— WordCamp Austin (@wordcampaustin) October 22, 2017
Two weeks ago a client called me and said, “Jen, I just read through one of our blog posts and it sounds like something I wrote. Where did you find it?” I explained that we didn’t find it anywhere and that it was written just for HIS blog, in HIS voice. “That’s what we do,” I explained. “We write in our client’s voice.” He was impressed. He’d hired bloggers to blog on his website before but felt like all he’d gotten were canned posts.
Canned posts are not the way to tell your client’s story. They do not work for showcasing a product. And they definitely are not the answer when you want to capture your client’s voice and vision.
You may be asking how a voice and vision relate to blogging. A vision is a grand dream or plan for the person or company that breaks their story into the essential components. A voice is the mechanism by which that story is told. It can be written. It can be performed in dance, music or on stage. A voice in this context can even be art.
Let’s talk for a minute about something unique to Austin. How many of you have been to the HOPE Outdoor art exhibit? It’s also called the Grafitti Wall. I see it as a place where people make their mark – similar to finding their voice. HOPE stands for Helping Other People Everywhere. People travel to the wall from all over to paint their names or contribute temporary art to the terraced walls. How many voices and messages do you think that wall has represented over the years?
Those messages of art are constantly painted over and replaced. Sometimes the art is modified so it becomes unrecognizable to the original artist. Someone who doesn’t understand the concept may view the entire project as a waste and leave before grabbing a can of spray paint and contributing a tiny bit of themselves to the project. They give up their opportunity to voice.
Content that has been outsourced overseas often has similar drawbacks. The subject isn’t understood and meaning is lost. Because the writer can’t connect to the topic, it can’t be adequately described. For instance let’s talk on BBQ for just a second. I arrived in Texas on Thursday and since then I’ve had three distinctly different BBQ experiences.
First I was recommended to go to Vic’s, clearly a more homestyle, family owned storefront. The brisket was moist and delicious and nothing like the BBQ we have in California. The following day I ventured to Cooper’s in Llano. I tasted everything and was amazed at the flavor, I thought I’d discovered the best BBQ in the world. Last night. I was able to sample brisket and ribs from a food truck called Kerlin and was blown away. I’d understood that Austin had good BBQ and was told it was better than California BBQ, but honestly I had NO idea. After my small sampling, I’d have to say we don’t have real BBQ in California and we definitely shouldn’t be trying to describe it as bloggers!
Context is lost when someone doesn’t understand the area and topic.
For instance is most places an armadillo would be considered a nuisance for all the digging they do and near accidents they cause, but in Texas, that’s not the case. Here the armadillo actually became the official state mascot in 1980 and the official state small mammal in 1995, as it’s roughly the size of a cat.
Speaking of cats, let me paint a picture for you of one scenario I came across while working for a client that had tried outsourcing his blogging overseas. He was trying to save money and scrutiny was very low as the posts were not valued by the writer or this client. I was told he had hired a blogger from another country and my job was to review the posts and make content corrections as needed.
I took a look at the first post and was confused at the topic. It took place in the Colorado mountains. Apparently the community was very excited because kittens were coming up the mountain to clean themselves. The post talked of the pristine snow and cats frolicking in the bright sun. Now I don’t know about you, but I’ve spent time in the snow and I don’t recall ever seeing a cat or kitten play in it. I read the post trying to understand the article’s intent and suddenly I saw it.
It wasn’t about kittens at all! The post was about C.A.T.s, tractor like vehicles used to prep the snow or groom it for the coming ski season. That’s why everyone was so excited. Opening Day for skiing was just around the corner!
Had the blogger noticed the capitalized word C.A.T. in the original documentation or visited a ski slope, they would have realized something was wrong. However, the blogger didn’t and hadn’t because he or she didn’t have knowledge of the area. A quick Google search of C.A.T.s (all caps), snow and Colorado Springs would have pulled up many articles that would have quickly shown the error. If the writer had chosen to spend two minutes researching, the issue would have been avoided, as you’re unlikely to get that depth of life experience or understanding overseas.
Your clients deserve better. Better content. Better topics. And a better voice.
But how do you develop that content and voice? By LISTENING to your client.
Think about it. Could you tell the difference between a guitar solo by Eddie Van Halen and Stevie Ray Vaughan? Are you able to recognize the difference between the sound of a Ford and a Toyota? Can you tell the difference between the voices of family and friends without seeing them? Our voices are very important, aren’t they?
Listening helps you to sense the uniqueness of the voice.
At my company we start the voicing process by interviewing the client. We listen for unique phrases and make small talk to hear more. We ask about recent books and magazines our clients have read – and why they liked them. We ask them about their favorite places to visit locally and have them describe their community as a physical place. This will you give you insight into the type of content that resonates with them. Ask about competition and what makes them different. Ask about other ways they would like to stand out as a brand. Ask them to of think of 5 adjectives that describe their brand. Ask them to describe a person who is a current client. Ask them to describe a potential client.
Set the Tone Through Creating Your Client’s Voice
- Professional Voice – To write on more corporate sounding blogs, it may be necessary to adopt a formal and authoritative style. This doesn’t mean personality is eliminated, however. The key to keeping this style engaging is to provide details and interesting facts and figures without seeming superior or stilted. Discussing case studies works well.
Neighborly Voice This style employs a more casual tone. The goal is to create an emotional connection through relatable events and stories as if you were talking with a friend.
- Humorous Voice – Some blogs are known for humor. If your client is a jokester, that needs to show through on the blog. It might be helpful to have mini-interviews before each post in this case where you gather an opinion (and catch a few jokes) that can be sprinkled into the post. While clients don’t have the time to write, they typically love to have input and contribute to their blog posts.
- Newsroom Voice – I don’t prefer this style, but we see it all the time on the internet. Similar to the professional voice, it can easily come across as stuffy or arrogant and when done wrong can be off-putting rather than engaging. It’s important to write confidently, using information based on relatable facts and figures rather than scare tactics. The key to writing in this style well is remembering the end goal and referring to it with each piece of information shared. Add stories to build community while developing authority and speak directly to the target audience. You’ll see this approach sometimes in product reviews or sales oriented sites. It may be accompanied by videos as well.
- Curious, Tentative Voice – You may at first find this to be a weak way to blog. Afterall blogging is about sharing what we know and having a strong opinion… or IS IT? Asking questions can be a great way to create community. And with so many other types of voices on blog posts, it can be comforting to come across a post that soothes the soul by asking questions in a conversational and respectful way. The author has to take a risk when writing this way, as you have to be vulnerable and not necessarily have all the answers.
These voices sum of the bulk of what we use for client work, however you can probably think of more. As professional bloggers, we use these as guides and may move between voices for different posts. The desired result connects our clients with their audience, building community and credibility. Some bloggers do so by asking a question at the beginning of a post. Others ask a question at the end. How you engage is up to you and the voice you’ve chosen to use.
For example, do your clients repeat sentences using the same word and/or ask a lot of questions? Does your client regularly reference a specific genre as in when I was a kid or back in the 80s? Do they write in 3rd person or 1st person?
Two years ago I went on an extended European vacation and worried that my email would go unanswered. I spent several months training my assistant on typical responses, created a few templates and spent the next months drafting responses with her and reviewing what was sent to clients and making adjustments. Two weeks before I was due to leave I noticed something. I felt every email reflected me except for one sentence. The phrase” I appreciate you” kept coming up in everything, from emails to my kids to emails to clients I hadn’t spoken with in 4 months. I found it odd and pondered it. That is when I realized I was over using that phrase! It was my secondary phrase when I’d already thanked someone and my assistant had noticed it. I was shocked to realize that even MY voice can be learned.
Review your client’s past writing, everything from blog posts to emails and watch for word patterns and buzz words that seem unique. Notice length of sentences and specific style. Punctuation has trends as well. Often in social media I use 2 exclamation points when excited. I have a client who always seems to tweet with 4-6 words and one hashtag. Though I would recommend a different style, I use his because his content needs to showcase his style.
My goal is that when a post either on the blog or in social media is seen it will “feel” true to the author, not the author’s ghost blogger. If you notice the posts starting to sound like you, you’re doing it wrong and it’s time to reboot and refresh the style.
To make the content even more local you need to involve your client and make them aware of the goals and steps they can take to achieve them. Four years ago I had a client who desperately wanted to rank #1 for a specific search term. We strategized on how to make that happen and because her location is a celebrity hot spot, I suggested she look for opportunities to meet or photograph famous people.
One Saturday she called me excitedly. “Jen,” she said, “George Clooney is here at a movie preview. I got a picture. What do we do now?” I told her to text me the photo and even though the quality was not particularly good, we ran with it. Within a couple of days her site was getting a tremendous amount of traffic as she was first to report the event and she moved to the top of the search results. Continually blogging has allowed her to maintain those results.
Like a guitar solo in a band you need to showcase special events in your client’s voice and use it to help your readers engage. Speak with authority because you know the topic and don’t fear intensity. People love to read op-eds even when they don’t agree with what’s being said.
When blogging it’s important to be consistent. We recommend twice weekly posting and following up with social media. Try to paint a picture with your words, the use of “a cyclist whizzing past” evokes a very different feeling than simply stating “a bike rode by.” Read through each post outlook before publishing and be honest and rewrite if it doesn’t capture the voice as hoped.
How Do You Maintain Your Client’s Voice?
At Need Someone To Blog we use Google Drive to set up client folders but I know others who have found Trello or even old fashioned paper files to be a good option. Once you have captured the voice, keep posts where the voice was captured in the folder so you can reference them when not feeling particularly inspired. They will help you get back into the voice.
Because there will be times when it can be hard to turn on the voice, I suggest a technique similar to method acting when starting out. I advise our writers to pretend they are an accountant or real estate agent or community leader when they write for those types of clients. It helps in capturing the right voice.
Learn to think and blog as your clients would, if they only had the time. Your job is to create the blog posts as an extension of your client so that when they come across the content they even question whether or not they wrote it, as my client did.