Finding your tone of voice in social customer care

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I often get asked: How does a company finds its tone of voice on social customer care?

It’s a difficult question to answer, and often it’s easier to understand what your tone of voice isn’t. Harder still to articulate a definition of your tone of voice.

Tone of voice is the language we use to communicate. It is the choice we make to use certain words and not others. It is that intentional choice we make, that reflects the personality we want our brand to embody and convey. I would extend it even further to say that the way we engage with our customers on Twitter or Facebook is inextricably intertwined in our tone of voice.



Every brand may aspire to be authentic and relevant, sincere and transparent, but without alignment between words and actions, they fail in the endeavour to be authentic, relevant, sincere and transparent.

I may respond to my customers on Twitter within five minutes, but simply responding to them with a standard ‘Please email customer services…’ or ‘Please DM us with your account number…’ undermines any attempts we make at authenticity and sincerity.

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Aleks Krotoski in her book ‘Untangling the Web’, writes:

…settling into an accurate definition of the self requires trying on a lot of inappropriate identities and making a lot of mistakes. Again and again, by stumbling and falling and getting up again, we refine ourselves into something that we eventually become content with.

For this though, we need to be aware of all the possibilities so we can try them on to see if they fit, and we need to have the freedom to fail without devastating consequences.

Identity is context-dependent and subjective, allowing us to be inventive and creative in who we are and who we want to be.

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Finding your tone of voice is a journey. It requires ‘stumbling and falling and getting up again’. It requires playing out your journey of discovery in public. Organisations are not used to playing, let alone experimenting or making mistakes in public. Organisations want to get it right first time. Organisations play semantic games, they no longer play or make mistakes, they simply exist in a state of ‘perpetual beta’.

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Your tone of voice must be true to your company’s culture and values. Your organisation’s personality must show through.

How many organisations genuinely understand their culture and values enough? How many organisations trust their frontline agents enough to ensure that every word chosen, every sentence written, every action taken instinctively embodies, inhabits, lives and breathes their tone of voice in every reply on Twitter or Facebook?

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Trying to codify your tone of voice suddenly makes you realise how inadequate words are. How fluid meaning is. How subtle and nuanced language can be. How cultural differences can make us seem a world apart. How complex finding your tone of voice can be. No wonder we stumble and fall…

What does formal look like?
How do you define informal?
Is it acceptable to use emoticons in a crisis situation?
If expressing a degree of humour or playfulness is acceptable, how do you define your brand of ‘humour’ or ‘playfulness’?
Is it okay to use shorthand or slang on Twitter?
Should you try to remove words like ‘but’ or ‘actually’ in order to have a more positive sounding tone of voice?
Do you have the same tone of voice for all customers, or is it different for business customers?
Is it okay to take your customer’s lead and be happy, edgy or empathetic in your replies on Twitter or Facebook?
Do organisations in regulated industries, say banks or insurance companies, typically have to have such a formal tone of voice? What stops their personality coming through? Do they have a personality?

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Companies like @O2, @TDBank_US, @ING_Aust, @AirAsiaSupport, @AlaskaAir, @MaxisListens, @AskAmex or @HPSupport seem to have found their voice. They’re comfortable with who they have become. They’re also comfortable in the knowledge that their voice will continue to evolve. Where they have got to today is simply a waypoint, one waypoint of a number that will be reached on their journey.

Companies like @touchLebanon, @ZainKuwait and @StanChartHelp are on their way. They’re still working out their voice. Bold enough to explore, but not quite confident enough yet to settle on a voice. Not quite confident enough to believe in themselves. Self-belief is hugely important.

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I often get asked: How does a company finds its tone of voice on social customer care?

I often ask in reply: How well do you understand your company? How well do you understand yourself?

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