Not long ago, I talked about communication styles and why your own style matters in community management. Along the same line today, I want to talk about something that often goes overlooked by most managers.
That something is voice.
Like most aesthetic terms, “voice” is squishy and vague. It gets at something almost inexpressible—an impression created in a speaker’s audience by the words they use.
As difficult as it may be to measure, voice is critical to establishing a connection between you and your community members. Fail to develop a compelling voice and you risk alienating your members. Actually, you’ll probably never attract them to begin with.
Let’s take a quick look at how voice works in community.
Here’s a short welcome thread I found on HootSuite's online forum:
… and later on, another community manager jumps into the conversation…
Here are some of the adjectives that I associated with these two posts:
|Exuberant||“We’re so excited...”
Judicious use of exclamation points.
|Folksy||“Sorina here… happy to help”
“We’re so excited to have you…”
“…your chance to influence and participate…”
“Really looking forward to meeting you…”
|Conversational||“participate” is repeated
First, let me clarify. This isn't about judging HootSuite's writing savvy. (Although I must say, you'll never find an emoji in anything I write.) What matters here is that the words they use, the punctuation and—yes— the emoji, all come together to form a basic impression of HootSuite as a brand.
If what they’re going for is a friendly, energetic and welcoming way to invite people into community, then the voice used by these two managers is right on the money.
Finding Your Voice
Crafting a compelling, brand-appropriate voice takes time, patience and a healthy dose of self-awareness. From what I’ve found, the folks at Distilled have written the definitive guide to finding your voice. It’s a long read (7,000 words) and worth every minute.
But you’re busy, so I’ll save you the half hour with my TL;DR summary here:
1. Who are you? (Values)
It’s time to ask yourself and your team some hard questions to strike at the core of who you are as an organization. You can even go so far as to ask your customers what they think your core values are.
Here are a few questions to get you started:
- Why do you exist?
- What do you stand for?
- What’s broken in the world that you’re trying to fix?
- What makes you unique?
- If your brand were a person, what would it talk about at a party?
- What kind of personality would he/she have?
- What companies/people do you aspire to be like?
- How do you want to be remembered?
As a community manager, your mission is to embody those brand values as you engage with customers, fans and advocates. Your voice, mediated through written words online, is your primary instrument in accomplishing that mission.
2. What words reflect your brand identity? (Vocabulary)
As shown by the HootSuite example we saw above, the words you use play an important role in shaping your overall voice. Seemingly innocuous words like excited, participate and collaborate play a part in shaping your audience’s perception.
- Pick out a series of adjectives to describe your brand.
- Do you want to be perceived as formal and technical or informal and colloquial?
- How much slang will you use? Is cussing a good thing or a bad thing?
- How do people talk around your office?
- What words do you hear most often from your executive leadership?
The goal here is to take the ordinary speech you already use around the office and translate it into the voice you project online. In a sense, you’re just learning to type the way you talk.
3. How seriously do you take yourself? (Humor)
Some brands are hilarious. Case in point: MailChimp. Could you imagine them switching gears and adopting a more formal style like that of Constant Contact? Of course not.
If you're funny, then be funny! If your brand trades in a whimsical space, then by all means, bring that into your voice. If not, then don't.
4. What’s your story? (Storytelling)
I have a two-year old son. His favorite thing to do is sit on the couch and read stories with Dad. If I want to keep that kid happy for a day, all I need is a stack of books.
We all love stories. Nothing grabs attention better than a compelling narrative. That’s why you have to adopt the voice of a storyteller.
Whatever you do—whether it’s announcing a new program or writing a caption for an image submitted by one of your advocates—turn it into a story.
How do you do that? Here’s an example using a photo from my dinner a few nights ago:
Straight Instagram Caption: Getting ready to enjoy Sushi Thai’s excellent sushi burrito.
Story-fied Instagram Caption: After wandering into what I thought was a Qdoba and placing my order, a kind young lady served me this… Now let’s see if raw tuna and seaweed have anything on carnitas and queso…
Cheesy? Probably, but you can see the difference. All the first caption does is describe the photo. The second creates a narrative around it and draws the reader into that story. Strive to create the latter effect in everything you communicate, and people will engage.
By the way, that sushi burrito was delicious.
Finding your voice isn’t a one-time process; it’s a journey that’ll span the course of your career as a communicator. As an individual, your personal voice will go through different seasons as you shape it to match each new brand environment and community.
What matters right now is that you learn to develop your voice within your current context as a community manager.
Follow the steps I shared above. Read the Distilled guide. Labor to bring your voice into line with your brand community as much as possible.
Do these things, and you’ll be surprised just how many people end up listening.