Brochures, web copy, blog articles, Tweets, Facebook posts – the many forms of communication that communication professionals must master is wide. And, if they were people, they’d all be Sally from “When Harry Met Sally” – i.e. high maintenance, wanting their ice cream on the side and pie warmed but no whip cream, unless you can’t get the pie warm, then…
Crafting nonprofit communications and keeping the “voice” of your organizations consistent requires you to be highly adaptable. If not done well, your audience might think your organization has a case of multiple personalities. So, how do you go about doing it right?
Here are three easy steps to establishing (and consistently maintaining) your communication style:
1) Create a Character: Ask yourself "If your organization was a person, then who would he or she be?" Give them a name, face, a background story, an approximate age - create a buyer persona of your organization. Then, whenever you create a message — a video, article, tweet, etc. – ask yourself, “would [blank] have said this?”
Another great way to keep your voice consistent is to create brand guidelines that define your tone. A good way to do this is to make two lists - one with the adjectives you want to define your tone and one with adjectives you do not want associate with your company. By using this nonprofit communications strategy, you will be able to easily spot voice inconsistencies. Here is an example:
2) Remember Your Channel Etiquette: The rules of communication aren’t all that much more numerous than in the past. In business school, they used to teach all the norms for every different type of business letter you might write. The same holds true for today’s channel.
The rules of Twitter expand beyond keeping it to 140 characters. There are norms for retweets versus quoting someone, Twitter conversations versus direct messages and so on. So, learn the etiquette of the channel you intend to use. (Watch the Salsa webinar on Communicating for Impact on Twitter for a good overview.) And, by etiquette, that doesn’t mean just remembering the punctuation norms. Adhere to the level of formality of the channel. Twitter is no place to start saying, “Sir, Ma’am, To whom it may concern…”, any more so than a press release is a place to start using hashtags every other word. Then, ask yourself, “would [blank] have said this in a [tweet, Facebook post, etc.]?”
3) Talk to Someone (not at everyone): This is the hardest part to crafting messages, especially for nonprofit marketers who don’t ever want to risk the organization being disliked by anyone. Often when we write or create video messages, we get caught up in thinking about all the possible people who might read it/see it/hear it. The natural outcome of doing that is making the message milk-toast — something everyone can consume but no one really wants.
Not every message has to be for everyone, even if it is in a public channel. It is okay to craft public messages for just a portion of your audience – i.e. just the dog lovers – even if it might make another portion – i.e. the cat lovers — feel left out. You can always create a message for others another time.
Create a persona of whom you are trying to reach with the message and be specific as possible. Give that persona a name, age range, background, etc., just as you did for your organization’s persona. As you create your message, speak to that person just as you would a friend or colleague.
Finally, ask yourself, “Would [blank] say this to [blank] in this [tweet, Facebook post, blog article, etc.]?”
There has always been one constant in communication — the quality of your message is as important, and probably more so, than the channel you put it in, the number of people to whom you send it, etc. You could have one million Twitter followers, but if your tweet is awful, best case it will go by without so much as a chirp and worst case it will prompt your followers to all fly away.