Pinocchio’s guide to social media for business

“I want to be a real boy.”

That’s not Pinocchio. That’s your business.

Let’s face it. You want to be friends with real people. Not with companies.

How many times have you felt “wow, I really want to get to know this company better!” Maybe if it was Apple, or Chipotle, or some other major consumer brand you’re in love with. Probably not if it was “123 Web Development Company” or “ABC Fishing Line and Tackle” or “Glitterbrush Hair Salon.”

Small brands – or even big, but not so inherently lovable brands – have a hard time of it on social media. They’re tweeting their heads off and barely getting a like, or posting frantically to their Facebook business page as Facebook lets through less and less business page updates to most feeds.

But even though quite honestly you don’t really want to be best buds with most companies, you’re still hoping that lots of people want to be best buds with *your* company.

Cognitive dissonance, anyone?

What’s a business to do?

Become a real person.



Let’s explain how you can do that without the help of the blue fairy.

Real people have names.

“Nice to meet you – I’m Jennifer.” That sounds right.

“Nice to meet you – I’m Coca Cola.” Something wrong there.

If you’re a very small business (one or two people), choose one of you to be the representative for your brand. Be the name and the face in front of your business, not just behind it. Like this:

put a personal face on your business social media

What if you’re a big company with multiple people? Mention the name of the social media manager in the bio – let people know there actually is someone in there.

here is hubspots manager - you can check her Twitter account

What if your company has multiple tweeters?

You can sign off with initials, to indicate which of the social media managers is talking.:

posts written by hootsuite support signed with initials

Real people have faces.

I shared Barry Feldman’s profile picture above as an example of a company represented by a real person. Here’s his take on using logos as your Twitter profile picture:

“Your logo… Mmm-mm-mhm. So sexy, so stylish, so hot. But it leaves me so cold. I’ve never actually met a logo. Are they nice? None of my friends are logos.” He obviously practices what he preaches.

What if you’re a bigger company and using only one name/photo doesn’t make sense? I’d say give it a shot anyway, unless you’re a major consumer brand. But if you insist, there are still ways to give over that personalized feel. Have your Twitter/Facebook header be a group shot of your staff, or a picture featuring a particular staff member. Buffer does it well:

buffer header has members of team in photo

A nice compromise (when it works) is having an avatar as part of your business logo/image. Even when it’s clearly not representing a real individual, just seeing a face makes the message seem more personal.

madmimi on social media

Real people have personalities.

Communication is more than just words. It’s the tone of your voice, the look on your face.

Witness the rapid growth of emoticons and emojis. The more we rely on text to communicate, the more we need the text to express more than just… text.

Make use of those emoticons and emojis to show that yes, you’re a person. And yes, you have emotions. And yes, you want to share them.

Beyond the emoticons, your text can also express emotion and personality. One outstanding example is the Madmimi support team, who stand out in my mind as the epitome of an SaaS support team. They answer email quickly. They go the extra mile to make sure you understand, including creating screencasts to walk you through their answer. And good cheer comes over in their emoji-less emails and social media replies. (Although they do use well-placed smileys.)

madmimi person avatar

madmimi email response with personality

madmimi email response 2

Hootsuite Help’s staff often put out tweets with a good morning message and a cute GIF at the start of their day.

hootsuite team members say hello with gifs

Real people answer when you talk to them.

Ever had this happen to you?

Someone follows you on Twitter.


You tweet back to them, thanking them for the follow and asking them a question or giving a compliment (but a real one, not an its-so-obvious-this-is-automated one).

social media tweet that does not get a response

They never respond.


Did some living, breathing, flesh-and-blood entity look at your profile and decide you were worth creating a relationship with?

Or was the follow automated? And they didn’t have a protocol for actual communication from an individual on Twitter?

Double, triple boo.

Real people use “I,” not “we” (unless you’re royalty).

And in the real world, even royalty uses “I.”

queen tweets and uses I

In this Facebook response to a customer complaint, the “I’ll be glad to help” and the personal email make it clear that there’s a real person on the other end.

personal response to complaint

In contrast, this Facebook response to a customer complaint sounds utterly canned.

generic social media response

Sometimes you do need to use “we.” It sounds strange otherwise. But keep an eye out for where you can use “I” and make a closer connection with your social media followers.

Real people don’t talk about themselves incessantly.

Ever heard someone talk about themselves? And then talk some more? And then talk some more?

I bet you didn’t hear them talk any more after THAT, because you ran away.

Get the same feeling from this Twitter stream?
smbiz self promo

See everything that’s blurred out? So that would be the name/URL of the company. Yep. Do you want to have a conversation with this person?

If all your business does on social media is talk about itself, people will run away. Far, far away.

Focus on the other person. As Jennifer Gregory writes in her networking tips, “A common mistake for small business owners is to confuse networking with direct sales pitches. “Everyone at networking events is trying to push something. Be one of the few people who is actually listening and identifying others needs – and genuinely help them,” said Naomi Elbinger, content marketing manager at New Edge Design.”

Of course you want to sell stuff, but ironically, the more you try to divert attention to yourself, the less you’ll get. Give other people and their interests lots of attention, on the other hand, and you’ll find people leaning in your direction.

Real people share their lives – the successes and the fails.

We all have our high and our low moments, our wins and losses, successes and fails. It’s part of being human.

We also all want to show everyone the positive, accomplished parts of our lives, to be admired and appreciated. It’s part of being human.

On the internet, however, it’s much easier to show the “highlight reel” and hide all the “bloopers.” Then you look REALLY impressive. But it’s at the expense of looking impressively REAL.

Two recent posts that come to mind as examples of real people choosing to share rather than remain on pedestals are Kevan Lee’s admission that the social media company Buffer is not doing as well as they used to with getting traffic from social media.

Another was Indigo Colton’s post about trying to start an online course. She did all the right things… and no one signed up.

buffer admits lost social media traffic

As Kevan says, it IS super scary. Just imagine yourself admitting a big flop to all your potential clientele. But more often than not, these “confessions” get a very positive response. As humans, we want to know that our heroes are human, too.

The long and short of making your business into a real person, an entity that real people want to communicate with?

Tell the truth. Be transparent. Show as much as you can about who you are.

It works. Just ask Pinocchio.


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