By Anna Ritchie published September 13, 2011

How to Create Harmony with Your Online Content Voices

A few weeks ago, I wrote about the need to add flavor and personality to your content marketing pieces by establishing your content style. An engaging content style is key to ensuring your messages are resonating with your target audience, but style can vary greatly, depending on what voice you need to use.

Many hats, many voices

Just as marketers wear many hats in their day-to-day activities (publisher, advertiser, PR agent, social guru, analyst, etc.), so too must we adopt different voices to suit the channel, audience, and piece we’re working with.

Think about your online marketing strategy as resting on three pillars:

  • Your company website
  • Social media sites
  • The online community

Activities that support these pillars can include online promotions and ads, print advertising and content, SEO/ SEM activities, events (online and in-person), and more.

At the core of this strategy is your content, which should be delivered using a voice that is tailored to the specific pillar you’re engaging on (a representative list of content elements is included in the graphic below, although there are certainly many more unlisted items).

While each pillar may need its own voice, it should harmonize with the others without replicating them.

Your company website

This voice should most closely represent your corporate vision: Your mission statement and dedication to your customers should resonate through every page and content piece (white papers, case studies, video, etc.).

Most companies strive for a more professional tone on the company website and in their marketing brochures, product reviews, and case studies. These pieces, and overall website content, are often written in a persuasive or promotional voice and are designed to tell your audience why they should invest in you.  

Your social media sites and blogs

Your customers’ voices tend to be most prominent on social media sites and your blog, so a more casual tone of voice is typically acceptable. By clouding social media sites with your corporate voice, you may deter your social audience from feeling comfortable that their own voices are welcome or will be heard. Your social sites shouldn’t serve as an extension of your company voice; they should give you the chance to speak “outside the box” and connect with your audience on a more intimate level.

For example, Bluenile.com is an e-commerce site, plain and simple. But the Blue Nile Facebook page takes on an entirely different (and fun) tone, with the customers’ voice dominating. Blue Nile will often ask its audience to share a story, post a picture of an engagement ring, or complete a poll. And I’ve noticed they respond individually to every person who comments on their page — a great way to connect on a deeper level!

Your online community

This is the trickiest voice to master, as it blends the voice of your company with that of your customers to create a “voice of the industry.” Where your company social sites and websites are places to talk about your company or customers, an online community should be a place for your audience to gather and discuss broader industry-related issues and breaking news, ask questions, and share ideas. Here are some ways to achieve this industry voice on an online community:

  • Run breaking news stories, industry alerts, and press releases, crediting their sources. This will ensure you’re not putting a spin on outside content, which may detract from your credibility. The fact that you’re housing this content in the first place already demonstrates your industry knowledge; but you will want to pose a question to your readers at the end of these pieces, as a way to insert your community voice.
  • Create original content and commentary, but make sure it’s educational only (no sales pitches, here). Here’s an example: Ask your audience to complete a poll or short questionnaire about their top interests. Then, create an eBook or white paper that responds to their needs and provides tactical advice and insight.
  • Ask for feedback on all your educational resources, and encourage others to share their own resources to create a one-stop repository of industry information.
  • Make it easy for people to find you when they are searching online. This means focusing more on providing high quality content (keyword-driven) and using an SEO-friendly design so that you appear at or near the top of organic search engine results (rather than solely using paid ads). (This isn’t an issue for Facebook and Twitter since many people will proactively search those sites on their own.)
  • Represent and reward other community voices by asking for content contributors, hosting blogs, and giving shout-outs to your top contributors. Also, offer rewards and promotions for people who complete your survey or contribute to your content.

In summary, your content should be consistent, even if you are using different voices. In all your communications (content, discussions with your audience, promotional materials, and educational pieces), your voice should convey a consistent message. If you have multiple people working on these initiatives in your company, consider creating a content style guide with some “shoulds” and” shouldn’ts.” This is especially important in social media interactions. If your company doesn’t like slang, then be sure there are some clear writing guidelines you can easily deliver to content developers. The same goes for an online community. Consider publishing guidelines about what kinds of content and interactions are acceptable on your site. By allowing different voices to be heard, your pillars and your overall online marketing strategy will grow stronger and become an impenetrable force for your competitors to reckon with.

Author: Anna Ritchie

Anna Ritchie is a marketing and communications practitioner, focusing on social media, content marketing and Online Community management.You can follow her on Twitter @apritchie.

Other posts by Anna Ritchie

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