Last week on #TechTuesdays we discussed how online customer reviews can affect your site’s Google ranking, and ended by noting that responding to customer reviews as well as routinely interacting with your social media audience in general is key to your small business’s success. However, just how do you go about this?

The key to successfully interacting with your social media audience comes through developing the proper social media tone. Your small business needs to find its voice. Below, we examine five best practices you can follow to understand your audience, establish that proper tone, and work toward ensuring social media success going forward.

Consider the Three C’s Behind Social Media Tone

Before executing a social media tone for your small business, you’ll need to take the time to understand yourself and your audience. What are your goals as a business, and who are you targeting? What does your prospective audience like, and how do they converse in their own everyday lives?

Marketing Land considers understanding The Three C’s — Culture, Community, and Conversation — as critical to establishing your tone.

Culture - What are you trying to do as a company? What allows your company to stand out from others within the same or similar fields? Ask yourself these questions, and give yourself honest answers. Before you can understand your audience, you have to first possess a clarity of vision.

Community - You know the services your company offers and should already have a clear idea of your general target demographic. Now, consider this demographic. What’s their typical 9 to 5 (or 8 to 3, etc.) day like? What kind of hobbies might they enjoy? How do members of this group speak to one another? Take the time to study their language. Search for and browse social media profiles of those within your target group. Read their interactions. Note word choice. After some effort, you’ll be given an idea of what you’re working with.

Conversation - With your company culture and community defined and held in mind, consider actual conversation. Authentic conversation. Don’t talk to someone as if there’s a floating dollar sign above their heads. Be casual and take the time to relate to your audience in a meaningful way. Social media isn’t usually about making the hard sell in any immediate fashion. It’s about carrying on a conversation, whether it’s directly related to your product, tangentially related to your product, or maybe not related at all. Carry on that conversation consistently, and you’ll be memorable.

Be Personable, But Don’t Get Personal

You’ve identified your social media tone in its broadest sense, but now you have to refine it and execute it. Fortunately, there are a number of rules and best practices that apply no matter your exact audience.

Start by knowing that nobody likes a robot. Don’t create customer responses that sound like they were pre-programmed to apply to a large swath of situations. For example…

“We will take your suggestion under consideration. You may expect a member of our team to contact you within 3-4 business days. Thank you for your time.”

… is never the proper way to interact on social media, regardless of your audience. A better example would be…

“Patricia, thanks for the helpful suggestion! We’re going to bounce that around with Joe and the rest of the squad here, and we’ll be in touch soon with further thoughts. In the interim, feel free to drop any more thoughts you have for us right here!”

The second example makes a world of difference. Always remember to address people by name. (Although don’t repeat their name too often, as it’ll come off strangely.) Feel free to wish them well, and reference previous information about themselves if they’ve freely provided it. However, never pry for information. Also, while some slang is useful depending on your target audience and can increase your “personable factor,” don’t over apply its usage. Customers still expect you to be professional.

Finally, avoid obscenities altogether as a general rule. Unless you’re running, say, a college town bar as your small business, even light obscenities are a turn off to your audience. Most will take the use of a curse word quite personally, even if it’s in complete jest and isn’t targeted at any one individual.

Avoid Sensitive Topics

As a result of attempting to be personable, you’ll be posting interesting information that may not directly relate to what you’re selling. However, some topics are off-limits. Never post about politics, religion, or other related hot-button issues. No matter which side you take, you’re bound to tick somebody off. If someone sees that you’re supporting an opinion in any of these arenas that they don’t agree with, even a repeat customer will turn on you so quickly they’ll give themselves whiplash.

Leave Funny to the Comedians

You may wish to share funny Internet images and memes with your audience as a way to come across as casual with your social media tone and increase audience engagement (likes, shares, retweets, etc.). As long as you avoid political humor and the like, this can generally be okay. However, avoid trying to become the comedian yourself. Don’t write and share your own jokes. Your audience isn’t here to attend your experimental stand-up routine. While you may actually be a pun-filled prodigy, the odds are so greatly against it that it isn’t worth the risk of coming off as lame.

After all, you remember what we said about being authentic, right? Don’t force the issue here. Which brings us to our last point…

If You Can’t Be Authentic, Find Someone Who Can

It’s okay… not everyone can interact with all audience types. If you’re someone that vividly remembers the Watergate saga, you’re probably not well-suited to addressing a bunch of wildly snarky millennials. Instead of bumbling you way through trying to make what you perceive is a savvy Beyoncé reference, find someone that can take the reigns of your small business’s social media and execute the proper social media tone for your audience. You’ll be glad you did.

Until Next Time

We hope this week’s #TechTuesdays conversation sparked some new thoughts that can lead to the advancement of your business’s social media agenda. Next week, we’ll round off this social media series with a look at the specific kinds of social media posts you can make in order to drive both brand awareness and active engagement.