On creating a “brand voice”

One of the things I disliked most in the one “marketing” class I took in college (and quickly dropped) and since then was hearing about brands and creating a brand voice from those in advertising and other majors.

However, as my experience in higher ed communications/marketing (which began to some degree in 2008 when I started blogging for my alma mater and which led to working directly for the marketing office and the (imperfect) ability to articulate why I wanted to higher in higher ed communications about five years ago), I’ve come to realize having a consistent voice is incredibly important to maintaining consistency audience members expect from a brand, especially on social media.

Beginning with the “20 Tips in 20 Days for first-year students” video campaign for accepted students I helped manage/create/publicize, I shared a to-do list for team members on how to publish/promote posts while I was out of the office so that the uploads/description/share text would have the same educational and welcoming tone before the time of scheduled posts. We had a lot of positive reactions, including coverage by Academica’s Top Ten list.

Fast-forward about five years and people have come to expect even more from institutional accounts. There have been countless agency and company about creating a consistent voice. Colleges and universities all over the country have even published their Brand Guidelines so employees know how to stay consistent. These guides have expanded beyond editorial styles (ex. AP, plus in-house terminology) to how to use social media and details down to which digital elements to use.

One striking example is Boston University, which states that “The voice, or persona, for the brand should be confident, but also down-to-earth and personal. Boston University should not sound institutional, stilted, or overly authoritative. We want to speak clearly and simply, without artifice.”

As opposed to the sometimes automaton-like RSS-feed posting accounts of old, BU is strives to be consistently down-to-earth. That seems like something worth aspiring to be.

While not every institution has the staff time to dedicate to having an official and public social media style/tone guide, having regular discussions about consistency is important and do. When I was the Digital and Social Media Graduate Intern at Syracuse University in 2013, I was part of the team meetings where the Executive Director of Digital and Social Media would led the student social media team that primarily ran the accounts. I wrote a post now featured on the Converge Consulting blog which included my Case Study on how the school, by having consistent communication between team members, was effective at both broadcasting important information and engaging directly with constituents.

Some schools have formalized Guidelines and Best Practices that can help individual offices start their own outreach in a way that’s consistent with the school brand.

I’ve found that having internal guidelines for campus users, and a “where we are on social and why“-type page (in addition to easily accessible links throughout your site) is a good starting point.

This type of page is useful in a few ways. It allows you to highlight your best outreach on social, provides an example to other campus communicators starting accounts, and lets community members know what they can expect and where.

Ohio State takes their page a couple steps further, adding strategies the school uses, the list of common hashtags and generally applicable guidelines.

Anyways, I hope these examples have been helpful. Just in past five years there has been incredible change and there will continue to be. Make sure they you’re following the latest news in your field.

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About Geoff Campbell

Geoff Campbell is an Assistant Director, Communications & Marketing at American University.

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