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Communications Social Media Marketing

Want to resonate on social media? Model your work on human relationships

By Elisah van Allen, Head of Social



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September 13, 2023 | 7 min read

Human relationships, says 33Seconds’ Elisah van Allen, are founded on trust, compassion, loyalty, humor, and communication. Why should relationships with consumers on social be any different?

Three women, chatting on a bench

How can your communications strategy be more like a real human relationship? / Ben White via Unsplash

As someone who’s worked in social media marketing for over 15 years (and used these platforms for far longer), I’ve witnessed first-hand a massive evolution in quality. We’ve seen a sea-change not just in the channels and content on-platform, but also how brands have embraced the opportunity to engage with and capture the hearts of customers.

The million-dollar question is how to achieve such a step-change in quality. What makes a brand and its content so good that it will have a lasting impact on its audience?

Well, here’s a theory: the essential qualities of truly great social brand campaigns mirror the best elements of a personal relationship: trust, compassion, loyalty, humor and above all, great communication.

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1. What’s a relationship without trust?

Before Airbnb existed, the idea of staying in a stranger’s home in a completely unknown place was bonkers. The success of the company and its community is 100% rooted in trust – in the brand, its users, and the clever ‘reciprocal reputation’ system on which it bases that trust: keeping us safe and creating unique and affordable travel experiences.

Reputation is born out of trust and is at the heart of Airbnb and its relationship with the hosts and guests that benefit most from its service. It’s no wonder that much of the high-performing content on its social channels leans into this – whether it’s sharing the experiences available via its platform (did you know there’s a grand piano filter?) or using its voice for good in times of crisis, like this initiative following the wildfires in Maui.

2. Compassionate at heart

It’s not groundbreaking to focus charity marketing on compassion, but the way Macmillan Cancer Support approaches this deserves a mention. In recent years, the organization has changed its tone, becoming far more personal. It’s a brave move that harnesses the powerful work and stories of its employees, volunteers, beneficiaries and their families.

With this compassionate approach, the charity has been able to drive emotional resonance with a broad audience, raising its profile and impact post-pandemic. Macmillan tells it how it is and provides audiences with the ‘real’ meaning of what it takes to live with cancer.

3. Loyalty breeds loyalty

Brands that disrupt entire industries get a big green tick from me. Take ‘buyers club’ Beauty Pie, which reduced the cost of luxury beauty products with a subscription model that makes it easier to retain customers over time.

Focusing on long-form, educational content on its social channels, the brand is able to clearly highlight the benefits of its products and service, including a commitment to keep prices reasonable and quality high (never a bad thing, especially in a cost-of-living crisis). Once bought in, customers become loyal advocates, which has helped the company organically develop a super-engaged community. Cue partnerships from highly influential ambassadors and plenty of positive sentiment to further drive its reach and engagement.

4. GSOH essential

Plant-based brand Surreal has disrupted the cereal market, not just with its product, but with the company’s genuinely funny social campaigns and content. The brand, simply, ‘gets it’.

By being relatable and fun on platforms where people go for connection and entertainment, you’re much more likely to capture audience attention with humor than those who don’t. As a relatively new e-commerce brand that probably started by having to make its marketing budget stretch and work hard, Surreal made sure that audiences connected with its brand and the people behind it.

5. Communication is key

All these brands have clear communication strategies, but British telecommunications company Sky stands out. Sky knows how to market its many products successfully and communicate its mission as a business to drive impact and ‘make life better for everyone’ through work to improve our cultural economy, reduce environmental impact, and address inequality.

In a digital landscape that‘s overwhelmed with content, it could be argued that the threads that tie successful brands to their audiences are similar to those that create strong personal relationships. As we navigate the ever-evolving world of social media, let’s remember that behind the logos and campaigns, the embodiment of these human-centric values will be what propels brands into the hearts, minds and ultimately, lives of their audiences.

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33Seconds is an independent, award-winning communications agency, specialising in climate, technology and lifestyle.

As well as offering services across strategy,...

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