Our Best Advice to Find Your Institution’s Social Media Voice

June 15, 2021

Have you ever gotten a message from a friend saying, “LOL!! Is this you?!?! 😂,” along with a link to what looks like a video and thought to yourself, “This doesn’t sound like them. There is no way I’m clicking on this link”? (I hope you then texted or emailed your friend to let them know they got hacked.)

Perhaps if you were to describe your friend, you might say they lean on the formal side, have a wry sense of humor, and are a bit of a Luddite. So you know that if they had found some embarrassing video of you, they would tell the story of how they came across this footage, make a sarcastic but intelligent joke about it, and would not include an emoji.

If you’ve ever had an experience similar to this, then, on some level, you understand voice.

Develop Your Institution’s Unique Voice 

As your school works to improve its social media game, you’ve likely been told that you need a distinct social media voice. But what this means and how you bring this voice to life may feel challenging. 

While you intuitively understand voice in the context of an individual, how do you create a well-rounded, recognizable voice for a diverse institution made up of thousands of people? But social media is a conversation, and when your school is engaging your social media audiences, it is doing so not as a conglomeration of many but rather as the singular representation of the institutional brand. 

SAVE THS TIP: Your social media voice should sound like the personification of your brand.

So, dive into your brand pillars and, from them, create a list of adjectives that could also be applied to a person. Is your brand creative, outgoing, and energetic? Or are you more traditional, formal, and assertive? Use your school’s already robust identity to flesh out an idea of the person who would embody your institutional voice.

Your social media writers should develop a clear persona to guide all of their messaging. The fuller the picture of this persona, the more natural and consistent the voice will be across all platforms and posts. It might even help to draw a picture of this imaginary person or even give them a name (which is only used internally). The more you can articulate a distinct persona for your social media writers to speak for, the more your institutional social media voice will come through.

Vary Your Voice Across Platforms

While it’s important that your voice be consistent, it also needs to be deployed appropriately on each individual social media platform. Think of this like the way you may shift how you speak when you’re talking to your mom vs. your boss vs. your spouse vs. your child. You remain the same person, but your tone, humor, vulnerability, or level of formality may shift depending on who you’re talking to.

To be clear: This is not the same as putting on airs in different situations.

When engaging with different people, you remain authentically yourself. But different relationships bring different aspects of your personality forward. You may be more professional with your boss, more open with your spouse, and a bit sillier with your child.

SAVE THIS TIP: Once you have a clear idea of your brand persona, conduct a similar exercise for your primary target audience for each platform.

For instance, perhaps on Facebook you are targeting older alumni or students’ and prospective students’ parents, and on Twitter maybe you’re primarily speaking to current students and recent alums. For each platform you use, develop a specific persona to represent the audience you’re addressing. When you know who you’re speaking to on different platforms, then you can better understand which aspects of your brand you want to lead with in your voice.

But be careful: On platforms where your target audience is your students or prospective students, be sure you don’t try to sound like them. They’re smart, and they know inauthenticity when they see it. Stay true to the voice you’ve developed for your brand, and modify it only as much as you do when you are speaking with a student in person. Check out this blog post on how to use TikTok without trying too hard to look cool.

Let It Be a Conversation

As you know, social media is powerful communication and marketing tool—but only if you know how to use it.  Unlike traditional media, social media platforms are built for two-way communication. The more you can shape your messaging to encourage responses and engagement, the more your target audiences will feel connected to your school.

This is where your institutional voice will be most impactful. Relationships drive personal, long-term investment in others, moving people to show up, give their time and money, and advocate for those they identify with.

By developing a social media voice that sounds like a fully fleshed-out human being who personifies your institutional brand, and then using that to build relationships with your audience, you will be driving the long-term success of your school.

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