Every community should have a specific tone of voice — a particular way of communicating that emerges from the community's mission and the reason it exists.
At Upstairs Community by Pixelgrade, we use a specific language tailored to our core activity: publishing authentic stories written by creative professionals worldwide. Our community's voice is part of our DNA and is often the first thing that grabs potential members' attention.
Before jumping into details, let's start with some context.
I have a background of 13 years of working in communication and marketing, and I've had the opportunity to immerse myself in shaping various brand voices. Each time, I needed to grasp the business inside out to make sure I framed the messages to match the company's personality and style. A similar approach is required when it comes to defining your community's tone of voice.
When it comes to communities, the tone of voice is how you speak to your members. Do you sound courageous, formal, curious, excited, or profound? Depending on your community profile and what type of members you plan to attract, you will use a particular tone of voice.
Everything should reveal a coherent tone of voice, from the words you prefer to the way you frame your messages, how you engage to the way you invite people to contribute.
At Upstairs Community, we've shaped an entire language around our tone of voice, which is authentic, insightful, curious, and transparent, among other things. We make sure we carry it across every touchpoint: landing pages, onboarding emails, follow-up actions, invitations to fill out surveys, the stories we publish twice a month (that's our secret sauce), and even when we run dedicated campaigns, such as our Hall of Fame.
We highlight our personality, mindset, and values by fine-tuning the voice around Upstairs Community and bringing it closer to the members. Folks who are not interested in in-depth, real-life stories should not join us, as they’re unlikely to engage with that content anyway. We will never publish superficial stories full of show-off and glam. Quite the contrary, we want to show our members (creative professionals) that everyone has their fair share of dilemmas, anxieties, and struggles — and that's OK.
Sometimes your 'voice' will transcend words. For example, our commitment to authenticity and transparency is reflected everywhere: the number of members (listed on the landing page), reports we write to give back to help beginner community builders avoid mistakes, and how we publish our stories (text-based only, no banners or other visuals). Using the same language across every communication enables consistency and clarity.
Both of them form the DNA of the Upstairs Community, and often members (actual and potential) tell us that one of the reasons they joined us is how we communicate.
Here are my tips for finding your community's voice:
Write down the words you use and hear among your teammates when talking about why your community exists in the first place. They are a great head start for developing a language. For us, the keywords exhibited one or more of the following values: authenticity, insight, curiosity, depth, vulnerability, creativity, accuracy, transparency, slowing down, and cooperation.
Who are the folks you want to address? How do they usually speak? Is there any specific slang or jargon among this group that you should know about? Try to embed them in your communication strategy.
Depending on where you will engage and nurture the community, you can discover powerful insights. We use email as our primary communication channel, so we have many constraints. We have limits of space, format, and browser inconsistencies that we need to consider.
There are communities where people use dozens of GIFs to communicate, while others where such relaxed formats are off the table. You will know only when you test various approaches through community experimentation, even though the profile of your community offers precious clues.
Even in established communities, don't be afraid to go back to the drawing board occasionally, especially when it comes to aligning your voice with new projects, plans, or an updated community strategy. It's never too late to polish or refine your tone of voice.