The Marketing Strategist:

How to Develop a Social Media Voice

August 10, 2010

One of the great things about social media tools is that they are dead simple. You need a second hand on your watch to track how long it takes to set up a Twitter account, for example. But developing a social media voice is a more complicated proposition. A good starting point is to create a social media policy for the organization. But these policies are more like guardrails than signposts. Writing style guides can also help, but who has time to plow through them? Employees and subject matter experts need active support from marketers to develop their social media voices. In ITSMA’s social media survey, 68% said that marketing is the catalyst for social media. It’s worth our time to develop a brief guide to social media voice for employees that takes into account the unique attributes of your target audience. Here are six important qualities to have in a social media voice:
  • Authentic. Social media ups the ante for saying what you mean and meaning what you say at the time you’re saying it. In social media, buyers can connect synchronously with you and their peers, they can react instantly, and they can do so through easily accessible tools like Twitter. Obfuscation used to be a way to buy time in an era when buyers had to write letters to the company president to get their complaints heard (and they had few ways to determine whether others were having the same problems). In social media, obfuscation only brings a swift, often large-scale, backlash.
  • Relevant. In social media, it isn’t just what you say, it’s the company you keep. Creating a responsive social media network means focusing on a subject that you know well and sticking to it so that people know what to expect from you. Remember that it’s as easy to disconnect from people in social media as it is to connect with them. Lack of relevance is a ticket to deletionville.
  • (More) Informal. Social media are designed to elicit conversation, yet most of that conversation happens in written form. That means we need a new standard for ourselves. We should make our writing sound more like the way we speak (when we’re at work). One way to judge whether you’re being too stiff or overly casual is to read your writing aloud before posting it. If it sounds too stuffy, is overly long, or is overwrought, simplify it. On the other hand, if it sounds like you aren’t old enough to have a driver’s license, put more thought into it.
  • Grammatical. Sure, social media are more informal by default, but informal doesn’t mean you should sound unprofessional. Indeed, the more personal nature of the communications makes good skills even more important because all the misdeeds can be easily tracked back to their source. It’s OK to split an infinitive now and then, but the really obvious stuff—misspellings, misunderstood words, bad punctuation, and internet shorthand (unless you are really short on space)—reflects poorly on the reputations of the communicators and their companies.
  • Responsive. Just when we think no one is listening to what we’re saying in social media, we’re likely to receive a message, often from someone we’ve never conversed with before. If we ignore these messages, we lose opportunities to have interesting conversations that could contribute to our social media success. Blog comments, for example, should all receive a response from the blogger, even if it’s just one message thanking everyone for their time and good thoughts.
  • Generous. Sharing is the currency of social media. By pointing to content from others that you think is interesting, you build your social network and help other social media participants build theirs. For example, Twitter updates that come with a link to something deeper to read (such as news, opinion, tips, research, and thought leadership) are more likely to be passed on, or retweeted, to others. Rarely do those links lead to paid content. Those who make their content freely available will have many more readers than those who don’t. Besides, it makes us feel good. Acts of generosity, it turns out, light up the same primitive, feel-good area of the brain that sex and food do.
Want to see some other qualities or add your own? Read 13 Qualities of a Social Media Voice.

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