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February 24, 2010

4 Pillars of Excellent Blogging: Pillar 3 Tone

Snshot Today you will learn about the third pillar of excellent blogging:  Tone.   If you’ve read my posts on pillars one and two of excellent blogging (consistency and content), you’re probably thinking to yourself right now, in just 3-5 minutes I will be three quarters of the way to becoming a total blogging ninja.  Yes, these are exciting times we live in and it’s a little known fact that learning and doing are instantaneous in the blogging world.  So let me get right to it.

As far as non-profits go, I have three primary rules when it comes to blogging:  Be human, be authentic, be something…just don’t be lame.

Be Human
First things first, a quick test:

  • Do a quick check in the mirror and double check that you mostly pass as a member of the human race.  Check. 
  • Next, find someone in your office and kick them in the shins.  They will probably yelp in pain.  Check. 
  • Next give a co-worker a compliment (without being creepy or getting yourself fired).  They will probably smile.   Check.  
  • Now send a friend a funny video you find on the web (if you are at work, make sure it’s nothing that will, again, get you fired).   They’ll probably laugh.  Check. 
  • Finally, find a friend and read them the latest press release that came out of your organization.  Before you get half way through, double check to see if s/he has tuned out and started checking email, fallen asleep, or is about to kick you in the shins to get you to stop.  Check. 

This little social experiment was designed to prove that you and the people around you are humans with interests and emotions, who more often prefer to engage with other people than organizations and org-speak.    

So when you write your next blog post, try using the occasional adjective or exclamation point (just don’t get overzealous).  Include a picture of the person who is blogging.  Make sure the blog is written by a person, not “Organization X Communications.” Celebrate accomplishments, display empathy for members who are having a rough go, and show grit when things aren’t going your way.   Always remember that people prefer connecting with people, so it’s best to sound like a person.

Be Authentic
Nothing makes an organization’s legal (or executive) teams twitch like the concept of authenticity.   Before you even get the chance to explain the concept, the laundry list of worries and “red flags” come pouring out.  I’m not going to address them here, but at the end of the day, authenticity is about saying what you mean, being able to back up what you say, communicating a sense that you truly believe what you are saying, and not misleading people about your intentions.  In the blogging world, there is an enormous ethical debate over advertisers paying bloggers with significant readership to promote their products without disclosing that they are getting paid to do so.  Does that rub you the wrong way?  Probably.  And the reason it rubs you the wrong way is rooted in authenticity. 

Also remember that information is very easily accessible.  Savvy readers will validate what you are saying in real time and will absolutely call you out on what they perceive to be BS.  So don’t BS.

So what does this mean more practically?  Organizational bloggers should provide links to support claims that may seem counter intuitive.  Actually it’s best to back up as much as possible with links if you can.  Second, acknowledge your biases or world view.  Third, avoid overt spin of information.  Qualify or quantify what you are suggesting.  Here’s an example.

Too much spin
Joel:  It’s 3 pm.  It’s day time.
Spinner Jack:  No it’s night time.  
Joel:  You’re an idiot, I’m not going to talk to you any more

Authentic approach
Joel:  It's 3 pm, its day time.
Jack:  For you maybe, but it's nighttime here in London
Joel:  That’s deep, dude. 

This is a very simple example and I do recognize that authenticity is more complex from an organizational perspective.  However, you would be shocked at how ingrained spin is in our communications culture.  Authenticity is expected and demanded in the blogosphere, so it’s important that your organization finds a way to make it work its particular needs.

Be Something…just don’t be lame (at least as it relates to your target audience)
You want your blog to be memorable, so give it some personality.  If you can swing it, include more than one blogger so there are different personalities to give the blog some color, variation, and perspective.  The reason tone is its own pillar is because people will tune into a person as much as they will to the content, so it pays off to make the person engaging to your target audience.   Not every blogger needs to be a comedic genius.  In fact, funny is not a requirement at all, nor appropriate for some organizations.  The tone should be appropriate to your audience and the subject matter of the blog.  So before you start blogging, give some real thought to how you want your blog to be perceived and then find the tone to match it.

The Issue of Snark
Snarky bloggers are a dime a dozen on the web (is that saying even relevant anymore?).  Although snarky bloggers are frequently funny bloggers, proceed with caution when thinking about establishing a snarky tone.   Unlike independent bloggers, you actually have constituents, partnering organizations, and fundraising to worry about.  If snark is not part of your brand, this may not be the time to embrace it.  That doesn’t mean you need to be boring, not at all.  It just means that your bloggers may want to dial down the sarcasm volume or turn it off completely when writing their posts.   There are other ways to be engaging (ahem!).


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Very nice summary of pillars 1-to-3 so far. Having started several blogs that quickly petered out, I'm glad to have this input. Now looking forward to installment 4. Remember, consistency...

Thanks, Allen! If everything goes right, installment four should be up next week.

I am New Here,My name is Jesse and this is my first entry here. Since I am new to forum community and I feel I am in midst of my own learning curve. I feel sometimes, that I have to learn a lot, hope you guys have patient on me.Thank you for sharing the post.

Focus on your blessings, not your troubles. And you’ll make it through what comes along.

However, you would be shocked at how ingrained spin is in our communications culture. Authenticity is expected and demanded in the blogosphere, so it’s important that your organization finds a way to make it work its particular needs.

Just saying thank you will not just be enough, for the wonderful lucidity in your writing.

Thanks for your personal marvelous posting! I truly enjoyed reading it, you can be a great author.

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