Finding Your Social
Presented by Jed Sundwall!
December 2, 2009!
This course teaches the importance of a strong organizational
voice and how to communicate your organizationʼs value
through social media.!
• Voice fundamentals!
• Identifying your mission and audience!
• Identifying your voice!
• Social media voice best practices!
• Examples of social media voices!
• Managing your voice!
Your voice is a major component of your brand identity!
Why social media voice matters!
Social media requires organizations to
communicate more rapidly in conversational
Challenges of social media:!
• Rapid communication!
• Constant changes require new processes and
• Multiple formats feature unique beneﬁts and
Barack Obama communicating on Facebook
Your voice self!
A clear organizational voice requires a deep understanding of your
mission and audience!
Who are you?!
Your voice must accurately reﬂect your
organization and its mission!
Answer these questions to ensure that your
voice is authentic and deliberate:!
• Are you representing an agency or program?!
• What is your mission?!
• What unique information do you have to offer?!
• Why are you speaking?!
• Why do you want people to subscribe to your
• How long will your organization exist?!
Japanese woman with mirrors
from George Eastman House on Flickr
Perform research to gain a better understanding of your organization and audience!
Internal research methods! Audience research methods!
Stakeholder interviews! Site trafﬁc analysis!
Online surveys! Online surveys!
Competitive analysis! Focus groups!
Content audits! Ethnographies!
Your voice is characterized by context, language, content, tone,
and frequency !
What language do you speak?!
Your language depends upon your audience
and mission !
Consider the following: !
• Does your mission require you to speak a
• Does a signiﬁcant portion of your audience
speak a particular language?!
• Is your audience diverse and large enough to
• Would you beneﬁt from creating a new
communication channel in a particular
The White House has a widely varied audience
and communicates in a variety of languages
GobiernoUSA.gov exists specifically to
serve a Spanish speaking population
Plain language or jargon?!
Use jargon if your audience will beneﬁt from
it, but always write clearly!
• Use language and terminology that is
meaningful to your audience!
• Clear and direct language is always good, but
jargon is not inherently bad! What? This message is not intended for me. That’s OK.
The Argonne National Lab communicates
in plain language about technical topics
What do you talk about?!
Communicate value by providing useful
information to your audience!
Common types of content:!
• News updates!
• Research ﬁndings!
• Public service announcements!
• Emergency notiﬁcations!
This was the best I could come up with
Ostrich reads newspaper of caretaker
From Nationaal Archief on Flickr
Your social media voice!
Adopting social media requires you to communicate faster, more
personably, and more directly with your audience!
Stay true to your mission and audience!
• Your audience has certain expectations of
you. Meet them. !
• Using social media should not change your
objectives or core content!
• Do not confuse your audience by sounding
like a different organization on different
Abraham Lincoln, January 8, 1864
From The Library of Congress on Flickr
Be more social!
Social contexts require that you sound more…!
• Casual – Your social media communications will
be mingled with personal messages from usersʼ
friends and family. Try to ﬁt in.!
• Human – Social media are designed primarily to
allow people to socialize with people. !
• Concise – Your content on social media outlets
is forced to compete with countless personal
messages, jokes, and games. Get to the point. !
The White House competes
with baby pictures on Facebook
Speak directly to your audience!
Use social media to speak directly to your
audience in their language!
• Social media allows you to communicate directly
with your audience, without going through
traditional media organizations!
• Traditional media may gather leads from your
social media communications, but always cater
to your primary audience!
• Posting too many press releases and other self
serving updates may alienate some users and
damage your reputation!
A librarian's assistant telling a story
from New York Public Library on Flickr
Be consistent but ﬂexible!
A consistent voice allows your followers and
fans to build a relationship with you over time!
• People typically subscribe to your social media
updates through an RSS feed or by “following”
or becoming a “fan.” Maintaining a consistent
voice over time will foster loyalty from your
• You cannot anticipate or control the makeup of
your audience. Be prepared to adapt your voice
to your followersʼ needs as you learn more
Be like a river, steady but adaptable
Deschutes River horseshoe
From Oregon State University Archives on Flickr
Avoid social media jargon!
Social media may require some
abbreviations and new syntax, but being
understood is paramount!
• Always aspire to write clearly within restraints !
• Do not assume that your audience is as savvy
as you are!
• Being understood is paramount!!
This was ironic and embarrassing
Found via Kathy Sierra
Social media voice best practices!
• Be authentic!
• Be timely and relevant!
• Be more social!
• Speak directly to your audience!
• Be consistent but ﬂexible!
• Being understood is paramount!!
Your voice will vary across different forms of social media!
Blog posts allow for long, rich
• Long prose provides plenty of room to
demonstrate personality and provide rich
• Conversational prose can lead to inﬂated and
rambling paragraphs. Avoid this because your
readers are likely distracted by other tasks,
emails, and browser windows.!
• Remember William Strunk, Jr.ʼs axiom:
“Vigorous writing is concise.”!
TSA’s Blogger Bob has a great voice
The Globe Program!
The Justice Blog!
Updates & tweets!
Facebook and Twitter updates require
• Character restraints on Twitter and Facebook
require careful editing and precise word choice !
• Each update should be focused on a single
• Social media updates are forced to compete
with a lot of other information, make yours
clear and valuable!
• Short form communication is here to stay!
• Remember that users are commonly
annoyed by too frequent posting!
Tweets have a hard time standing out
U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs!
CA.gov on Twitter!
USA.gov on Twitter!
Video, photos & podcasts!
Language used to describe multimedia
content should match your voice!
• Strengthen your multimedia content with clear
and explanatory titles and descriptions!
• Remember your audience when writing titles
• What do they need to know about your
• Why does your content matter to them?!
• Seek to use keywords in titles and descriptions
to facilitate discovery through search!
Content titles and descriptions and video scripts
are opportunities to reinforce your voice
NOAAʼs Making Waves!
Inside the FBI!
Managing your voice!
Use styleguides to ensure a consistent organizational voice!
Styleguides and editorial guidelines help
maintain a consistent voice by training and
• Styleguides need executive support to be
• Create styleguides that address issues unique
to your organization!
• Styleguides should not be rule books!
• It is ok to leverage existing 3rd party
• USA.gov and GobiernoUSA.gov have created
guidelines speciﬁcally for social media
The best journalists appreciate that
writing well is not a tiresome duty but a
necessity. This guide is intended as a
small contribution to achieving that end.
It is, though, just what is says it is – a
guide. It is not a collection of rules and
regulations. It is not a dictionary and it
is not a list of what is acceptable and
what is not. The aim is to stimulate
thought and to highlight areas of
From Why does the BBC need a style guide?
Practice, practice, practice!
Your voice will develop over time with
• The relatively high volume of communication
required by social media provides many
opportunities to develop your voice!
• Stay focused on your mission and your
• Good writing is good social media writing, so
Clear writing leads to clear thinking. You
don't know what you know until you try
to express it. Good writing is partly a
matter of character. Instead of doing
what's easy for you, do what's easy for
— Michael A. Covington, Professor of Computer
Science at The University of Georgia
Free styleguides available online!
• The Economist Style Guide!
• The BBC News Style Guide!
• Wikipedia Manual of Style!
Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
for a copy of the latest USA.gov and
GobiernoUSA.gov social media editorial
Some of my favorite writing resources!
• WebContent.gov – Writing for the Web!
• The Elements of Style by William Strunk, Jr.,
and E. B. White, 1918 !
• Tested Advertising Methods by John Caples,
• Politics and the English Language by George
• Ogilvy on Advertising by David Ogilvy, 1985!
• Copyblogger !
Good writing is timeless