Friday, April 6, 2012

Find Your Online Voice

It's not what you say. It's how you say it. If you've ever taken any writing classes, you'll hear that repeatedly. Instructors will talk about tone and voice to convey certain feelings and create certain reactions. If you've spent any time at all on social media sites, you'll recognize there are a lot of different styles out there. What you won't typically see, though, is the tone you used in your final paper for a class or Emily Post's perfect diction. What you should see is a reflection of the brand.

Rebecca Lieb, in her book Content Marketing, quotes Patricia Redsicker's example of Martha Stewart versus Emeril Lagasse. "If I read an article on how to braise a chicken from Martha Stewart, I expect a formal, scholarly, exact approach. If I read Emeril Lagasse, I expect a casual approach with recipe flexibility and punctuation - BAM!"

Their voices are distinctive from one another and reflect the personalities and brands we've come to associate with each of them. Martha Stewart is proper New England hostess and Emeril is down home Cajun. What's critical is that, even in the social media platform, the two brands have maintained the relationships they've developed with their audiences and the voices are genuine. That should be the basis for any social media or content marketing effort.

What an online voice should not sound like, says Lieb, is:

  • A formal newspaper article
  • Edward R. Murrow
  • A legal brief
  • An instruction manual
  • Your senior thesis
  • A sales brochure
  • A commercial
These aren't bad voices, in and of themselves. They're just not appropriate for an online presence. What you should be striving for is an informal, positive and upbeat voice - but without diverging too far from your organization's true personality. The voice should also be adaptable. Twitter almost requires the use of the more common social media shorthand; while a blog gives you room to have an entire conversation in regular English.

The Spokes-Character

This technique doesn't work for every company, but some have succeeded beyond expectations by adopting a spokes-character. The first best example to come to mind is the Travelocity Roaming Gnome, which is voiced by a 26-year-old American woman. The Gnome goes on trips, gets photos taken, tweets responses to The Amazing Race, which is sponsored by Travelocity, and celebrates his birthday. Senior Marketing Manager Karrie Fox said the Gnome was created to be a "fellow traveler" and to create a relationship with Travelocity's customers.

A spokes-character needn't be a creature, either. It could be a generic compilation of the target audience. Perfect examples of this are the PC and Mac guys from the Apple commercials. Apple wrote the commercials so of course their guy is the cooler of the two, but they're both designed to be a representation of the target audience - as viewed in the Mac Universe.The point is...make your voice engaging and interesting. Create a dialogue not a monologue. Keep it informal and upbeat, but maintain a style that will appeal to your audience.

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