Defining and Delivering your social media tone of voice

Discover how to best represent your brand on social media with the SoCrowd Academy Tone of Voice course. From strictly professional to friendly and open, find the best way to portray your brand on social media.

About Our Social Media Tone of Voice Class

Our class with take you through the essential steps to ensure your brand is best portrayed on social media by using the correct tone of voice.

Regardless of the industry, social media is another opportunity for customers to reach out to you, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Therefore, it is important for your social media presence to echo your brands real life values and purpose. Our class will help you pinpoint the best ways to portray these online whilst showing your brands personality.

Hello, this is the lesson about tone of voice on your social media.

And I think this is a really interesting one to do as well, because the more you think through your tone of voice as an organisation on social media, the more you realise there are loads of different ways that you can go.

And I’m going to just talk you through some of the things that you need to consider and how you’re going to add this to your strategy to make sure that everything that you say feels like someone, feels like a personality has said it, and it isn’t just dry and bland.

I think of tone of voice in food terms, everything with me as is a food analogy. But if you think of food, it has nutritional value, and that is kind of what you say. And tone of voice is your flavour, is what brings your food to life. It’s what makes people want to come back and eat it more. Or in our case is what makes people want to talk to you and listen to what you’ve got to say.

So we’re going to have a look at tone of voice and think through some examples that I’m going to show you and how that might apply to your organisation.

So first of all, I’m going to just start to think about brands that you will have heard of, that you’ll kind of know that they have a very distinct personality online.

And I might take you through a few smaller brands that also have a tone of voice and just kind of chat with you a little bit about how they do things a little bit differently. How they have flavour in the content that they make.

Let’s take Innocent drinks as an example. They do smoothies and I think they do soups and stuff as well. But no doubt if you’ve heard of Innocent drinks and soups and all of that stuff, you have kind of a feel for the way that they talk, its a little bit different from your average food brand.

And let’s have a look at this Tweet. So this is an example of the kind of thing that they put onto their Twitter and it’s fun.

So first of all, I’ll read out to you. “Before going outside you will need: gloves, thick socks, some earmuffs, 9 jumpers, 11 scarfs, 14 hot water bottles taped to your body, a duvet, a radiator, a pack of huskies, a jacket potato on each hand, a thermos full of lava”.

And then in brackets, it says “if you’re from the north, you might want to take a coat,” close brackets. What I love about this tweet is its showing humour.

So I’m trying to imagine a really kind of corporate risk averse brand and if you tried to do something similar, I can imagine what your colleagues would say. So they’d say, why are you making jokes, you should be selling smoothies. Or they’d say, you better not say that because people in the north might be offended that you’re saying they go out without a coat. And it’s fine, Innocent have taken a position on this.

They’ve decided that they want to have a little bit of fun and be playful with their audience. And they also have decided as a tone of voice that it’s not all about them and how they do things.

So their tone isn’t about talking about amazing fruit and veg, you know. Their tone is much more having a joke about related subjects, subjects that we’ve got in common with our audience. If it’s winter outside we’ll make some fun stuff about winter.

And this is a really distinct tone of voice. So if you look at their website they don’t say you can phone us on this number they say, give us a ring on the banana phone. And if you just have a look through all of their stuff you’ll see that this is quite a consistent fun approach. And for everyone who hates it, there is a raving fan, someone somewhere who absolutely loves it.

Let’s have a look at another tweet. And obviously, we can look at lots of different kinds of social media posts and tweets are just easier for me to screen grab and show you.

So I thought I’d show you Nike. So this example shows Nike kind of trying to be the inspirational guru and I have no idea what it says in their social media tone of voice policy or document.

But I can pretty much get a real sense across all of their social media posts that they’re doing the same thing. They’ve got this slightly Steve Jobs deal going on where it’s like, we’re all about you being the best person you can be, even if you’re a bit wild and unconventional.

Now, people who by Nike are in their many zillions, and I can’t imagine every one of them thinks of themselves as a revolutionary. But this really ties into that idea of being your best self and using Nike products to get fitter.

So this tweet has a video and it shows lots of people trying to achieve things physically, and the text on the tweet is: “Don’t ask if your dreams are crazy. Ask if they’re crazy enough.”

But I don’t know why, it makes me laugh. I think it’s a bit cheesy and on the other hand, I also think it’s a lovely aspirational kind of way to think of things. So it doesn’t really matter about my opinion, i’m probably going end up buying like stuff anyway. This isn’t about selling goods, this is about making me feel in some way in tune with that brand or not. And that is how tone of voice works really it’s the difference between giving information and making people feel like they’re part of your gang.

So here’s another example. And this time it’s a housing association. So quite a small organisation in the UK and they use their Facebook page to talk to people who are tenants usually on their Facebook page.

So before we even start you can see there are emojis on this, and it’s signed off by a guy called Aiden, who’s their customer contact person. And it starts off with this really bright: “Hello Good morning. We’re one day closer to the weekend. Do you all have plans?” with little thinky emoji face.

“I’m going to take it easy this weekend, maybe do some cleaning/tidying around the house. Boring I know.” “If you need me, drop me a direct message for all your repairs queries or general questions. Have a great day.”

So this is an example of the kind of post that seems a little bit over friendly to some people sometimes people say, well, that’s not how a corporate organisation should talk.

But one thing I would mention about this post is everybody loves Aiden, so that kind of page that is constantly updated by him with offers to help are really bright and cheery things to talk about.

People love it. And it sounds like Aiden, it sounds like a human wrote it. I think that’s what’s really beautiful about that particular post.

I did hear that when Aiden went on holiday people even started a campaign to say get Aiden back, we miss Aiden. And there’s something to be learned from this in the tone of voice that actually it’s an emotional thing if people connect with it.

They want to speak to you. They actively hope to be able to talk to you every day. And it’s a friendly face. If you think of something like a social housing organisation, often one of their aims is to combat loneliness in the community.

And actually, if you offer people nice opportunities to have a conversation with you then you’re doing it as well as promoting whatever initiatives that you have to stop people feeling lonely. You’ll notice on this page if you go and have a look at it. There are lots of people who regularly chat with Aiden, and they love the experience.

So here’s an example from a council. So quite a small organisation, but with a really distinct brand. And you might have seen Doncaster council talk about this on one of our other webinars.

So Doncaster council have decided that they’re going to tweet about the weather and talk about their gritters.

So here’s the example where it says: “It’s cold.” So it’s just a friendly general statement and then they just go through the fact that there’s a risk of forming ice and that the gritters are out.

But they’ve put together a playlist that helps gritters, to listen to music while they’re working. And they shared that with their audience.

And as a tone of voice, I think this is lovely, because it brings your audience along behind the scenes with the workers that are out in the snow and the ice trying to fix the roads up.

So I think it’s a really interesting couple of things to think about with your tone of voice. Do you want to help bring people behind the scenes? Do you want to make them feel like part of your club? Do you want to have a fun tone of voice? Do you want to always talk about your business, or do you want to sometimes talk about relatable subjects that you have in common? All of these things are questions that you can ask yourself.

And I’m going to bring you through a few extra things to think about in your tone of voice that will just help you make those decisions. You have to make a decision. So you can’t be everything to everyone.

Have a look back at your values as an organisation, and just see how you can really bring them to life with a tone of voice that works for you. So if you want to create your organisation’s tone of voice guide, have a think about what that looks like.

The first thing I’d say is don’t get too hung up on being kind of militant about phrasing. So I remember, I used to always kind of work for different organisations that would have different tone of voice policies, general ones.

And it would often be things like – I worked in-house at Monmouthshire County Council – so it would be things like, don’t say “Monmouthshire Council”, say “Monmouthshire County Council”, or don’t say ‘tip’ say ‘civic amenities site”.

No, I won’t even go on to that subject. And the point of it was that it was about kind of being really specific about wording that you could use, which is not massively practical and it doesn’t help you address different situations.

OK so I said the right words, but how you say them is much more important. What to think about with tone of voice is that it replaces body language a lot of the time. So of course, you can apply it to video.

But a lot of the time from your writing text and you’re at least writing it to be delivered in speech, if not just read, and that has to compensate for the fact that when you’re talking to someone, there’s facial expressions, there’s movement, there’s whether they look approachable or not. Like if I’m sitting like this, is really different to if I’m sitting like that.

So when you’re talking to people, whether it’s creating content or having conversations in comments on social media, you have to kind of think, well, if I make a joke how am I going to make sure that they know that it’s a joke.

If I’m responding to someone who’s gone through incredibly
difficult day, how will they know that I’m empathising with them, that I’m ready and listening. This is what tone of voice does for you, it replaces some of that stuff.

And think back to the post from Stonewater with Aiden, there are a lot of emojis in there. But I wouldn’t say that they were completely useless. They’re not just there for fun. They’re almost giving you a cue around what the emotion is as he says each one of those sentences.

So, I’m not saying you have to use a lot of emojis, but recognise that there are little tricks and tips that you can do that help bring that meaning across in what you’re trying to say.

Every good tone of voice guide can be summed up in a sentence. So I’m going to take you through some things to think about.

But first off think that your tone of voice guide should be something that people can repeat across the organisation, something that they can remember, nice and brief summary.

And it does matter because most people in your organisation don’t want to read a PDF document on your intranet about tone of voice. They would like to just kind of get the gist. And it’s there if they want it, but at least you know, you can very quickly sum it up.

So I worked on quite a few social media strategies with lots of different organisations, and tone of voice is quite important. And here’s an example of some one sentence tone of voice guides that I’ve worked on.

So there is “Write like you speak”. Which is really vague I think, and there is more detail that comes after it.

But that’s what that organisation wanted to say, of just they knew that their organisation and all of the stuff in it were very good. They were like, they trusted that their tone of voice was always appropriate. So they just tried to make sure that the verbal side of things came out in their writing.

Another one is, “we match the mood of people we’re speaking to”. So again, that was just trying to get across to that organisation, which I think was an NHS Trust, just to remember that you can’t be the same in every room you’re in.

And we had this conversation of like, I’ve got my own tone of voice, and let’s say I’m quite informal and I often crack quite bad dad jokes, or make stupid puns where they’re not necessary, and that comes with me wherever I go.

So as an individual, I have a tone of voice and that means that when I’m in the pub with my uncle having a pint I’m going to be informal and I’ll probably crack jokes, and it means that when I’m in an interview, i’m probably less formal than most people, but I will be on best behaviour.

And I might crack jokes but they’d be very work related jokes and I’ll try and keep them to a minimum. So they’re still here in me, but I’m adapting to the room and the situation that I’m in.

And this is something to think about with your tone of voice, particularly about how will it work in different situations.

Another example of a one sentence tone of voice guide that sums up everything that’s gone in it is: “Our words make a sound like we’re smiling.”

So that organisation was trying to tell people to rewrite it, and imagine yourself smiling, and like, imagine what different words you’d use, what different body language you’d use. And it it did help them to, kind of, craft much more warm and engaging content.

Talking of warmth, another example is: “We are always warm, and never rambling”, and I wish I could say the same for myself – I often do ramble. But I think that was a particularly, it was an organisation that had a lot of experts and academics in it. And often when you’re really passionate about your subject, you go on and on and on. And they find that actually once they’ve had this kind of ingrained in their culture things got a lot easier to understand and people warmed up to them a lot.

So one sentence that sums up what you’re doing is probably harder to think about now, but we’ll go through a few things that’ll help you get in the direction of pulling all of those things together.

One technique that I use with tone of voice guidance is asking key people in your organisation, if you could be a personality, who would you be? So I call this the brand idol exercise.

One organisation that I work with, I was with the Chief Exec and the Exec team, and I was saying who would be your brand idol? So when things happen or when you’re trying to create content who would you like to sound like? Who do you think would handle it really well?

And this Chief exec of an organisation said Obama. Definitely Obama. That is exactly what I want us to be. He’s cool and she listed what he was like. He’s cool. But he means business is very serious but he’s capable of having fun. And she she listed out his characteristics. And I said, great, well, you’ve just written the tone of voice guide.

It’s so much easier sometimes to try and write like, put human characteristics in and see how they fit with your brand.

Because as a brand you know most people just think of you as a logo or a building or something that’s not tangible that’s not human. Try and think of different kinds of people that you might want to emulate. One organisation I worked with work students, and they picked a couple of people. And we ended up kind of amalgamating a few people together.

So the one person they picked was Zoella, so she’s a blogger or a vlogger, for those of you who don’t know Zoella. And what they liked about her was that she had this appeal that was much more about human kind of vulnerability.

So she not only kind of flogs makeup and whatever it is that beauty bloggers do, but she also let people into her behind the scenes experience of anxiety and depression.

And I think that organisation was really keen to bring out vulnerability and get students talking about that kind of stuff.

But they also wanted to be a bit spikier, that we did some analysis of their social media and we find that when they are being almost sarcastic and a little bit campaigning they got the best response from their output from their tweets and their Facebook posts.

So we also said, well, maybe a bit kind of Owen Jones, who is a journalist who divides a lot of people, but also has a lot of people who are behind him and love and hang on his every word.

So they kind of tried to amalgamate some of those things to have a really distinct brand voice. And it works for them all the time.

And it helped them be a bit bolder because they made that decision based on what people would or how people react to them already as well as what they wanted to be.

Next thing to think about is your social media voice. There are four parts of this.

And again, you might think this is a little bit repetitive, but when you do all of these tasks and get it all down on a bit of paper, you can start to pull out trends and kind of patterns in what it is that you want to be and how you want to sound like.

So the four parts that I like to think about your character, your language, your tone and your purpose.

So have a think about character. What is the character of your brand when you’re talking on social media. And remember, it’s social media not corporate media.

So if you’re at a conference or you’re talking to your customers face to face. How would they describe you. How would they describe your people, your staff. What is the culture there.

So some examples of the kind of words that you might pick: playful, professional, inspiring, authoritative, and friendly. They’re all very different, and if you can pick one and try to be that way all the time you begin to sound like someone distinct.

Language: Is it going to be simple, is it going to be fun, serious, local, savvy, insider, complex. These are things that matter actually because it depends on your brand.

If you worked for a council for instance, I’d say local might be a really good way to aim. I worked for a council in Wales, South Wales, and we had “local” as one of our words as part of our tone of voice.

And I used to say someone might share a nice picture of a beautiful sunset in Abergavenny and I’d retweeted and say, wow, that looks lush. And lush is a word that we use in that area. So why not use it helps connect you with local people.

It is part of our distinct flavour as an area. It’s OK to sound like your audience. If anything is better. It’s not unprofessional to say lush as a few people did mention to me at the time that they thought or why.

Like, why is the council saying photos are lush and I’m acting on behalf of the council and I’m a human and I’m bringing in that flavour that binds us together bringing together words that make people feel relaxed and at home. So that really worked for that.

If you’re going for fun with your language you’re probably going to be much more playful with the kinds of words that you use.

You might use portmanteau words or you know you could be saying “LOL” instead of “wow that was funny”.

You know, I’ll leave that up to you. But you pick that words around what direction do you want your language to go in.

I go for simple in everything that I do for my business. I’m always thinking about simplicity, because I dislike jargon, and I think my audience responds well to simple language because the ideas can float to the top and the language isn’t getting in the way.

Tone. We’re talking about tone but think a little bit harder and more precisely on tone.

Are you going to be humble because if you choose humble then it means you’re probably not going to be retweeting every good thing about you. You will probably end up saying to people no it wasn’t us all the credit is deserved by whoever. You’ll kind of deflect that credit and give it to others.

So if you go for humble you got to be humble. Most organisations are not humble, most organisations are great bigheads that just go around saying we’re wonderful, here’s a great story about us.

Personal. If you’re going to be personal, then you need to repeat back things about people that you’ve heard. You need to call them by name.

Wow Helen what an interesting point you made. We can see from your bio that you’re a big fan of Elvis Costello, have you been to any gigs lately.

You know, this is kind of the way that like if you’re going to be personal, you’re going to have to be confident that you can talk to people on a one-on-one personal way.

Or if you’re talking to a group of people, that you’re confident that you’re addressing them personally in ways that they will, you know, they will respond to.

And the last thing to think about is what is your purpose. Are you there to educate, delight, sell, entertain, enable, inform? Its quite important to think about this because a lot of organisations will say everything, like, we want to do all of that.

Well yeah fine. You want to do, but what do you want to do most, what do you want to be known for. Because it’s OK to be like, known for selling great ideas or for selling brilliant products.

That’s OK, that’s fine, if you choose it. But also, if you’re there to entertain or amuse, then you’ve got to do more of it. Once you pick that word you end up doing more of what you choose. So choose wisely.

So as an example, let’s think about my words that I have for my business. I have fun, simple, empathetic and empowering. And these words really help me shape how I create content and how I talk to people.

So when I’m creating even my little cartoons that I do for my audience, who probably are people like you, I’m thinking, well, how can I show empathy in these. So I’ll think of situations where I put myself in the shoes of others going through different situations.

When someone might say to me, I came in your training and the sandwiches were disgusting, which hopefully they wouldn’t say, but let’s say they did. And you know I’d have a little bit of fun with it, I’d say, oh my god sorry to hear that, I might go for an “OMG”, this is disgusting to me, and kind of ramp up the energy and I’d say that that’s not good enough but will definitely make sure that we send you a bar chocolate in the post. And I hope that makes you feel better and be energised so you can get on with doing an amazing job. So I’m trying to empower them at the end.

So just thinking about those words sometimes I have them on my wall in my office. And it just helps me to push a certain amount of personality in that fits everywhere that I go. So it makes me sound like a specific kind of person.

For me, I’m just you know, I don’t have a big team. So it would be easy for me to just say, oh, I’m just going to be myself. Well, there’s lots of different sides to me. There’s me on the weekend when I’ve got a hangover, and that’s a very different person to me when I’m on best form, or me when I’m under attack, or me when I’m really inspired.

So I want people to have the best side of me the side of me that makes them want to work with me. And those are the words that I chose. It could have been completely different and also good.

And it’s up to you as the communicator to really pick and decide how you want your organisation to sound, and let them follow you. You’re the leader in this, you know what kind of qualities make your brand seem distinct.

OK, so we’ve had lots of conversation around tone of voice. I want you to now think about what is your sentence. What words describe what you’re trying to achieve. What you want people to love about your brand, and make a note of them and really bring your brand to life.

Thanks very much for staying with me on this lesson and I look forward to the next one.

Your tutor – Hel Reynolds

Hel Reynolds is an award-winning social media and digital communications pro. Her social media training has seen amazing results for participants, who go on to be more strategic, create better content and grow engaged audiences for their organisations.

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