Transforming your brand’s tone of voice, for the sake of achieving relevance in social, is a fool’s errand. You don’t have to find your brand voice in social, because you’ve already created it.
Brands commonly homogenize their voice when dealing in social – a common mistake. True, a conversational tone is best used when engaging fans and followers; but that universal rule can be equally destructive if it means soft-pedaling your brand’s personality.
Most companies have brand guidelines, or some kind of fluff piece that goes over tone of voice — and it probably looks like it came from this guy to the right. A hospitality client of mine, in particular, comes to mind. Their tone was crisply defined in a slick-looking and thoroughly thought-out document that was given to us as a reference point when defining their social media content strategy. It’s probably only ever dug out when a new agency partner is hired, which was the case here. But when it comes to engaging in social, it should be your Bible.
In most cases, they’re filled with loquacious, and oftentimes unnatural, language. But it’s meant to be a starting point, not a set of rigid statutes. Your brand guidelines should act as a guiding post for your tone of voice in social; because, if nothing else, they embody what it is you stand for. And in social, you have to stand for something, because it’s that which defines you as a “person” in the space. It dictates how you talk, and what you talk about.
As individuals, we have different personalities — the same should be true of brands in social. Whether your brand’s voice is friendly and conversational, or confident and haughty, your tone should shine through. Anything less, and you’re simply faking who you are; and no one wants to be friends with a fake.
My earlier mentioned client’s voice in social, as we determined, is a direct lift from its brand’s guidelines. It has an edgy, somewhat self-serving, “I’m who you want to be,” attitude. While speaking with such a voice goes against everything most social marketers tell you, it’s a tone that’s reflective of what the brand stands for; and it’s working. Even as a brand tip-toeing into social, it has already seen significant organic growth on Twitter — rocketing past 1,000 followers in a month and half, and gaining the respect of influential bloggers along the way.
But it’s not just working because of how the brand sounds. A large part has to do with what the brand is talking about. If you’re an authority on a subject, and want people to know, don’t hesitate to express it. It comes down to a delicate balance of talking the talk, and walking the walk. Too much of either, and you become a lot of talk and no action, or simply boring to talk to.
The guy who tells amazing stories, but has never done anything himself, is just as bad as the guy who’s lived the stories, but is a terrible narrator.
That said, talk about interesting things, interestingly. Stick to your values. And be yourself.
Your brand already has a voice. You’ve defined your personality in the form of brand guidelines. Use them to tell charming stories that touch and inspire people. For all of its over-the-top language, if you read between the lines, the key to your voice in social is there. So, dig it up from the bowels of your hard drive. Don’t abandon it. Adapt it. And if your brand doesn’t have a defined personality…well then, maybe you shouldn’t be in social. Because who wants to talk to that guy?
Great post. I was having this conversation the other day with some friends. In some cases you may find that your company has different "voices". This is also a very important piece to consider. Who within your company engages your fans? Do you have separate initiatives that require a separate voice? While the overarching brand may be edgy and self-serving, how does that differ from the customer support group? I also think that understanding who "you" are helps you make decisions about where you are going and how you should participate.