Don’t Take That Tone With Me!

Woman shouting into her megaphone, looking at the camera in front of a muddy-blue wall, her left hand raised above her head. She's wearing a green skirt and a red jumper and she has a very intense look on her face, with her brown hair cut at her shoulders. This image was repurposed to represent using the correct voice and tone.

You’ve written some content. Researched the facts and reviewed the copy for typos. Made sure all the names are spelled correctly. You even managed to fit in all the right SEO search words AND stayed under your character limit. But did you do a tone check?

They say the road to hell is paved with well-intentioned content gone awry (or something like that), and having your message overshadowed by its tone can send you down that path. But just what is the “wrong” tone? And how do you avoid it?

Be authentic and consistent

Stay true to your brand. If you’re a young, hip fashion house, using slang, innuendos, and irreverence might fit. But a decades-old investment company trying the same thing is going to end up looking foolish, or worse—untrustworthy. Make sure the tone of every piece of content you’re sending out for public consumption matches the image you want to project. And keep it real.

If you’re trying too hard to adopt a tone that doesn’t mesh comfortably with your brand, it won’t fool anyone.

Don’t cross the line

We all love a good, sassy corporate media feed. Wendy’s made headlines with tweets roasting the competition, and Merriam-Webster won followers when their “word of the day” posts cleverly mirrored high-profile current events. Good-natured fun can be a great publicity generator, but make sure you never cross the line into cruelty, spitefulness, or nasty sarcasm. The backlash will be swift and merciless—and yes, there really is such a thing as bad publicity.

Different tones for different platforms

While the overarching tone of your social media content should be consistent both with your brand and across all messaging, you’ll want to vary it slightly according to the platform you’re on. Tweets, just by nature of the short format, can be snappier and wittier, with an occasional emoji thrown in to keep it casual. But the version of that same content you’re putting on LinkedIn might need to be a little more straitlaced.

Don’t be tone-deaf

Much worse than social media posts where the tone is a little off are the ones that are completely tone-deaf. Be aware of current events and national conversations about social justice and other issues. Know your audience and what will resonate with them—and what won’t, and make sure your content doesn’t make assumptions about people or traffic in stereotypes. And always allow for the fact that you can’t know or relate to everyone’s lived experiences. 

Check your scheduled posts

If you use a scheduling app like Hootsuite, give the content a regular, quick review before it goes out. Through no fault of your own, a perfectly innocuous tweet that you scheduled weeks ago can become a cringeworthy embarrassment due to a sudden news event. Preventing such a misstep is a lot easier than having to issue an explanation and apology after the fact.

All writing benefits from a second opinion, and a tone check is no different than other editorial reviews. Think it’s obvious that you’ve made a quip in jest? Maybe you’ll have them laughing and appreciating your wit, and maybe they’ll be offended or just left scratching their heads. Run it by someone else to find out.

ABOUT Meghan Goder

With degrees in German literature and history, Meghan moved into the content marketing world from academia, where she has taught, written, and edited in both German and English. She collaborates with teams across Wordsmithie on projects ranging from education and business case studies to video scripts and social media blogs. After moving around the world as a military spouse, Meghan recently settled outside of Boston with her husband and well-traveled dog.