One of the things we teach in Hootville’s copywriting course Copy Savvy 101 is that tone matters. By tone, we mean the vibe, the manner, the impression you create with your words.
One golden rule: choose a tone. Never let your default tone become your tone. Consider what will work for you in relation to your key audiences audiences. And for Pete’s sake – stand out.
How formal will you be? How sophisticated will your language be? How specific or obtuse will your references be? Will you sound jaded, knowing, ironic? Will you be angry, friendly, outraged, caring, urgent?
Will you presume that your reader has some insider knowledge or that they are a newcomer to your issue?
Do you engage the reader with direct questions? Do you write more words or fewer? Do you tell stories and use humour? Did you notice that we’re using this tone as we speak?
Tone is created by more than words. Headlines, images and captions go a long way to establishing your tone. People who will never be paid to write for a living can detect a tone within a paragraph or two.
Of course your choice of what to write about and the priority each issue receives is a key way to convey your personality. Do you focus on changes to legislation and regulation – or focus on a client’s story? Are you deeply detailed or short and sweet?
There’s no one right tone. Just the one that works best for you in relation to your key audiences for the medium that you are using at the time.
When organisations get their tone wrong it hurts them. You’ve all heard of airbnb, the website allowing people to rent out their spare rooms in exchange for money. Well airbnb is in hot water. Owners corporations don’t like strangers in their apartments and more importantly tax-hungry state governments in America want to tax airbnb’s users the way they tax hotel.
(Commonly referred to as bed taxes, each hotel night booked attracts a few dollars tax for government. So far airbnb has just ignored this.)
This is a threat to the airbnb juggernaught, so its hired lobbyists, rebranded and started a campaign to persuade lawmakers of airbnb’s deep worthiness.
The 5 year old company may be valued at $ 18 billion but it claims that deep down it’s a community. (If it were a community not a business this place would be free.)
Like so many US businesses they act as if their corporate success is in fact some social movement - the “sharing economy”. What do you think of the tone? Is it simply too, too much? We think so.
airbnb is far from alone in making this error. Facebook is a regular sinner.
Little did we know that by using Facebook to stalk our exes we were supporting Facebook’s “journey”. We hate that word.
We don’t mind some poetic waxing but as soon as you’ve overplayed your hand, as soon as you’ve overstated your case, as soon as the reader knows that you’re trying one on – you’ve lost them. Then you have no chance to win them over.
This is as off-tone as Mark Zuckberg’s speech on the day Facebook listed on the stock exchange. (Kicks in about at 50 seconds or so.)