Why Tone Matters in Your Brand’s Social Media Communications

Sainsbury’s is a brand we admire greatly. It has a wonderful selection of our favorite groceries, is conveniently located just round the corner, and is also pretty damn good at social engagement. It’s also a great example of the tightrope brands must walk when choosing the right tone to use in social media.

As many will remember, a few months ago, Sainsbury’s took the advice of a certain Lily Robinson to rename one of its flagship bakery products. Lily Robinson is not a hired branding expert, but rather a three (and-a-half) year old girl who saw something through a different lens.

She made a rather (a)cute observation that Tiger Bread more closely resembles giraffes. This led to the product being reintroduced as Giraffe Bread and the story being resurrected several months later to gain blanket national media coverage and widespread online discussion.

While Lily’s letter was the social equivalent of one of Jack’s magic beans landing in their lap, what made this just as impactful was the tone Sainsbury’s used in replying, which came across as authentic, honest and caring. And everyone ultimately won in the end; Sainsbury’s got a great story, and Lily received a £3 gift card (which she spent on a comic).

The retailer is in the news again today for similar reasons. When Twitter user @OctoberJones complained that the chicken in his Sainsbury’s sandwich tasted as though it had been beaten to death by Hulk Hogan, the supermarket immediately responded with a suitably sardonic reply.

Now, while this was being lauded as “the best customer service reply ever”, it also opens up a question about what the right tone is to use on social channels, and the fine line that brands need to tread between showing personality and demonstrating that they are taking consumer queries seriously.

If something has prompted consumers to approach a brand, then it remains pretty likely they will care enough to want a considered response. And while the consumer may use a tone that is humorous (and likely in keeping with their preferred tone of tweets), they will also want to feel they are being taken seriously.

This is a difficult path to tread for brands. Companies are often criticized for not being human enough in social channels, and so adopting any given approach can either draw plaudits (as in this instance) or lead to a sandstorm.

While the initial tweet appeared somewhat dismissive, it is also worth pointing out that Sainsbury’s replied through their main handle, providing a number, a name and action that the person lodging the complaint could follow. Therefore showing this is something they take seriously, and taking the customer care complaint off Twitter altogether.

Brands need to adopt the right tone for how they want to be perceived and be consistent with that in social media – another great social brands is innocent which has a very distinct voice.  But they also have to show they care. This is something Sainsbury’s has ably demonstrated through both its impressive wider presence in social media, and specific examples which show the actions the brand takes after listening to consumers.


Editor’s Note: This post originally appeared on the Text 100 UK blog

Share this