Parton Me: 10 Social Media Lessons to Learn from Dolly
Sublime lyrics and bedazzled jackets aren’t the only things sharp about Dolly Parton. The Tennessee songbird is every bit as savvy a businesswoman as she is a legendary performer—and an actor, amusement park developer, dinner show theater owner, and film/television company mogul. Despite now being a “lady of a certain age,” Dolly boasts a social media following that many younger stars would envy, with more than 4.1 million Twitter followers, 3.7 million Facebook fans, 355k followers on Instagram, more than 22K subscribers to her official YouTube channel, and a grasp on the use of emojis:
What else can the self-proclaimed “Backwoods Barbie” teach us about social media, content marketing, and (of course) life in general? We rounded up a few favorites for y’all.
Remember Your Roots
The fourth of 11 surviving children, Parton was born and raised in the Tennessee Smoky Mountains to a sharecropper family so poor they couldn’t afford to pay the doctor who delivered her. Her father instead gave the doctor a sack of cornmeal, leading to Parton’s running joke that she’s been “making dough ever since.” Dolly’s unwavering gratitude for her real rags-to-riches story seeps into everything she does—including her songs and social media. Although your brand’s roots may not be quite so humble, every company started somewhere. No matter how large your organization may be now, consider incorporating your brand’s origin story into your social content—even if it’s just a #TBT post—to humanize and make your brand relatable. Also, remember to give regular social media shoutouts to coworkers and collaborators who built your organization into what it is today. This also means engaging with your fans on social media early and often. Giving credit where credit is due is a kind and humble way to give back and goes a long way towards creating goodwill toward your brand.
Prepare for the Worst, but Hope for the Best
Any career as long and storied as Dolly’s has run into a few bumps along the way. There’s never enough time to come up with a plan after an issue arises on social, so even if a crisis seems unlikely, it is important (as Dolly says) to prepare for the worst. Collaborate with your PR team to create a contingency plan before disaster strikes. For more tips on this, check out our webinar.
Stay Positive and Don’t Be Afraid to Try New Things
Scared of committing to Snapchat? Nervous that you won’t be able to find an audience for your podcast? Neither are good enough excuses for Dolly. At 70 years old, Dolly hasn’t missed a beat, creating Spotify playlists, making Snapchat filters, appearing in Cosmo’s Happy Hour podcast, and a second NBC Christmas movie—in addition to a 60-stop tour. Dolly has never been afraid to try new things, and neither should you. The only thing worse than having a small following on a social channel is having no following at all. It’s better to start somewhere and work your way up than to chicken out of the social channel altogether.
Know and Highlight Your Best Features
As frequent as Dolly’s costume changes are, she always emphasizes her, err, “finest” assets. Take an honest inventory of your strongest content areas—specific blog posts, videos, cases studies, press hits, etc.—and highlight these attention-grabbing features in your social media calendar. Be on the lookout for new ways to bring attention to this content. For more content-promoting ideas such as relevant social media holidays, world events, etc., sign up for our Social Sidekick weekly email newsletter.
Build and maintain a solid brand identity.
As Dolly honky-tonks in “Country Is as Country Does,” “‘Cause I’m quite content with who I am/And if you ain’t, well, kiss my ham.” Whether you’re a fan or not, no one has ever accused Dolly of being off-brand. She not only embraces but encourages this on social media by sharing some of her favorite adages and quotes with the hashtag #Dollyism, bolstering her legendary status to a new generation of social media users. Follow in Dolly’s footsteps and be unapologetically YOU on social media. Sit down with your team on a regular basis to define and refine your brand’s voice and image. What do you have or what can you share better than anyone else? Find fresh ways to translate these items to your content and social media calendars, seeing new social platforms and algorithm changes not as a challenge but a new vehicle to adapt your brand voice.
Authenticity Is Everything
As Dolly herself says, “I may look fake, but I’m real where it counts.” She doesn’t let trends dictate what she does or wears—as she told The Guardian, “I’m not trying to be fashionable. Never was!” Only write and share content about what is important to you and your brand. This is key to building a long-term rapport with your following. A false tone or note rings flat and does little to earn their respect or trust. Establish a relationship with your audience by consistently sharing relevant content in an honest and empathetic fashion. Engaging with your fans’ comments and questions is essential as well. A real relationship goes both ways.
Seek out and Nurture Collaborations
Not one to hog the spotlight, Dolly’s friendly nature has always lent itself to collaboration. She has famously partnered with the likes of Emmylou Harris, Linda Ronstadt, Kenny Rogers, and Porter Wagoner (whose collaboration with Parton was the inspiration for “I Will Always Love You”). To promote her Pure & Simple tour, she teamed up with Cracker Barrel and popular acapella group Pentatonix to perform an updated version of her classic “Jolene” that immediately went viral. She also released a special full-length song exclusively on Cosmo as well as an epic mash-up on Forever Country with Carrie Underwood, Keith Urban, Trisha Yearwood, and more. Social media managers would do well to similarly keep an eye out for influencers and accounts with similar target audiences or interests and propose a collaboration that will benefit both parties (and be fun, too).
Simple, Direct Talk Is Best
Dolly has written some of the most enduring and popular hits in music history (Jolene, 9 to 5, Islands in the Stream). All resonate deeply with listeners despite lacking pretension and multi-syllable words. Keep the blog and social media posts short and sweet, avoiding jargon and overly flowery language to replicate the relatable spirit of Parton’s writing style. If you wouldn’t say (or sing) what you’re writing in a post while having a real conversation, cut it out.
Kill’em with Kindness
Film critic Roger Ebert once wrote that meeting Parton made him feel “as if I were being mesmerized by a benevolent power. I left the room in a cloud of good feeling.” Staying optimistic and judgement-free has served Dolly well. Although it may be tempting to tweet scathing remarks about competitors, it opens the door for other brands to do the same to you. Emulate Parton by taking the high road on social media (and across the board) to reinforce your brand’s image as kind, approachable, and well-intentioned. If you take to Twitter only to criticize other brands, don’t be surprised when they and other users respond in kind. This also extends to customer service. When a user complains about your company on a social, don’t fire back. Instead, thank them for bringing the situation to your attention, apologize for any inconvenience, and attend to their issues in a timely fashion.
Above All, Keep Your Sense of Humor
Parton has long been the queen of pithy one-liners—and most of the time, her joke’s on her. Her snappy sense of humor (and humility) endears her to her fans and tempers her glamorous image. Fans prefer both bands and brands that aren’t afraid to poke fun at themselves. It’s important to consider your audience before cracking a joke on social media, but when deployed tactfully (and not at another person or brand’s expense), humor can work wonders towards humanizing your brand.
Although not everyone is a country fan, you could do worse than to take a few tips out of Parton’s rhinestone-studded playbook. When in doubt, ask yourself: what would Dolly do?