Finding our voice

Claire Brown | Communications

Trying something new is a risk; sometimes it pays off and sometimes it doesn’t, just ask anyone who’s taken up salsa dancing. 

Humans have varying attitudes to risk; in an ocean of new experiences, we’re a glorious mix of toe dippers and cliff divers. 

As a charity inviting people to take a punt on something new - cooking and eating with strangers - building trust between us and our potential leaders, members and guests is really important. 

But when most people interact with us digitally - through Facebook, our website and Eventbrite - they don’t experience ‘us’ as a team of fellow humans, we’re just an organisation. 

So the question is, how do we build up enough trust in Local Welcome as an organisation to help people feel comfortable enough to take the plunge and come along to a meal?

We’ve found that a big part of the answer lies in tone of voice. 

It’s not what you say...

As anyone who’s seen The Little Mermaid knows, having a voice is pretty important (especially if you’re battling an evil sea witch). 

So often it’s not what you say, it’s how you say it. Imagine Hugh Grant, David Attenborough and Adele each saying ‘I’m having beans on toast for tea’.

It’s not just their accents that will make that sentence sound different, it’s the personality they inject into their proclamation. They each have a distinct character, we come to expect certain things from them and we feel like we know them.

What’s more, we make judgements about people by how they say things. We make instant assessments about how much we like them and if we’d get on. For example, the way Adele laughs makes me 100% sure we’d be best friends forever if only she could meet me.

At Local Welcome, we’d love to be everyone’s Adele :-)

But, the people we want to talk to can’t actually hear us, they can only read our words, so how do we inject personality into our web pages, emails and social media accounts?

And, crucially, how do we do that in a way that’s authentic and in line with our values? 

Start with brand

We did a really simple and effective workshop to develop our brand. We blogged about it. The outcome was a one-page brand document that outlined our brand’s values, personality, tone and presentation. 

It’s here we started to tease out a few clues as to what our tone of voice might be. Here are some of the words we use to describe our brand that were particularly helpful to us in learning how to talk like Local Welcome:

  • Compassionate

  • Inclusive

  • Warm

  • Trustworthy

  • A bit tongue in cheek

  • Straightforward

  • Comedians being serious for a moment (we’ve got big Trevor Noah fans in the office)

When you start to pull all these strands together - especially when you’re trying to combine being inclusive with being tongue in cheek, and warmth with straightforwardness - personality starts to form, our organisation is complex, just like a human.

Get writing

Voice is an instrument and it takes practise. You’re not going to go full Mariah Carey if you don’t put in the hours. So, that’s what we’ve been doing. Trying some stuff, experimenting, putting words out there and seeing what reaction we get. 

We’ve been busy writing copy for social media posts, adverts, webpages, emails, buttons, Eventbrite pages and even replies to comments on Facebook and Twitter.

At first it felt a bit awkward, we were hitting the back button on the laptop (a lot) and we got trapped into overthinking it sometimes, but we carried on and soon writing like Local Welcome became easier, smoother and, very excitingly, we became imitable. 

It was a proud day when our lovely safeguarding consultant, Sam, handed over a document she’d written for us saying, ‘I tried to write it in your style’, and she’d totally nailed it. 

Our tone of voice isn’t a set of rules. We’ve not put how and why we write into words yet (the irony). We just keep writing, and when I say we I mean we. The whole team writes. And the more words we send out into the world, the clearer and more established our voice becomes. 

This is the email we send to people when they sign up on our website.

This is the email we send to people when they sign up on our website.

If in doubt, gif

I can’t end this without talking about our undying love for the gif. If our words are Barack Obama, the gifs are Michelle. Great separately, amazing together. We’ve been using them in our emails to leaders and members and searching for the perfect one each time brings us deep, deep joy. 

They’re a great tool for communicating warmth and sense of humour. If we can provoke a smile or even a laugh, it means we’ve managed to connect with someone, and isn’t that what tone of voice is all about? 

Oprah certainly thinks so…