Graham Jones
12th November 2018 - 5 mins read
A

fter all, I might be saying this with a smile on my face, in a light-hearted way so you’d know that I was mucking about. On the other hand, I might have a stern look, wagging my finger at you and making you realise I was rather forthright about this topic.

The written word can only communicate part of the way. Without vocal tone, facial expressions and body language, it’s all too easy to get the wrong end of the stick when we read something.

These days we write and read more than ever before. Emails, tweets, Facebook posts, blogs—the list goes on. Nowadays, the typical office worker actually writes around 20,000 words a week. That means you are writing the equivalent of a novel every month.

The result is that every office worker will have developed a style of their own; a way of writing that is unique to them. And therein lies the problem for business communication.

It means that the way in which one member of the team writes on social media, for instance, can be vastly different to the style used by another staffer. That leads to inconsistency among the readership and the followers; they are confused about your company’s personality.

Many firms realise this and so they develop a corporate style guide or tone of voice document. And that can often lead to another problem; the company’s communication on social media in particular is no longer human. Corporate style allows things to be consistent but it turns most text into boring, business-speak.

Companies are often afraid that if they allow their style to be more human they’ll be in danger of trivialising themselves on social media. They get a sense of the more human approach devaluing their operation.

These firms worry that you might get maverick behaviour, with staff saying things in all kinds of negative ways on Twitter or Facebook. They don’t want to be like Channel 4, for instance, that Tweeted “BREAKING: It's definitely better to be nice to people and not be a dick. We'll update you as and when we have more on this story.” Or, perhaps, the Tweet from KFC in Australia which said “Something hot and spicy is coming soon” above a picture of a woman looking down at a man’s genital area.




Social media activity like this seems fun and human, but it is the kind of tone of voice that puts off the corporate style police. That, though, is a problem. It means that millions of social media messages are just plain boring. People skim straight past them, meaning they are a complete waste of time for the companies in the first place.

So, is there a way out of this conundrum? How can your company come across as human without people going bananas?

One way is to train people in writing skills. Given that the typical office worker is producing a novel’s worth of material each month, it’s worthwhile taking stock and thinking “are they trained for that?” People get trained in the technical skills of using email, for instance, but how much training do people get for writing? These days, writing is one of the most common activities for office workers and few are trained in this skill.

A key feature of learning to write well is understanding how your material sounds, so that even though the reader cannot see your facial expressions they can still get a jolly good idea of your meaning through the way you use phrases, sentences and punctuation.

Staff that are well-trained in writing are going to be much less likely to make the mistakes of businesses trying—and failing—to strike that human tone on social media. That’s because trained writers tend to stop and think more before they commit finger to keyboard.

It’s also about seeing the reader in your mind’s eye. Professional writers visualise the people for which they are writing, rather than just focusing on the words. Skills like this can be taught and learned and can create a significant advantage on social media. That’s because, with everyone trained, the personality of the company can shine through and the maverick behaviour can be diminished.

Essential to getting it right is understanding your audience very well indeed. Taco Bell, for instance, does this brilliantly. Its social media posts are light, fun and humorous, reflecting the fact that what the company offers is a fast snack that is usually eaten socially.

Similarly, the airline JetBlue manages to strike a good balance between fun and being serious. It doesn’t trivialise air travel but it does emphasise that travelling itself should be fun and enjoyable. Its Twitter feed is consistent in that it contains a sprinkling of humour among the more serious tweets.

Another good example is the bookstore Waterstones. It provides informative social media posts as well as humour and conversation with its followers. It has a consistent tone that is light when needed and serious when talking about something that demands it. In other words, it understands the connection between the topic and the reader very well.

Fundamentally, what these companies share is a solid understanding of their readership. They may well be using trained writers, but their social media posts reveal that they truly understand their audience. You can only write in the right tone if you understand who is going to read your material and their motivations.

For some companies this will mean you can be light, fun and entertaining. For others it will mean that you need to be conversational and witty. And for a few it will mean you need to strike a balance between serious and light. The only “right answer” about tone of voice on the internet is “it depends”. It depends on your product, your sector and your audience. Two things will help you get this working properly—trained writers and a solid, well- researched understanding of your target audience. 


At Thirty Seven, we offer content and design services to ensure your campaigns reach the right audiences at the right times. Our journalist led approach ensures your content is interesting, engaging and informative so you gain brand awareness and engagement whether it is social media content or a whitepaper. 

Marketing

Our guide to copywriting jargon

Adam Fisher 16th May 2018 — 7 mins read
T

wenty years down the line these terms are second nature to me, but I have to keep reminding myself that to many others they are a mystery.

Content production, like any other industry, has words, phrases and acronyms which while meaningful to those working in it, mean nothing to those outside.

Of course, we don’t use these terms in our content (we are still on a mission to eradicate all jargon from content), and we try to avoid using them when talking to clients.

But we thought it would be fun to take you through some of the frankly, often bizarre, and sometimes morbid terms we use and explain what they mean.

So here is our guide to copywriting jargon:

 

Above the fold – Traditionally this referred to broadsheet newspapers, with the top half of the page being above the fold, and therefore being the most prominent place for an article. It is now a term that is used in web design, referring to the part of the page visible without scrolling.

Blurb – The blurb is similar to a byline (see below). It is a brief introduction to the author that follows the headline.  If you look at our magazine In This Issue you will find some short text on each main article which details who wrote the piece and their experience.

Byline – The byline on a piece of content gives the name of the person who has written it. But it is not really about giving credit to the author. It is more of a tool which adds legitimacy to an article. For example, if you looked up the author of this post, you will see that I should know what I am talking about. When the byline is from maybe a senior leader in an organisation, or a particularly experienced writer, it can play a role in encouraging the reader to keep reading. The byline has evolved in recent times and will sometimes include a small bit of background on the author, or perhaps a Twitter handle so that readers can continue the conversation. 

Churnalism – Not a phrase you would hear at Thirty Seven. This refers to the practice of churning out content and articles rather than producing fresh, original and well-researched material.

House style – This refers to an organisation’s rules for writing, spelling and presenting content. For Thirty Seven, for example, one of the house rules is that numbers one to nine are always written out. In my experience, particularly from working in newspapers, any attempt to move away from house style is often met with profanities from editors and a stint in the naughty corner.

Greek – This is what we call the nonsensical text used when we are designing the layout for some content and the real copy is not yet available, even though it is actually Latin. You will probably have seen it at some point starting with ‘Lorem Ipsum’. This dummy text has more-or-less normal distribution of letters allowing the design to look complete so that it can be shared with a client. 

Gutter – No, not a reference to tabloid journalism. This refers to the white space in a magazine where two pages meet. It can also refer to the white space between text columns.

Hook – Hooks are a crucial component of effective content. These are the bits which keep your readers interested and engaged. They may be unusual facts, emotive examples, eye-catching statistics or perhaps posing a question the reader wants answered. Essentially, anything that encourages someone to keep reading the content is a hook.

Kerning – This may sound like some slightly obscure Winter Olympics sport, but kerning is actually the process of adjusting the process of space between letters.  I’m told by our designer that this is actually an ‘art’. But I write the words around here and I would describe it as a way of adding some polish to the design and improving legibility. Kerning can play a key role in eliminating orphans and widows, which sounds a lot more brutal than it actually is (more on those terms soon).

Kicker – This helpfully has a few different meanings when it comes to content. Traditionally, it has referred to a line above a headline which reveals something about the content – a sort of headline on the main headline.  More recently, it has also come to mean something surprising or poignant that is used to end a piece of content.  So if you hear us talking about a kicker, we could be discussing something at the beginning of a bit of content or something at the very end – helpful.

Orphan – One of the content world’s more morbid terms and something that is often confused with a ‘widow’. Even by those in the industry. It refers to a single word which appears at the top of a column or page. It is considered a villain of typography as it causes poor horizontal alignment at the top of a column or page. The key to remembering the difference is that an orphan is alone at the start, while a widow is alone at the end. Dark.

Pull quotes  A pull-quote is a strong, attention-grabbing quote, which has been, well, ‘pulled’ from the main text to add some visual flair to lengthy articles and make them more appealing to readers. Ideally, they are short, direct quotes, used to break up large sections of words and encourage the reader to keep going.

They are sometimes also called ‘callouts’ – but not by us.

Sidebar  This one more or less does what it says on the tin. It is a short article in a magazine or on a website sitting next to next to the main piece, which contains additional and supporting information  

Spike – Hopefully you won’t get to hear us use this phrase. It refers to a decision not to publish a piece of content or an article.

Standfirst – This is the term given to a brief introductory summary often used on longer forms of content. Its role is to give the reader an overview of what they will find in the rest of the blog or article and encourage them to invest their time in continuing to read. Generally, a standfirst will just be a few lines. Brevity is considered key.

Strapline – A strapline in print terms is a headline beneath the main headline, written in a smaller font, and used to give the reader further teaser information about the article.

Subheads – Subheads are the little headlines, usually one or two words long, that you will see scattered across longer forms of content. They serve a dual purpose. Firstly they break up the content making it appear less daunting for the time-pressed reader. Additionally, they make it easier for people to scan content to get a good idea of what it is about.

Teaser – This refers to a few lines of copy designed to encourage a reader to find the rest of the article. A printed magazine, for example, could include a teaser on the first few pages for a piece appearing further back in the publication.   

 

Tracking – Similar to kerning, but tracking is the process of adjusting the spacing throughout an entire word. Once kerning has been used to get the spacing right between each letter, tracking can be used to change the spacing equally between every letter at once. Clever hey? Still not an art though. (Stop picking fights with our designers Adam – Ed)

Widows – Another bleak term and something which is very similar to an orphan.  It refers to a short line – usually a single word - at the end of a paragraph or column. This is a design problem in printed content as it leaves too much white space between paragraphs.

WOB – Quite simple this one. It means white on black and refers to white text on a black or other coloured background.

 

At Thirty Seven, we offer content and design services to ensure your campaigns reach the right audiences at the right times. Our journalist led approach ensures your content is interesting, engaging and informative so you gain brand awareness and engagement whether it is social media content or a whitepaper.

Mark Mars
3rd October 2017 - 2 mins read

Every company wants to be an authority in their sector - those that engage the media usually are

Media First designs and delivers bespoke media and communications courses that use current working journalists, along with PR and communications professionals, to help you get the most from your communications plan.