By Michelle Barnett
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How do I adjust my tone of voice for social media?

Our organisations should already have a ‘tone of voice’ as part of their brand. This is the way companies presents themselves to clients, employees and stakeholders through the words they use.  Adverts, internal publications, literature, websites and of course social media accounts will all share this branding.

1. Why do you want to be on social media?

Your reasons for being on social media in the first place will affect which platform you choose. You might just be trying to make it easier for people to find your business when they search for it online. Or maybe you want to network with other businesses, reach out to a new market, or collect some feedback from existing audience. Social media is great for all of these, and you can tailor your approach to fit your goals.

Having this clarity over what you want to get out of your social media account will inform how you run it, what sort of content you put on it, and how you interact with your followers.

2. Pick your platform

Different social media platforms have different strengths, and support different types of conversation:

  • Instagram is the obvious choice if your target demographic is younger or a lot of your content can be image-based.
  • Twitter is a better option if you can be succinct, pithy and text based, and want to collect a lot of opinions for your audience to have conversations about.
  • Facebook also works for this, but with a slightly different demographic and the ability to write longer messages.  It also has the bonus of allowing you to easily manage groups and events.
  • LinkedIn is where you should start if you’re more interested in corporate networking and establishing some new business-to-business contacts. 
  • Or it may just be that you want to run a blog for the purposes of SEO (Search Engine Optimisation), which makes your organisation more popular with search engines like Google.

As tempting as it is to scatter-gun every platform with your content, it’s far better to pick just one or two that are a good fit for your brand. Go for the social media platform which is going to get you the best returns on your objective.

This should dovetail neatly with your second criteria, which is to pick a platform your audience is already using. If you want your content to get viewed, go where your people are! Achieving this means knowing exactly who your target demographic is and what they like, which should be something set out in your brand strategy.

3. Be authentic in your social media

Some companies do have ‘sell our products’ as their goal, but this can only get you so far.  Social media gives you the chance to do something more unique and memorable.  If you’re a small businessperson, or the face of your company, your audience will expect to see your real personality.  However, (and this is true for all sizes of businesses) they don’t need to see all of it.

You might want to keep some of your affairs private.  However a more pertinent point for social media purposes is this: Not everything you do will be interesting to your audience.  Imagine a Venn diagram.  The sweet spot for you is the intersection between things you know about, and things your readers care about.

Even between two businesses in the same industry, their brands can dictate different approaches to social media.

We know an artist who promoted her work through a blog.  The fact that she lived in a small cottage in rural Devon made her day-to-day life a big part of her brand that her audience liked.  However there were also things she didn’t share; the rainy days, making ends meet, catching the flu. Those things happened, but they weren’t useful for her brand social media.  The idealised, idyllic nature of the location was what she wanted to promote.

We also know a jewellery maker based at home with a young daughter. For her the (sometimes stressful!) interplay between parenting time and work-time actually feeds into her brand.  A large part of her target audience is women in their early 30s, likely to be mothers of young children too, and familiar with the juggling of time that being a working parent demands.  Including this less romanticised side of her life makes her brand more relatable – a key brand value in her business.

American restaurant Freddy’s Steakburgers has captured this brilliantly on their Instagram. Their founder Freddy, now in his 90s, is still the figurehead of the business and a key part of the brand. He represents both a sense of heritage, friendliness and being family-family orientated. They’ve made the most of this by having an entire account dedicated to visits, sightings and messages to the man himself.

4. Select your subject matter

Once you’ve identified your purpose, selected your platform and set your tone, it’s time to post some content! This could be anything from sales and product information to funny cat pictures.  What are your readers going to want to hear from you about?

This tone can also set your approach to certain controversial topics.  Some brands make a point of giving their opinion on things like politics, national days, and popular hashtags.  Sometimes it’s appropriate for your brand to weigh in, and sometimes it’s not.

Try and have some variety in your online content.  Talk around your subject.  Let’s imagine we sell kitchens.  We could post about cabinet styles and new ranges of taps, but then think we should bigger.  We might write about how are these kitchens made, and who make them.  What’s the installation process like?  Do we have any case studies?

Or we might go for the personal angle by thinking about all the things that happen in the kitchens we build: family dinners, arguments, birthdays and holidays, trying out new recipes, consoling cups of tea, pancake flipping with the kids, washing the dog in the sink.  This immediately opens up chances to encourage engagement from our audience.

Top Tip: Keep it concise. Most people won’t read a long post unless it’s something they really care about.  Even if you can write more, it’s usually not worth it.  Keep your post to a couple of sentences, and steer clear of jargon.

5. Remain consistent with your brand

Your tone of voice on social media should be consistent with the rest of your brand. It’s no good having a fast-talking irreverent communication in your ads and website, and then a serious professional tone of voice on your social media account. All elements of your brand need to work together to reinforce your existing image.

This doesn’t mean there’s no room for light-heartedness when the occasion invites it. But it needs to be within the boundaries of what’s realistic for your tone of voice. Some brands are naturally suited to this. The cheerful and down-to-earth vibe of Innocent smoothies means they use their Twitter account to make jokes and comment on popular TV shows. They can chat about The Apprentice or Great British Bakeoff just as easily as they can about their fruity ingredients.

Merriam-Webster are known for their dictionaries – a fairly dry subject, you’d think! The brand therefore needs to be educational and reliable, but they’ve found a way to make it interesting. Merriam-Webster  mostly tweet words and their definitions, accompanied by a picture.  But they’ve started letting holidays and events in the news influence the words they pick, meaning they’re constantly relevant, and people will check back to see what the new word of the week is. They’ll also switch up the images to occasionally include pop culture references or gifs. This injects a sense of personality and humour into their feed while still maintaining the educational and reliable tone of voice in their brand.

If you’re not sure where to start, or what your existing tone of voice should say about you, our Brand Words tool might help. It allows you to whittle the essence of your brand down to just three key value words that describe your brand.

You also need to make sure that you react to similar situations with a similar tone. MailChimp came up with an extensive guide for their social media interactions, meaning that they were never caught speechless when something surprising happened. By planning in advance how to handle congratulations, commiserations and complaints, they ensured that they always came across as empathetic and consistent.

5. Keep up the conversation

Not everything you post will translate, especially if your brand makes jokes or is known internationally.  Brits have a very dry sense of humour that Americans can find insulting.  Likewise Americans are used to being greeted enthusiastically when they enter a shop, but Europeans find that strange and over-bearing.  Different cultures will take things differently, so a few different accounts is often useful to tailor your approach. There will inevitably be the odd mis-step, so know when to show some good grace and apologise.

Your audience will grow and change with time, so keep checking in to see if your tone of voice is still coming across the way you want it to.  Once you get going with your account, you’ll be able to use a service like Google Analytics to see over time what’s working and what isn’t.  It can gives you data on how much traffic you’re getting, where it’s coming from, and what people are looking at most. Keeping tabs lets you continue refining your social media campaign and managing your brand.

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