Bold voices, big results: How small businesses can use this new social strategy

March 6, 2019
5 minutes read

2018 was a breakout year for bold and snarky brands on Twitter. With nothing but sharply worded clapbacks, the biggest businesses can get upward of a hundred thousand views, define their brand, and win new customers and fans—all for little to no additional cost.

Remember Oreo’s now infamous tweet during the 2013 Super Bowl? The power unexpectedly went out at Mercedes-Benz Superdome, and Oreo sprung into action. Their “dunk in the dark” social media post was among the most recent (and famous) attempts to use social media to humanize a brand, as a way to actually connect with consumers, to add some levity, and to capitalize on current events in real time.

Fast forward half a decade and you get the fast food wars of 2018, where brands like Wendy’s and Taco Bell compete for the title of “Snarkiest Tweeter.”

It’s obvious this new social media strategy is working for today’s biggest brands—so well that even the Oxford English Dictionary chimed in on the fun. After Oreo’s Super Bowl post, their Twitter following grew by 8,000 and their Instagram follower count skyrocketed from 2k to 36k.

Is this a strategy only big brands can pull off? Nope!

Let’s look at how brands like Moon Pie and Netflix pull it off, why it’s so effective, and how smaller businesses like you can emulate their strategy.

How big brands develop bold, authentic voices on social

It’s easy to imagine that viral tweets happen for a lot of reasons that aren’t sound social media strategy—but at the end of the day, that strategy is what enables massively successful posts.

Oreo and Wendy’s aren’t successful on social media by accident or luck. There’s no rogue Millennial snarking away at a keyboard while executives cringe. They haven’t hired some social media phenom only they can afford.

For example, Oreo’s viral tweet was the result of strategy and resources designed to capitalize on real-time marketing.

That emphasis and preparedness meant they had an entire team at the ready to write, design, and approve social media posts as soon as something notable happened. Their team was ready for the Super Bowl blackout because they planned to respond to the game in real time—whatever that ended up meaning.

So, how do you build a strategy and develop a bold, authentic brand voice? It comes down to three main things:

  • A focus on connection over broadcasting,
  • Speaking as the customer, and
  • Being willing to take the risk.

Design social media strategy around connecting

Traditional marketing and advertising were all about shouting things at your audience and hoping they listened. Social media is one of the first and most capable channels that turns that concept on its head.

Social media platforms are one of a brand’s best tools for connecting with customers and establishing a relationship—but many brands continue to treat their social media accounts like a megaphone.

Consider the fast-food giants we mentioned earlier. Wendy’s and Taco Bell made waves with their snarky clapbacks and conversations and actually interacting with other social media users instead of just posting updates and shouting into the void.

Speak as the customer

Bold and authentic brands are aspirational—they see the world and current events and respond in either the same way customers do or the way customers wish they could. Their voices are the voice of the customer. It’s about the audience, not the brand itself.

Now, if you’re the only member of your social media team and you’re also a part of your target audience, this might be the easy part.

If you have more than one person managing your social media presence, developing a consistent voice across multiple social media managers and writers gets a little more complicated. That’s where a voice and style guide comes into play. Buffer has a handy guide to help you develop one.

Take the (calculated) risk

Oftentimes, speaking boldly and authentically means sharing your opinion and taking a stand. That can be scary, especially on the Internet where a tweet lives forever.

Fast-food giants aren’t the only brands speaking boldly on social media, and clapbacks aren’t the only posts getting attention online. Brands like Patagonia and Everlane made waves when they waded into politics and other global issues in a way most brands haven’t in the past.

There’s some obvious risk involved with that strategy—but these brands have done their homework. They know their audience, and they know where their customers stand on those issues.

More than that, both the stance and their willingness to shout it from the rooftops are reflective of their overall brand. That’s why they can take these calculated risks, boldly standing up for the things they believe in on social media—because doing so is baked into their brand.

How small businesses can emulate this social media strategy

If Oreo’s viral social media presence is built in a team of more than 10 people sitting at the ready during every national event, that strategy can seem pretty out of reach for small businesses. But it doesn’t have to be.

Your small business can build a bold, authentic social media voice that drives brand love without the big team and an even bigger budget. We’ll look at some examples of smaller businesses taking social media by storm, but first, let’s talk about a few tips to help you do it.

Building a bold social media voice

No matter your team’s size or your business’ annual revenue, there are a few things every business can do to develop the kind of social media voice that big brands command.

Start and end with your audience in mind

The No. 1 key to developing a voice that speaks to your target customers is to build everything, from your strategy to your style guide, with that audience in mind. Your voice should resonate directly with your customers.

The same applies across your marketing and branding. Your company’s voice is, at the most basic level, what your brand would sound like if it was a person. It should be consistent across your communications, whether it’s your company blog or your branded Instagram profile.

If you can swing it, hiring a member of that audience to manage your social media presence is always a good option. It’s easier to write in the right voice in a way that resonates with your target customers when your social media pro has similar values and experiences.

Focus on quality posts and engagement

The other key is to focus on connecting with your audience, instead of speaking to them. That means focusing on the quality of your social media posts, and the engagement they spur, over the quantity or virality of your posts.

Consider the Rochester Brainery—a small event space in Rochester, NY. They look for opportunities to engage with customers on social media, often by simply asking customers what they want from the business.

“Don’t be afraid to get into friendly banter with your audience,” Mary Matton, Social & Community Manager for ProfitWell, shares.

Few small businesses have the opportunity to go “viral” on a national or global scale—and even large brands struggle to predict what exactly makes for viral social media. But you can make waves in your own community or industry by stirring conversation and interaction with your audience.

Take a stand

The best way to build a social media presence that sounds authentic… is to actually be sincere. Taking a stand on issues that are important to you, your business, and your audience is one of the surest ways to set your business apart from the crowd.

Today’s consumers and digital natives are discerning—they can see straight through a hard-selling, for-profit stance.

As Mary noted, “You really have to stand behind what you’re saying and know what you’re talking about.”

If you need an example of what not to do here, look no further than DiGiorno’s Pizza’s misguided foray into a Twitter hashtag campaign designed to shed light on victims of domestic violence.


Small businesses taking social media by storm

Now that you’re ready to boldly head off into social media land, here’s some inspiration to keep you motivated along the way. Here are a few smaller brands that have seen success from interacting sincerely and connecting with customers on social.

Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams

One of the ways Jeni’s connects with customers is by putting a face to their brand. Instead of a faceless logo, their founder and CEO routinely takes over their social media accounts, and she never shies away from geeking out about ice cream.

Her passion and unique character shine through and (bonus) her description of ice cream flavors is mouthwatering enough to get my wallet out.

Big Cartel

Big Cartel’s social media strategy is all about connecting with and inspiring their customers—by featuring other customers. The team often calls out shops and artists whose work they love, and their sincere captions and descriptions make it clear they aren’t just drawing customers out of a hat.


Casper offers one of the best examples of a brand finding the right voice on social media. It’s obvious their social posts are written by and for the audience they target.

They don’t shy away from slang, trendy memes, or jokes so bad they’re good. Their frank-but-lighthearted voice resonates with exactly the people who are likely to buy a direct-to-consumer mattress.

Your brand’s big, authentic social media voice

To answer our original question: Yes, small businesses can absolutely develop the kind of social media presence that rivals huge brands like Oreo and Taco Bell.

It all comes down to knowing your audience and finding the right voice and subject matter that resonate with them. When you have that figured out, you can be bold and bright and authentic without worrying about putting your foot in your mouth.

That’s how you compete with big brands on social.

By Kiera Abbamonte

The information and tips shared on this blog are meant to be used as learning and personal development tools as you launch, run and grow your business. While a good place to start, these articles should not take the place of personalized advice from professionals. As our lawyers would say: “All content on Wave’s blog is intended for informational purposes only. It should not be considered legal or financial advice.” Additionally, Wave is the legal copyright holder of all materials on the blog, and others cannot re-use or publish it without our written consent.

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