We don’t want brands talking at us as if we are dollar signs. We want authentic communication.
Finding a voice for your social media marketing can be difficult because the concept is somewhat unlike other optimization strategies online. Voice is not a statistic you can track or a design element you can tweak. Voice goes deeper than that. Instead of tracking and analyzing, you can plan and practice. Here’s what I’ve found works best in terms of getting your voice together and using it to interact online.
What is the difference between voice and tone?
When you jump into the discussion of voice in social media marketing, you can’t help but touch on tone as well. The two go hand-in-hand and are often used interchangeably. In this sense, it’s less important what the definitions are as long as you have definitions. You’ll be better off knowing where you’re headed with a well-defined direction.
The definitions that make the most sense to me are the ones that note a difference between voice and tone. Gather Content breaks down the difference in this way:
Voice: Your brand personality described in an adjective. For instance, brands can be lively, positive, cynical, or professional.
Tone: A subset of your brand’s voice. Tone adds specific flavor to your voice based on factors like audience, situation, and channel.
Essentially, there is one voice for your brand and many tones that refine that voice.
Voice is a mission statement. Tone is the application of that mission.
Another way of looking at voice is through a four-part formula suggested by Stephanie Schwab, writing for Social Media Explorer. She takes the general topic of voice and breaks it down into not only tone but also character, language, and purpose. In the graphic below, she uses adjectives to define each different area of the overall brand voice:
Character / persona – Who does your brand sound like? If you picture your social brand as a person (a character), here is where you can flesh out this identity with specific attributes that fit who you want to sound like online.
Tone – What is the general vibe of your brand?
Language – What kind of words do you use in your social media conversations?
Purpose – Why are you on social media in the first place?
Together, these four areas can help define the overall voice of your brand. It’s a helpful exercise to go through these steps to gain insight into each area, and as you’ll see below, the process for determining your social media voice includes many of these same ideas and parts.
From here on, though, let’s work with the definition that voice is the overall defining sound for your brand personality and that tone refers to the specific implementations of voice.
(While we’re defining things, I should also probably explain “brands.” You’re right in assuming that brands refer to big and small companies who sell products and services. I’d also like to open up the definition to individuals as well. Coca Cola has a brand. Pat’s Corner Store has a brand. You have a brand. Basically, everyone on social media has a brand, whether they know it or not.)
Why voice and tone matter to your social media
Traffic is nice, but conversation with the reader is nicer. A glorified RSS feed is a waste of time.
Point No. 1 for why voice and tone matter: they humanize your brand and let you take part in conversations naturally. The quote above is from the person responsible for Esquire’s online voice, Matt Sullivan. He believes so strongly in the value of voice that he recommends keeping voice under the management of an editor rather than an intern or a marketing team member.
Along with having good conversations, I’d imagine a fair share of you are after conversions and ROI, too. Then how does this sound: A social media marketing voice can lead to others doing your marketing for you.
Sounds a little too good to be true, right? Well here’s how the thinking goes, courtesy of Jay Baer of Convince and Convert.
- You cultivate a voice that delights your customers.
- Delighted customers talk positively about your brand, essentially creating new content.
- This content reaches other customers and prospective customers, delivering your brand’s message for you.
Baer explains that the key to giving voice to your content is this:
Don’t just give your customers something to talk about, give them somebody to talk about.
In other words, put a face onto your brand, and let a real personality shine through. People often want connection, not information.
Do this right, and you could end up with an army of fans who will gladly grow your brand for you.
How to find your voice
The analogy of social media being a giant cocktail party or barbecue is a fitting way to look at voice. Dave Kerpen, CEO of Likeable Media, has a great way of putting it. “At a cocktail party, you wouldn’t walk up to someone and say, ‘Hey, I’m Dave. My stuff is 20 percent off.’ What you do is ask questions, tell stories, listen and relate to people.”
None of us want to be Dave, telling everyone about our low, low prices. Instead, it’s critical to find that unique voice that is evident in all your social media marketing.
When you’re looking for voice, you’re looking for adjectives. Find the adjectives that best describe your brand, and you will have found your voice.
Here are a few methods for figuring it all out.
The three C’s of brand voice
As explained on Marketing Land, you can start developing a voice for your brand by examining your culture, community, and conversation.
Culture – What does your company stand for? What makes you stand out from all the others who are after the same audience? Your unique qualities make your culture special, and these should be a pillar of developing your voice.
Community – Listening can reveal how your community speaks and can help you speak easier with them and to them. You can use their language and meet them on their terms.
Conversation – Personality and authenticity are key here. What do you want to add to the conversation? As you think about what you can offer, you’ll start to see a better picture of where your voice might fit.
Ask the right questions
Once you have your bearings on the direction you’re headed, thanks to an overview with the three C’s of brand voice, next it’s time to start gathering information and details. A great place to start is asking questions. Rocket Media and Big Ideas blog have collected a number of great starters for coming up with brand voice. Here are a handful of my favorites:
- If your brand was a person, what kind of personality would it have?
- If your brand was a person, what’s their relationship to the consumer? (a coach, friend, teacher, dad, etc)
- Describe in adjectives what your company’s personality is not.
- Are there any companies that have a similar personality to yours? Why are they similar?
- How do you want your customers to think about your company?
Distilled has an incredibly deep resource on how to find the right “tone of voice” for your brand. (It’s interesting how Distilled didn’t see the need to differentiate between voice and tone but rather rolled them all into one.) One of their tips for the voice discovery stage is to do a keyword exercise: look for keywords around the office and come up with a central theme.
Ask the right people
You can take your list of questions and quiz yourself, your team, and your valued customers. Each group is likely to have unique insight into the answers to these questions of voice.
With customers, you can even take things a step further and use their interactions on social media to further inform your brand’s voice. Review their social activity with the following things in mind:
- The tone they use to speak with one another
- How they speak to other companies
- The messages they seem to share most frequently
- The other companies they follow
Copy Hackers suggests asking new customers directly for their input into your brand’s voice.
Poll your new customers. Send a follow-up “thanks for choosing us” email within days of a purchase, and ask your customer to indicate – quite simply – which adjective (of a short list of options) best describes how they feel about your brand.*
Clearly, there are a lot of different people who can give you valuable insight into the unique qualities of your brand. Use as much information as you can to settle on the adjectives that define your voice.