How do I find the “voice” on my company blog?

I received this great question from Josh Cantrell, a B2B blogger …

Who is my audience? Is it the people I want to sell to, or the people that will regularly follow our blog? How do I determine the blog’s “voice”? My writing style/personality may be different than the corporation’s. Do I do my own thing and just be myself or do I try write AS the business would?

Whether you have a personal blog or a corporate blog, your tone and voice will change over time, primarily as your knowledge and confidence grows. When you get right down to it, your “voice” is the key differentiator for your blog — it probably makes the difference on whether somebody even reads your blog or not.

I would define “voice” as the personality and style of your writing. Are you witty or buttoned up? Flowery or factual? A story-teller or a reporter? There is no good or bad way to be, as long as you are connecting with your audience.

In the business world, your audience must be defined as the people you are trying to influence. Your company blog should be aligned with your marketing and business strategies, otherwise … why do it?

A business normally has many audiences. Obviously customers … but also suppliers, employees, people in the community, even competitors!  One emerging best practice is to have multiple blogs for your differing audiences. This is impractical for many businesses so you should probably focus on customers — yes, the people you want to sell to.

Aligning your “voice” with the company’s can be difficult, but not impossible. I’ve worked with blog-start-ups at several companies and here are the phases I see most companies going through:

1) Uptight — At first, the company is tentative about becoming a publisher. Writing is tightly controlled, wedded to a schedule, and perhaps even approved by legal.

2) Disenchantment — “What?? We don’t have comments on our blog?? What are we doing wrong?” Also in this phase you realize all those people who said they would contribute blog posts were big fat liars.

3) Re-alignment — Expectations come more into line, and a more realistic view of the long-term contributions of a blog emerges. Maybe you even have a small win — “Hey a customer mentioned our blog today.”

4) Relaxation — Company begins to trust the content developers and the process. Content begins to be incorporated strategically into sales and marketing efforts. Maybe you even get a comment! The blog becomes cool.

So a voice does evolve and hopefully over time it will become less press release-like and more human, accessible and friendly.

In the short-term, if there is a disconnect between how you write and how they WANT you to write, you have to live with it. Change takes time and let’s face it, if the company is paying you, they can ask you to write any damn thing they want, even if it sucks.

Here is another remote possibility. Your company might be right.  Most companies are run by experienced, well-meaning people who want to do good work and care about you too. As I look back at my own career, when I was 25 I didn’t know half as much as you do Josh.  Worse, I didn’t know it at the time! Thankfully I had patient bosses.

Hang in there. Most companies do get to that relaxation stage. And besides, I LIKE your blog Josh!

I would love to hear stories from the rest of the blog community.  Are you finding your voice on your blog?  Is it matching what your company wants you to say?

Josh Cantrell submitted this great question through MLT Creative’s blogging seminar and is a marketing coordinator and blogger behind Cloud 9, a very entertaining B2B blog at Claris Networks, a cloud computing provider in Knoxville, TN.

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  • Helpful post here. This is something we’re considering in building a community. We’re looking at focussing all our content around a keyword that we think sums up our presence very well. I think for me it’s all about being human. At the moment I don’t think our blog best reflects our personalities but it’s getting there. It’s hard to make insurance fun, but we’re trying to talk about more interesting topics inbetween.

  • Josh/Mark,

    I apologize for the long comment, but thought this was worth noting because I did exactly what Josh wants to do. i found a lot of success in writing in my own voice for the industry I was in.

    Mark, you nailed it. Even with company that is open to community engagement from employees, there is ALWAYS an eye out for this activity.

    I started my blog while I was at Best Buy. I was responsible for all the programming on all the TVs in all the stores. I picked up a lot of best practices on consumer engagement with digital media and wanted to share those. But I made some ground rules. First, I was not going to pitch Best Buy. My blog was not going to have banners or side bars or deals promoting Best Buy or its products. This was to be a blog about my own experiences with customers. Second, I made it very clear on my blog that anything I wrote was my own opinion and not necessarily that of my employer. (You might have to put that on your blog as a way to protect both yourself and your employer.) Third, Best Buy published a series of “social media best practices” that the employees followed. Best Buy encouraged social media, but wanted to make sure people didn’t share out the secret stuff – deals, upcoming campaigns, stock/business info, etc. In reality, these rules were very easy to follow.

    This method allowed me to have my own voice and perspective. While I paid attention to the rules, I was able to freely share and write in my own style, with my own thoughts. While writing my blog and working at Best Buy, I was never approached or contacted about any activity on my blog.

    By the way, it took me a good year, even after I left Best Buy, to really find my voice with my blog, so I’m sure there was a little extra attention paid to the writing juuuuust to make sure I didn’t irk anyone. Politics iz politics, ya know?

    This activity had its benefits: One of the very first followers of my blog was an SVP in Marketing at Best Buy! Very cool. I was also highly regarded in my industry because I was sharing out these best practices. There were no secrets here, nothing that was confidential, just simply ideas, thoughts, and tips on how to get consumers to pay more attention to screens. My industry colleagues and peers gained respect for me because I didn’t shill for Best Buy. Finally, others started to follow my behavior. After my blog, I saw, maybe, a dozen more pop up that were central to our industry.

    (Since then I have taken my blog in a new direction – more toward video, social media, and storytelling, but you can find all my old posts in there from my time at BBY.)

    So my advice to you would be to first investigate if your employer has any policies in place. If not, don’t be afraid to suggest writing them. You can find a huge database of different kinds of policies here:

    Another source. Marshal Kirkpatrick is a big-time blogger over at ReadWriteWeb. He created a “Social Strategiests” Twitter list of corporate employees who blog and use social media. You can find that on his blog here @marshallk. I follow it and get little ideas all the time on how to best write while employed.

    After that, when you’re blogging, try to read each post from two points of view – first from corporate. Would they have any problem with what you are writing. As noted, that is a definite concern, but one easily taken care of with attention. Second, read it from your audience’s POV. Would they find this interesting? Would they see you just selling to them?

    I am certain you can strike a happy medium in there.

    Mark’s right, not every company will go for this, at least not right now. But I’m a big believer in the fact that the more proactive you are about doing it right, the more support you’ll get in doing it.

    Hope that helps!

  • Thanks for the helpful response, Mark! “In the business world, your audience must be defined as the people you are trying to influence. Your company blog should be aligned with your marketing and business strategies, otherwise … why do it?” Solid.

  • We address this in a pretty simple way at Engage. We ask people to write as they would talk to a client or potential client on the phone or at a live event. Be professional, mostly, but be personal, most importantly. If you wouldn’t say it to a client, don’t say it on the blog. That doesn’t mean you have to sound like a press release, and in fact, you shouldn’t sound like a press release because you wouldn’t be stuffy, overly-formal and official with a client. Be yourself as you were in the interview. Be nice, be polite, but assert your opinion as you would in a meeting. If they are uncomfortable with it, we ask them just to read for a while until they feel the urge to write. If that never happens, they don’t write. And if they aren’t professional, personal, polite, kind and courteous (while staying smart and having an opinion), we probably never would have hired them in the first place.

    To me, this starts with recruiting and hiring. Get the right people in, and stay out of their way. The same rules apply to blogging that also apply to employees going to a conference where they represent us, on a phone call where they represent us, in a meeting where they represent us, etc.

    I know it seems overly simplified, but that’s sort of the point. It needs to be baked in to your company’s DNA, and not an artificial act that they sometimes go through.

    For instance, the comment I just wrote is exactly how I would explain this to a client.

  • Belllindsay

    Great post Mark. Maybe the most important word in there is “trust”. Trust your content creators. There obviously has to be a system of checks and balances and all of your voices won’t know all things about your industry, but trust that the people you’ve hired can deliver. And yes, I wrote “all of your voices”. I think it’s ok for a company blog to have different voices. Writers are not robots. If you have three or four contributors to your blog, they will each have a unique writing style etc.. I believe strongly that people have a sense of humour and a love of story telling. No matter if you’re running a Fortune 500 company or a small startup. Company/industry blogs don’t have to be dry and full of statistics in order to be informative. In my humble opinion, of course. 😉

  • Interesting post! I find that I often get frustrated with client blogs that don’t dare to step outside the comfort zone of business speak. It’s like you want to say “losen up” but I’ve learned it takes managers courage to go the extra mile.

    I’d show them the Fiskars blog and start a discussion about business blog voices.

  • Great post Mark (as usual), I think the key is trust too like Belllindsay mentioned, I have worked with few companies and they go through several process of approving contents, hence nothing was productive. I don’t think is it possible for it to be only “one voice”, I think having a variety of voices is a great way to spice up the blog.

    People love to share their ideas, they don’t like to be limited or tied down. That is what I feel.

  • The cycle you describe in this are almost like you had followed me around at work for the last year and a half. The company blog is definitely similar to pushing a rock uphill at times. I know I didn’t know much about our industry when I first started. With consistent reading and pushing, that relaxation level becomes more of a reality. I went from struggling with creating one post a week to being able to churn out 3 a week without as much stress.

    Tell Josh to hang in there, looks like he’s doing a fine job 🙂

  • [… ] Whether you have a personal blog or a corporate blog, your tone and voice will change over time, primarily as your knowledge and confidence grows. […]
    yes, you are right. and it is natural. but what if he audience doesn’t want you to change anything ? and what if any serious change will make you lose them? otherwise what if you will be the ame all the time… they will get bored of you.. if both variants are bad then new question – how to find this way of develoking where you would know for how much you should be changed and for how much it is better to stay th same.. that is no easy..

  • It can be challenging, especially since me and my boss speak so differently. My humor is really forbidden in posts so far, and I am hoping that sooner rather than later that can change. Even though we talk about leadership, the very best leaders always have a great sense of humor and do not take themselves so seriously all of the time.

    The other challenge I have right now is being edited to death. I am suffering “death by editing” it really does make me so slow in writing any posts. This piece was very helpful to me, and I am going to show it to the boss and see if I can get him to loosen up.

    Thanks again Mark

  • I’m me!

  • Can’t wait to see that Charlotte! Sounds like an interesting challenge.

  • This is an amazing comment and an excellent blog post in its own right, Paul. You hit on many relevant points, including the TIME it takes for your voice to evolve and the great benefits of connecting with interesting and, in your case, important, people for your career. Wonderful job, thanks!

  • For companies with only one blog I think that is the only way to go. Glad it helped!

  • I LOVE this Andrew!!!

    I just got off the phone with somebody who said “I love your book because it’s like you’re just talking to me!” I think that nice conversational tone is what you’re suggesting here.

    These are all amazing points and ideas. THANK YOU!

  • I absolutely agree. There are lots of great company blogs written by teams and I love the diversity it brings. This is a superb comment. Thanks!

  • Jon, you have touched on the most difficult issue I face with company blogs. Getting people to be human. It’s the difference between writing a blog to “do” social and writing a blog to “BE” social. Huge difference. Huge impact too. Thanks for sharing your wisdom today!

  • That is certainly the ideal but the reality in most companies is that, at least at first, there are going to be approvals.

    When I was in college there were no such things as blogs but I did work on an employee newsletter when I was an intern. In many ways it was the same kind of style. Every article had to be approved. I HATED that. Of course I thought I knew it all. But in reality, I learned a lot from that approval process, most of all that I needed to be humble and realize that I had a lot to learn!!! Eventually I improved and the approvals loosened up. I see that pattern in corporate blogging too. : )

    This is what you have to look forward to when YOU graduate! APPROVALS!! : )

  • Drew, that is so great that you offered your support and experience like that. You’re the man!

  • You’re making me shudder. I remember the days of being edited to death. I think it was Thomas Jefferson who said “each edit is like a thousand cuts.” Sometimes it is more about the editor than you. I once had a boss who edited me to death. I was so disheartened I just about quit writing for good. Then I was assigned to a side project for somebody else. Every piece of writing I did was praised without any edits! My confidence had been so shot by the other editor (who I eventually learned was threatened by me) and that confidence boost really helped. Saved me really. Hang in there!!!

  • As it should be : )

  • Already done. As I was writing this, I realized I had a post. You’ll see it next Monday. I’ll be sure send it it along!

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  • Great post. I am commenting from today’s and yesterday’s posts. From a reader’s perspective, I can see where all the “stiffness” is coming from. Honestly, I often do not enjoy reading blogs from big businesses because of all of the big brother action behind the scene. However, the smaller companies with the more conversational style blogs are always a joy to read. I find that smaller companies crave to get quality fans and larger one’s are there to attract the masses. I know this is very simplified and there is a ton more to it but there are some ideas.

  • Oh man! so not looking for that. Unless I start my own company real soon.
    Looking forward to learn from companies though, as long as I can learn, why not? Love to learn

  • Thank you again Mark. I just sent you an email. I really appreciate your posts. You have such a great sense of what your readers need to read.

  • Yes, very few large companies can pull it off. i did write that post about he 10 best corporate blogs. There were some exceptions! Thansk Rachel!

  • Paul, AMAZING comment. Truly these are the gems in comment land. It’s nice to “hear” people’s voices in comments as well.

    Kudos on another brilliant post Mark.

  • Anonymous

    Hi Mark: You are absolutely right! My writing style has become much easier, and I have become much more confident, as time goes by. Sometimes I go a bit farther out on a limb, but not really that far as that’s not part of the brand I have established, and wish to communicate. It’s easier when I’m a company of one as I don’t have to monitor anyone but me. It’s important to hang in there, and to just keep writing, using common sense while representing those characteristics we know our brand stands for. Good post!

  • Thanks — and my experience exactly!

  • So kind of you to say thanks!

  • Kenny Rose

    Timely post for me Mark. I have just launched a personal blog. I have struggled with getting my “voice” right. What I have noticed in the space of 3 posts each time I think I have improved. I think the more I write the better I will get by learning and doing. I am used to writing for academia and local government making the transition to a more personal reader focused approach is definitely not easy especially for someone new to blogging or writing for an employer.

    When I drafted and developed policy briefings I interpreted economic development and enterprise policy and presented the key points for senior executives to inform bids for funding. This required a more formal writing style and it was essential you communicated using specific types of words and themes. When drafting and compiling economic development plans. I was required to collate, and coordinate different elements of partners contributions and bring all these together into one plan. Both required different approaches and “voices”

    I think it has to be about the audience and being focused on their needs. In that respect I understand why Josh is struggling deciding what approach to take.

    Now I make the decisions on content and style but I need to make editorial decisions about the type of voice I want to develop for my personal blog and my business blog. I think ultimately I have to get this right or it will not attract the right type of reader. A different set of considerations than if you work for a company because to an extent you can feed off the type of products and services they sell and craft an approach with those key issues in mind.

    But while your doing this you still have a voice and this will come through irrespective. Over time I agree with you view Mark. I think Josh will learn to develop and scale his voice according to the needs of the audience but will develop a particular style. I think it is important just to be aware of this issue and in that respect you will always be in a position to decide what type of voice you will use for a particular piece of work and when to change the type of language and how it is used.

  • You’re absolutely right that this takes time and patience Kenny and it does evolve over time. I was originally a journalist and then went into the corporate world. I had to “re-learn” a writing style all over again. When I moved from PR to sales and then sales to marketing, I had to adjust again. Blogging is an entirely different world too and it took me a gooid year to really find my voice and it is still evolving! Thanks for the great comment!!

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