Can I hear your voice when I read your written words?

Earlier this summer at the last #SoCapOtt twitter chat, Lara sent this tweet:

The statement was so simple, yet so profound and I have thought about it quite a bit in the weeks since. Lara and I both have years of experience writing for the web and have both found our distinct voices. My writing is definitely more formal than Lara’s, but - as much as I wish it weren’t so - I naturally speak more formally too. I have a lot of respect for the way that Lara says things simply and concisely and I know I’m not alone in that.

If you disregard the technical skills of writing - grammar, punctuation and spelling - and focus solely on style, there are two important areas that can influence how your words are received by readers online. 

Active vs. passive voice

Always be cognizant of active vs. passive voice in your writing – online and off. Generally, the experts would say active voice is strongly preferred in most writing, but this is especially true of writing for the web. If you aren’t sure which voice you’re using, these articles may help you: 

This is not to say that passive voice is always wrong – it isn’t! However, choose carefully when you employ passive voice; readers on the web tend to engage better with content that has an active voice. Active voice is easier to comprehend, quicker to read, and gives concrete action. 

I am the QUEEN OF PASSIVE VOICE at times - or I used to be. I’ve worked hard to reduce the amount of passive voice in my writing so that what I have to say has greater clarity and focus. 

Formal vs. Informal

I think formal vs. informal is much more subjective than passive vs. active. If you speak formally, that IS your voice. If you speak informally, that IS your voice. It’s an area where good writers are able to be flexible. They use formal or informal tone as required by the purpose, medium and audience of a piece. However, if you’re all the writing for your small business blog and social networking accounts, you are likely THE voice of the brand and it is appropriate that it should sound like you.

Online, the style that is easier for readers to engage with and respond to is informal, or conversational.

It makes sense; we’re all participating in a conversation on our blogs, social networks, and email that often extends to phone calls and face-to-face meetings. You can’t go wrong if you write conversationally.

Pro-tip: Record and Transcribe

Not sure if you’re writing the way you speak? Instead of typing your next post, record your thoughts and then transcribe. How does it compare to your usual content? 

If you find it’s significantly different and you like the result from transcribing, try out some of the voice to text software that’s available. 

Can I hear your voice when I read your written words?

Are you a part of your content?

Social media is about conversations. Hopefully, multiple people will take part in these conversations but even if they don’t, it should still sound like a conversation.

Formal vs Conversational

While formal writing can be seen as a more respectful way of writing, I also think it’s a dryer and duller way of writing.  The only formal texts that *I* read are ones that I have to read. A text written to tell a story, to share your thoughts and insights, to make a person feel like they can hear you talking to them draws people in. The stories, the small personal details, and the personality you infuse into all you write makes people feel like they’re getting to know you.  The more they feel they know you, the more likely they are to start entering into the conversations, and the more likely they are to come back.

People want to feel connected to you

Many of the successful social media accounts for big brands tell you who is manning the accounts. Why? Because they know we know there is someone behind the words, and though every communication doesn’t need to be attributed, when it seems more like a personal detail or a response to a question, we want to know who is talking to us.  We want faces and we want names. 

Where should you start?

For many, giving up the really formal way of writing is hard.  Practice. Can you write a bio without it sounding like something you would have written to apply for a job? Can you tell me something about your business so that it sounds like we’re meeting at an event instead of on your web site?  Play around with texts, read what other people are writing and practice.

Connect with your readers by being you

For our regular readers, can you tell the difference between a post written by Karen as oppossed to me? Have you started to learn how we talk and communicate with our audience differently?

Do you have a hard time giving up old “formal” habits? What about your writing do you feel connects with your readers?