Form Over Function: How to Set Your Company’s Social Media Tone

Jean_Dion big ideas blogGuest post by Jean Dion

In a study conducted by the Pew Internet and American Life Project, researchers found that 85 percent of adult social media users agreed that their online experiences were positive, and that most Setting the right social media tone is important.of their interactions with others could be considered kind.

However, there is a dark underbelly to social media, as many of the messages users exchange are strikingly informal, harsh or even a little cruel. Interestingly, it seems that many companies are choosing to shift their tactics into this darker territory, and they’re creating online voices that are just a little mocking and sly. The British cell phone company Tesco Mobile is a good example, as was the reelection campaign for Barack Obama.

Both of these entities got ample press for their efforts, but before your small business jumps on the short-and sour voice bandwagon, there are a few important points to consider when setting your company’s social media tone.

Why Tone Matters

The internal message of a marketing campaign (the “what”) is vital. This is the piece of information you’re attempting to share, and without some kind of give or hook, there is no real reason to communicate at all.

But the tone you use is also of vital importance. This is your company’s personality writ large, and it contains all of the emotions and values that can make people either love you or hate you. It sounds a little New Age and silly, I know, but your tone is the portion of your message that readers will store on a subconscious level, and that tone might be the part of your message that they remember, long after the hook has faded away.

From a reputation management perspective, your company’s tone could also get you into hot water, if you choose to be flippant and disrespectful with an audience that doesn’t expect this kind of informality. In my opinion, one should tread lightly before getting too informal or insulting, even if the conversations take place on social media. The risks of disaster are just too high.

Getting it Right

So if getting nasty and copying Tesco Mobile is out, what’s another way to break through the clutter and find your own voice? It starts with research. By browsing the social media profiles of your customers, you can find out:

  • What tone they use when speaking with one another
  • How they choose to speak with other companies
  • What messages they seem to share most frequently
  • What other companies they seem to like and follow

Then, you can look at your own culture. Ask yourself:

  1. How do I want my customers to think about my company?
  2. Should I be a friend, a mentor or an authority?
  3. How does my tone mesh with the product I sell or the industry in which I work?
  4. Am I qualified to write marketing pieces for my company? (Remember: Not everyone is well suited to maintain a corporate Twitter account or blog. See more about that here.)

Spending time on tone building might seem frivolous, but if you take your time and do it right, you could both improve your status and keep attacks from taking hold.

How have you handled your company’s tone? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments section.

Jean Dion is a senior journalist with You can follow her on Google+, or read her daily musings on Twitter @jeanmariedion.