Defining Your Voice & Tone Online
It's taken me a long time to define my voice and tone online. I want to help you avoid that.
I fell into working in tech and my career in 2010 and had no clear idea of what I was doing.
I had been blogging and sharing things online since 2005. And while I was a late comer to the Internet, I was always an early adopter when it came to social media. But having a plan never crossed my mind. I just shared what I wanted, how I wanted, and when I wanted.
Once I created my own business in 2013, I realized that I really needed to come up with a clear and concise idea of what I would share and talk about online, as well as how I would talk about it in order for people to take me seriously.
Creating a voice and tone for social media has helped me understand the quality of content I want to share, as well as define what my business is about to the outside world.
I've also realized through trial and error that one is simply wasting time if a plan is not in place of what, when, and how you want to get your message across online.
When creating one's own social media strategy the very first place to begin with this is developing and defining your voice and tone online. Whether you are a personal brand like myself or a company with hundreds deep, if you're sharing things online you should have a clear and succinct idea as to what your brand's voice and tone is.
Defining your voice is not overtly difficult, but it's also not as easy as just throwing whatever comes to mind online either. Your brand's voice should be deliberate, measured, and align with your business' goals. Your content should convey your voice in a way that is clear to your audience.
People take this sort of thing very seriously. Whenever a brand goes "off message," people freak out. How many times have you seen something go viral because it was either in very poor form, or it just didn't jibe with what people thought the brand was about? Too many times to count!
Underlining what your brand's voice is; how it will talk, and won't talk online is super important in today's climate. It also gives you solid boundaries as to how to keep your brand inline with its values and goals.
When defining your voice, think of it as a personality -- the best part of that personality. Your voice represents your business' spirit (and most likely your spirit as well because it's you behind your brand). Think of it as your best foot forward online. Sort of like when you go to a dinner party you're excited about, you act like your best self. This is how to think about your brand's voice online; its absolute best self.
When developing a brand's voice online there are many questions to ask to start to develop that voice. Buffer has gathered a handful of great questions to ask from many sources, so we'll use those and my own additions:
If your brand were a person, what kind of personality would it have?
If your brand were a person, what is your brand's relationship to your client or perceived audience? (friend in the know, teacher, insider, etc)
What does your brand stand for?
What are your brand's values?
List all of the adjectives that describe your business' personality.
List a handful of adjectives that are the opposite of what your business' personality is.
Are there other businesses that have a similar personality to yours? (Examples could be your contemporaries or huge multi-million dollar companies - inspiration can be anywhere!)
How do you want people to think about your company? What do you want to be known for?
What sets your brand apart from others? What is your secret sauce or your advantage?
A handful of adjectives that I use to describe my brand's voice are: approachable, informative, helpful, fun, and creative. I want to empower women to create their own careers and experiences online, so sharing information to help them achieve this and being approachable so others can learn is imperative to my voice. It's also important that I never appear to be a know-it-all when sharing information because I want to create an environment of growth and empowerment through my business.
My brand is a personal brand, many of these attributes represent what I want my best self as an individual to represent. This may be similar for you as well when defining your business' voice.
Look to Contemporaries, Peers, & Other Businesses You Respect (or Not)
Pay attention to how other brands within your industry speak and convey their message. It can not only guide you, but by watching the lingo, slang, industry buzzwords they use, and the attitudes they convey they may also reveal insight into how you can set yourself apart.
Tone is how you convey your voice. It is your attitude, your flair, your style. It's how you convey your brand's messaging, that's why it's such an integral part of one's voice.
People often get tripped up and find it difficult to tell the difference between voice and tone. A few things to consider when discerning between the two:
Voice never changes, but tone can change vastly depending on the specific content you are sharing. Tone can be silly, serious, or joyful -- but the voice represents fundamental values and should never change.
Voice is to funny, as tone is to sarcastic, witty, biting, goofy. (Written.com makes this important distinction.)
Voice is what you will talk about, tone is how you will say it.
To bring this back to my own voice and tone, I use humor a lot within my content - but it is witty and at times slightly dark perhaps at times exasperated but never biting or sarcastic (because let's face it, this is the Internet we're discussing and it can be absurd). So while my voice may be funny, my tone is witty.
When developing your tone, ask these questions:
Are you more formal or casual when speaking online?
Do you use slang, industry jargon, or emoticons?
What emotions are OK to convey? What are not? Or when are they OK? (For instance perhaps you never touch political items even if they are funny. But when a beloved celebrity like David Bowie dies how will you address it online? These are scenarios to think about because they will come up, and you should be prepared.)
How will you speak directly to comments or inquiries? For instance Workspace outlines (and for good reason) that you may want to be "friendly" and "always sound helpful, welcoming, and polite; but never sound "over-familiar or chatty". Such an important distinction to make! Have you ever had a brand be too familiar? Feels gross, right?
What words will you stay away from? (For instance, I try and stay away from trendy buzzwords like "lady boss," but I do use Internet acronyms like lol, omg, etc.)
How strict is your grammar? Will you use abbreviations when writing a tweet if necessary?
How do you use punctuation? Casually or more formally? ex: ALL CAPS, no caps.
One of the many great things about being online is things change. So will your voice and tone. You will grow and evolve. Revisit your voice and tone at least twice a year. If you have staff, create a living document that describes what the brand's tone and voice is so everyone can refer back to it when in doubt.
It's up to you to define who you want to be online, it's OK to experiment and test things out. Pay attention to what works, what feels good, what gets good responses.
Why this is important
In today's day and age authenticity online is increasingly important, so figuring out your voice now allows you to make less mistakes regarding content, copy, and your attitude online down the road.
By defining a voice and tone for your brand, it allows you to remain consistent online. Understanding what you will and won’t say, and how you’ll say it online offers your brand the ability to be relatable and relevant to followers, clients, and community. By understanding what your voice and tone are, it can define what outside content you'll share online, as well as how you'll speak to your audience in good times and bad (hello, disgruntled customer).
Above all developing a solid and structured voice and tone lends a credibility to your brand, and it builds loyalty and reliability.