Four Easy Ideas to Humanize Your Brand on the Social Web

By Sidneyeve Matrix, Contributing {grow} Columnist

We know that people prefer to connect with other people, not brands. Not too long ago, Mark wrote about how one of the biggest mistakes you can make in online branding is using a logo instead of a headshot photo in your Twitter profile. Coming out from behind your logo is a big step toward humanizing your brand, so too is using humor to engage, and giving your network a peek behind the curtain of your official brand message. Here’s a roundup of four other creative communication strategies you might try to increase the emotional and personal engagement factors in your online messaging.

1. Lifecasting. A new study from communications scholars at Elizabethtown College published in The Chronicle of Higher Education confirms what we already knew to be true — being human sets thought leaders apart. The study found that professors who post tweets about their personal lives earn higher credibility rankings in student teaching assessments of their professional capabilities. The researchers concluded that those tweeters who appear to  “go beyond knowledge transfer” to include personal updates in their microblogging streams seem more caring and engaged. There’s no equation for us to use in determining the right mix of personal and professional updates, but try adding personal touches to your stream.

2. Storytelling. Whether in video, audio, text or snapshots—everyone seems to agree that great stories are what make brands (and people) more emotionally compelling and human. But if you’re like me, stories don’t just appear on cue when I most need them. A bit of help from books and podcasts and even filmmakers can inspire and provide a blueprint for structuring stories. Using carefully selected personal stories is an essential part of many entrepreneurial branding initiatives (think Ralph Lauren, Oprah Winfrey, Martha Stewart) and you’ll notice that celebrities follow a few classic storylines when narrating their life lessons, adventures, and accomplishments.

3. Video. A step up from still snapshots, video blogging adds personality faster than any multimedia format — pictures tell a thousand words, but moving pictures have an immediacy like none other. A Flip camcorder is an inexpensive way to take the video plunge. Up the ante on your videos with some relatively inexpensive editing software (I’m using Camtasia for Mac right now) and intro and outro music (take a listen at to royalty-free tracks at AudioJungle but be warned, there’s so much amazing sound there you might get caught up in endless sampling). YouTube is the obvious choice for uploads, but check out Vimeo too, where the vibe is a little more creative than commercial. Looking for ideas for videos that are not adverts? Profile your employees—testimonial videos are not just for recruitment pages. More ideas here.

4. Audio. Add your voice to your website and you’ll instantly become more personable. Podcasts don’t have to be elaborate productions, in fact experts agree that shorter is better-and it’s easier to be concise if you’re working from a script. Obviously in podcasting, top quality audio matters, so you might want to invest in a professional digital recorder. I use an Edirol R-09HR. For editing, Audacity is a free download that’s easy to use. Need inspiration for your podcasts? Check out the ever-expanding range of themes and formats on iTunes.

The recipe for a humanized online brand is composed of 1 part personality, 1 part emotionality, and a generous measure of creativity!

How are you humanizing your brand on the social web?  What brands are doing a great job?

Sidneyeve Matrix is Assistant Professor of Media at Queen’s University, consults at MatrixMediaFX and blogs at CyberPop.

Illustration by kprogram

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  • Splendid post. One thing I do that I believe makes my network stronger is akin to #1 – to share stuff I like. I used to have a twitter account that was all business. But when I mixed personal life with stuff I like – unique sites, videos, etc. – the engagement in twitter exploded. I get more conversational tweets through that stuff than the professional stuff any day.

  • No one wants to be preached to. That is why humanizing is so important. If you talk at me, I will tune you out. If you talk to me, I will listen. I may or may not buy, but I will listen and I have not tuned something out.

    The things I do are try to converse with people. Have real relationships with them. Even on my company Twitter, you still see me. I like to tweet about things going on in my life, and share stuff that I find online. Being human is just being yourself. Being yourself is all you can be anyway.

  • I mostly just keep myself in the loop and keep my logo gong everywhere where I go..this keeps my brand working for me 24 -7

    “Black Seo Guy “Signing Off”

  • i noticed that : )

  • Enoiyed meeting you yesterday Nancy and I can confirm you are an authentic person in all aspects of your life and that is going top be a grfeat advantage to you as you move ahead with your blogging career! Thanks for making the time to meet me!

  • Spledid is such a nice word. I really should use it more often.

    The study referred to in the post is an interesting valdiation of your point Paul. This certainly works for me too. It’s not a “what did I have for lunch” channel, but you still need to be human. Thanks for the splendid comment!

  • It was my pleasure to meet you Mark. You are a true gentleman. I also left feeling like I learned so much in such a (relatively) short amount of time.

  • Humanizing brands is about bringing the people that make your brand forward. You nailed it here, but it is key to keep those people human. Once the video or audio is overproduced, it feels like cast marketing, not the real people that make up your brand. When you cherry pick out only the few people you want to have represent your brand, you have the same problem. In social, every employee (and client!) has a voice that will eventually be heard.

    When the people behind your brand come forward, your brand will become your people, and your brand will be humanized. Fully embracing this means understanding that every hire impacts your brand, that marketing is coaching but isn’t driving. Things like cultural fit in hiring, always important for a productive workplace, now become critical to the public face of your brand as well.

    Great post, making me think about branding and people this morning, I appreciate it.

    — @wittlake

  • Anonymous

    Sidneyeve, This is a great list and everything you suggest here is brilliant because it’s so doable.
    Is Sidneyeve Matrix your actual name or a pen name? Either way, you have one up on the rest of us because that must be a story unto itself. I like it.

  • This IS a great list. Thanks. I’ve just started with trying to create my own brand! It’s hard to come out there as a person when you spend all your time making logos. I find that putting up pictures of myself rather than concepts or logos is always harder. I have to make myself believe that people are sometimes more interested in my humanity than my work. I have been trying out the video technique though, but not yet brave enough to do a lot of videoing of myself. Thanks, as always, for the advice.

  • Hi Eric, I really appreciate you taking the time to add your perspective here, and in so doing, to emphasize the point about the importance of “people.” I agree 100% that promoting the people behind the brand is the key, through video or any other creative media. As you point out, it’s the many ways that your people tell brand stories that really resonate and humanize brands. Great insight, thank you.

  • Hi Abigail. Thanks for bringing this up–I could not agree with you more about the difficulty for some of us (myself included) to post photos and other personal information online. I find promoting my work far easier than coming out from behind it. Other people consistently get the right balance of messaging that’s personal and professional—Mark for example, does this successfully and makes it look easy!

  • Nice to see you including audio here! As a podcaster myself I’m very aware of the benefits of podcasting. A client we’ve been working with has increased her sales by 300% since we convinced her to introduce a podcast to her marketing mix last year.

    I think the entry level to good audio is actually quite high and you need to get to grips with getting your sound levels right, etc.

    If you’re thinking of getting into podcasting my top 5 tips would be:
    1) Use a dynamic microphone and not a condensor. It won’t pick up all that background sound.
    2) Put the mic into a mixer and record direct into your recorder – like the Edirol or Zoom H4n
    3) Make sure you record between -12 and – 6 DBs.
    4) Normalize the sound to -1 DB in something like Adobe Audition, Audacity or Garage Band. Sound Studio on a Mac is very easy to use !
    5) Do interviews on your show. Solo shows are really, really tough !

  • Great information Mark – I think that humanizing your business in every way you can creates a power way to brand your uniqueness and make both you and your business more than just a name in a twitter/facebook feed.

  • Anonymous


    I love the kind of post (like this one) that offers great information in a condensed way(not too long yet not too short).

    From your list I use a combination of the four (in varying degrees) but currently working on getting better at stories. Stories are so powerful because they grab people’s attention immediately and literally put them in a light state of trance which is where you want people to be if you want to share an idea that might help them out in life but could be received with resistance out of fear. Stories help people create new connections in the way they experience the world and also allow people to see the truth in a real and applicable way rather than just in a theoretical way.

    As far as video is concerned I can honestly say t has made a huge difference in my ability to establish deep connections with new friends and followers that would have taken longer through just writing. In other words, people get a better sense that the know me than they would if they had never seen me talk or listened to my voice. I’m not saying this to praise myself in any way, anyone can do this. One of my goals is to get more people comfortable using video on a consistent basis to share ideas online.

    Thank you for a great content post,


  • Thanks for the kind feedback Billy.

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  • Hi Bernardo.
    Thanks for such an articulate response. I too am often busy trying to get others to experiment with video and it is surely difficult for many of us to feel comfortable on camera.
    The most impactful and off-the cuff advice I’ve ever received about dealing with (my own) camera shyness was from one of my film students, who said what’s required is simply to “get over yourself” — I remember laughing at his blunt honesty (students don’t often say that directly to their profs!) and thinking *exactly* — not easy to do, yet so true.

  • Hi Jon,
    Fantastic tips from someone who obviously knows their audio! What a difference excellent sound makes in video and podcast production. I definitely have much to learn about how to get the best results. Really appreciate you contributing all this great information here.
    By the way, that 300% increase…that is truly amazing and inspiring! Love the interview idea too.
    Many thanks,

  • No problem. There was a huge learning curve for me to get to grips with good audio. If anyone has any questions, please free to get in touch. I’m happy to help.

  • Mark W Schaefer

    All the credit goes to Sidenyeve on this one. An interesting and timely post! I love it.

  • Mark W Schaefer

    You have been a role model for me in this area. I even use the photo of your desk post as an example about skillfully humanizing a company. You do a great job Jon!

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  • LindaLam

    Sorry I didn’t see this post before – love it. One thing to note though. When I clicked on some of the links in point # 2 they opened as an email message rather than a URL. I think they haven’t been programmed correctly – the link underlying “podcast” is
    Not sure if it affects all links I started with point 2 and haven’t gotten top far yet. Just th
    ought you should know! Thanks

  • Thanks for pointing this out Linda. I’ll check it out.

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