Should Your Brand Voice Stay the Same Across Social Channels?
If you’re curious about brand voice, the first thing you should do is think about Tom Hanks.
Yes, Tom Hanks—and not just because of his calming presence. Hanks has enjoyed an illustrious film career precisely because he is not a character actor. Audiences feel comforted and engaged when they spot his face (or even just hear his voice) onscreen. He makes small adjustments to his beloved persona depending on the film in which he’s appearing, but at the core, he’s still recognizable. His characters are likable in the same way, whether he’s playing a cowboy doll, a WWII soldier, or a man who just discovered a mermaid. Remember that.
The trouble with defining a company’s voice is that rigid guidelines can stifle you. Like the personality of a human, your brand has to retain some elasticity to appeal to different people in different places. Your brand may have a central personality, but it needs to be able to convey different tones.
For instance, your blog posts may read as professional and enthusiastic, but your Facebook copy promoting each blog post can’t sound exactly like what you post on LinkedIn, Twitter, or Instagram. You might want to dial down the enthusiasm on Twitter and LinkedIn, and dial it up a notch on Instagram and Pinterest.
To explain how brands should communicate across social channels, I spoke to a handful of audience development managers and social media strategists. Here’s what they had to say about the way brand voice changes on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and Instagram.
Your brand voice on Facebook
As the largest social network in the world, Facebook presents an interesting opportunity for brands. With billions of users, there’s potential for incredible reach, but it’s hard to have a distinct identity or voice.
According to Brooklynn Kramer, client success manager at Qnary, an agency that manages social media presences for executives, Facebook is the platform that most values a sense of nostalgia. Effective facebook copy tends to be “slightly informal, familiar, and accessible.” The user base is far more intergenerational than say, Instagram or Twitter, which means it’s prime real estate for content that recalls the reader’s “golden years,” whether you’re trying to connect with retirees over 65 or millennials recalling the ’90s.
Facebook’s algorithm changes in recent years have attempted to strengthen the site’s focus on community connection and shared memories. Kramer advises clients to make the reader feel as if they’re relating to others through a common experience. Even a B2B brand can address that desire by using phrases like “Remember when” or “Everyone knows the feeling.”
If you can’t lead with nostalgia, another option is to have your social copy suggest that a larger conversation is happening without your audience. This kind of call to action—inform yourself, develop an opinion, and join the debate—works well. You want to create the sensation that you’ve beaten the reader to a story and you’re cluing them in.
Elly Belle, a freelance social media manager and engagement strategist, said brands should post content on Facebook as long as they’re challenging the status quo. “Facebook is a place where arguments are born,” she told, but it’s also where “everyone goes to browse Delish videos. You want to work to catch someone’s eye as they scroll through their feed at the end of the day.”
Facebook audiences want to be entertained and distracted. So lead with your most punchy, human content and save the jargon for other platforms.
Your brand voice on LinkedIn
The social strategists we spoke to called LinkedIn “underrated,” “under-explored,” and “weird,” and most of them were unsure if B2C content worked there at all.
“LinkedIn is like that guy at the office who’s nice enough to ask you how your weekend was, but he seems kind of boring and plain,” Belle said. “You recognize it’s good to have some relationship with him, but you’d never go out for drinks after work.”
Take IBM, for instance. To frame a blog post about the company’s chief human resources officer on LinkedIn, the social media team wrote: “IBM CHRO Diane Gherson shares her insights on how artificial intelligence is fundamentally changing the HR function.”
On Twitter, they posted a similar post about a researcher on staff but described her dramatic story a little more:
Then: Lisa Amini age 2, dreaming of becoming an astronaut. Now: She is a Distinguished Engineer & Lab Director of IBM Research Cambridge, exploring and creating next-gen AI/ML capabilities, and chairing the first AI Research Week. #MITIBM #SheCanSTEM #WIML pic.twitter.com/F1GQW2RRTR
— IBM Research (@IBMResearch) October 3, 2018
According to 2017 statistics from Pew Research Institute, most LinkedIn users are between 30 and 49 years old, and most are college graduates living in urban areas. The site’s users increased dramatically to half a billion between 2016 and 2017, but it’s not clear how often LinkedIn users actually visit the site other than when they need to look for jobs or job candidates. Still, dismissing the platform outright is a misguided mindset, according to AdWeek’s Dan Tynan, who declared it “the Facebook of B2B marketing” in 2017.
One could argue that LinkedIn is the social platform best suited to for brands because users are either hoping to find hirable talent or they’re hoping to become hirable talent. So if your company’s content is related to their searches, users will be grateful to find it.
What does this mean for your brand’s tone? Take LinkedIn’s ultra-specific purpose as permission to get straight to the point when writing social copy. You still need a fresh angle to attract users, but the competition is far less fierce than on Facebook.
Your brand on Twitter
— Whirlpool Corporation (@WhirlpoolCorp) September 24, 2018
No other platform excites and beguiles social media editors as much as Twitter. One strategist called it ‘the ‘id’ of the whole ecosystem.”
Kristen Gaerlan, a senior copywriter at Publicis who has worked on social for brands like Wal-Mart and Merck, emphasized the importance of speed and wit in Twitter copy. Brands often feel “they just can’t move fast enough to keep up with the conversation,” she said. “People want to know what you’re doing at this very second. Don’t tell them about something that happened past tense; it’s old news.”
This means Twitter is the perfect place to experiment with your brand’s tone—your audience there may work in media, so they’ll appreciate a more experimental or daring voice. Now, this doesn’t necessarily mean a B2B company should start trafficking in memes, but Twitter is the first place you might try out some jokes about your industry. If you’ve written any humorous content poking fun at the status quo, you’ll want to share it here first. It’s also the best place to trade gentle barbs with competitors to show everyone in the industry that you’re all playing in the same sandbox.
According to Belle, Twitter is ” a great place to try to cut through the noise of the world. Either you have something valuable to add to a conversation or something funny and uplifting.” Though professionals might follow your brand on Instagram to get HR updates and watch your progress, they won’t follow your CEO on Twitter if all he does is share press releases.
Your brand voice on Instagram
Instagram is primarily known as a place for B2C products and B2B culture. You can drive brand awareness and engagement via Instagram with copy and visuals that are overtly positive. For that reason, the classic marketing tone, devoid of any irony, works best, making the platform a safer space for brands than a place like Twitter.
However, the line between user-generated content and branded content is very blurry on Instagram, more so than any other platform. Ads are becoming harder to spot, particularly from influencers who don’t always disclose their relationships with brands.
Although Instagram is still working out the kinks of paid promotion, the platform is arguably the most friendly to hashtagging. Sprout Social found that seven out of 10 hashtags used on Instagram are branded, and 80 percent of all users follow at least one brand. What’s more, 65 percent of the top performing posts on the platform involve products in some way.
These statistics mean your brand’s tone on Instagram doesn’t have to shroud a CTA in clever copy. In fact, the clearer you are about what you want your users to do, the better. Have them swipe up for a free trial, tag a friend to enter a sweepstakes, or click the “link in bio.” Though branded content can ruffle feathers on Facebook or Twitter, it appears most users on Instagram consider it par for the course.