How can you create an effective tone of voice in your corporate comms? What does that mean? What does good look like?
So many questions! But what are the answers?
Today I have a guest post for you by Jaime Cox @compellingcopy_, she’s a freelance Copywriter and Editor, specialising in digital content. As well as having a Journalism degree, she has over 20 years’ experience in print and digital media, across internal and external comms.
She now works with brands large and small to improve their online presence – via digital transformation and rebranding, SEO copywriting, social media, content marketing campaigns, customer comms and more. See her website.
Ten tips for tone of voice in corporate comms
Corporate communications typically have to resonate with diverse groups from a range of backgrounds, races, ages, experience levels, geographic locations and professions.
I’ve worked in internal communications at Waitrose, where news needed to engage store staff, warehouse workers, drivers and corporate head-office teams. And at the AA, where most of our communications had to speak simultaneously to roadside mechanics, call-centre staff, driving instructors, core business functions and corporate management.
Don’t let it be a missed opportunity. When it’s invested in and done well, internal communication can create a community; uniting disparate teams in pursuit of a common goal, improving productivity, setting the expectations of the business, making employees feel valued, inspiring loyalty and productivity, representing the culture and core values, and preventing issues.
Corporate communications also provide an invaluable feedback channel. And the key to unlocking all this amazing potential is tone of voice.
Long gone (thankfully) are the days of having to decipher terrifyingly austere and overcomplicated memos from the Managing Director. Modern businesses are increasingly realising the value of speaking to employees as people.
Make it captivating, not cringeworthy – here are my top 10 tips for establishing an effective tone of voice in corporate comms:
1: Keep it simple
Write clearly, in Plain English, and keep sentences short. Remove all jargon and spell out acronyms at their first mention in every piece of communication. Remember, your message has to be understood by complete newcomers to the business, so don’t make it unnecessarily complex, or assume everyone will be familiar with brand terms. If you want people to consume your comms, make it as easy as possible. Reading a blog post from the CEO shouldn’t feel like an onerous task to add to their to-do list.
2: Be direct
Write with a clear purpose and include an obvious call to action. If you’re asking readers to do something, such as volunteering for a committee or nominating a colleague for an award, make this explicit…and easy. If you need them to take action (for example updating their entry in the Global Address List) improve compliance by including a link and clear instructions (ideally with an incentive) as well as details of where to get support if they need it.
3: Be respectful
Speak to everyone as equals and use inclusive language. Play down hierarchy. Make sure your tone of voice is neither patronising nor autocratic. This can seem tricky to nail, but with a little thought at the outset, you can make sure all your comms are clear and simple without being dumbed down.
4: Be friendly
Drop the formalities. Speak or write in the first person, use the active not passive voice, and avoid epic sentence structures with too many clauses. Adopting a conversational tone of voice will naturally make all your comms more relatable and reciprocal (and make business leaders appear human and approachable).
5: Be inspirational
Corporate communication provides a fantastic opportunity to inspire, galvanise and empower your teams. So use it. Without being schmaltzy, develop a tone of voice across your channels that motivates people and makes them truly feel part of a community.
6: Be honest
Trust is key to effective corporate communication, so ensure your tone of voice is approachable, transparent and honest. If there are issues, concerns or failings in the business, own up. Nobody has all the answers – employees on the ground can be a rich source of ideas for the business and highlight potential issues. Internal communication is everyone’s responsibility, so establish a two-way conversation, show you’re genuinely listening, and invite feedback.
7: Be accessible
Corporate employees tend to be a diverse audience to ensure your copy and tone is as inclusive as possible. Does your message make sense? Would people outside the organisation fully understand it? Is the purpose of the communication clear? Make link text meaningful and consider technical accessibility factors – do any of your staff use screen readers, for example?
8: Be flexible
Don’t forget you can vary the tone of voice according to the speaker, and the reason for communicating. General updates from the comms team will have a more generic tone of voice, whereas blogs from key senior managers are likely to include more personality, warmth and colour and be written in the first person. The message will also have a bearing on the appropriate tone of voice for any piece of communication. A review of a company funday will obviously have a wildly different tone of voice to a relocation announcement or news that roles are at risk.
9: Be consistent
Although flexibility in tone of voice is important for different formats and channels (see above), every piece of communication should be governed by a consistent over-arching style. Style guides are just as important for corporate comms as for external branding. Adhering to a universal style guide means that – in theory – anyone can write for corporate communications, and people will take your messages more seriously.
10: Be helpful
Make life easy for people, provide valuable, useful content. Make corporate communication something people are happy to receive and want to engage with. Try to keep your tone as positive as possible. Look for the good news in everything.
Remember that font, presentation and design also have an impact on tone of voice
Thank you Jaime. What do you think about what you’ve read? What are you going to try? What works for you? You can find her on Twitter @compellingcopy_.