What You Need to Know About Creating a Brand Voice on Social Media

In today’s modern tech landscape, we have the world at our fingertips. We can buy products instantly, find the latest news with the click of a finger, and swipe right (or left) to find love. Everything is automated—but there is something missing. Despite being connected to everyone and everything, studies have shown that we’re increasingly lonely. We desire to connect with people on a personal level.

That’s why, for any good social media manager, it’s imperative that you establish a strong persona for your nonprofit organization. If people want to connect with people, why would they want to connect to your brand? Sure, maybe they went to school there, but how many accounts does your school have? What makes yours stand out?

Before we get there, let’s talk about buyer personas.

Buyer Personas: Getting To Know Your Donors

Buyer personas aren’t new. In fact, advertisers and companies have been using them for years. HubSpot uses this definition:

Who are your donors? What are their motivations for giving to you?

  • Are they married?
  • Do they have grandkids?
  • Struggling with a disease?
  • Dealing with a hard manager?
  • Do they fish on the weekends?
  • Attend the opera?
  • Worried about mom in a nursing home?
  • Thrilled their kid got into that dream elementary school?

The more details you can provide, the better. Some organizations create multiple personas to help them understand different groups (older alumni vs. young alumni, for example) and gain insights about them.

But should you use buyer personas on social media? For the first few months, sure. You can write tweets, posts, and responses geared at those personas.

However, if you’re a social media manager, you’re listening. You know that Jim is different than Sam, and that Robert hates you. You know Susie will like any photo you put up of campus, and Joe will RT any hockey story.

A good social media manager knows the people who comment and tweet at their account. If I’m working on a social media account, it only takes a few months for me to figure out who my “all-star” fans are. You can create a list of ambassadors on social media, i.e. people who help out your account (through likes, shares, and RTs) and understand them individually, not as people to sell to. Just like a good fundraiser knows when to ask a donor for a potential gift, a good social media manager knows the same.

So if buyer personas are out, what persona is in? Yours.

Here are some tips on creating a stellar brand voice on social media.

Understand (And Exceed) Expectations

Most people have expectations about how they want to be treated or how they think they should be treated. Your brand persona has a chance to WOW them.

One of my favorite WOW stories comes from social media expert Dave Kerpen. In his book (a must-read for social media professionals!), Likeable Social Media: How to Delight Your Customers, Create an Irresistible Brand, and Be Generally Amazing on Facebook, he talks about a WOW moment from Rio Las Vegas, a hotel on the Strip. Dave was in line to check-in at ARIA, another hotel on the Strip , and found himself in line for over an hour. Naturally, he took to Twitter to vent his frustrations. Rio Las Vegas responded—not by trying to get him to come over and check-in with them instead, but by listening. Their tweet of “Sorry about your bad experience, Dave. Hope the rest of your stay in Vegas goes well,” was empathetic. They got it. They understood his needs and WOWed him.

Think about how you greet people during the day. If you say, “Hi, how are you?” you have been programmed to expect the response of “Good, how are you?” Can you imagine if someone responded to you with this:


You wouldn’t know what to do. This is not the order of events! There’s a glitch in the Matrix!

People already expect brands and organizations to act a certain way. If you can go above and beyond what they originally thought was going to take place, you may have a donor for life.

Evolve as Social Media Does

I need to trademark this, but I have a saying about social media: Social media is social first. We need to keep the social in social media.

People want to connect with people. They go to Facebook to find friends, LinkedIn to find colleagues, and Twitter to find like-minded people. People are a crucial part of social media. And, if you noticed, there’s no mention of a brand or organization here.

But brands that react to certain topics and moments and do so in an appropriate way (we all know the inappropriate ones—I’m looking at you, DiGiorno Pizza)—that type of viral is something most marketers can only dream of. Who can forget Oreo’s “dunk in the dark” moment during the Super Bowl?


You even have brands responding to big news items. Arby’s killed it by offering Jon Stewart a job when he announced he was leaving The Daily Show. That tweet got mentioned on his show and was retweeted over 1,000 times.


Don’t be afraid to have your organization join a social movement (how many logos did you see celebrate the Supreme Court’s ruling?) or take a chance with an appropriate humorous response. People may notice that there’s a person actually running the accounts.

Be Human

Think about an actor. In any role, they have to figure out how to play the part. What is their character’s motivation? What adjectives describe their personality?

In the same way, a social media manager needs to create a persona to understand how a brand will respond. With each interaction you have, you need to know the voice. So ask yourself, is your brand…

  • Sassy?
  • Educational?
  • Respectful?
  • Male voice?
  • Female voice?
  • Empathetic?

Make sure that if you aren’t available to monitor the feed (even social media managers need a vacation!), the brand’s persona is well documented and easily accessible to whomever takes over. That way, the public won’t notice a change in the voice when you’re away.

Remember: It’s a social media manager’s job to “be the brand,” but it’s also our job to WOW our audience.

Use Data to Inform Your Content

Social media managers have a plethora of data available to them. From Facebook Insights to Twitter Analytics, you can get a lot of information. You can see the age and gender of your audience, the household size, and even their purchasing habits. To be blunt, it’s creepy. But, it’s insightful.

Once you have the information, start creating a persona based on it. If you have an audience with more women, you may want to adopt a female voice. If the audience has kids, guess who just became a proud parent? You did.

Insider tip: Data on purchasing habits can help you create content. If your users are buying pet products, see if you can incorporate more animal lover content into your feed. While at Boston College, I used the #BCPets hashtag and created a board on the BC Alumni Pinterest account called “BCPets.” It was a huge hit!


BC also has a very high number (rumor is it’s close to 80%) of alumni marrying other alumni, and the insights told me we had a lot of married or engaged fans. On Valentine’s Day, I created a Facebook album of BC alumni couples and their love stories. It’s been a huge hit, with new love stories being added every day.

Have Clear Goals

What are your goals for your persona? It’s an odd question, but an important one. For a former client at d50 media, our goals were organized into three key factors:

  • Be the best friend imaginable to those that reach out.
  • Be empathetic and understanding.
  • Supply client leads.

While working as social media manager for BC Alumni, I always considered the position “the gates to the alumni world.” If I had an active alumnus who I felt would be a great reunion committee member, I would pass along their name to the Alumni Association. If an alumna tweeted about a new job, I made sure fundraisers had that information.

But, more importantly, I made sure that BC Alumni celebrated their lives. When people added a Future Eagle to their families, I would mail a small package congratulating them. Usually it contained tiny socks, a blanket, and a Baldwin (the Boston College mascot) stuffed keychain—and I always included a handwritten note. If our alumni realized that BC was still connected to their lives long after they left campus, they may be more inclined to continue the relationship. It never mattered to me if their connection was time, talent, or treasure; what mattered was that the connection was still strong.

One of BC Alumni’s other goals was to respond. I didn’t respond to everything, but I used the “favorite” button and retweet button with gusto! I wanted them to know we were listening. If people were upset, I picked up the phone and called them. If I could solve a problem or answer a question, I would. My favorite story has to do with an alumna who was upset about a ticketing fee for Homecoming. GOLD (Graduates Of Last Decade) alumni were offered a rate of $10 for the game. However, the processing fee was $6. She was upset and tweeted her frustrations at BC Alumni. I immediately private messaged her and joked, “You know I’m not the ticket office, right?” Her response floored me: “I know. But I know you’ll help.”

And I did. I called the ticket office, gave them her name, and asked them if they would waive the fee for her. They agreed. All I asked was that she wouldn’t tweet about it so the ticket office wouldn’t have to waive a bunch more.

I saw her at Homecoming and she thanked me, once again, in person for my help. $6 may not be a lot to fundraisers, but it made a world of difference in keeping the connection strong for this alumna.

What Great Personas Do

Once you have your adjectives and goals established, you can really shine. Keep in mind, great personas do the following:

Influence behaviors: Remind donors why they love your organization. Share stories that make them go, “Wow—they really are doing great things, aren’t they?” These small, constant reminders (a tweet and a Facebook post are still more welcome reminders than an email) keep them engaged with your brand.

Educate: Did you know that June 27th is Sunglasses Day? We didn’t either. Use these opportunities to bring your organization to the forefront.

Connect people to the brand: As I mentioned with celebrating births, BC Pets, and weddings, we found ways to connect people back to BC. Share your audience’s personal connections to the brand. Have them talk about why they love it. If you do, people will feel more connected to your persona and organization as a result.

Start conversations and reveal more insights: Great personas will be able to get people talking naturally and allow the organization to discover their true needs.

You can also ask for feedback. While at BC, I focused a whole week on getting feedback about the account. I found that our daily career tweets would be better during the lunch hour rather than first thing in the morning. I also learned that people loved trivia, but they wanted more academic questions. Don’t be afraid to ask your audience if they liked an event on Twitter. Survey emails are fine, but how many are actually filled out? For some people, it’s a lot easier to say it in 140 characters.

Cheat Sheet: How To Build a Great Persona

Use these quick guidelines to make sure you’re on the right track.

  • What 3 key traits does your brand have? Are they reflected?
  • Answer this question: Why support us?
  • Outline responses. Build trust. Respond and avoid the BS.
  • Don’t just depend on the persona—LISTEN to your audience for insights for their needs.
  • Seize opportunities to go above and beyond. Take an online conversation offline with a card, snail mail token of appreciation. Win hearts and minds!
  • Get offline. Attend events/conferences where your donors and audience are apt to understand their needs better.

Remember, a great persona will help you connect with your audience, but it’s up to a savvy social media manager to truly make your brand shine!

Nailed down your brand’s voice? Make sure to check out Stephanie’s tips on using Twitter to refill your donor pipeline.

Stephanie St. Martin is the Marketing Content Manager at The Ariel Group. Prior to this, she was the Social Media Manager for Boston College University Advancement, i.e. the person behind @BCAlumni on social media. When she’s not in the digital marketing trenches, Steph can be found writing, playing/hosting trivia, and driving around the USA in hopes of seeing all 50 state capitol buildings. Connect with her on LinkedIn and Twitter if you dare.

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