Smart Social Summit Day Two: Why and How Brands Should be Human

Editor’s note: In October of this year, the greatest minds in social will gather at Spredfast’s Smart Social Summit 2017. Register here today and follow #SmartSocialSummit on Twitter for more updates.

This morning at Smart Social Summit, our keynote speaker Trevor Noah started off his talk by immediately denouncing his role. This wasn’t going to be a keynote speech, he said, because keynote speeches are meant to be motivational. Or rather, he clarified: “I do not wish to motivate you—I’m here to give you a reality check. If you’re motivated by that, then it was a keynote, if not, then I gave you the disclaimer up front.”

If Noah’s speech was a reality check for his audience, then Smart Social Summit content more broadly was a reality check for all brands: Over the past two days, one of the most repeated themes we heard surface was authenticity (so much so that we mentioned it in our day one recap). But how does a brand actually achieve authenticity?

For starters, why not go to the most obvious source: if, in this age of ever-increasing transparency people expect more of brands and understand them more than ever before, why should those brands not turn around and look to the people who are looking at them for advice? In other words: Brands should try to be human—while also understanding the important ways in which they are not human.

Brands should try to be human—while understanding the ways in which they are not.


We’ll explore three ways brands can be human, authentic, and real in their interaction with the people they care about most—and, be sure to stay tuned in the coming weeks for more advice on the heels of our Smartest Summit yet.

1. Understand that Being Human Involves Risk

In his keynote, Trevor Noah explained that it’s the immediacy of social media that is daunting and exciting at the same time. “Before, you would be precious about your response,” he said. “Now, sometimes you’re rewarded more for the instantaneousness of it. You think, what’s a joke now—you’ve got to think immediately.” The same is true, of course, for brands. No longer can brands afford to only rely on the kind of carefully crafted marketing campaigns that once were their bread and butter. You might still make those careful campaigns, sure. But you also have to be ready in the event that, say, your brand gets pulled into a politician’s scandal.

Trevor Noah said it best today on stage: “With high reward comes the high risk. Once it’s out there, it’s gone. In the world of comedy, we learn that. Comedy has always been designed that way, but brands are now learning the danger of that. There’s always a risk, when you reach out and talk to people.” Done carefully and strategically, the rewards are worth the risk—but the risk never leaves.

The risk of participating in social media conversation never leaves.  

2. Take a Stand for the Things You Care About

We also heard representatives from major brands today talk about the risks they have taken in service of something much bigger than marketing—our When Brands Take Stands panel was full of examples of brands chiming in on social issues that aligned with their core values, making tough decisions on how and when to speak up. Just the way it is not always the easiest thing to say the right thing for people, the same is true for brands.

But that didn’t stop Ben & Jerry’s from speaking up about, in their case, the Black Lives Matter movement. Though the brand had been involved on the ground in places like North Carolina, in early October they also tweeted and blogged about their stance, saying “Black Lives Matter. Choosing to be silent in the face of such injustice is not an option.”

“We felt like it was time,” said Ben & Jerry’s activism manager Chris Miller. The company put no paid media behind the Tweet, but saw far outsized engagement compared to their normal content. And though the response was overwhelmingly positive, even the negative response felt gratifying: “The company is now facing a boycott by the Blue Lives Matter folks,” Miller said. “But in so many ways, [the negative response] reinforces why this is important.”

3. Care for your Customers like the Humans they Are

In The Social Iceberg: Why Social Care Needs Serious Attention Breakout Session, social media managers from Facebook, Airbnb, and Hawaiian Airlines all touched on how focusing on responding to their audience with human emotion and care benefits their brand.

“At Facebook we say ‘people,’ not ‘users,’ not ‘customers,’” explained Sean Lin, the Lead Digital Media Manager at Facebook. Communicating person-to-person, rather than brand-to-customer, helps Facebook’s language seamlessly integrate with people’s everyday lives. “We want the voice of the community in Facebook and the voice of Facebook in the community,” Lin said, and speaking as people to people allows them to meet that goal.

Facebook says ‘people’, not ‘users’ or ‘customers’.


“We capture sensitive moments of truth for our customers through social media interaction,” explains Andrea Finnegan, Airbnb’s Global Head of Social Media Care. When a customer reaches out to a brand on social, they’re looking for the brand to care about their experience in a real, human way. By interacting on social, says Finnegan, “our customers are asking us to show that we care, and if we can, we’ll build long-term trust and relationships.” So, Airbnb’s social media team makes it a point to turn potentially negative experiences (like say, arriving late at night to your Airbnb rental and finding yourself locked out) and turn them into positive experiences by responding quickly, empathically, and with concrete solutions (like fast rebooking).

One final bonus tip for brands? Say ‘aloha.’ And no, we don’t just mean wave hi to your customers. Take a tip from Hawaiian Airlines: “Our mission for outbound and inbound communication at Hawaiian Airlines is to serve both Hawaii and our community with a sense of Aloha,” explained Asiana Ponciano, the Social Media Marketing Specialist for Hawaiian Airlines. “Aloha is the essence of relationships, in which each person is important to every other person for the collective existence.

Want even more advice and inspiration from #SmartSocialSummit? Check out our day one recap—and stay tuned for much more to come.

October 27, 2016
Smart Social Summit Day One: From Conversation to Connection
November 1, 2016
Deeper Context, Faster Response with Twitter
Jaime Netzer is Spredfast's Senior Content Marketing Manager, leading content operations. A Lawrence, Kansas native, she traded seasons for breakfast tacos seven years ago and hasn't looked back since. Also a fiction writer and journalist, Jaime tweets semi-regularly and reads constantly.