A critical (and sometimes overlooked) component of working with a new client is understanding their preference for process. It’s important to set the stage for a collaborative dynamic – working together to develop and deliver a social identity that lives, breathes, and authentically represents them on the web.
Some clients breathe an audible sigh of relief, anxious to check blogging and social media management off their to-do list and go about their merry way. They’re busy, and while they’d love to participate on social networks, the time and resources required to successfully engage are a barrier. Unfortunately, sometimes this means they don’t have the time to work with us either, coming to the table with an expectation that we’ll work in complete autonomy. Which can be…umm, pretty challenging.Others guard access to their online presence with an iron fist. They’re desperate for help but are reluctant to entrust strangers with their accounts, fearful that external consultants won’t be able to genuinely represent their brand. Their #1 question is: How do we know you’re going to accurately represent our company and capture our voice?
For both types, the key is collaboration. Sure, we can go into a back room, research, brainstorm, and emerge with “the voice” – but without close collaboration, would it really be you? No. It’s not a reflection of skill or expertise; it’s about creating a process that delivers the highest quality result on behalf of the client. Sometimes, it’s the stuff that isn’t on paper (yet) that provides the deepest insight into a company’s tone and personality.
That being said, the stuff on paper is pretty important too – only after we understand their mission and vision, core values, and business objectives can we develop strategic frameworks and content that will inspire and engage their audience.We’ll take 90% of the work off their plate, but the other 10% has to come from the client in the form of review, collaboration, and tweaking to get just the right personality and tone.
We conduct a few collaborative exercises to kick off the process and define a direction and tone for their company. If we ask the right questions, we’ll be able to really get to the root of their social identity.
This exercise involves understanding their mission, vision and their goals for social engagement. What do they want to get out of our efforts? How will our work support their goals? Think of it this way: if your core messages are in place, your audience should have a clear understanding of your brand and value/service/product regardless of where they find you online (web, Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, etc).
Company vs. individual
If Company X were to walk into a room, what would he/she look like and how would they act? Would they be excited, trendy, and a little sassy (Virgin America)? Or would they act knowledgeable, professional, and polished (New York Times)? It’s important to understand that defining how the company would act or speak as is different from describing individual personalities or preferences. This will define the company’s voice on all platforms, such as differentiating how the company will tweet as opposed to how individual team members craft tweets. For example, take a look at the difference in tone between the tweets of @getstatisfaction (informational & support-oriented) vs. their CEO,@WendySLea (inspirational, friendly, leadership-oriented).
Who is the company trying to reach? This involves identifying both their existing audience and the types of individuals they hope to reach in the future. When considering audience – move beyond the push mentality and get into the “pull” mindset. What do they care about? What do they love to learn about? This will enable us to define what topics to develop and which existing conversations to insert the company into.
In every case, it’s important to understand the competitive landscape if you want to differentiate your client from their peers. You’ll be able to use them as inspiration, while coming up with a unique perspective and direction.
I’m curious to learn about some of the exercises and techniques others use to collaborate with clients on establishing voice. Feel free to share!