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Being on Brand or being real? What's better for social media?

Being on Brand or Being Real: Which Is Better for Social Media?

Brian Peters

Mar 5, 2020

Social media is a great place to experiment with new messages. You can quickly gauge their performance and easily compare results. Experimentation should be built into any well-articulated social media strategy. But what about your brand voice on social? Can you experiment with it and push boundaries? Read on to discover how to negotiate the need to stick with brand guidelines and the need to experiment and evolve. Then read our ebook on creating great brand content for social.

What makes for an effective brand positioning strategy on social media? 

Many brands would say that it’s “following strict brand guidelines” while other brands would say it’s all about “being real” with your audience.

Truthfully, the best brands on social media utilize a combination of both of these strategies. And it wouldn’t be completely off base to assume that you follow brands purely for their entertainment value (I sure do). This makes finding the perfect ideal of being on brand and being real even more important.

Today we’re breaking down examples of authentic brands that seem to have found the right mix in their brand strategy on social media.

Brands Succeeding with Being Real

There’s little doubt that one of the most popular trends in social media today is brands being edgy and sassy, or as we like to say, being real. Edgy brands hook audiences by showing off personality and connecting with their audience in an authentic way.

While this strategy can be extremely effective for some companies in brand building, it can also be completely off-putting for others. The key is to know when, where, and how to use edginess to your advantage.

Sticker Mule

Let’s take @stickermule as an example of a brand where sass works: 

Sticker Mule keeps it real with their audience by Tweeting how your friends would talk in real life. In other words, they don’t use fancy jargon or generic promotional language, they Tweet like an actual human.

But that doesn’t mean brands keeping it real can’t promote their own product in a tasteful and engaging way.


One brand that keeps it a bit more “professional” than Sticker Mule, but still succeeds at being real is Snickers.

They mix product promotion with humor and engaging visual content. Once Snickers has an idea for a campaign and they’ve planned out the content they want to share, they go all out. For example, perfectly timed Tweets with the Super Bowl: 

Unfortunately, not every brand has a multi-million-dollar content and advertising budget like Snickers, but that doesn’t mean your brand can’t keep it real with a witty, well-timed content. All it takes is a little creativity and planning ahead.

Brands Succeeding with Being on Brand

A brand is much more than a logo, cover photo, or set of hex codes. Ultimately, a brand is how you make your customers feel. It’s a long-term investment that is built over many interactions with your audiences across various marketing channels.

Luckily, social media is rapidly changing and “being on brand” doesn’t necessarily mean being boring or stuffy. You can still generate awareness, manage brand reputation, and drive sales with brand-based content.

Burt’s Bees

Professional, yet still fun, @burtsbees exemplifies what it means to build a brand (without keeping it real) in a purposeful way. 

We all know that social media algorithms play an important role in which piece of content gets shown to which user at what specific time. And we also know that engagement is one of the most important algorithm criteria. To be seen and heard on social media (organically), you need to create content that engages your fans.

The number of engagements on your social media posts influences the number of people who would see them.

Burt’s Bees shows that the best way to stay on brand is to remain consistent across all of your social media channels. Reinforce your brand voice, values, and message via different types of content and content formats.


Like the talented creators and writers at Pixar once said, “Great stories are universal.” 

This can be applied to brand building as well. Brands that tell stories that are relatable by many different people, cultures, and backgrounds are the brands that are going to stand out.

For an example of this in action, look no further than Airbnb: 

Moving beyond basic accommodation bookings, Airbnb offered curated experiences that begged to be saved, booked, and shared. The success of this campaign was largely due to the story that Airbnb was and is telling about a human’s innate love for travel.

The captivating content extended across the company’s Instagram feed, Instagram Stories, Stories Ads, in addition to print, TV and other social media channels.

Brand Building Made Simple

Whether you’re keeping it real or being on brand, at the end of the day, your audience wants to be entertained and they want to feel like they’re a part of a vibrant community. Social media monitoring and measurement tools can help you make sense of what audiences think about your brand and what actionable steps you can take to dramatically improve brand sentiment over time.