Last week, we published a post with content marketing guidelines centered on the “be human” mantra. Since I wrote the blog, I’ve come across several similar posts that tout the opposite – that brands inherently cannot be human no matter how hard they try. Jason Falls put it plainly: “As much as we can teach you about being engaging and audience-centric and community building, you’re still a big company, a building, a logo.”

He isn’t wrong. The differences between individuals and brands on social media have been heavily discussed in the blogosphere following changes to the organic reach of brand pages on Facebook. But is engagement impossible? No. Brands just have to work harder for it. To reach the same number of fans as previously, they now have to engage more followers – get more fans to share, comment and like posts that will then be visible to their friends and followers, further boosting the reach of the initial brand post. Pay-to-play has always been an option for brands, but the pressure is on now to pay for reach.

This leads me to ask the question: Can brands really be human?

Of course not.  When we see content from @Oreo on Twitter, we each know it’s from a brand. No one would be surprised to find a mini-army of marketers behind the curtain. Even so, that’s not to say that we won’t follow and interact with our favorite cookie brand. It all depends on the content – be it jokes, pictures or even ads. If it appeals to us, consumers will engage.

Screen Shot 2014-05-06 at 4.29.25 PM

We all remember Oreo’s real-time marketing success around the Super Bowl power outage in 2013, which boosted the company’s follower count across networks. Within hours, the tweet received over 15,000 re-tweets and 20,000 Facebook likes on Oreo’s brand page. But that’s not all the company has done to maintain an active Twitter following and highly engaged audience since the snarky – and well timed – tweet. It’s the content that takes the cake (or the cookie, in this sense). Oreo posts a few times a day, always including a new photo, link or video. It appeals to its audience with pop-culture references, engagement with fans/followers and witty banter with some of America’s other favorite brands.

It’s all about the tone.

Oreo knows its audience and appeals to it with content proven to garner high engagement and reach. Comic relief keeps it interesting in an arena that is usually overripe with deals and coupons and self-promotion. That’s Oreo’s persona. It’s not human, but it works without being too stiff or relying too much on the message of “buy our cookies now!”  When the company does promote a new product or throw an ad or two into the mix, its audience doesn’t mind. In fact, chances are its followers will respond.

While it is unrealistic to think that every company, large and small, can be like Oreo, there are a few things you can do to get headed in the right direction with your content marketing, social media included. Let’s look at Twitter, for example.

Knowing your audience is always the first step. There are plenty of social media analysis tools on the market that can tell you key characteristics and demographics of your followers at the click of a button. The chart below shows when the last tweet was for Oreo’s followers. This demonstrates how active your Twitter following is and gives you an idea of the opportunity you have to engage with your fans. The more they tweet, the higher the chance they’ll interact with your brand.

Screen Shot 2014-05-08 at 8.16.49 AM

You also learn a lot about your audience from your own Twitter Analytics. Check out the top brands your followers also follow. That can create opportunities to cross-promote or engage in the witty banter that everyone loves.

‘Most Unique Interests’ shows what other topics your followers are interested in. You can see in the @SHIFTcomm results that our followers are interested in, to no one’s surprise for a PR agency, the topics of marketing, entrepreneurship and advertising (among others). We use this information to tailor our content towards those industries and topics, giving our audience the kind of content they enjoy reading and are more likely to engage with and about.

Screen Shot 2014-05-08 at 8.21.27 AM

Consumers already know that brands aren’t human. That doesn’t mean brands can’t embody a persona, be creative and interact with a human-like personality that resonates with their audiences.


Tori Sabourin
Marketing Coordinator


Keep in Touch

Want fresh perspective on communications trends & strategy? Sign up for the SHIFT/ahead newsletter.

Ready to shift ahead?

Let's talk