The advent of social media has redefined what we perceive as a brand. Brands behave like humans, and humans have become brands. What used to be a virtual place for people to meet and interact is now a potent playground for brand marketers. No other media has ever challenged the communication skills of brands to such a degree – brands didn’t communicate with consumers this much; they were remote institutions that broadcasted messaging around product. As brands move into the social media space, they need to reconfigure the way they communicate with consumers. In short, they have to embrace their personality.

At a cocktail party, you wouldn’t walk up to someone and say, 'Hey, I’m Dave. My stuff is 20 per cent off. - Highlight to share -

Social media expert and Likeable Media chairman Dave Kerpen illustrates the circumstance with wit:

“At a cocktail party, you wouldn’t walk up to someone and say, ‘Hey, I’m Dave. My stuff is 20 per cent off.’What you do is ask questions, tell stories, listen and relate to people.”

Even if your brand doesn’t like to hang out at a casual BBQ but prefers a conference or network event, in person, you would never come straight out at someone with a purchase or partnership deal.

On social media, we as brands aim at being relevant to the conversation first, and to a person’s life second. As people want to talk to people, brands need a personality and a voice to go along with it. Moreover, people want to buy from people, too.

Voice and tone

For some marketers, the voice and tone of a brand are the same. This seems to be an outdated mindset of those who see brands as broadcasters only. On social media, where conversation is king, tone becomes more important on a more granular level for two reasons.

On social media, where conversation is king, tone becomes more important on a more granular level. - Highlight to share -

a) Different social media channels are used by different, albeit overlapping demographics. The channels’ frameworks emphasise communication through words and/or images in varying degrees.

b) In conversation, the overall voice might not change, but the tone will have to be adapted to the individual scenario and the customer’s feelings.

Generally, brand voice creates a personable identity to build a relationship with a consumer group – the reason you get invited to the BBQ in the first place – while the tone is how you conduct a conversation at the event. As Kevan Lee from Buffer puts it:

“Tone adds specific flavour to your voice based on factors like audience, situation, and channel,”.

Finding a “brand voice”

The brand voice breathes life into your products and marks the initial brand experience for consumers. One of the most straightforward approaches to finding a brand voice is to explore the three Cs: culture, community and conversation.

Culture: This is essentially an examination of the company culture and what you and your employees talk about. What’s being said about the brand in office meetings?

What makes your company unique? Find three adjectives that capture your brand culture. And then go ahead and describe in three adjectives what it is NOT.

Community: Social marketers say this all the time… listening is key on social media to find out, not only what your target consumers talk about, but also how they talk about it. You want to adapt and align with the language used by your target community to be recognised as kindred, but maintain a differentiating position that reflects your unique value proposition.

Conversation: Based on the above, here is where you define your role in the conversation. What can you bring to the conversation? What’s your relationship to the consumer? Are you a teacher, friend, or father?

Additionally, look at competitors’ brand voices, as well as companies with similar brand voices that are not competitors. You may be surprised about who your brand will liaise with. Finally, if you have the resources available, you may want to do customer surveys. For instance, use a form to ask customers to rate an experience by choosing one adjective that described the experience best.

Remember to be authentic. Could such a personality really exist? - Highlight to share -

Most importantly, when deciding on a brand voice, remember to be authentic. Could such a personality really exist? Once you have decided, be consistent in the communication, which may mean not to share that funny Obama meme, as tempting as it can be…

Exercising a “Brand Tone”

Now your brand’s personality… you can let it shine through in its versatility in individual instances, in conversations, interactions and channels. As mentioned above, the tone is how you speak with others directly. Many companies publish guides internally or even publicly about how they want to speak with customers and social media users.

A great exercise for your employees can be one suggested by Rocket Media that puts the content type at the outset:

Content type: What are you writing? (Tweets, blog posts, Instagram caption etc.)

Reader: Who are you talking to in this scenario? (potential customers, a new target group, professionals, mums, millennials, teen girls or boys etc.)

Reader feelings: What’s the reader feeling when they are in this tone scenario? (Are they feeling curious, frustrated, etc.)

Your tone should be: Use adjectives that describe how you should sound in this scenario. (Do you sound casual, empathetic, knowledgeable, inspiring, etc.)

Write like this: Give a brief example of how the writing should sound. (This is a sample sentence you would like to see in the Instagram caption, for example. If your voice is expert, innovative, informative, it may be longer and more factual – see NASA. If your adjectives are more like Starbucks – engaging, idiosyncratic and inventive – you may want to let the image do most of the talking and write an enthusiastic tag line.

Tips: Explain best practices of writing for this scenario. (NASA could say: always double-check the facts and then let your passion for science shine through.)

Your brand should always be knowledgeable and casual on social media. What’s the point of conversation otherwise? But it is for your team to decide just how casual you can be. Is it OK for your brand to ignore proper punctuation rules on Twitter? Written language does have nuances that you want to explore in your tone. For instance, exclamation marks come across as being very excited and loud. Is that the right level of excitement for your brand?

Go ahead and brainstorm with your team!

Remember, transparency, flexibility and spontaneity are the underlying principles of communication on social and you want to consider them in the implementation of your brand’s voice.

Over time you may notice that your brand voice yields more engagement on one channel compared to another and that can mean you need to adjust your voice to the communication flow of that particular channel. Are you too wordy or too casual? How personable are you? Sometimes it can be very helpful to “borrow” the voice of an influencer to connect with a target audience and give that channel a push. But that’s for another day…

How you can make your brand talk like a human, not a business