Brands: Learn the Language to Get the Most Out of Social

What’s a brand to do? Being self-aware enough to understand your role in the conversation is a good place to start. Here are some things to keep in mind.

The rise of digital, and social media in particular, has opened loads of new pathways for brands and consumers to connect, with even more platforms continuing to emerge. But the nature of these new channels has changed the way brands and consumers connect and, therefore, it comes with a whole new set of rules.

Luckily, the common denominator is pretty simple: Be human. OK, to be fair, brands can’t really be human, and proposing that they could be shows no respect to humanity. So what’s a brand to do? Being self-aware enough to understand your role in the conversation is a good place to start. Here are some things to keep in mind:

It’s not about you

With social media in particular, people use it to escape, even if only for a few moments. They escape by connecting with their friends, or people they wish were their friends. They’re not here for you. It’s important to keep that in mind when you try to interject. We’ve all met some jerk at a party who keeps interrupting and trying to change the topic of conversation to themselves. No one likes that jerk, so don’t be that jerk.

Add something valuable

Ever been in a group conversation with someone who keeps chiming in, always a little off-topic, and it seems like they don’t quite get what’s going on, but they desperately want to be included? You don’t want to be that poor wretch, either. Spend some time listening to the conversations that are happening, and ask yourself honestly if you have something valuable to add. No, truly stop and ask yourself: If I were talking with my friend about x, and someone else interjected with y, would I appreciate it, or get annoyed? Now think about how you want users to feel about your brand.

Listen before speaking

Every digital channel, just like every conversation, has an underlying, often unspoken code of conduct. These customs are often fluid and may not be immediately apparent to an outsider. At first glance, Snapchat is all about video. So would a cut-down of a highly produced broadcast spot make sense there? No, it wouldn’t. Pay attention to the nuance of the language.

Another example: People are communicating with emojis everywhere, but does it make sense for your brand to use emojis? Does it come naturally? Do you know all of the double-entendres associated with your chosen emoji? Spend some time watching and listening to get to know the local customs before you inadvertently make a faux pas. Credibility is your brand’s backbone: Don’t risk it over something silly.

Mind your manners

If you’re noticing a pattern here, it’s that these are all basically ground rules for partaking in civilized conversation. This sometimes requires sensitivity. As much as a brand wants to find a relevant way to join conversations, it’s equally important to know when to shut up. No one wants to hear a brand weigh in on a celebrity’s passing or national disaster. Even if the sentiment is kind, too often it comes off as opportunistic and tacky. Sometimes the best way to show respect is by staying silent.

Be yourself

Every other item on this list is about understanding others, but all is for naught if you don’t understand yourself. Every brand has something honest and valuable to offer, and that’s what you should be talking about. Because all of this is really about making connections based on common values, and if you’re true to yourself, the people who share your values will take notice.

When you’re planning a social campaign or any sort of communication on the web, keep these things in mind. Remember that your brand will never be human, but a little situational and self-awareness goes a long way toward ensuring that people can connect with you on a human level.

Ethan Martin is the director of user strategy at digital agency Bukwild.