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Your tone of voice on social: what to do, what to avoid

Your tone of voice on social: what to do, what to avoid

What does your brand sound like?

It’s fine if you’re not sure. 

Take a minute and think about it. 

Think about what you sound like: the words you use, how you phrase things, where you think a sentence should end. Are you the kind of person to talk until they run out of breath, or use short, sharp sentences? Do you like complicated words – halcyon, justification, superimposed? – or do you prefer simple? Do you think one way, and structure your sentences that way, or do you think about what you want to say, and pick through your sentence carefully, discarding things that don’t work?

The way you say things is your tone of voice. 

And brand tone of voice is just as powerful as brand colours and a logo. 

The value of a strong tone of voice

Social media has never been so busy. At any given moment, there are several thousands online, posting on the same platforms that everyone else uses – the numbers speak for themselves. 

And in that environment, with the rest of the global population, brands need to talk. More importantly, they need to be heard. 

Brand tone of voice can help you do that, but you need to know what your brand tone of voice is first. If you don’t have one, you need to figure that out, fast, because a good brand tone of voice makes the difference between a memorable brand and something that jumps on a bandwagon and strangles a trend to death. 

We’ve all seen those emoji-choked posts on social, the ones that crop up with young, fast startups and proliferate Facebook feeds. 

Now picture a luxury brand doing the same thing. 

Most of the time, it won’t work. Your brand tone of voice is going to get in the way, and that’s what it’s supposed to do – without a brand tone of voice, something that pins down exactly what makes your brand stand out, your brand disappears into the noise. If Louis Vuitton sounds the same as Charles & Ron sounds the same as Chanel sounds the same as the 3-for-2 T-shirts you pick up at the flea-market, then the only thing that really differentiates them from each other is price. 

And price is a dicey foundation on which to build a lasting connection. 

So you need a tone of voice you can get behind. 

You need a tone of voice that stands out. 

What (not) to do on social media

The problem with social media is there’s just too much content and too many things going on all at the same time. Standing out is going to be difficult. 

The second problem with social media is this: relying on talking the talk on social is going to backfire on you more than it’s going to help you. Like memes, social media language changes so fast that by the time you’ve got the hang of one turn of phrase, ten more have cropped up, and the one you’re using is dated. 

Think of it this way: when was the last time you heard someone say ‘groovy’ and mean it seriously?

Social media is a way of communicating. The language it adopts comes from everywhere, and it’s finite in its lifespan and reach. 

A lot of brands don’t seem to realise that. 

Brands that lean on a social media platform tend to end up adopting the way the users talk. For users, that’s fine: the only issue is that you get typecast (literally) into ‘just another X account’. 

For brands, being known as the brand that’s trying to pander to the younger generation is a warning note. Users on social media, no matter their age, are very, very used to being pandered to, and they’re very smart at figuring out when and why they’re being pandered to at that moment. Once they figure that out, it’s difficult to win back their trust – that’s if you’ve earned it the first time around. 

Diluting your tone of voice just to talk the talk, and still not managing to stay relevant, doesn’t help your case on social. It just leaves you with a lot of nothing to show for it, and a brand identity that’s now starting to wobble. 

And once your brand identity starts to wobble, the problems come in fast and hard. 

Your brand has to be strong. The brand values it carries, what it stands for, how it helps the community that supports it: those need to come out loud and clear and bright as neon, and you can do all that with tone of voice. Diluting it never helps your case. 

And ‘fitting in’ on social media doesn’t mean changing your voice. It means relaxing the rules about how you communicate – dropping a fullstop here, going for an extra comma there – not wholesale copy-and-paste mimicry. 

Here’s a cheat-sheet for what you shouldn’t do on social media: 

  1. Try to use the trending word or phrase of the day. This changes too fast, and by the time it’s been approved by who needs to approve it, chances are that the language has flipped around completely. 
  2. Load up your posts with emojis and gifs. You want to fit in. You don’t want to turn everything you say into a game of ‘guess what?’. 
  3. Use the social media pattern of speech that individual users use. There are outliers who do it well, but that requires a level of creative freedom and a social media person that is always online, so it’s hard to pull off. Your best bet is to relax your rules, not drop them completely; to talk like a human brand, not one person left alone with the login. 
  4. Change your tone of voice. Just no. Unless your tone of voice has grown stale, or you want a change, your tone of voice is your tone of voice, and you should use it. It’s the only thing you have if you want to avoid stamping giant logo watermarks on all of your images. 

What to do on social media

For all the problems that come with social media, there’s a lot of good in it too. It provides almost unfettered access to an audience that genuinely wants to communicate with you and your brand, that sees your brand as worthy and human and something to support. The best advertising in the world can’t build that sort of connection as quickly as a good social media community can. 

But you should use social media the way you, a person, uses social media. 

The difference between humans and brands is scale. It’s not always possible for people to see a brand as truly human – not when there’s the internet, and the internet will tell you everything you need to know about any company in the world. A brand is always going to be a brand. 

People still humanise them. And that humanity is what you need to build on. 

When it comes to social media, building that humanity is a little easier than any other way. 

Here’s what you do:

  1. If you’re going to talk like a human, then talk like a human who’d work at your brand. Dropping your tone of voice completely isn’t going to work; it just makes you blend into the background – but softening it works well. Relax your grammar, type longer sentences. Humans are wordy creatures, and they like to talk. Use that. 
  2. Drop your ‘brand can do no wrong’ mentality. Brands are going to fuck up, and they’re going to fuck up badly. The more you try to hide this, the worse it’s going to get, and no tone of voice in the world will help that. Build a way of speaking that doesn’t use that narrative: apologise when you make a mistake, reach out to users and talk to them in the comments, use a voice that’s humble. 
  3. Add a little humour into how you talk. Brands that take themselves too seriously don’t tend to work on social media; a joke here and there helps to lighten up your tone of voice without actually dropping it wholesale, and it makes enough of a difference that it stands out against your more professional ads. 
  4. Adapt the way you talk for the platform. Don’t copy what you just posted on Facebook for Instagram or LinkedIn: they all have different tone of voice requirements. Instagram is snappy sentences and less-is-more, Facebook goes for plain-speaking, LinkedIn is long and a little dry. Figure out how that works for your brand. 

Tone of voice is valuable. Using it on social media allows you to amplify that tone of voice onto the world’s stage, and make sure people who have never heard of your brand hear it and listen to it. 

Make sure that what they hear is worth listening to