You don’t know me. You may not even know I exist. More importantly, I don’t know you.
I am the voice of your company.
Sounds crazy, right? But that’s often the way it works. If you aren’t a giant company with the resources to hire, train, and maintain an internal content/social media department, it makes sense to outsource to digital marketing companies…who hire freelance writers.
In some respects, it’s a great system. You get a full-time professional writer without paying a full-time salary and writers get to work in their bunny slippers. Since writing is a creative process that happens anytime inspiration strikes, it’s more cost-effective to pay for the writing itself than for the hours spent researching and thinking about writing.
But, some times this system can make it difficult to create a cohesive voice for your company. Lets look at the options and discuss a few ways companies can ensure a consistent brand across all platforms.
Wouldn’t it Be Cheaper to Just Hire a Writer?
Sometimes. In fact, often the writer could charge more and you’d still wind up paying less. Some companies go this route, and it can be a good solution. Direct contact with your writers means you can be specific about voice and direction — which is a good thing.
Bear in mind, though, you only get what you pay for.
When you hire a marketing company, you get far more than just writing. You get the expertise and reach of their network. A good marketing company has connections. They can get your content (with your links) published on high traffic sites and push it out through high-profile social media profiles to improve reach. Many marketing companies also analyze your metrics to see what’s working and what’s not.
You also get a lot of eyes on the piece before it hits the market. You get ideation (brainstorming for marketable ideas), fact-checkers, and editors to help improve each piece of content. The writer’s job in this chain is simply to write. Ideas and resources are supplied but publishing, promotion, and follow-up are done by others.
From a writer’s perspective, it’s both freeing and restrictive. The job is over when the edits are done. Writers are usually required to sign non-disclosure agreements (NDAs), so they remain anonymous…which also means they can’t pump it out over personal networks or even respond to comments. Ain’t gonna lie, sometimes it’s a little awkward.
When writers have little to no contact with your company, there is less opportunity for them to truly understand your company. To make matters worse, a large company might have a lot of writers and social media representatives…and a lot of distribution channels. A solid marketing strategy includes all kinds of writing:
- Copy – the sales pitch on your primary pages and advertising.
- Content – non-sales articles, white papers, and other helpful information published on your own site.
- Blog Posts – opinionated, personable, industry insider knowledge and topical concerns.
- Outreach – publishing non-sales content on other sites with a link to your site.
- Traffic Hooks – highly shareable content like graphics, contests, and infographics.
- Social Media – tweeting and writing content are different things usually done by different people, but it’s all connected. Well-crafted tweets can be as valuable as in-depth content.
Your company’s voice is your brand. It has to be consistent across all the different channels, even when many writers and social media reps are involved. How can you make that happen when you don’t have a personal relationship with your writers?
Establishing One Voice
Most companies have training materials, a code of conduct, and workplace rules in place to define acceptable behavior. Your voice can have similar training guidelines.
Here’s what writers need to know:
Who is Your Audience?
Every piece of content you put out should speak directly to your customer base. If your company or product base is diverse, this may mean different audiences for different products or brands. You also may need to address different audiences on different channels. A company may attract young housewives on Pinterest and teenagers on Instagram, for example, while visitors may land on the website while searching for in-depth information. Make sure your writers know your audience for each assignment.
Who Are You?
Are you a family owned business? Has your average employee worked for you for over 10 years? Are you a brash new startup with a brand-new idea? Company information helps writers decide whether to be fresh and snappy or stuffy and corporate.
What’s Your Company Culture?
Does your company have specific initiatives you’re proud of? Do you participate in charity events, focus on a smaller environmental impact or green technology, or encourage employee health with an in-house gym?
How you treat employees is a hot-button social issue today and should be part of your marketing efforts if it is positive. Employee relations is a rich area for memes and tweets…good or bad. When your writers know what you’re proud of, they can help your company build the reputation you want to project.
Frankly, it would help most dedicated writers a great deal to talk to a sales rep and have access to your ordering system. Writers are able to be far more effective with insider knowledge of your processes, technical specs, catalog, and ordering system. With only base knowledge, they can write only obvious information. “You can use our online ordering system 24/7.” Well, duh. Can you talk to a live rep on Sunday? No idea. If a hurricane disrupts the distribution chain, is there a backup system in place? Sorry, no clue.
A thorough background in how your services works, your pricing structure, and even what goods you carry gives the writer a solid foundation for truly informative content.
While you can’t exactly define voice, you can give an idea of tone of voice. You can specify whether you want light and friendly, strictly factual, gossipy, opinionated, formal, or newsy. Tone should be geared to the audience and reflect the company image.
Some companies reject all controversial hot-button topics. Taking a stand can be a very good thing for a blog or social media, even if it generates negative comments. By telling the writer where you stand on topical issues, you empower them to tackle the issues your readers are most interested in talking about. You can also specify you are willing to put the issue out there, but do not want the writer to pick a side.
How to Handle Negativity
This one is mostly for SMM reps and bloggers. Almost every company will attract negative feedback from time to time, and protocol for handling dissatisfied customers is critical. While writing a script to respond to negative comments is a terrible idea, preparing your SMM reps for potential complaints and offering suggestions about how to handle situations is a great approach.
Response protocols might include instructions to apologize without admitting guilt and get the customer off the public channel before too much damage is done: “I’m sorry you had a bad experience. DM me and I’ll figure out how to fix your problem.” The key is to respond without escalating the issue…and running the risk of a media disaster.
Every industry has news, politics, and topics of interest. You may follow all of it, but chances are, your writers don’t. By passing along juicy tidbits, you can really help your writers and SMM reps spice up your feed.
A talented professional can communicate in any voice you want, but you’re best advised to listen to what your marketing company has to say about writing tone and content. And if they aren’t advising you against obvious product advertisements in your blog posts, boring tweets, and a constant barrage of spammy one-way communications, get a new company.
Your goal is to establish a dialog with your customers – to inform, intrigue, engage, and enlighten. Your voice can’t be one long series of Mad Men advertising slogans. Your company voice says more about your brand than your advertising ever will — so make sure your writers and SMM reps have the tools they need to create a solid company voice.
Featured Image: Scott Hampson via Flickr
Image Credit: greyweed via Flickr