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In digital marketing years, I am a Dinosaur.
I am so old that I remember how cool it was when I figured out how to add motion to banner ads. Listening to some of the first podcasts. And even when mobile-friendly websites were just a ‘nice thing to have.’
Back then, people couldn’t figure out where to categorize social media into their marketing initiatives, so they began to call it, “Well, I guess it’s social media marketing?“
Raise your hand if you were around in this transitional era.
I started working in marketing while I was still in university in 2008 and kept on that journey (with a tiny blip in the matrix) until now. In 2008, Facebook had just been set free from its original ideation that only college students with a student email should be able to create a profile. And, Instagram wasn’t even in its gestation period yet. At the time, the thought of ever marketing with the platforms was certainly not in my future. I only used social media to provide future embarrassment for myself.
Thank you, me.
Fast forward to 2012, Instagram is now a few years old and very popular with young adults, and Facebook is a household name. In my marketing position at the time, I was fortunate to have the opportunity to try things out and see what worked. I took a look at Instagram one day and thought, why don’t we give it a try for the biz? Our CMO gave me the go-head to put energy into it but keep it fun.
This was when my career as a memer began.
But, I am not here to relive those days.
Instead, I want to point out something missing from those early days of Social Media Marketing? That is a personality.
Yes, yes, yes, we talk about Brand Voice all of the time. It is—in not-so-subtle terms—my obsession. Early in my career, I was annoyed by mailers, banners, and websites that weren’t cohesive or, even worse—yawn-inducing. When social media became mainstream marketing, the gap between “branding” and “personality” became massive.
You know what I am talking about, the brand with memes and sarcastic rants on social media, and then a website with drab copy and stock photography. It was (and is) rampant.
But, the one thing that was also rampant was the ability to see what stuck to the wall. At the time, brands were diving into their intricacies and not in a ‘trying to be edgy’ way. Just in a, “hey, we do x differently than our competitor, so let’s shout it from the rooftops!” It made the game super fun. And without the massive amounts of photo editing software, expensive gear, and phones with movie-quality lenses, the pressure was off for creating something perfect. Good was great enough.
I saw brands doing cool things. I saw them making actual comedy, interacting with followers without canned responses, or a simple heart eyes emoji. I saw them fudging up their branding and making mistakes but leaving them up for the world to see. It felt real.
Maybe I am dating myself by talking about these days, but I am nostalgic, okay? While the journey from a single-static-post-feed-that-you-had-to-time-perfectly-for-the-chance-for-your-audience-to-even-see-them has drastically changed, it feels like we are chasing personality instead of manifesting it.
Hear me out.
The Instagram feed went from real, raw imagery to perfectly curated, too-good-to-be-true, hyper-edited, unrealistic, and unattainable content. Everything on the feed is polished, perfect, and meticulously targeted to draw your attention.
Then came Instagram Stories, which started as snapshots of BTS (behind-the-scenes) footage and fun quips and quickly turned into, you guessed it, super polished, same-as-the-competitor content. Now, it has become a center of engagement: a place for polls, questions, submissions, music sharing, and more.
Then entered IG Live: a hot mess of people just trying stuff out—Q+A’s, short seminars, and funny quips, mostly. Then it devolved into highly-scripted, have-the-marketing-manager-leak-questions videography and in enters IGTV.
Same here, IGTV starts as fun, short, portrait-style videos and quickly alters to allow landscape-style video. “Great!” brands say, “Let’s post everything we make for YouTube onto this channel.” And now, we find ourselves on Reels.
Now, you have caught your brand in a sticky situation. Chase the next trend, try the next dance move, try to make it look authentic, but also use your very expensive equipment, and—as they say—“marketing ruins everything.” Onto the next distraction. Soon enough, you are chasing trends that don’t create community, don’t bring clicks to your website, and have absolutely no ROI, all to look cool.
What I am trying to say here is that people are looking for authenticity. They are looking for your brand to give them something, not just take. Create funny content. Not funny-to-you content—funny. Create sincere content. Encourage people. Create a community. Create for the platform you are marketing on, not every platform.
Stop chasing the trends. Be good at being you. That is what brand voice is all about.
Now, there is an elephant in the room, and that is the four-letter word, “Agency.”
Companies have been forced to outsource their marketing; sometimes, the digital space just moves too quickly to handle alone, and that’s okay. But when you have an in-house team, multiple agencies, and a freelancer or two managing your brand, it can be impossible to maintain a consistent, authentic voice. We totally understand that.
But what we’ve learned over the years is that agencies who don’t take the time for R+D (research and discovery) to get to know you—and not just your basics, we mean getting to know the brand voice and what it needs as intimately as getting to know an actual human being—are out for your pocket change and aren’t worth their weight in aluminum.
When you are sussing out who to work with, see who is interested in y-o-u. Who is willing to lose the deal because they require time to get to know you before a launch? Who is strategy-first or the highway? These are the people worth working with
This opinion piece specifically looks at Instagram because, in our experience, this is what brands are always concerned about. Due to its highly visual nature, for some reason, it is the go-to for new content, and every other platform gets the hand-me-down posts. In the future, we will get into why that is not a strategy, but for now, just know that each platform deserves its own content. Yes, evergreen content is wonderful and even better when it can be used across platforms. But, why would people follow you on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, LinkedIn, and Tik Tok, if you are posting the same content to all of them every day? Our advice is to take the time to do social the right way.
If you need someone to help you find your way via optimized social media, copywriting, and content marketing, we would love to chat. Our team dives deep into personality and strategy and partners with you to create real, honest online communities. Click here to send us a little hello, and let’s chat soon!