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Short Course

How to create and establish a tone of voice

About the author

Grace is the Head of Content for entrepreneur and social influencer, Steven Bartlett. She regularly posts tips and tricks for fellow Social Media Managers over on her Instagram page, @the.socialclimber.

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86% of consumers say authenticity is a key when deciding to trust a brand - and your tone of voice is the first impression any potential customer gets. In fact, it only takes users approximately 50 milliseconds (that’s .05 seconds) to form their opinion of you. No pressure, marketers!

What is a tone of voice?

The definition of 'tone of voice' is the way you are speaking to someone. As a brand, it's where users will decide if they want to interact with you, so it's important to get it right and win them over!

You can profile your brand tone or decide what your tone of voice is going to be based on by creating a brand personality - thinking of it as a person: who are they, what do they do, what do they stand for? For example, a large corporate bank is unlikely to choose 'funny' and 'casual' as some of its key descriptors when it comes to creating content, but these words might be perfect for a young marketing agency trying to appeal to 18-30-year-olds.

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Once you've chosen your definitive tone of voice, it's very hard to change it (you may as well change your entire brand!) so it is always worth testing your messaging in different styles to see which one works best.

Example: Serious, formal, respectful

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Example: Casual, neutral, enthusiastic

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Why do you need a definitive tone of voice?

  • Your customers want to feel valued - it can be easy for them to feel like a number to brands and want to be spoken to on a more authentic level that creates a connection
  • It immediately lets your audience know what you stand for and what they can expect when coming to your brand's website or social channels
  • It separates you from your competitors so you can leave your mark!

The key steps to defining your tone of voice:

Make decisions

Before you can even begin defining your tone of voice, you need to know the full breakdown of who your target audience is. This will influence the language and tone you use, as well as decide the content pillars you use when coming up with campaigns and collateral (these are the key, broader themes every piece of content should fit into).

Do you want to:

  • Entertain?
  • Inspire?
  • Inform?
  • Be the first in your space to break news?
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You can even have a mixture of two of the above, but if you're unsure, think about your broader marketing objectives.

Research (and be prepared to get strategic)

You can approach this two ways, depending on your circumstances.

If you're looking at this from the point of view of your own brand, it may be useful to research what your competitors are doing already, so you can take inspiration...and do it better! Using a tool such as ContentCal's Advanced Analytics, you can look at how their best-performing posts stack up, and the types of language and formats of content they're using in these posts.

On the flip side, if you're establishing a tone of voice for a person or a brand that already exists (therefore with less flexibility), use the research stage to get to know them. For an individual, in particular, you need to familiarise yourself with that person, including their hobbies, the type of language they use, and most importantly, become an expert in the field they're trying to break in to.

You should also look at how your target audience speak to each other online - including what types of discussions they have, their language, and the formats of their content. Mirroring how your audience interacts with them will make them feel like they relate to you on a deeper level. You should also try and be empathetic with your content, it makes you seem less robot, more human. Which is what we are, right?

Experiment

The beauty of crafting a tone of voice is that it's the perfect opportunity to experiment with content! Trial and error form the best part of every brand trying to define their personality online. It allows you to see what people are engaging with most, and adapt your language until it's just right and authentically you.

That doesn't mean having controversial opinions or trying to cause a stir (that never ends well!) but having some form of opinion helps you get involved with new conversations, interact with your audience, and can help shape your long-term strategy. To do this in the most fool-proof way possible, consider implementing a social media policy so everyone you work with knows the boundaries.

Key takeaways from this short course

  • Go back to your initial goal-setting - do you want to entertain? Inspire? Inform? Whichever it is, make sure your messaging and tone of voice always comes back to that.
  • Keep your tone of voice aligned to the platform you're using - don't speak the same on LinkedIn as you would on TikTok, as you are talking to two very different audiences.
  • Your audience chose to follow you because they like YOU! Not because they want you to speak like your competitors or anyone else online. Be authentic.

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