It’s not just what you say, but how you say it.
Sure, we might have had this saying drilled into us by parents or teachers when we were kids.
But it also applies 100% online.
Because it’s not just what we say, but the deliberate word, font, format, and punctuation choices we make that affect the attitude of our messages, and how they are interpreted online.
And it’s these deliberate (or decidedly not deliberate) choices that influence the overall vibe or culture of the online communities that we build.
The use (or lack of use) of punctuation at the end of a sentence.
Whereas most Baby Boomers feel that written communications need to be properly punctuated, Millennials and Gen Z often feel that it’s unnecessary. Or worse — take it as a sign that the sender feels annoyed or upset.
Writing in all caps. Because no matter what the actual message is that you’re sharing, it always MAKES YOU LOOK LIKE YOU’RE SHOUTING.
(Only, online. Of course.)
Face-to-face versus screen-to-screen
Adjusting your tone of voice to convey a specific feeling or emotion isn’t new to us.
We raise our tone to call attention to ourselves. Give our voice an edge when we’re upset or angry. Lower it to convey seriousness. And use inflections at the end of a sentence to show excitement.
But when we swap the spoken word for the written word, that’s where many organizations start struggling.
You want to make sure that the tone of voice conveyed in your online community is aligned with that of your organization. This can help make communication feel consistent, predictable, and best of all — familiar and comfortable.
Here’s what you can do to make sure your community’s tone of voice is aligned:
Start by defining what your organization’s tone of voice is, at its core. You can do this by looking at your organization’s written communications as a whole: from your website copy to blog content, emails, and community posts. This will give you an overall idea of how your organization generally communicates. This applies to both styles (font types, punctuation, and formatting) as well as specific words or phrases that your organization does or doesn’t use.
Compile this information into an internal voice/style guide. Mailchimp’s publicly available style guide is a whopper of a document. And while this is a more robust document than most internal versions, it’s great for helping you get clarity on how different tones of voice, formats, and more can be used (and when it’s most appropriate to use them).
Share this guide with your team and key stakeholders. Your internal style guide is not finite. It’s something that you will continue adding to as your community and your team grows.
But to encourage people to communicate along with the same core guidelines, they need to have constant access to this file. So store it somewhere safe and make the link available to anyone from your organization who will be posting in your community.
If everyone shares a similar tone of voice it can help communication feel consistent, predictable, and comfortable. Which will help foster a sense of belonging and inclusiveness in your online community.
Sprinkle in the sunshine
To help foster a positive, welcoming community culture, your tone of voice must reflect this.
“Sounds great. But how to actually do that?”
Well, according to Zendesk, adopting a neutral tone can help your messages and posts come across as helpful and caring. While also being genuine and authentic.
A neutral tone with informal banter can also help you avoid any “cheesiness” in your communications. Likewise, avoiding stylistic elements that might make content feel like it comes out of a direct-response print ad, so try to avoid strong, bold fonts, unnecessary underlining, and italics, as well as… trailing ellipses and multiple exclamation marks!!!
Unless of course, this is part of your organization (and brand) voice as a whole. (Then go right ahead and have fun with it.)
Here’s how you can evaluate which tone of voice to use, and when, and how to encourage a warm, welcoming culture in your online community:
- Set guidelines for your community’s tone of voice with this list of 37 words from the Nielsen Norman Group.
- Keep in mind these three elements: channel, audience, and topic (as in this article by Unbabel) to keep your tone of voice in check
- Here are two bumper guides from Grammarly on honing your community’s tone of voice further and how to make sure you’re conveying the right emotions with your (written) tone of voice
It might sound like a long process in the beginning, but once you set these core guidelines for your organization’s tone of voice, it will go a long way in helping you build the right kind of online community.