Getting the right tone for digital work can be a a real challenge. Try writing a document that sums up the tone of voice for your brand or you products and it’s tough to pin down what makes your business sound or look like you online.
What is digital tone?
All brands have a tone or feel to them, try reading a strap-line from a very established brand that works on the radio or in print or on the web. Something about it is recognisable if the advertisers have done their job well. Even though you don’t know the title of the product, associations have been built from previous contact with this voice. Something in the language lets you know it’s going to be an advert by Volkswagen or Virgin media.
The elements of tone:
The main contributors to how you brand reads or sounds are as follows:
How are you positioned? (are you a leader, a commodity, an authority or a cheeky upstart?)
What sensory language fits with your products? (Do you see, hear or touch your product – or is it something you have to experience?)
What are you most important values? (are you known as an innovator or a game-changer, are you reliable and trustworthy? are you customer focused and very tailored or are you ‘off-the-shelf’ and well priced?)
Do you have a particular life-style or way of working that suits your customers?
Are you involved in complexity and technology or are you all about customer service?
These are just a few questions you need to ask yourself to get the tone right for any online communication.
Why is tone important?
The majority of what you remember about a person, a brand or a business is not the words they say, but how they say them. Tone and other impressions make up 80% of what we perceive in communications. So – the way you communicate is more important than what you actually say.
In the PR world, this can be reflected in the angle you take for an article – what’s your stance, what’s your position, where are you going with this. In NLP terms, the tone can be carried by the sensory language you use and subtle linguistics and metaphors that form part of your communication.
Who is saying what’s being said?
Attribution is also a critical element for getting tone right in any article or communication on the web. Is this being said by the business, by a director, by an employee or is it a personal view or opinion expressed in a blog. All these elements have an impact on the tone . Do you want to sound authoritative or use ‘peer-to-peer’ language?
Humour is a good test of tone and sits nicely with attribution. If you’re a General addressing your troops, your tone will be different from a casual blogger complaining about a dishwasher they bought in an online review. If you’re a challenging new business with disruptive technology upsetting the status quo, humour may be part of your brand. If you’re an industry regulator helping to reduce overspending or championing consumer rights, you’re likely to be cracking fewer jokes.
Finally, remember what’s said online is subject to the same publishing laws as the rest of the communications landscape – Libel is just as applicable to Twitter as it is to the front page of a newspaper. Don’t let this limit your fun in the tone of any piece your creating, but make sure it’s not at the expense of others.
Here are some great ideas for beefing up your digital presence. Web-sites, blogging and social media activity all take time, so make sure you have the resources lined up to deliver what your business deserves.
If you’re embarking on a new Twitter account, you may need to learn some new habits, tune into particular news items and activity and learn to speak positively about yourself online. This can demand some new behaviour to accompany your new technology channels.
Here’s the list of digital tweaks you should consider:
1) Content – Good content on your web-site is vital its health and this is always the place to start with any online strategy. Make sure it’s of interest to your customers rather than other professionals in your field of interest. E.g. Write for home owners, not trade builders, if your offering DIY services
2) Competitors – Look at what others are doing in your field, visit their sites, follow their Twitter feeds, think about how you can differentiate yourself from them in you chosen field. Soak it up then think about what makes you different? Make sure this message is subtly woven into every piece of digital content you create.
3) Discovery - how do search/people find your site/business? Go broad on this one – you may have physical, digital or verbal routes into your office, so map them all and make sure they are working hard for you.
4) Be part of what’s trending – Search engines and social media all have stats on trending topics and their may be seasonal or calendar based hot topics coming up that you can be part of. Joining the conversation gets your name out can build your profile by association. As per item 1 on content, look for topics that appeal to your customers, not just your industry.
5) Be easy (like Sunday morning!) – If you are in a competitive market with a commodity product, offering a service that is easy to do business with can become a winning brand attribute. Make sure your website helps to explain what you have to offer and adds elements of convenience to the online experience.
6) Reasons to return (…and be cheerful) – Your website is a brochure, but just in case you hadn’t done the sums comparing it to a printed glossy mailing send out each month to every prospect in the UK, updating your site costs very little. News, opinions, topical comments, video…perhaps something more light-hearted (depending on your industry) will bring people back and help engagement. Give something back in exchange for their clicks/broadband subscription.
7) Be present in the channels your customers use – there isno need to jump onto Facebook unless your target market really uses it. Equally if all your competitors and biggest accounts are ardent twitter users, wouldn’t they expect to see you on there too?
8) Links are liked – Search engines are all about who you know and more importantly who knows you. Look to build relationships with other site owners and get content into publications, blogs and sites that can send traffic in your direction. Demonstrate your network of contacts so those search engines can appreciate how important you are.
9) Promote your site – Make sure your website forms part of all the communications you issue, don’t forget the more mundane items like invoices and emails, as well as business cards and marketing material. Make all your communications work for you and support your digital profile
10) Change it again – Keep updating your site, don’t be afraid to change the content, add new pages, add news, video, republish and change the design if it’s not working. Digital assets are designed to be fluid adaptable things, make the most of this important property and keep them alive to keep your readers interested. Think about when a new novel is published, it comes out in hardback, paperback, in e-book format, audio-book, etc. – it keeps being re-invented and this is easy to do on the web.
That’s the end of my digital Top 10 tweaks for now, but just like the last point I expect I will be re-inventing this and republishing again soon. Don’t forget that while digital channels are quick to create, they still require time, resource and creativity to keep them updated and to maintain engagement with your customers.
Here at Compelling, we’ve recently been looking at language and words that describe brands. Getting these attributes right is so important for your brand and the way you describe and position it – it speaks volumes about you.
Powerful adjectives can make a difference to a written article or a product proposition – they make reading interesting and engaging, creating an emotional link with the reader. Increasingly these little words also determine your success online, by acting as helpful hints to search engines, to ensure they understand what you are and where you should be appearing in search results.
Search engines can’t watch interactive items like videos (ahh – the poor things!) so when you are posting content online, be sure to think about the values and attributes that best describe who you are, what you do and what you have to offer. Make sure you communicate these characteristics in your content strategy, don’t expect the robots that run the web to guess them.
Increasingly, in a competitive and global marketplace, due to force of numbers, its hard to find a unique product or service that doesn’t have several close rivals or similar competitors.
This external force also puts more emphasis on how you do things, the service you deliver, the personal qualities you possess that give you that edge over others.
Think about these attributes and the signals you might be giving next time you send a Tweet, post on Facebook or create a new web-page. What signals is your brand transmitting in all the channels that it operates across? Mike Wooles
If you want to get ahead, get a hat – it’s good advice
It’s often said in the complex world we live in that you have to wear a number of different hats. Which hat you are wearing depending on what you are doing, who you are with, what day it is and whether you are at work or home.
Wearing the wrong metaphorical hat (using behavior from one role that usually belongs in another) can make life very interesting. If you work in the armed forces, just try speaking to your spouse in the same manner that you address your troops when ‘’under fire’’ and you will see the difference.
If you work in IT, try speaking to your friends down the pub in the same way you write your code and see how they react. (Assuming you have some friends and assuming you speak, rather than sending an instant message to them).
Anyway, joking aside, the point is – the different roles we have in life have some natural boundaries, so for our own sanity, we tend to leave work at the office or pub banter at the pub. We keep these areas separate, as comments made down the pub which were quite acceptable to that audience are not quite as well received at parents’ day when made by your 5 year old child!
Now add social media into the mix – all of a sudden you’ve got a broadcast channel to the world with no boundaries – your pub friends, family, work colleagues and project stakeholders can all join as subscribers… worst case scenario – chaos ensues, followed quickly perhaps by divorce and unemployment…
Thankfully, life is not quite as extreme as this, but hopefully this goes to show you the importance of thinking about social media in terms of channels and audiences. You may not want to use the same channel for sending out your CV as for distributing photos of what you did on the beach last summer.
Remember your hat
If you want a good aide memoire, think about it visually, which hat (work or leisure) are you wearing when you send your message?
There is a strange psychology at work on line. It’s easy on the internet (on a PC or mobile device) to disassociate yourself with what’s happening and the consequences of your action. So – be smart, wear the right hat online and don’t fall into this potential elephant trap.
Here are some good examples of when people forgot what hat they were wearing, and very much ‘lost their shirt’ in the process:
A ‘spell-check’ is also worth remembering for social media. Check out the LinkedIn if you need a reminder, there are 624 “General Mangers listed in the UK.
Strangely, normal laws do apply online; a careless tweet really can cost you more than just your reputation, it can cost your job.
Stay ahead of the curve
So, if this has set you thinking how you can get ahead by using a new communications channel for your business, or if you want some sound advice from a local organisation in Winchester on how social media would fit with your growing business, please do get in touch.
One thing is for certain, examples of organisations getting it wrong online will be back in the news again soon. Mike Wooles
Promoting your website to make more of your online communications strategy means keeping two tricky taskmasters happy:
1) Your customers 2) Internet search engines
Customers are listed first, as I believe your primary responsibility in any communications activity (and any media) is to your customers first and foremost. When creating your website (or updating it) think carefully about what your customers want and their online information needs. What are you prepared to share with them publicly and what information helps them do business easily with you. Customers can be the people who buy your product, but they may also be people who have other interests, such as journalists or market analysts.
Design your site with people in mind (user-centric design) making it easy to navigate, exciting to look at, brimming with news and reasons to go back to it. Make it bright, fun, informative, compelling, news-worthy and friendly – your primary audience will quickly recommend it to others.
These are your next audience, just like customers they are busy and they really appreciate you using good editing techniques to digitally ‘signpost’ the information they need. Again, try to make their job as easy as possible, so they can work for you.
Start with your site itself – make sure you have a meta-tag to tell the search engines what you provide, spell it out for them so they know what you can offer their readers. Register your website with Google and Bing, so they know what to say about you and what your pages offer.
Next, think about the following question:
If a customer didn’t know your brand, how might they search the web and find you?
This could create a strategic discussion in your business and give your brand managers some food for thought – you may need a room, some coffee and to put some time in the diary to deal with this one. You could even ask some new customers how they found your website to settle any disputes.
The outputs you want from this heated debate are the link between your brand and organic search. Next you need to sprinkle these ‘hooks’ across your user-centric site to help drive SEO and ensure people who are looking for these items online are directed to your website, helping the search engines service their requests. Make sure these electronic ‘middle-men’ are doing their job to direct these enquiries to you.
So – that’s the challenge or the art of SEO – in many ways it’s back to the basics of all communications, think about your customers, who are they, what do they want, how do they find you, how can you help. The key point is not to let the search engines dictate your design or limit your creativity for your customers, but make sure they are your next port of call.
Good luck with your next web project and don’t forget to focus on design first – give your customers a reason to return to your site, provide the news, content and information they need, before you start to think about SEO.
In a future article we will look at Social Media and the role this is now playing in improving search optimisation and driving traffic to your site.