Mar 08, 2012

5 Keys to Developing Your Organization’s Online Voice

Victoria Harres is a Vice President, Digital & Events Marketing

Brett Simon, Thomas Hynes, Victoria Harres, Christine Cube: Four people, one team, one consistent voice on @PRNewswire.

I regularly have people say that they know their business needs to be “doing social media,” but they just don’t know what  to say.

“I don’t want to make the mistake of making my organization sound silly,” they say, often with a pained look on their face.

Truth is, they have good reason to be concerned.

An organization’s online voice is what people “hear” from a brand through blogging, tweeting and community conversations. It’s what people engage with. It can give a brand a human connection to its audience. Or, if inappropriately done, it can confuse, or worse — irritate the  audience.

The latter, of course, you will avoid, and you can do it by keeping a few key things in mind.

Authenticity

People speak of authenticity quite often when talking about how brands should represent themselves online.

This may seem like a no-brainer, but it’s really much more than just being ‘verified’ on Twitter. It’s about being genuine.

Think of the last cocktail party or networking event you attended. Remember the people who came across as trying to be someone they’re not?

Don’t do that.

Your online voice should represent who and what your organization really is. This gains trust. And trust is not an option when building a credible voice.

Humanity

Your online voice should not sound like messaging from your legal department, and you certainly should avoid traditional PR and marketing jargon. It should represent the things your organization stands for and promote those things that benefit the business, of course, but you must say it in a human way.

Also, don’t forget those little human details like owning your mistakes with dignity and humility, and sharing some of the details of everyday life. But take care you don’t overdo the latter.

Remember, people want to connect with people. They want to have intelligent conversations. They want to know if they comment or reach out to a brand online that they will get a real human representing the organization responding in a genuine manner. A human manner.

Reflection of Culture

Every organization has a unique internal culture. It may include skateboard races with the CEO on Friday afternoons, or perhaps high standards of corporate social responsibilities.

Your culture should be reflected in your online voice. This is your organization’s “personality,” and it goes hand-in-hand with presenting a human identity online.

Credibility

Credible sources get respect. Respect gets you meaningful relationships. So be a source of useful, reliable information, and keep that content flowing on a regular schedule.

Remember that it doesn’t have to be all your own content. Promoting or linking to credible content (with appropriate attribution, of course) from other trusted sources would also gain you credibility.

Finally, don’t forget that part of being credible is being responsive. You can’t just be a megaphone of information. Traditional marketing is good for that.

If you want to have a strong voice online you must engage and be responsive to your audience.

Consistency

Whether you are writing a blog post for your company blog, a comment on an industry community site, posting a video to YouTube or a tweet on Twitter, your brand needs to have consistency of voice.

This gives your audience a sense of trust and comfort when connecting with you online. If you have an industry authoritative voice on your organization’s blog but a mostly silly and not very credible voice on Twitter, it will confuse people and certainly hurt your credibility.

Is it really that simple to create a credible voice for your organization online?

Yeah, pretty much.

Sure, there are lots more granular things to think about (details, details), and you may prioritize things a bit differently, but the five key points above will get you a long way to a strong online voice and a meaningful relationship with your audience.

Victoria Harres is Director of Audience Development for PR Newswire and the lead voice on @PRNewswire64

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