Why can’t we carry brand tone of voice into social spaces?

Social issues: Why can’t we carry brand tone of voice into social spaces?The Condescending Corporate Brand Page on Facebook has given us all the chance to chuckle at ourselves self-depreciatively in recent weeks. And while not every post appearing on there is necessarily ‘condescending’, the page has undoubtedly shone a light on an issue that’s seriously troubling the industry – why on earth do so many brands continue to talk to their Facebook fans and Twitter followers as if they’re a bunch of illiterate eight year olds?

OK, that’s a big overreaction – but this is a big problem, and it needs to be addressed before it spirals out of control.

The main issue is less that these brands are so irritatingly patronising, and more that so few of them have even attempted to replicate their brand tone of voice in their social spaces. They talk with a consistent voice across every other channel – TV, direct, press, you name it. They’ve all got 900-page, leatherbound bibles on what their tone of voice is, and how important it is to them. Yet when it comes to Facebook or Twitter, that bible goes out of the window. And probably leaves a dent in the pavement.

It’s somewhat understandable, as social spaces demand a more conversational tone than every other medium – but that doesn’t mean the essence of a brand should be sacrificed in order to achieve this. Unfortunately, for most brands, this sacrifice is currently happening – it’s an industry-wide case of failure to adapt.

It’s hard though; of course it’s hard. We want likes, we want comments, we want shares – but we shouldn’t have to ask for them. We shouldn’t have to end every post with a question. And we shouldn’t use so many exclamation marks!

But turning things around might be an easier task than it seems. Agencies should be challenged to give community managers the most thorough tonal education they can – but they should also bestow them with a level of freedom. Freedom to implement their own vision of what they think the social tone should be. To keep an edge, retain an identity – and stop their brands defaulting to the industry standard tone that’s so comically lampooned on the Condescending Corporate Brand Page.

Perhaps most importantly, however, community managers need to be given some proper, regular facetime with those who know the brand inside-out creatively – be that copywriter, planner, account handler, or client. Surely, with a bit more regular collaboration between those who know the brand and those who know the social spaces, expertise can be swapped – and before we know it, we’ll be communicating with Facebook audiences the way we communicate with every other audience.

Of course, this isn’t a fix-all solution. Firstly, words can only do so much. The content we push onto our social sites needs to do the bulk of the work itself. If we’re posting a dull stock-shot every day, the accompanying copy is destined to fail, very quickly, through no fault of its own.

Then there’s the issue of cross-company collaboration – if a brand’s social channels are controlled by a different agency to their digital creative work, getting together for a quick catch-up becomes a whole lot harder.

Another point to remember is that some brands already possess somewhat childish TOVs across other channels, because they deem it right for their audiences. These companies’ fans and followers may be less bothered about ‘Happy Whateverdayoftheweekitis!’-esque posts – but methinks they’d still appreciate a level of consistency across all media.

These points aside, however, there are no excuses for the way that the majority of brands talk in their social spaces. If the exact tone of the brand in question can’t be replicated, the essence of what the brand stands for certainly should be. We should be trying a whole lot harder to sound more like the brand these fans know and love (and liked) – and less like Mary Poppins on speed.

Alex King is a copywriter at  TMW.

Main image Bigstockphoto.com.

  • Iamlauraann Smith

    Would be interesting for you to give particular examples of which brands you think are victims of this?

  • Rob

    Agree, you need to evidence your opinions please. It sounds like the solution would be for brands to cut out the middle men and mange their own communities?

  • Alex King

    I didn’t want to single out any brands, mainly as it’s an industry-wide problem at the moment.

    However, I think that most (but not all) the brands that appear on the Corporate Condescending Brand page referenced are guilty of this at one point or another:


  • http://www.fstthegroup.com/ Dane John Cobain

    Interesting article, but quite often it’s easier said than done!

  • Daren

    I think brand is really about reputation, what a company does (and has done in the past). And TOV is how they say what they do (and have done). But until recently it has always been pretty much one way. The new dimension in social is that a brand’s TOV is affected by what fans talk about in the brand’s space. The question is whether writers should adopt the TOV of the brands fans or not. Especially challenging when a brand’s social fans differ from those buying their products and services.

  • Rob Mosley

    Agree. I think brands should hire agencies that use Copywriters as community managers. It needn’t cost more, the division of labour between the Customer Service aspect and “Brand Conversation” part of running a good social account is pretty clear and getting the two skillsets collaborating is simple.