7 Subtle (Yet Powerful) Techniques to Boost Your Brand on Social Media

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Ritika Puri
Ritika Puri



The value of social media is a no-brainer. Today’s top marketers have fully embraced the power of content, user-driven communities, and brand-to-customer conversations.

The problem is, some brands will do everything by the books -- posting consistently, hiring full-time community managers, and implementing analytics -- and still fail to achieve a return on investment. Your social channels resemble a field of chirping crickets rather than a lively and vibrant community.


When it comes to social media, “good” is far from good enough. Thousands of brands are vying for the same audience’s attention. People are beaten over the head with product information, promotional offers, and branded cat memes.

To stand out, your brand needs to stop fixating on best practices and read between the lines. These 7 tips will help you do that, and amplify your social media presence:

1) Shock audiences with unexpected bursts of humanity.

Last summer, two American icons acted the part of grumpy old men. Cap ‘n Crunch and KFC’s Colonel got into it on Twitter. It all started when the Colonel called the captain a “has been.”

Social media best practices emphasize the value of being human. “Be authentic and let your personality shine” are words of wisdom that brands will often hear.

The Colonel-Crunch banter takes that concept to a whole new level.


No one enjoys listening to corporate speak. Subtly sarcastic, true-to-life, and unexpectedly playful caricatures are a welcomed breath of fresh air. You’d never expect two food conglomerates to poke fun at each other. But here they are doing it -- it’s different, smile-inducing, and over-the-top delightful.

One day last year, Taco Bell and Old Spice also found themselves in a similar social repartee:

Big B2C brands aren't the only ones who have freedom to add a little bit of personality on social media. Companies like Zendesk are a refreshing example of B2B companies breaking out of the boring corporate mold ...

Why This Works

According to a recent Pew Center report, 72% of American adults are social media users -- but according to a recent study from Edison Research, only 33% of consumers have ever followed a brand on platforms like Facebook and Twitter. Consumers join social media to follow people, not companies. To succeed, brands need to adopt a human persona.

2) Invite your audience to participate.

It’s an understatement to say that George Takei hosts one of the most hilarious pages on Facebook. He’s built a community around inappropriate jokes, witty puns, and incredible commitment to humanity.

There’s a simple technique that Mr. Takei leverages over and over. He starts by posting a picture with a less-than-obvious joke, forcing his audience to think. It’s only after you’ve figured it out that you’re welcome to like and comment on the photo (without giving it away of course).

This guessing game generates significant engagement, and of course -- capitalizes on the fact that audiences are craving that ‘ah-ha’ moment.


Caption contests, fill-in-the-blank games, surveys, and questions are all ways to improve social engagement. Take Walmart for example, who will mix in fun posts like below, even when it has nothing to do with what they sell (unless they now sell cats on skateboards, which is news to me).


Why This Works

When most companies use social media as their megaphone for one-way communication, it's nice to see when brands are being social on social media by engaging in dialog. Funny, attention-grabbing, and engaging content will help your social media page stand out from the competition. Companies that generate 1,000 likes on Facebook also generate approximately 1,400 website visits a dayThe more you can keep audiences interested on social media, the more traffic and fans you’re likely to generate.

3) Be visual.

140 character messages might still be too long to capture someone's attention. The information in an image, on the other hand, just takes a fraction of a second to digest. Sephora champions the power of visual content on its Facebook page. The company supplements its posts with original, inspiring visuals that function as more than advertorials -- they’re beautiful works of art.

Sephora, a brand that sells beauty, has developed a social media strategy that is driven by a mission to shine a spotlight on the intersection of glamour and everyday life. Custom-designed visuals accompany almost every post:


Oreo is another example of "doing it right" with visual content. During the third quarter of Super Bowl XLVII when a power outage at the Superdome caused some of the lights to go out for more than 30 minutes, the cookie brand took advantage of the moment with the tweet and image below. The message caught on instantly, gaining nearly 15,000 retweets and more than 20,000 likes on Facebook. If it weren't for the image (coupled with good timing), this post would have went dark just like the Super Bowl did. 

Visual content is why Pinterest took off like a rocket ship in 2012 and is still used by major brands today. In fact, a recent study found that Pinterest pins drive 25% more sales than it did last year.

GE is one of those consistently stellar examples of a B2B company with fabulous visual content, and their "That's Genius!" Pinterest board proves that point once again. Featuring quotes from Thomas Edison (the founder of GE), the pins use typography to make engaging visuals. It's so simple, yet highly creative and effective.

Follow GE That's Genius! on Pinterest

The Gates Foundation uses Pinterest to share its favorite inspiring videos, including several TED talks by both Bill and Melinda Gates. This serves as a good reminder that Pinterest isn’t only about sharing photos, but that it can be a great way to share your stories using videos, as well.

Follow Gates Foundation Video Favorites on Pinterest

Why This Works

90% of information transmitted to the brain is visual, and visuals are processed 60,000X faster in the brain than text. (Sources: 3M Corporation and Zabisco). On Facebook in particular, photos perform best for Likes, comments, and shares as compared to text, video, and links. (Source: Dan Zarrella) So next time you share something on social, consider adding a simple photo or image along with it.

4) Poke fun at yourself.

Running a large, public company is serious business. Keep in mind, however, that your customer acquisition channels are not your investor relations meetings. Social media is an opportunity to get goofy -- no matter how big you are.

Take Adobe Photoshop, as an example. As the world’s leading software for graphic design, Adobe has a larger-than-life reputation. It would be easy -- too easy-- to preach best practices through social media all day.

Instead, the brand takes healthy -- and much needed-- moments to connect with the graphic design community, heart to heart. This tactic will transform a brand from ‘industry leading’ to loved.


Much like Adobe, Air New Zealand, the airline behind this hilarious and unconventional safety video, is a brand that is known to not take themselves too seriously. The company, which recently formed a joint promotion for the soon-to-be-released The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, even transformed their actual employees into characters from the movie.


Why This Works

According to a 2013 study by Forrester Research, 85% of consumers still don’t trust brands online. That may be because, as consumers, we're used to (and sick of) phony marketing ploys, over-hyped advertising, and being inundated with promotional messages. Consumers trust brands that are real. Poking fun at yourself is great way to expose the human side of a corporation.

5) Be part of a movement.

Brands are more than just their products -- they’re powerful cultural influencers. Social media is a powerful channel to demonstrate support for causes that people care about. At the end of the day, your consumers are your company’s peers. They are the momentum behind your business. So show support for what they care about.

Even though Toys “R” Us leverages its Facebook page to advertise promotional offers, the company takes breaks from pushing sales to embrace its audience’s values:


Why This Works

Once in a while, it's good practice to actually stop trying to sell stuff and focus on other things your audience really cares about and enjoys. Adding a little variety to your content mix, and taking a break from the promotion, helps to connect with buyers in more emotional ways.

6) Step outside your comfort zone.

Big brands are forces of nature in their industries. But sometimes, it’s important to take a breath of fresh air. Take Oreo as an example. The brand could very easily limit its sphere of influence to snack food. But what fun would that be?

This brand is notorious for venturing into territory where no cookie has gone before -- the Super Bowl mentioned above, marriage equality, and even PS4’s big launch:

Financial institutions are the last type of company you'd expect to venture outside into unknown marketing territory, but ETrade, the company behind the popular talking baby commercials, brings some off-the-wall personality to social, too.

Why This Works

People are more than your persona -- people are complex. Those nuances are what make individuals interesting. Why not reflect that in your company? No, businesses are not people. But businesses that explore new ideas with their followers will more naturally enable conversation, stir opinions, and make your social profiles interesting. People like interesting.

7) Be a thought leader.

People are the heart of social media marketing. Boost exposure by giving more to your community than you take. Share their great ideas and make them a part of your brand.

Here is an example from Clarity.fm, a startup marketplace that connects advice seekers with subject matter experts and experienced entrepreneurs. The company’s blog recently featured a roundup of quotes from 23 noteworthy business leaders. Next to each quote is a ‘Tweet this’ call-to-action -- the blog’s readers can call out words of wisdom that they love.


The post inspired hundreds of shares:


Why This Works

On social, no one cares about sharing your next promotion or discount (or tweets/posts with a million hashtags in them -- don't do that). Brands that are thought leaders get more exposure on social networks because they're offering valuable content and resources that people actually want to share. To date, this Clarity roundup has hundreds of social media shares, in large part, because of the 23 experts who were featured in the post. Personal connections plus great content are what will ultimately drive viral activity.

Given that brand posts generate half their lifetime reach within the first 30 minutes, a continuously engaged community will be extremely important. Build your distribution strategy around people to prolong your content’s life.

Final Thought: Test the Waters

Social media is an evolving art. In other words, your brand is creating the textbook. Don’t be afraid to test ideas or try something new. At the end of the day, you’re building a two-way communication channel with your customers. Let them guide your brand to new heights.

What other social media techniques have worked well for your brand?

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Topics: Brand Awareness

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