Do you ever feel like you’re best friends with someone who you only really know from social media? Maybe you haven’t even talked to this person, you just follow them and watch their Instagram stories every day. So why does it feel like you’ve been friends for ages when this person probably doesn’t even know who you are?
That person has a strong voice. While many of us are just posting about our pets and what we had for dinner last night, those who find the most success through social media (the influencers, if you will), got there because of their voices. They make you feel like you know them. And now, brands are following suit.
Brands on social media are no longer just logos posting ad copy. They have personalities. They have voices. And, like it or not, your brand will be judged on what you say (and how you say it) on social media. If you have yet to define a brand voice, read on.
What actually is brand voice?
Think about the way you speak to other people. Are there any phrases you use that no one else does? Maybe you use colloquialisms from your hometown that aren’t common in any other city. How do you speak with your closest friends? There are probably phrases you could say to them that don’t mean anything to anyone else—otherwise known as inside jokes.
Your brand also has a “voice” on social media. Like I mentioned earlier, it takes on a personality of its own through its voice. It’s just as it sounds. How do you want your brand to communicate with your current and potential customers? What phrases should be used? Is slang appropriate or should the verbiage remain formal? What feeling do you want your customers to get when communicating with your brand?
Voice is especially important on social media because it’s super visible and easily shared. Social media is often considered low-hanging fruit, but it can really come back to bite you in the butt if you do it wrong.
The importance of authenticity
There’s no denying it: The internet is chock full of trolls, dolts and bots. It’s easy for most people to sniff out inauthenticity.
If your company is faking it on social media, your followers (and those who don’t follow you but see a shared post) will definitely know. And there’s nothing more cringe-worthy than a company incorrectly using the word “woke” or posting a lame attempt at a viral meme. Those companies alienate their followers and, most of the time, get called out for it.
But, then again, there are some brands that do it totally and completely right. Like Steak-umms going on a Twitter rant about the spread of misinformation during the COVID-19 pandemic. Or NJGov being funny and relatable from day one on Twitter by retweeting user generated content, using memes to share useful information, and referencing inside jokes that only Jersey residents would appreciate. So what’s the difference between brands who are delightfully relatable and those who crash and burn? A strong, authentic brand voice.
Building a cohesive brand and culture
Before you go deciding if meme culture is part of your company’s brand voice, you should have a good idea of your own brand and culture. Brand and culture go hand-in-hand. And both of these elements are built upon your story.
Why does your company exist? What do you stand for? Who do you stand for? These are some questions to ask yourself when figuring out your story. But this is a blog post about brand voice, not brand storytelling, so I’ll direct you to this helpful blog post on figuring out what you stand for—come back when you’re done reading!
Once you have your story nailed down, everything you do should brand-wise should link back to that.
Defining your voice
Okay, so you’re ready to define your brand voice. You know your company’s story. You can boil down the feeling of its culture. What’s next? Here are some questions to help you work through figuring out how your brand should communicate on social media.
Who is your audience? How do they talk? What are their hopes and fears? Where do they get information? Think about demographics specifically. This may also determine which social media platforms you should use.
What are their wants and needs, specifically surrounding your product or service? If you’re selling insurance, are your clients looking for a trusted friend or a knowledgeable mentor? Do they need to be educated or assured that they’re making the right choice?
How can you be of value to them? What are you going to help them achieve? Here’s where you can start to think about what you’re posting as well as how. If you haven’t defined yourself as a lighthearted, humorous brand, you might not want to go posting knock-knock jokes.
What are some specific things that your brand would “say”? Write some sample posts or messages to answer common follower questions. This exercise can help you think about your brand voice in more concrete terms. It can also help maintain consistency across all platforms.
Speaking of consistency…
Once you’ve defined your brand voice, include it in your style guide (or create a style guide if you don’t already have one). Consistency will make your brand voice stronger.
Create guidelines for community managers so they know how to answer follower questions in a way that’s consistent with the brand voice. Be specific. Use example questions and social media posts. What phrases are acceptable? Should they be strictly professional when interacting with a follower or can they crack a joke?
It’s also helpful to have these guidelines in place in case you have multiple people managing social media pages or you need to onboard new employees to the social media marketing team.
And, as a reminder, don’t try to be something you’re not. The only way you’re going to build trust and credibility is by being true to your brand.
Let’s talk about virtue signaling
I would be remiss if I spent this whole blog post talking about building a strong brand voice without mentioning virtue signaling. It’s so easy to just slap up a black square and a hashtag to make it clear to the public that you’re against racism. But how many brands did we see do that and then nothing else to back it up? It’s great for your brand to have values that extend further than just success and profits.
We need more businesses who are willing to speak up about injustice. The issue is, speaking up about it and contributing to the fight against it are two different things. Just like authenticity, your followers will notice if you’re simply virtue signaling. So think twice before jumping on the bandwagon. Get creative with the ways you show your support for causes, and make sure it fits in with your voice.
Here’s an example: This past year, we, like a lot of other companies, had extensive talks about racial injustice and inequities after the murder of George Floyd sparked protests across the United States. We knew we needed to speak up about this issue, but we had a hard time figuring out what exactly to say. So we took our time, watched the news and continued having discussions. We decided to pull back on our social media posts and focus on sharing stories and learning opportunities. As storytellers and lifelong students, we knew that it fit within our brand voice to share educational opportunities instead of just posting a black square.
The bottom line: Don’t try to be someone you’re not
You wouldn’t use a fake voice in a phone interview (unless you’re Elizabeth Holmes), so don’t fake your brand’s voice. Figure out your brand identity and stick with it. A defined brand and consistent voice shows your clients that you’re reliable, knowledgeable and ready to help. When a client identifies with your voice it can build trust and rapport. And that’s what we all look for in the brands that we carry with us, isn’t it? A trusted advocate and maybe even a friend.