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

How you can conduct a content marketing interview

Adam Fisher 2nd May 2018 — 7 mins read
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’ve woken up with content ideas in the middle of the night, half-way through a gym session and while eating dinner. One of the best ways to create content, however, is to interview people. 

Not only can these be written up as a straight interview, like this example from our magazine, but you can also use them to breathe life and add fresh impetus into existing content ideas. And invariably, as you carry out more interviews, you will find you spot more content ideas through the people you talk to. 

Whether it is people in your own organisation or key influencers in the sector, getting the views, opinions and personalities of other people into your content can offer your readers something strong and different.

But how do you carry out an effective interview if you don’t have a journalism background?

I’ve worked as a journalist and now create content for Thirty Seven and its clients.

Here are my tips for successful content creation interviews:

 

Avoid the word ‘interview’

I’ve always tried to avoid using the word ‘interview’.

As a journalist, I found that it was a word that made people nervous.  It has a formal feel and conjures up thoughts of job interviews or politicians being torn apart by Jeremy Paxman on TV. 

On occasions, it would stop people from talking to me altogether.

However, if I said something like ‘have you got a few minutes for a quick chat’, I would get a much better response.

I’ve found this theory is the same when it comes to content creation. If I use the word ‘interview’, I might typically get a response like ‘I wouldn’t know what to say’.  If I say ‘I just want to get your thoughts on…’ they are generally up for the idea.

It all goes back to making sure the person you are interviewing, or wanting to interview, is relaxed.

 

Start off gently

There is a good chance that the person you will be talking to will not have done an interview before or had any form of media training (something our sister company Media First can help with).

That means that while I’m still going to take a journalistic approach to the interview, I’m going to start more gently than I would when faced with an experienced media spokesperson.

I’ll be looking to ask questions that hopefully put them at ease, help them to relax and open up and encourage them to share their thoughts.

I tend to think on my feet and if I feel they are growing in confidence I may go for some harder questions. If not, I’ll continue with open, gentle questions which encourage them to keep talking.

Whatever their confidence level, I won’t look for the curveball question that I may have used as a journalist.

 

Don’t share questions in advance

You will find conflicting advice about this in other blogs about content creation.

But, I really don’t believe in sending interviewees a list of questions I’m planning to ask in advance.

In my experience, doing this ensures scripted responses which won’t capture the conversational tone you need to aim for.

And, as I have already mentioned, I don’t prepare my own questions in advance.

I’m not completely heartless though. I will give them an overview of what I am looking for and hope to cover ahead of the interview. 

If conducting a #ContentMarketing interview, don't share the questions you're going to ask before-hand. It ensures you create a conversational tone and avoid scripted answers. Via: @37agency

 

Focus

It might sound needy, but when I carry out an interview I want the interviewee’s undivided attention.

There is nothing worse than when someone is in full flow, telling a great anecdote or story which will bring your content to life, and suddenly they are distracted by an email appearing on their screen or a phone call for example.

So, if I can, I always strive to carry out interviews away from their desk. Perhaps there is a meeting room you could use in your building, or you could possibly meet in a coffee shop.

I’ve even arranged to meet interviewees at their home to keep them away from the distracting work environment.

Similarly, I try to make sure they have got plenty of time for the interview. Finding that you have been given a 15-minute slot sandwiched between two meetings will result in a distracted interview.

 

Be curious

I have recently found myself writing content about office designs and workplace trends.

This is a subject I have not encountered in my career, despite some of the newspaper offices I have worked in being completely dingy and in desperate need of refurbishment.

So I was a little unsure of how this would go. But then my journalistic curiosity came into play and I wanted to find out what lay behind the statements I was being told.

I found myself asking lots of open questions, many of which began with ‘why’ or ‘how’ - part of the 5Ws and an H which form the basis of most lines of questioning (what, when, who, why, where and how).

Why should a modern officer contain lots of greenery? How does that improve the health of the office worker?

To adapt an old proverb, while curiosity killed the cat, lack of curiosity killed the reporter, or in this case the content producer.

 

Look out for sound bites

When we use the term sound bites in written content, we are talking about those all-important quotes that could potentially make your content stand out.

A good quote can make a punchy headline or perhaps some pull-out quotes that can be used to break up sections of content.

But, often people don’t talk in complete sentences or are not concise, which can mean finding these quotes can be tricky.

There are a couple of tricks I use.

The first is that I may suggest I have missed their last point, perhaps by saying something like ‘my shorthand isn’t what it used to be’ and ask them to repeat it in the hope they deliver something stronger second time around. 

The other approach is to re-phrase it for them. Once they have finished their point, I’ll say something along the lines of ‘so what you are saying is’ and look to produce a summary of what they have just said that better lends itself to being a quote.

If they agree with that summary then I can put the sentence I have reworded in their name.

 

Get it all down

As a former journalist, I have the advantage of being able to use shorthand when I carry out interviews.

I’ll admit my shorthand ability isn’t what it once was –neglected by years in newspaper managerial roles and a move to PR - but even if I was still capable of producing 100 words per minute, I would still look to record interviews I carry out for content production purposes to ensure I capture everything that is said.

Always make sure, however, that the interviewee is happy to be recorded.

 

Keep it conversational

I want my content to have a conversational tone.

That means that if I’m going to have lots quotes from my interviewee in the blog then I need them to be in the sort of everyday language they would use when talking to friends or family.

Industry jargon, management speak and acronyms could make great swathes of text unusable. Again, getting them out of the workplace and helping them to feel relaxed can help with this.

It also means that while I’ll have an idea of what I’m going to ask and may have some prepared questions to use as a guide, my interview is not going to be scripted.

A pretty sure fire way of making a conversation stilted is for the interviewer to make their way through a great shopping list of questions.

I want to be able to adapt as we go along and explore things that come up in conversation that I may not have considered and veer off in a direction I may not have imagined – you never know where this might lead.

 

Avoid group interviews

Group interviews are a nightmare for the content creator.

While the interviewee might prefer the ‘safety in numbers approach’, the result is typically a series of incomplete quotes as the subjects talk over each other and finish each other’s sentences.

And I think you also miss out on a lot of the personality that comes through when you talk to one person face to face.

It may be more time-consuming, but I would rather interview the people separately and then stitch together what they have said to form my content.

 

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.

Aimee Hudson
3rd October 2017 - 6 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.