By Simon Maule,
Could the tone of voice in your organisation’s thought leadership content reduce its impact? This may not be the first question you ask of your flagship written work, but new research suggests it could be a critical factor.
An analysis of current thought leadership content shows that the majority of it – 58% – uses a male tone of voice. Just 37% is female, with the rest neutral. However, an overly male tone in thought leadership content can undermine its ability to foster collaboration – an issue identified as one of the key reasons for doing thought leadership in the first place.
Academic studies show that a typically male tone of voice in written content can discourage collaboration. It tends to be assertive and dominant. In comparison, the female tone of voice typically demonstrates ‘affiliative’ language, which seeks to connect with the reader in an attempt to be collaborative and inclusive.
This issue is becoming more acute as thought leadership grows in popularity, and its purpose evolves. Increasingly, communications professionals see the discipline as a way to boost engagement and collaboration. Research Linstock conducted in 2017 found that nearly one in three want their future thought leadership content to boost collaboration with target audiences. This is a significant increase from the 17% who see it as important now.
It’s important to remember that content can have a variety of tones, and that some written material will benefit from having a male tone of voice. But what can firms who are serious about using thought leadership to drive collaboration do to ensure it supports that aim? Here are five steps to consider:
- Consider hedging your statements a little more. Conventional wisdom is that using definite language demonstrates clarity and certainty. Explore softer assertions which allow discussion but don’t dilute the impact of your message.
- Embrace longer sentences. Short, direct sentences are a hallmark of the male tone of voice. Look for ways to add extra adverbs to demonstrate extra feeling and emotion.
- Use language to acknowledge the concerns of likely readers. Thought leadership is often driven by a desire to be innovative and share new wisdom, but don’t skip over recognising the concerns your audience may be facing.
- Look to other sectors for inspiration. Our research showed substantial sectoral differences: financial services content is more likely to display male characteristics, whereas content from charities is the opposite.
- Test your content with trusted readers before launch, to gauge whether it achieves the all-important objective of encouraging collaboration. Select a small, diverse group of readers to boost the chances of receiving different perspectives and more rounded feedback.
Evidence suggests that these relatively small changes could make a real difference. Make sure 2018 is the year your thought leadership content strikes the right gender balance, so it speaks with authority but also creates opportunities to collaborate and deepen relationships.
Simon Maule is Director at Linstock Communications, leading the firm’s work on thought leadership, underpinned by the latest thinking from behavioural science. Simon splits his time between Linstock’s offices in Leeds and London.