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Save the Snark: Your Tone on Social Media May Harm Your Brand

3 minute read
Kaya Ismail avatar

Daring, comedic and sometimes outright controversial social media posts are a great way to attract the limelight, right?

After all, brands such as Tesco Mobile and Wendy's have thrived on Twitter thanks to their propensity to poke fun at people and current affairs.

But a recent Sprout Social study — which analyzed 289,000 public social profiles and surveyed a further 1,003 online respondents — suggests that while those smart-aleck responses can pay off in terms of attention, they can hurt your brand’s bottom line in the long run.

You’re Not That Cool, Dude

According to the study, 88 percent of consumers are annoyed when a brand mocks its fans. This statistic alone could tell the hidden story behind those viral “comeback” tweets and Facebook comments we see brands dabble in at the expense of a fan or follower. For all the retweets and likes those comebacks attract, they may also be irritating a greater number of people.

Consumers also don’t see the casual nature of social media as a place for brands to make political statements, as 71 percent of consumers find brands engaging in politics on social media annoying.

Brands are once again missing the mark when it comes to being ‘hip’ with the latest lingo, with nearly seven in 10 consumers finding it irritating when brands use slang terms.

On the flip side, the study also found that millennials are 25 percent more forgiving of brands who use slang than their older counterparts. Furthermore, millennials find making fun of competitors to be cool at a rate 20 percent higher than other generations.

To confuse matters further, three-quarters of the survey respondents said that they do appreciate humor from brands.

This all begs the question: Where exactly is the line drawn between cool and annoying, funny and flip?

Learning Opportunities

Know Your Audience

To see how brands are treading this fine line, CMSWire spoke to Mike Wright, the former head of Social Media at and deputy head of Social Media at the Daily Mirror.

Mike Wright
Mike Wright
"There's a reason brands are taking these risks in the first place, and that's because there are real gains to be made when getting right. We've seen how funny or witty responses can go viral on social media, giving brands the sort of visibility that money literally can't,” Wright said.

He went on to explain how the prospect of going viral can lure brands into, “trying too hard or just getting it wrong.”

Wright warned that “consumers are acutely aware when the tone is, 'forced or slightly off key.'”

His final word of advice:

“The best thing brands can do is learn their audience, what they respond to and sense test anything edgy they are contemplating thoroughly before publishing."

Ruben Gamez
CMSWire also reached out to Bidsketch Founder Ruben Gamez, who concurred that the best way forward is to spend time getting to know your audience.

“The better you know your customers, the more you'll know exactly what a great social interaction looks like to them,” Gamez said.

“Every audience and business is different, so there isn't one set of rules that can be applied across the board. What does work, is knowing what your customers value, what their worldview is like, and how they see your company.”