Category Archives: social networking

When ‘tone of voice’ goes wrong

Among the many ‘buzzphrases’ that you hear in content circles, ‘tone of voice’ comes near the top. (Hell, I even wrote a post about it earlier in 2013)

And if you take a straw poll of most, big, public-facing organisations, the way they want to seen (which is reflected in their tone of voice) usually includes the words ‘friendly’, ‘warm’, ‘chatty’.

Unfortunately, what a lot of the very same companies fail to take into account is the situation in which they communicate with their customers.

Lack of empathy

Virgin Media's poor tone of voiceTake the social media complaint, for example. We awoke this morning to discover we had no broadband connection at home…

A phone call to Virgin Media casually told us (via a recorded message) they were carrying out work to improve our service.

Leaving aside the fact they hadn’t pre-warned us about this, or the merits of carrying out standard improvements (not emergency, I hasten to add) first thing on Monday morning, my homeworking, self-employed partner took to Twitter to bemoan Virgin’s poor performance.

Within a short time, she received a return tweet delivered in that ‘chatty’ tone I mentioned earlier (see photo above right).

In case you can’t read it, it says: “Hi, now and then we need a little time to make the services better for the future. noon is just around the corner!”

What the (I’m sure very nice) customer service person on social media failed to pick up on is that a genuine complaint doesn’t warrant a patronising, ‘chirpy’ response.

A half-day broadband downtime is a big deal if you’re self employed and rely on fast response.

In this instance, the complaint requires an apology that attempts to sound sincere and at least tries to empathise with the complainant.

I’m sure this was just (or can be passed off as) an idle, one-off error of judgement, but the push for companies to ‘do an innocent’ and pretend they’re your friend when they talk to you will lead to many more poor exchanges with customers.

Guidelines required

This is why tone of voice guidelines that encompass differing scenarios are vital, not just a general 3-paragraph.

It’s really important to make sure you know how a brand will communicate with its audience in as many situations as possible, both difficult and easy. In other words, not just the fluffy, fun stuff.

A great (and probably over-used) example of how to do it is Mailchimp, who have even published their tone and voice (note the ‘and’) on a separate site.

Brands may not need to go to that length, but it’s a great benchmark to start with.

Is there any point live-tweeting an event any more?

thisisnotaninsight_tumblr_comAs Social Media Week kicked off on Monday in London, amid all the online noise the This Is Not An Insight tumblr stood out like a shining beacon of common sense.

While keen tweeters dispensed ‘aphorisms’ left, right and centre, This Is Not An Insight cut them down to size mercilessly, neatly highlighting why live-tweeting from an event is nowhere near as useful and necessary as we all thought.

Utterly moronic

Over the past few years, providing a steady stream of tweets from an event you’re attending has become de rigueur. We’ve all done it – you rock up to a venue, cue up the provided Wifi password and hashtag, and then listen carefully for words of wisdom to broadcast to your Twitter stream.

Unfortunately, unless you’re actually good and practised at this, what you tweet can very easily sound utterly moronic.

Now amplify the nonsensical noise by about 3000 – as has happened at Social Media Week – and all you get is a steady stream of ‘blah-blah-blah’, making it nigh impossible to pick out anything of any note or consequence.

You can, of course, mute an event as Adam Tinworth has done, but that doesn’t really get to the nub of the problem.

To my post’s original question, I would say ‘yes’, there’s always merit in live-tweeting an event, if you can guarantee you can actually do it well and it’s not so huge that what you say (whether as an individual or a brand) doesn’t get drowned out.

There are, of course, certain rules to ensure that what you tweet isn’t dismissed as needless crap – rules I shall try to list now (additional suggestions welcome).

Rule 1: Stop before you tweet

Many people are in such a hurry to broadcast something a speaker has just said that they don’t even think about what it means, and if it’s actually even insightful.

Write your tweet and then look at it carefully before you hit post to see if it makes any sense to your colleague in the office 2 miles away. Keep the phrase ‘no shit, Sherlock’ at the forefront of your mind.

Rule 2: Attribution

If a speaker says something you think is worthy of broadcast, quote them and use their name. In isolation a random sentence makes no sense if you don’t know what the event is or who’s speaking.

Better still – use their Twitter handle, so if they really are talking in gold nuggets, others can follow them.

Rule 3: Provide context

This is a follow-up to rule 2 – adding short commentary to a quote makes it far more valuable and more likely to be RTd, than just tweeting what has already been said.

Rule 4: Remember that Twitter is a conversation

Most people have forgotten what Twitter’s tagline is (Join the conversation), but never is it more apt than when it comes to live-tweeting.

To put that into context, the tagline is not ‘Talk to yourself’. Try to tweet things that might encourage people to interact with you or want to share.

Rule 5: Statistics work better than quotes

What sounds good in the moment – as has been pointed out earlier – doesn’t usually make for a good tweet. However, numbers/facts are normally more concrete and much more shareable.

Use your common sense, though: Someone tweeted this on Monday: ‘33% of brands have created a content publishing hub, to deliver consumers rich content’. To which the rejoinder has to be – ‘Is that any good or not?’

Rule 6: If in doubt, don’t bother

What this entire post is trying to say is that, usually, you’re better off using your tablet/smartphone to take valuable notes that you can share with your team in the office later, rather than tweeting banalities.

What have I missed? Let me know, please. This might even become a dispensable guide…

Why I decided to quit Foursquare

For the past couple of years, location-based content and apps have been trumpeted as the NBT (Next Big Thing).

The initial excitement and success of start-ups, such as 4square and Gowalla, seemed to herald a new era for forward-thinking digital creatives and tech superstars.

I admit I was late to the party. I got an HTC Desire in Feb 2011 and almost immediately started using 4square.

It was fun checking into places, adding friends, racking up points, earning badges and, eventually, gaining mayorships.

It was one of the cool things about a smartphone – being able to show or use your location.

On the occasions, I went to events, it was also useful to see who else was there.

But it didn’t take long to find frustrations. The supposed benefits that came with mayorships were few and far between and were often linked to big chain enterprises, rather than local businesses.

In other words, 4square hadn’t done a good enough marketing job to show off why they should engage with customers.

Another frustration came with the explore category. I went on an errand one lunchtime and needed to find somewhere for lunch. A perfect use for Foursquare, I thought.

I work in Central London, so it shouldn’t have been difficult to get recommendations. But it was.

I didn’t need or want a Pret a Manger, or a Starbucks. I wanted a good old-fashioned sandwich shop, but there were no recommendations. In other words, the big brands dominated, which didn’t feel like the right use of the tool.

Then there was the ease you could become mayor of somewhere. I went to a Travelodge last weekend and picked up the crown within 2 days. Pointless and rather sad.

Also, if you’re a Twitter user, the 4sq updates are mildly annoying.

Finally, there’s the whole points thing. I admit, I did go through a spate of number chasing, but it increasingly felt hollower and hollower.

Foursquare stopped being a useful app and turned into a soulless, endless game.

There will be friends reading this telling me I was one of the worst culprits, and I freely admit that’s the case, but the scales have now dropped from my eyes.

So I’ve stopped using. My account is still alive, but I’ve deleted it from my phone and ipod touch to break my habit.

Why haven’t I deleted the account? Because I firmly believe there’s still a way of integrating location into a wider, mass-appeal application. At the moment, though, Foursquare isn’t it.

It may need to partner up and allow its technology to be used in conjunction with someone else with a better idea.

If I knew, I’d be on my way to being a millionaire.

In the meantime, I’ll continue using Twitter :)