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  • Writer's pictureDan White

Your tone of voice on social media

Next up, we’re shining a spotlight on your tone of voice and its relationship with your social media channels. We’ll be taking a look at how you can adapt your brand tone of voice as you tweet, comment and DM. Plus, there’s a bunch of examples you may or may not want to follow. First up though - we have to start with the fundamentals.

Tone of voice 101

Like devouring your pudding before you’ve finished your main you can’t jump ahead and nail down your tone of voice on social without first having first worked out what the hell your brands overall tone of voice is.

So, is your brand tone of voice nailed down?

If not, then we need to ask you to stop. Do these things instead and ready yourself by…

  1. Reading up on the different tones of voice big brands use - like Headspace and Innocent

  2. Exploring the cracking tone of voice examples other big brands have published

All set? Then let’s jump into what your tone of voice could look like on social.

You and your place in the universe

First up, before we get into the specifics, you need to be aware of your universe and the part social media plays within it. Your brand sits at the very centre of the universe. Your brand encapsulates your purpose, your mission as well as an array of other suitable buzzwords. Your tone of voice reflects this. It is your starting point from which everything else takes its cue. Your social channels are the moons and stars which dance around it. Each one is a little different but they’re all kept in check with the mighty gravitational pull of your brand. You can also see why Physics was never a strong point for me.

So, when it comes to posting on social here’s how your tone of voice adapts….

How your tone of voice changes on social

The TLDR:

  • Study your analytics to see who your social posts reach

  • Talk to your social experts about the limitations and opportunities of each channel

  • Work with your social team to refine what brand messaging works and what doesn’t

  • Work with both your social and customer service teams to refine how they can say what they need to say while remaining on brand

THE AUDIENCE

Let’s start with the obvious. Different channels cater to different audiences. That means you’re not crafting copy that appeals to every one of your target customers - that kind of something is reserved for your home page.

Most social channels will have the appropriate analytics to tell you the demographics of who you reach with your words. You could also cross-reference this with Google Analytics data on the referral traffic from Facebook, Twitter et al to see if you’re reaching the right people, but that’s a post for another day.

Here’s certified young person, Paul Rudd, persuading so called millennials to wear face masks. A universal issue - but a clearly defined audience who will get the humour.



Know who your audience is on each channel? Good. Once you’ve got that you’re going to need to understand context.

The Jamie Harper I have a conference call with is very different to the Jamie Harper who rocks out in some of Bristol’s finest music establishments. The eco-systems of social do the same. Twitter expects sass, LinkedIn - life affirming humblebrags. Your standard customer might be a very different creature depending on which channel you find them on. Think about how your copy will need to adjust accordingly. If you would like to understand this in less than 30 seconds then read the nauseating tweets coming from the Department for International Trade as they try and crowbar their conversations into chat about The Great British Bake Off.

THE CHANNELS

Next up is the technicals of each channel. You’ve got yourself a bunch of limitations, a bunch of opportunities. Then layer on top of that some of the +’s and -’s are public and known; others more private buried in algorithms. Here’s an example of each:

  • Opportunities - Public: Hashtags allow for greater discoverability

  • Opportunities - Private: Certain content types (e.g. video) will have greater reach on Facebook

  • Limitations - Public: Only the start of your post will be visible without clicking …see more - on LinkedIn

  • Limitations - Private: Posts need to deliberately provoke engagement as soon as they go live to be amplified further on LinkedIn (but not on Instagram).

You’ll only be able to effectively adapt your tone of voice on social if you have an innate understanding of each channels. The only way you’re going to work this out is to speak to your social media manager and drill them for information to understand what works and what doesn’t so you can adapt accordingly.

If you don’t have a social media manager then sign yourself up to Matt Navarra’s social media geekout group to learn.

BRAND VS THE INDIVIDUAL

Next up, you’re going to have to appreciate that people like engaging with people. Funny that. Particularly on Twitter there’s been a whole host of great examples of brands talking as people and brands talking to other brands. See:

The personal approach should never be discouraged. However, for anyone who is fiercely protective of their brand it can be painful to see as your carefully crafted brand messaging sinks while something sarcastically shared with little thought delivers more ROI than the last 6 months combined. So, how to solve this?

The answer is collaboration not conflict with your social team is the best course of action. You all need to try to work out what to talk about and not; and how to communicate it and not to establish the right and wrong way of talking on social. But as social is the most rapidly evolving part of the internet it’s a constant process of trial, error and trust.

RULES OF ENGAGEMENT

The final cornerstone of how your tone of voice will need to bend and weave with social is, you guessed it, what happens when you have to respond to people.

Engagement and how it factors into your tone of voice splits into two - the regular engagement responding to comments normally delivered by your social team and the customer service messages (both public and private) that people will be sending your way.

I know how many brands would like to be doing all of the shouting and none of the listening, but trust me, the brands which are flipping that balance are getting the greater results.

How your brand talks to these people rests heavily on trusting teams to do the right thing. But once again there will be a process of trial and error as you work out what actually works for you. There is no set standard for how to respond. Yet, inspiration can easily be gleaned from studying big businesses. British Airways customer service for example, on how you should and shouldn’t communicate.


Real brands. Real examples of tone of voice on social

Like with all the other examples we talk about in these posts, here’s a selection of fairly well recognised brands that you can learn from. But, as with all the other examples we talk about in these posts, the goal is not to copy. They may be good, they may be bad. Unless we had their EoY sales figures we really couldn’t say for sure. So, we’ve picked one organisation per channel and beside it included a snippet from their website so you can get a feel for the different tone of voice they’re talking with on social. We have:


THE ROYAL ACADEMY ON TWITTER

The RA’s efforts on Twitter are something nearing perfection when it comes to social strategy. When we look at their tone of voice though it’s a beautiful extension to their website’s tone of voice. Open and accessible, avoiding the elitist snobbery of the traditional art world. Then inject a beautifully British sense of humour combined with up to date references on popular culture and you have a tone of voice which does everything it needs to on social - and then some.


DUOLINGO ON FACEBOOK

You won’t see much of a difference between Duolingo’s website and Facebook page. However, the general optimism and levels of excitement are multiplied through their Facebook posts. Judging by the reactions and comments it goes down well enough and matches the international audience perfectly to keep them engaged.


SANCTUS ON LINKEDIN

The guys behind Sanctus are masters of the LinkedIn post. Although the language used is the same as what’s shown on their website, each update is perfectly tailored to the channel. Their use of short sentences and additional spacing, all wrapped in a narrative to impart a lesson, is a stellar example of how language must be adapted different channels. The result is that it increases the reach and the engagement meaning an increased chance of them getting in front of their intended audience.


THE NATIONAL TRUST ON INSTAGRAM

The resonance the NT creates across their online and offline platforms is something to behold, especially for such a large organisation. When it comes to their Instagram use everything is on point. High quality photography - which you see on their site. Gentle, calm messaging - which you see on their site. Plus, thoughtful responses to encourage engagement and a fondness for cats and cake. It’s a fine example of a brand adapting their messaging to fit the channel without being carried away by the fads and filters Instagram introduces.


MARKS & SPENCER ON TIKTOK

Percy Pig, the poor porcine is rolled out for everything these days and Marks and Spencer foray into TikTok was no different. Described as terrifying the business meeting at Percy Pig HQ raises more questions than it answers. The video is surreal and the messaging saccharine. It goes to show the importance of keeping content aligned to your brand. M&S (and by extension Percy Pig) is a happy and wholesome staple of the British high street. When you introduce something so radically different the difference is jarring.

 

Social media for brands is one of the toughest nuts to crack when it comes to creating something that works. But it can be done. Examples abound that you can learn from to understand what works and what doesn’t. At it’s core if you can understand your audience, understand the channels and put some faith into the people managing your social channels then you can’t go far wrong - as long as at it relates back to your core tone of voice. Still need to work out what that is? Then send us a message.

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