Striking the Right Tone on Social Media


McDonald’s recently tweeted a Black Friday offer that many considered to be a social media fail of epic proportions. I, on the other hand, saw it as a social media win.


Social media managers know the struggle of building a content calendar on a weekly basis. They’re constantly scrambling to get copy, images, links, and offers in place before their next post is due to be published. Mistakes can happen, and when they do, your social media brand voice and tone guide can help you decide how to react.

Case in point: Instead of deleting its tweet, McDonald’s let its community relish in its error (with over 72K likes and 23K retweets), and quickly followed it up with a playful and humorous response about the dangers of tweeting before coffee. We’ve all been there, right? I know I have.

Furthermore, McDonald’s even let its competitors get in on the fun – which Wendy’s took full advantage of! This sarcastic genius deserves a raise.


Had McDonald’s adopted a risk adverse social brand voice, they might have deleted their tweet and missed out on an additional 286K retweets. While some may argue that kind of exposure is negative, I’d argue that both brands won here. McDonald’s made a human mistake and remained playful and didn’t try and hide it, while Wendy’s really ramped up their wit factor. Both brands walked away delighting customers and earning a badge of authenticity. Now isn’t that a brand voice win?

So what exactly is a Social Media Brand Voice and Tone Guide?

For us at SSI, it starts with an exercise we take our clients through that helps them define:

  1. Their social media purpose.
  2. The traits of their social media character.
  3. Their tone of voice and the emotions they’d like to elicit from customers.
  4. The type of language that should be used across all social media interactions.

For some clients, the guide may also include approved emojiis and hashtags, a customer care decision tree, content and channel mix, and content recommendations on a per platform basis. Once complete, the Guide serves as a reference document to govern social media decision making across an organization.

Having a clear understanding of who you are as a brand on social media will help unify your content and customer care teams and create deeper relationships with your customers.

Now let’s take a look at a few other brands who have a clear identity on social media:


1. Netflix

For a guy who likes sarcasm and dry humor like me, Netflix is a fun brand to follow on Facebook. Not only am I first to know about my weekend binge watching plans, their selective responses to customer comments always keep me entertained.


Selective is the key word here; they typically only choose 1 or 2 comments per thread to chime in on. For some organizations, responding to all comments may make sense. For Netflix, the sheer volume of posts and comments is likely too difficult to manage. By selectively choosing a small number of comments to wittily respond to, they actually are conditioning their audience to compete for those responses.


They also use language that is concise and current. They understand how their customers communicate with each other so the entire community is automatically in on their jokes. The end result is an ongoing dialogue that is fun and entertaining - a true representation of their core values and company culture.   


2. Spotify

Spotify is one of my favorite apps. For $9.99 a month I can listen to any song I want on desktop or mobile and create (and receive) custom personalized playlists. For a music fan like me, endless music discovery for one low price is a no brainer.

While music streaming services have been around for a decade now, they’ve really only caught on in North America in the last 5 years. To help educate consumers and differentiate themselves, Spotify launched the Twitter handle support account @SpotifyCares in 2012. Being so bold as to use the word “Cares” in their actual support handle implies 100% commitment to brand voice, so they better deliver – and they do!


@SpotifyCares offers full service customer care for Spotify users, and is averaging 520 tweets a day currently. They maintain threaded conversations with customers and help them solve issues without having to re-direct customers to call center or email support. Furthermore, their reps use conversational language and a friendly tone of voice, letting us know that they really do care. And if that wasn’t enough, reps often include links to thematic songs to help close out the interactions, staying true to their brand as a music discovery service!


3. Staples

When you think of office and school supplies, fun may not be the first word that comes to mind. But if you’ve checked out Staples Instagram account lately, they clearly disagree! This is a perfect example of a how a social media brand voice and tone guide can influence your content strategy.


Staples uses creative imagery to delight customers and remain topical and relevant on a channel that doesn’t inherently lend itself to office and school supplies.


Creativity is clearly a core character trait in Staples social media brand voice and tone strategy, while riddles and games featuring product imagery help increase engagement while staying on brand.


Bonus Example: Atlantic Lottery

Full disclosure, Atlantic Lottery is one of SSI’s clients and we recently worked with them on their Social Media Brand Voice & Tone Guide. We wanted to include AL as an example because simply having a Social Media Brand Voice & Tone Guide is not enough – you have to work hard as an organization to embed your social media voice into your company culture, and we are proud to say they are doing just that!

100% of Atlantic Lottery’s profits go back to the Atlantic Canadian provinces. When you meet the employees who work so hard behind the scenes at AL, you really get the sense that everything they do is for Atlantic Canadians, and that became a central component of their brand voice and tone strategy. Cut to 3 months later, and AL is producing some amazing content like their new Atlantic Canadian Holiday Memories video that truly shows their dedication to the people of Atlantic Canada. Their customer care team is also using Sprout Social to effectively manage engaging with the social community. Way to go AL!


So there you have it – an introduction to the world of social media brand voice and tone.

Are you ready to transform your social media presence with a brand voice and tone strategy?

Contact us for a free consultation today!

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