making sense of social

It’s not just WHAT you say in social, but also HOW you say it

There a whole host of articles out there telling you that you need to engage with consumers through social, interact with your audience, talk to them, listen to them. And it’s good advice. You need to ensure that you are adding value with the content you are producing, with the conversations you are having.

But it’s not just about the content, not just what you say, it’s also how you say it.

How you talk, the choice of words you use, when and where you use them, and how often you talk all contribute to how you are perceived by your audience. It’s a hugely important aspect of how you communicate online.

For example, the difference between WE and I has a huge impact on how your messaging will be read. One is more authoritative and suggests a bigger organisation. The other is much more personal, and explicitly tells people that you are an individual.

Language choice can also help you connect with your audience, or make you stand out like a sore thumb. Different people talk in different ways, and use different words for the same thing. I talk very differently to my parents than with my friends, I have different styles of speaking when I’m talking to colleagues and to clients. And I change the words I use when talking to young children.

In order to have meaningful conversations with your customers, you need to speak the same language, and pick your words carefully.


About the author

This post was written by Mike Phillips

Plannery type person with silly side projects. Not to be trusted.

Follow them on twitter: @imjustmike

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  1. nicholas gill |

    Finding it hard/troublesome thinking of you talking to small children but in other news, this is why understanding a brand tone of voice and having this clearly articulated up front, understood, practised and run through with scenarios is incredibly important. How you speak as a brand in the social space should be no different to how you speak in advertising or customer service. I always remember Daren Kay – now ECD at TMW and a wonderful chap – making tone of voice incredibly simple. Everyone uses words like “trusted”, “respect”,”human” etc. which are trite and nonsense. He taught us to ignore this and personify the brand so you always instinctively know if it’s right or wrong. BA should always sound like a BA pilot. You don’t need to have a long list of words on a brief to understand what is “on brand.” Unfortunately this does seem to be missed in the rush to get on TwitFace.

    • Mike Phillips |

      Nick, you are absolutely right. The point I was making about choice of words wasn’t meant to imply that all you need is a list of words, but rather that you needed to get into the mindset of your brand, use the language that your brand uses.

      As with most proper marketing and business practices, most people seem happy to throw this out of the window when it comes to social media

  2. Cindy |

    Hi Mike,

    We run the social media for a print magazine, Africa Geographic, and I spend a lot of my day on the facebook page trying to get new ‘likes’ and to engage the fans in conversation and get them active.

    We recently saw a list of the top 10 magazines in SA based on the number of fans each of these pages had, however, we are interested to know what the % of active users those pages have and wether or not this is a better measure of the ‘success’ of a page.

    For example, we have 10,256 fans on our page and as of this morning, 9,450 of those fans were active. We have an exceptionally vibrant community on facebook, people are continuously interacting and posting their own stuff. Over this past weekend, we had 27 posts on our wall from ‘fans’.

    I would really appreciate your insights into this.

    Thanks and best regards

  3. guy |

    No no, you are mixing things up on how you define both what and how what we say. What is the substance, how is the presentation. Two people with different accents who say exactly the same thing should be perceived as the same. To perceive difference would be silly and bias which I suppose most people are.

    Our Choice of words is WHAT we say, not HOW. “We” and “I” is considered WHAT you are saying, not actually how. How you say it is the tone of your voice, any emphasis on certain words, gestures, facial expressions, etc. Ultimately WHAT we say is more important than HOW we say it because for us intellectual people it’s about substance rather than presentation.

    But they are both needed for effective communication.

    • Claire |

      Actually, I’d say the ‘what’ is the message and ‘how’ are the words you use to say it. Similarly, half the time in a meeting/presentation, content can be ignored and body language and tone are massively effective ways of getting people to agree.


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