What to learn from the most unlikely brands mastering social media

Fred Azis-Laranjo - Account Director, Communications, Ovato

It’s not news that your brand needs to be on social media. Your customers are spending more time than ever on their social channels – they’re scrolling through Instagram when they wake up, checking Facebook while they’re in line for a coffee and getting lost in their Twitter feed on the train. And that’s just before 9am. So, it’s no surprise that most brands are now firmly on the social media bandwagon, posting Insta snaps, tweeting out business updates or sharing LinkedIn posts.

But sometimes it can seem like only the most popular or consumer-focused businesses have any success on social media. While fashion and food brands are crafting viral videos and building an army of Facebook fans, more functional or B2B brands struggle to see engagement – especially those with hard to explain products or dry subject matter.

Yet this couldn’t be further from the truth. Your brand is speaking to real people no matter what industry you’re in. Which means there’s no reason you can’t engage your audience and have a bit of fun with your social presence. It’s worth the effort: getting it right drives real business results from email sign-ups to sales.

If you need some inspiration, you can take a cue from three unlikely brands seeing huge social media success:

1. The power of a sense of humour

The Queensland Police Service (QPS) probably isn’t the first organisation you think of when considering social media superstars, but it’s a great organisation to draw inspiration from. The QPS Facebook page has nearly a million followers and a massive amount of organic reach. In fact, a few years ago QLD Police could boast it had the highest number of fans on a police Facebook page in the English speaking world. The internet is filled with lists like this one, charting QPS’ greatest social media hits. The key to its success? A sense of humour. Just take a look at this post, which generated almost 60,000 likes.

The post not only tapped into a popular sentiment about the band, but proved that QPS doesn’t take itself too seriously. At the same time, it delivered a serious message by reminding people to stay safe on the roads. The engagement on this post shows that people responded well to the refreshingly tongue-in-cheek attitude. Another post along the same lines was picked up by news publications all over the world – and actually led to artist reps approaching the police service to make fun of their own bands on social media.

Takeaway Tip: The approach works because it’s relatable and not overly serious. If you can make people laugh and make your brand seem human, it’s worth trying. Humour helps to extend your brand’s message far beyond your Facebook feed. At the least, you should make sure your brand’s tone of voice isn’t overly serious, which too often sounds boring. Think about how people talk naturally and make sure your social media posts sound human too.

2. Engage Audience Interests

At first glance, General Electric doesn’t seem like a brand that would create a tonne of Pinterest-worthy content. But the company proves that even a B2B company can engage all kinds of audiences with out-of-the-box visual content. To get an idea of their approach, take a look at the 'That’s Genius’ board, which is full of shareable quotes and ideas from GE founder Thomas Edison and other pioneers. Then there’s the technology facts in ‘Mind = Blown’, GE’s take on the popular Ryan Gosling ‘Hey Girl’ meme, or boards like ‘Badass Machines’. GE successfully taps into the zeitgeist of memes and an audience fascination with innovation and inspiration. The brand's Pinterest account is basically a smorgasbord of content that appeals to tech geeks with a similar approach on the firm's Instagram page.

With over 29,000 followers and 131.9k monthly viewers on Pinterest, it's a great case study of how a tech brand can build an engaged online community and position itself as a unique voice, without getting off-brand.

Takeaway Tip: Don't be afraid to show some personality and try something new - even if it's not directly related to your products and services. If you can connect with what people are searching for online, you can start adding your voice to their conversations. You can also afford to take some risks on social and have a bit of fun (as long as you're not sharing anything inappropriate or offensive). A test and learn approach is key.

As Joe Lazauskas from Contently suggests, “GE likely didn’t do 18 months of market research to find that consumers are predisposed to respond positively to Thomas Edison memes. They tried something new that had little cost or downside, and it worked well.”

3. Focus on Your Customers

Sharpie pens have been around forever (since 1857, according to Wikipedia), and while they’re a staple of stationary cupboards everywhere, you probably wouldn’t pick the brand as a source of social media inspiration. How exciting can a permanent marker be? But Sharpie is a brand that really shines on Instagram, where it focuses on what the product can actually do. Rather than sharing pictures of products, the brand’s Instagram account is a vibrant collection of the artwork, designs and decorations people have created using Sharpie pens. In many of the images, the Sharpie brand doesn’t appear at all.

By placing the spotlight on the customers, Sharpie highlights the benefits of its products without sharing promotional content. It appeals to all kinds of audiences, from aspiring graffiti artists to school kids and teachers. At the same time, it draws attention to the talents of its customers, which helps to build connections with potential influencers and inspire an audience of 273,000 followers. By offering something unique and beautiful, Sharpie has created a space where customers can share and connect with fellow artists.

Takeaway Tip: Showcase user-generated content and make your customers the focus of everything you do on social. This will drive engagement, start conversations and ultimately build a more loyal online following. Think about the real values of your product, rather than just the selling points listed on your website. Communicate what your products enable or the problems they solve, as opposed to what they can do. Remember, social media isn't a sales catalogue, it's a place people come to be distracted, learn new things and get inspiration. Keeping this in mind when posting any content will keep you on the right track to engaging your audience.

Your Turn

Social media offers you a chance to connect with your audience on a personal level. You can afford to relax a little and appeal to customers’ interests and quirks, no matter what industry you’re in. Put your unique brand personality front and centre, while still shining a spotlight on your audience. Most importantly, try out new things and don’t be afraid to have some fun with it.