Irreverent, Whimsical, or Sassy?

Learn how to bring your brand to life.

Guest Author Laura Zabel 12.04.2012

I had two different meetings last week where someone expressed their interest in Springboard for the Arts’ casual, conversational brand. “You guys do whimsy really well.” “I can tell you guys are having so much fun.”

It was fantastic to hear this from people outside the organization—that’s the brand we’d like to be known for. It was also a good reminder that although sometimes I think the “fun, young, irreverent” thing is sort of a cliché, in the nonprofit sector, a lot of us are still finding our way with social media, still figuring out how to communicate our passion for our cause in an engaging and effective way. I’m definitely still working on and trying to figure out those things. Here’s some things I think I’ve learned along the way:

It’s got to be real

This sounds obvious. But our irreverence and attitude about our work only comes across because it’s authentic. We actually think that making a silly video is the best way to tell people about our healthcare program. We actually are having fun a lot of the time (although I can’t say there is dancing every day.) We are all artists and so expressing ourselves creatively feels comfortable to us—I imagine to another group of people, stopping in the middle of the day to make a ridiculous video would feel forced, not to mention annoying.

Trust and values

We don’t have a social media policy. I know. I know! It’s on the list. But the reason it’s not on the top of list is because we have these guiding principles. They are more important than any policy we have, because they are the values from which we all work. And because those principles are built on our shared understanding and commitment to our mission, we trust each other to be stewards of that mission first and hilarious and pithy Facebook commenters second. It’s also why, even though we’ve never had a single meeting about it, we’re never mean, never antagonistic, never profane in our public persona.

You have to deliver

Especially if you’re brand is a little sassy, you have to make sure that sass is backed up with good customer service and hard work. We may make silly videos but we also work super hard and spend the majority of our time thinking, worrying and working to make our programs better. I once hired a business that is known for its cheeky brand. The project we hired them for didn’t go well and while I was living through their endless delays, poor work product and evasive and client-blaming attitude, it was infuriating to follow the business on Twitter. Even though I know that the person doing the tweeting is not directly responsible for our account, every time I saw a tweet that said “we stopped for a mid afternoon beer and video game break!” I had to restrain myself from replying “drink after you finish the bleeping work I am bleeping paying you for!”* It was a really good lesson—irreverence just comes across as disrespectful if you don’t back it up with quality.

In the end, I think those people who respond to our brand know that we’re serious about our work and serious about the fun, too. Or maybe they just really like silly videos.

*see? no profanity.

Laura Zabel is the executive director of Springboard for the Arts, an economic development organization run by and for artists based in Minnesota. Laura and Springboard can be found online at these various places:

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