Snarky burger brands, meme-loving restaurants, cheeky jokes from the police force – over the last decade, social media have given brands a space to develop real humour and personality. The casual, personal nature of social platforms, along with the ability to post and respond immediately, gives brands the chance to shine and make authentic connections with customers. Of course, it can also be risky – get the tone wrong or make an awkward joke, and the internet will come down hard on your brand.
Here’s why establishing an authentic tone is so important – and how to get it right:
Internationally, plenty of brands manage to create an authentic and hilarious tone without (many) missteps. Chain restaurant Denny’s is big on food puns. Burger chain Wendy’s has built an online reputation based on teasing competitors and customers alike. Netflix has a smart, witty twitter presence filled with slang – and laser-focused on their content.
Although a casual, colloquial tone isn’t going to work for every brand, it can be a way to make personal connections with your customers. Social media are personal spaces, where people share personal details, so if you come in with a dry, corporate voice, it won’t quite fit.
But brands based in New Zealand and Australia tend to play it safe when it comes to their online presence, with most sticking to earnest, straightforward messaging and emotional connection rather than humour.
If you can get a funny, irreverent tone right in New Zealand or Australia, where fewer brands are using casual language and humour, there’s a real opportunity to stand out from the crowd.
Using a casual brand voice on social media clearly works for some brands – but it’s not without risks.
- Be consistent: Once you’ve nailed down a strong voice for the brand, don’t just use it on social. Customer emails, your website, your social bios, and everything else should fit your tone. If you’re posting serious content between jokes on social channels, use the same casual, colloquial language throughout.
- Keep it current: Social media move incredibly quickly, so if you’re making a topical joke do it fast – or it’s not exactly topical.
- Post frequently: Brands that succeed in social spaces are those that are always online. One social post a week isn’t enough to connect with customers – you need to be sharing, posting, and replying to comments and direct messages as often as possible.
- Pick the right platforms: Find out where your target audiences spend their time and communicate there – whether it’s older people on Facebook, under-30s on Insta, or almost everyone on Twitter.
- Take calculated risks: Being funny and current can sometimes mean losing followers and offending people. Sometimes it’s unintentional, sometimes it’s a calculated risk – for example, brands that choose to support gay marriage or Black Lives Matter may lose some potential customers, but decide that it’s a worthwhile trade-off for the brand.
- Punch down: Roasting or gently teasing other brands can be funny, but targeting individuals is far riskier – you’re in danger of looking like a bully. And definitely avoid any suggestion of racism, sexism, classism, or any other minority group. If you’re not sure, don’t post.
- Post without context: If you’re trying to chime in on a social trend, make sure you understand it first. In the states, DiGiorno Pizza found this out the hard way when they used the hashtag #whyIstayed to make a joke about pizza. Unfortunately for them, the tag was related to domestic violence, and the tweet did not go over well.
- Overdo the slang: If it’s not a natural fit, slang can be cringey – think brands using ‘On fleek’ ad nauseum in 2018. Rather than piling on the slang terms, stick to casual, colloquial language – or get your local 13-year-old to read before you post.
- Forget visuals: Voice isn’t just about words – if you use visual elements in your social media posts, they need to be consistent and fit with your brand personality as well.
Beer brands have always been able to push the envelope and speak directly to customers – Twitter and Facebook just make it easier. Australian beer brand VB strikes a very Aussie tone, cheeky and silly, with a stream of up-to-the-minute posts about sports and other events. They poke fun at Australian culture, their customers and themselves, but keep it light.
Surprisingly, a brand with one of the strongest social voices in NZ is not a corporation at all – it’s the NZ Police. Their social media presence manages to strike a balance between funny and serious, alternating cute dog pictures and memes about driver safety with informative messages about traffic and crime. The police have gained a lot of followers with this approach, and more than one post has gone viral. It probably helps that the police are well-trusted in New Zealand, so they can be irreverent and funny without risking their credibility.
Skinny mobile – a disrupter in the New Zealand telco industry – has a strong, funny brand voice. It’s Instagram account, in particular, features a casual, personable tone – sprinkled with plenty of behind the scenes action, games, memes – they even have their own stickers. During the lockdown in New Zealand, when many brands took a serious tone, they weren’t afraid to maintain their irreverent feel, bonding with followers about the ups and downs of the experience.
In fact, we’ve observed that it is those industry disrupters that tend to take a stronger approach on their brand voice. Their smaller, more focused target market and offering means they can really lean into brand voice. It’s a great way of differentiating themselves from the “big guys” and establishing a reputation for being entertaining (which is one of the main reasons why we use social media, anyway!)
Want to see if your brand voice is coming across on social media? Zavy’s brand analytics give you insight into how people react to your posts online, so you can make changes – or take your hilarious jokes even further. Sign up for your own Zavy scoreboard here.
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