Every time you publish a blog post or send a message to your email marketing list, your readers learn from you.
But they may be learning something entirely different from what you think.
Your headline might say “10 Tips for Amazing Azaleas” or “How to Change a Tire in 7 Minutes.” And your readers will get some information on that topic from your post.
But readers get more than they bargained for every time they read your content — they’re unconsciously getting an underlying secret message in addition to the more obvious how-to tips.
Each bit of content you write gives your readers a message about who you are.
It’s a hidden message … your headline isn’t “Here’s What I Want You to Know About Me.”
(At least I hope it isn’t.)
But every message in your content marketing is an opportunity to tell readers what you’re about — to convey your personality, your passions, your expertise, and your attitude.
More important, it communicates how all of those things are going to benefit your readers and customers.
Connecting with readers and helping them get to know and trust you is the primary reason for content marketing. You’re hoping when people read your work, they will want to take an action that brings them closer to you — to buy your products or services, subscribe to your blog, tell all their friends about you, or maybe want to collaborate with you.
That’s your secret message. It’s the undertone that permeates everything you write.
If you’re not aware of your tone, you may be sending unintended messages to your readers. Fortunately, it’s not hard to analyze and adjust your tone until it gives off the vibe you want.
Here are a few common tone problems I’ve found on various blogs:
- Schizophrenic — You’re mad as hell in one blog post, then try to be a rational authority in the next, and crack jokes in the following post. Your tone is all over the place. Result: Readers are confused and not sure which one is the real you. They’re not coming back for more.
- Annoyingly formal — You sign your blog posts with your full name (including middle initial), company name, street address, and phone number, like you’re addressing a letter to the IRS. You use words such as “moreover” or “therefore.” Your sentences are five lines long. You’re blogging, but your head seems planted in 1897.
- Speaking in tongues — Every third word you use is industry jargon or an abbreviation, which you never explain. Unless I’m your exact same flavor of tech dork, I’m not reading you.
- Too cute — You’re using five exclamation points at the end of every sentence, and lots of all-caps and bolding. This makes your blog look like a note you passed to your best friend in high school. You could be an expert in nuclear physics, but with this tone, no one is going to take you seriously.
Tonal mistakes drive away the readers you’re trying to reach. Setting a consistent tone that invites readers in — because it fits both your personality and your blog topic — helps build your audience.
Here are two strategies for decoding and changing your secret message:
Decoder ring for your current tone
The first step to crafting your ideal undertone is to map what your tone is now. To do this, take several of your recent blog posts and extract all the adjectives and descriptive nouns from them. Look at them as a group. These words go a long way toward setting your tone.
Applying this exercise to my own recent blogs, I get a string of words like intuitive, strong, start, great, fearless, raves, “no biggie,” terrific.
Together, these help create the tone I want — empowering and positive about moving up to better-paying writing. My word choice keeps the tone informal and accessible.
If you have a list that repeatedly turns up words like: moron, freaking, weirdo, asinine … you’ve got a pretty rude, snarky tone going on. Maybe snarky works for you and that’s how you want to be known. But if it isn’t, you’ll want to change it.
By the way, if during this exercise you spot a lot of words like: somewhat, not sure, possibly, maybe, and kind of, you’re killing your authority, no matter what tone you’re trying for. Your unintentional secret message is that you’re a giant wimp. Just strike them out and say what you mean.
Decoder ring for setting your future tone
When I work with small-business clients on their blogs, we always do a short exercise before I write any posts. I ask them to describe, in five adjectives, the message they want readers to get about their company.
Maybe your company is smart, personable, efficient, collaborative, and customer-focused. (I could see web improvement expert Sherice Jacob using these terms.)
Maybe it’s irreverent, industry-leading, groundbreaking, innovative, and snarky. (This sounds more like Outspoken Media.)
Or maybe you’re goofy, funny, results-oriented, challenging, and passionate. (Sounds like Johnny B. Truant to me.)
If you can boil your essence down to five words, you can use them as a quick guideline when you’re writing blog posts.
It has an added bonus too: if you have a team blogging at your company or organization, it can help the blog maintain a consistent tone among multiple authors.
It’s usually a fairly easy exercise to do. You know, in your gut, who you want to be on your blog. Or you know your market’s core values. In my experience, it doesn’t usually take more than five or ten minutes to nail down the words that best describe the impression you want to make.
Once you’ve set your compass for the tone you want, implement it in all future blog posts.
Make a habit of reading each post one last time, just for the tone. Adjust any off-kilter words that express personality traits at odds with your five defining words.
Grabbing readers with an edgy tone
There’s nothing wrong with getting audacious, silly, or sexy with your tone — if it’s who you are, it draws readers, and helps your blog accomplish its goals. Actually, pushing the tonal envelope can be a great way to set yourself apart in the blogosphere.
For instance, over on the funny, frank site Toy With Me (their tag line is “nothing risqué, nothing gained”), the bloggers write just like they’re talking to their best girlfriends on the phone. Toy With Me’s sexually explicit, ultra-casual, confessional tone would be the death of many blogs, but for that blog, it’s a perfect fit.
This tone works for them because the site is all about sex toys (which they promote) and sexuality in general. There’s more to the tone, but I’m keeping it G-rated here.
Contrast this with the attitude over at the blog for the popular email marketing firm MailChimp. This company takes its tone from their chimp mascot, putting out messages that they’re frisky, easygoing, fun, friendly, and fast-moving. They’ve positioned the company as a small-business alternative to the industry leaders, so they say things like “Whew!” or discuss their new app, which they’ve named “Chimpadeedoo.”
For a small business that might be intimidated by a bigger, more “professional”-seeming email provider, MailChimp is sending signals with their word choices that they’re a friendlier sort of place. But their tone may also put off the corporate client looking for what they see as a “serious” provider.
Working with a creative or edgy tone can be a tricky tightrope to walk. It’s easy to fall off that tightrope into off-putting crudeness or embarrassing goofiness. Make sure your tone works for the specific customer you’re working to attract.
How about you?
What five words sum up your blog’s secret message? Leave a comment describing the tone you’re going for on your blog. Be sure to include a link to your blog in that field for “Website,” so your fellow commenters can see if your self-description matches what we think your secret message is.
About the Author: Carol Tice strives to be accessible, authoritative, friendly, helpful, and engaging on her Make a Living Writing blog, which was recently named one of the Top 10 Blogs for Writers. Be sure to grab a copy of her free report, 40 Ways to Market Your Writing.