When it comes to social media, brands have a fatal flaw: They aren't human. And last I checked, the word social is not one commonly associated with non-humans (with the notable exception of certain animal species, but let's not go there). So while there are old-school brands that are quite successful on social media--if that success is measured in followers--there is an art to humanizing a brand so that it is more authentically and successfully social.

And when thinking about measuring success, that follower-count metric is one worth pondering a bit more. Coming back to the humans-as-social-creatures metaphor: Do you measure your popularity by the number of acquaintances you have? Probably not. Social success in the real world is akin to that in the online world and is better measured through meaningful engagements and interactions. To humanize your brand, create deeper relationships that will help grow your business' popularity.

Here are three effective strategies a business of any size can put to work:

People power your business. Without a doubt there is at least one person working at your business (or I'd like to know who is reading this column right now!). Consider including staff photos on the homepages of your social media accounts so that anyone checking out your feed will see these people and feel the culture behind your brand. Another possibility is to link to a social media bio page, as McDonald's does for its Twitter feed. If your organization doesn't have an entire team, including "tweets by" with the applicable Twitter handle can accomplish much the same thing.

For businesses focusing on social as the core of their content strategy, it is important to encourage staff to participate in social channels with their own feeds. By cross-posting among the official business accounts and these individual accounts, you highlight the wonderful people your customers will be coming in contact with across your organization. Photos go far here because, frankly, what's more human than a face? Automotive sales site Edmunds.com does a terrific job tweeting about staff car tests and recently featured staff members in a fun content initiative. The brand could be all cars, all day, but including the personalities of the people who drive the cars (and the business) brings depth and humanity. Tweeting about staff training, staff involvement in worthy causes and your community, employee events and honors, along with lighter fare--like bring your dog to work day--can go a long way to infuse your social presence with the humanizing power of your people.

Conversation is two-way. One of the biggest mistakes any organization can make is to treat social channels as a one-way broadcast medium. In terms of humanizing a brand, this is akin to the dinner party monologuer who goes on and on without a care, whether or not anyone is listening, much less interested. At a bare minimum, social media offers an ideal medium to respond to customer complaints and inquiries. American Airlines is incredibly responsive in its social channels, handling myriad customer issues on the fly. Mattel is another brand that actively engages with its customers, even explaining game rules via Twitter. In both cases, they handle problems and issues with grace and humanity, speaking with their customers, not at them. (If only call centers were this pleasant.)

Other than customer service, there are other conversational ways to amplify your own customers' endorsements of your work. Just look at hair salons or retail outlets that post customer photos or retweet customer selfies. Note that this does not mean you should retweet every positive comment you receive. Rather, show off some of the best examples of your fan base. Healthy snack maker Kind has mastered the retweet as well as fan Facebook interaction. In particular, they are terrific about adding context and feedback that demonstrates their engagement with their social media audiences and reinforcing their corporate culture and brand values.

People have personalities. Now picture your corporate logo--the first thing most customers see when they land on your social pages. Does it have a personality? The answer may actually be yes, but ultimately even the funkiest or most elegant logo doesn't communicate the full range of qualities that comprise a human personality. Certainly, when it comes to what makes a post go viral, emotions are incredibly effective, with joy and humor topping the list. And without a doubt, a brand with a great sense of humor, such as Oreo, will get a lot of laughs and love in social channels.

However, not every brand is all about the funny stuff. Slate, for example, offers an extensive mix of content on its site and in its social channels. The brand is particularly adept at retweeting loyal and engaged fans' reactions to its content, as well as adding a bit of personality to its own content tweets. And frankly, having a range of emotions is more relatable than being a stand up comedian or Debbie downer. As a general rule, it is a good idea to interact using first names and to employ the first person to better convey humanness and genuine connections.

While I've focused here on social media outlets, the majority of these strategies can also be applied to other aspects of your content creation strategy. And although I've used examples from larger organizations, the good news for small and medium-size businesses is that they are even more likely to be people and personality driven. So let that shine through. Brand your company as a caring companion and you'll not only reap the social media rewards, you will find that you have more engaged customers for whom you will remain top of mind.

Published on: Jun 29, 2015