Look Who’s Talking: A Brand’s Voice on Facebook

Facebook is a very personal medium: it thrives on our natural human tendency to want connection with others. In his book The Facebook Effect, David Kirkpatrick argued that to be effective in social media, it is no longer sufficient for brands to define themselves in generalities of archetypes, personalities, and values: brands must develop a “fully formed personality”. Since a brand is speaking directly with consumers who have defined themselves as “friends” of the brand, and speaking more frequently than ever before, the people charged with the responsibility of communicating with the brand’s friends must have a clear understanding of “what sounds right” for the brand.

A clear and consistent voice is essential to an effective ongoing dialogue with the brand’s friends. When developing a Facebook presence, a brand can choose from four types of voices for the brand. The brand’s objectives for its Facebook presence will guide the decision about which of these approaches will best achieve the objectives.

1. The voice of the brand. Status updates are written as if the brand itself is the “person” speaking. The voice can use the first person (“I took Jane on a great test drive today”) or in the third person (“we invite you join us for today’s special”). Starbucks and Coca-Cola take this approach.
2. The voice of a fictional character that is created to represent the brand. For candy brand Skittles, a “rainbow” does the talking for the brand. Ford Focus created Doug, a wise-cracking sock puppet. This approach gives the brand a lot of flexibility around content, since the voice is not constrained by reality, and is often done for a limited-time promotion.
3. The voice of the person or persons that write the posts. Brands that use Facebook as a customer service vehicle will often choose this approach, so that consumers get the sense of personal service. The brand may even decide to encourage community managers to use their own names in responses to consumers. I wasn’t able to find any examples of companies doing this, which surprised me. It would seem like a nice tactic to personalize customer service.
4. The voice of one or more employees. Brands that want to emphasize brand craftsmanship may choose to have the folks who actually make the product help consumers understand how it is made. This approach emphasizes that real people are involved in the conversation, and may help reinforce a positioning of authenticity.  I wasn’t able to find any specific examples of brands using this approach; let me know if you are aware of brands that do this!

Establishing a clear voice allows the brand to express its personality in a consistent and transparent way, inviting consumers to truly “like” the brand. By providing the opportunity to build a connection that is more deeply rooted in emotion, the brand can use its Facebook publishing strategy to strengthen its bond with each consumer.