Does your company lack strong social voice?
Here’s a common scenario: A company seems to have it all – awesome concept, generous funding, a tight marketing strategy, audience demand and sweet content – and logic would follow that things would be rolling nicely along. But for some reason, you aren’t building your audience as quickly as you’d hoped and your efforts are falling a bit flat.
One of the most common problems that companies face is the lack of a distinctive social voice, your customers, literally, cannot tell who is talking to them. Without a deliberate and consistent voice, it is difficult to build a relationship with your audience and get the world to like and relate to you.
By now, we all know that social media is crucial to your marketing strategy. Stodgy brands like Cracker Barrel and even stodgier politicians realize the power of social advertising. 80% of US social network users prefer to connect with brands on Facebook these days – which means you get a hell of a lot more bang for your buck using social platforms than you do using pay-per-click and other types of advertising.
However, if your customers can’t hear you, specifically, above the noise, you are selling yourself short.
What exactly is a social voice?
You’ve probably encountered people in your life who have made an immediate, strong impression on you. Something about them stuck out. Whether you like it or not– they were charming, sweet, demure, sarcastic, confident – whatever the quality you noticed was, chances are it was memorable because it was authentic. Or, at least, authentically their own. They had a distinctive voice.
The social voice is exactly the same. It’s how you represent your brand on social media.
You might be playful, whimsical, or snarky. Your voice is the backbone of your brand personality, and it is the undercurrent behind all of your communication and advertising.
Buffer describes your social voice as your mission statement and asserts that all of the messaging you put out into the world should be an application of that mission. For that reason, your voice needs to be razor-sharp in its definition and flawlessly consistent in its implementation.
Why social voice matters
Your brand voice on social media is the crucial identifier that differentiates you from all the other bozos out there. Your audience should know who you are based on your content (not just your logo, colors, and fonts), that includes the way you talk in your posts, the kind of material you address, the way that you handle compliments, and trolls.
It establishes who you are
Your social voice is the cornerstone of your brand identity, and it is strongest when it is consistent across all channels and in the face of changing factors like audience, situation, platform, etc. It’s an essential part of your brand and should be strong and unwavering. There are many brands with voices you probably recognize that also shape how you feel about that brand. Apple, for instance, has a social voice that is smart, clean, techie and knowledgeable — while Kentucky Fried Chicken’s might be described as friendly, fun and super casual. Super fitting for both companies.
It makes you human
A social voice doesn’t just make you recognizable – it also makes your brand human. Voice lets you interact with your audience without seeming like a robot or like a crew of 20-year-old interns working a summer job. When your brand is relatable and easy to talk to, people talk to you – it’s that simple. And when people talk to you, they also talk about you. That’s right – they deliver your brand message for you. It’s free marketing.
It differentiates you from your competitors
There might be 50 other companies that make the same product as you, but your social voice can set you apart from all of them. Communication is an art form, and perfecting your distinctive style makes you unique and recognizable — which is why audiences remember you and not the guy trying to do the same exact thing you are.
It makes you familiar
How many politicians have won elections simply because people recognize their names and faces? A lot. People tend to trust things that have a familiarity to them – and distinguishing your voice consistently makes you more familiar to your audience. They feel like they know you and are more likely to feel at ease around you and like you.
It puts your content to work
Companies might be totally on top of their content game in terms of creating solid, valuable content – but if it’s not translating into a relatable and appropriate social voice, it doesn’t matter how great it is. It’s still going to tank. Having conversations with your readers is becoming vastly more important than simply driving traffic or building your readership.
So, social voice matters — but how do you even find your social voice?
Finding Your Social Voice
Because social media is still a relatively new phenomenon in the world of marketing, many companies shaft responsibilities off on interns or assistants, thinking that it’s a waste of time. This is a huge mistake.
It’s not that young people or newbies to the company aren’t capable of handling a business’s social media needs. Often they are the ones that better understand the world of social and its nuances. But unless they are super well-versed in your company’s business goals and public relations, you run the danger of diluting your voice and jeopardizing the reputation of your brand. You wouldn’t send an intern off to an international conference to speak on behalf of your company, would you? Well social media is essentially the new version of that and the person who is representing you needs to have the skills and experience to navigate the social media kingdom on your behalf.
We spoke with Social Media Expert Simon Heseltine, who has worked in online marketing for over 11 years, about best practices for companies trying to find their social voice. He asserts that there is no tried and true way for businesses to run their social media campaigns – a lot of it depends on the brand, the size of the company and the resources they have available.
“The first step is to know exactly what your goals are,” he told us. “ Are you trying to build your brand? Get more people in the door? Boost your readership? Gain more followers? Be crystal clear about what your goals are and get analytics in place to measure them. You have no idea what will work on social media until you know what you are looking to improve.”
With that in mind, check out these tips you can use to guide your process as you go about developing your social voice.
Figure Out Your Angle
Heseltine recommends starting with a content audit. If you already have a smattering of content, gather it all up. Stuff on your website, blog, videos, photos, whitepapers, etc. Step back and take a look at all of it and figure out which pieces are unique just to you. Which ones are the best examples of your brand, or the brand you want to be? Which ones are sort of generic and could have come from any of your competitors? Use this as a guideline for developing future content.
Use Ideation Techniques to Describe Your Brand
Depending on where your company is in development, you may have already given a lot of thought to how you would describe your brand. Now it’s time to make that description airtight – in fact, it’s best to have only one or two words to rely on when you’re developing your social voice.
A good way to go about this is to get your team members together, especially the ones who are most familiar with the company vision, and start brainstorming. Have everyone toss out words that describe your brand or that ideally should describe your brand. Rocket Media and Big Ideas blog recommend asking a few key questions, such as:
- If your brand was a person, what words would describe its personality?
- What words would definitely not describe its personality?
- What words would customers ideally use to describe your company?
- What basic value does your company offer?
- Why was your company established in the first place?
- Why should people care about your company?
Take a look at the list and start grouping words together under an all-encompassing umbrella word. For example, sincere, down-to-earth and likeable might go under “Friendly.”
Once you’ve narrowed it down to a few groups, try to figure out how these words might guide your social voice and differentiate you. MailChimp’s brand voice might be described as “lively” while Chase Bank’s might be “professional” – and their social voice and interactions are guided in very different ways. Heseltine describes the obvious difference between a social voice for a funeral home and a toilet paper company – the former would be expected to have a somber, respectful voice while the latter might tell jokes about going to the toilet. “Your social voice should be the very foundation of your brand guidelines,” he explains.
Look to Your Customers
Another great way to gain insight into and leverage the power of your social voice is to reach out to your customers. They are a great resource for determining how you can best relate to them and an audience like them. InfusionSoft suggests reviewing your customer’s social interactions both with you and on independent of you and examining the tone they use, how they interact with companies, what messages they are most likely to share, other companies they follow, etc. All of this can help inform your social voice.
Once you have a well-formulated idea of what your brand voice is, start by doing some practice exercises. Have everyone on the team come up with 3 sample Facebook posts that they believe convey your social voice. Do the same for Twitter, LinkedIn and whatever other platforms you use heavily, or plan to. Take a look at everyone’s ideas and rule out the ones that don’t quite hit the mark. Examine the others through the lens of your new mission statement – are they aligned with the all-encompassing umbrella word that is at the core of your brand?
Once you have distilled the purpose of your company into one word (or a few words if you’d rather), use that as a lens through which to view all of your communication, messaging and advertising. Think about it even while you’re sending interoffice emails, redesigning your website, planning your next event. It should infiltrate everything right down to the type of notepads you have around the office and the color of dry erase pens you use. After awhile it will become an instinctual part of your company’s public persona.
Brands That Have Found An Awesome Social Voice
So, now that you have a solid understanding of what it means to have a distinctive social voice, let’s look at some brands that have managed to pull it off with panache.
Mailchimp defines itself as “a simple email marketing software (EMS) which gives you a number of easy options for designing, sending and saving templates of your emails.” They have managed to totally take over the world of email marketing for one basic reason – they made it fun and cool. What is, by nature, a super geeky and technical task and product has become humorous and enjoyable. Their platform is filled with colorful cartoons. Their logo is an adorable monkey. They use funny lingo on their site like “Nothing to see here” when you hit a dead link or “Wowzers!” when you get more subscribers.
Their social voice is the persona of their mascot monkey – he’s fun and quirky yet straightforward and direct. Blog posts are accompanied by photos of him at the beach, at the grocery store, dining out, etc. It lends an instant chill-factor to content about data-driven marketing and the like.
They are the perfect example of a company that finds way to make boring stuff fun. They inject humor into their copy and make complex tasks seem simple. They have found a way to break through the barrier of drab office monotony and introduce lively workplace antics. And we love them for it.
Charmin’ has totally mastered the art of selling toilet paper. To be fair, it is an essential product that people happen to need on a daily basis so it’s not like they have to start by convincing their audience that they NEED their product – but sometimes that makes the game even more difficult. But Charmin’ swooped in and made this bathroom product fun, familiar, family-friendly and, well, just plain charmin(g). Their mascots are a family of cute bears with their own individual bios and their marketing focuses on what happens while you’re on the loo – and how to make sure you enjoy it.
Not exactly a sexy social voice but they made it work! Their Twitter feed is full of surveys about best/worst public toilet features, retweets of folks thanking Charmin’ for keeping their butts happy and their mascot bears taking selfies while on the royal throne. It’s cute, likeable, relatable and, most importantly, super consistent. Their social voice is entirely unwavering, which has helped it grow such a strong and loyal audience. Who doesn’t want cute, fluffy bears on your toilet paper?
Netflix has become a way of life. Whether you’re binge-watching the latest season of Orange is the New Black or streaming an old 80s classic for date night, it has become a staple of American entertainment over the past decade. Besides offering a stellar product, the company has also managed to take on a social voice all their own and leverage it to gain an even wider audience.
Their social voice is smart, current and authentic and has everything to do with the shows and movies they are promoting. They joke, they curse, they make references to TV FOMO – in short, they have their own swagger that their audience has fallen for. Inside jokes like theirs are a great way to drive engagement and get people to take notice, retweet and talk about you – free marketing for your brand.
Dove soap has been around for ages but only recently managed to completely reinvent itself and take over the social media sphere. The brand is inspiring, positive, caring and all about making women feel great about themselves – no wonder it’s a winner.
Dove’s social voice is based around embracing inner beauty and include campaigns like #LoveYourHair and “GrowingUpAGirl. They create a warmth and of energy of inclusion and community – while still maintaining a clean, sparse minimalism. They take an ordinary product like soap and attach it to having a positive body image and loving yourself – no small feat but they have mastered it.
Some brands’ voices are unique and create the perfect embodiment of their core values. A good social voice should be heard in everything from 5-word tweets to 10k blog posts. Once you have found your brand’s social voice you can unite the power of your content marketing with your social media efforts to unleash its full potential.