of your target groups. 

"Developing a brand personality needs to be a thoughtful and tailored process that starts with truly understanding who your audience is and what they're looking for," he said. "When [the] majority of your consumers would rather see you be helpful than funny, craft your content accordingly." 

Joel N. Sussman

Joel Sussman is a freelance writer from upstate New York with 33 years of experience in journalism, public relations and marketing. He also has a background in business proposal writing, search engine optimization and news reporting. In addition to writing blog posts and website content for small business owners, he's also developing his own blog on business startup ideas and entrepreneurship.