Blogger.com founder Evan Williams just released his “10 Rules for Web Start-Ups” . Nothing earth shattering within them, but they are concise and a good read.
Rule #3: Be Casual
Something I wrestle with at 2ndSite is the tone of our communications. When Evan says “be casual”, he is literally talking about your business and the services you provide. I’m extrapolating here because I want to discuss tone.
Many successful web services today maintain a very informal tone with their corporate communications. At 2ndSite we are going to be working harder at “breaking through” with our communications. What is “breaking through”? It is reaching through the monitor and speaking to the heart of the end user so they know you know them. When you “break through” you connect with your user and their world slows a little and their relationship with your deepens. It’s a subtle and powerful thing. Photos help. So do case studies and testimonials. I believe breaking through is highly important in persuading people to use your service. At 2ndSite our voice is straightforward, professional and honest. I do not want to change these qualities one bit. Is our tone dry? I’m not certain, but I don’t think so. Can we liven up our tone and still retain its straightforward, professional and honest qualities? YES, I believe we can, but it will take some work. Is our current tone the best one for our business? Great question.
2ndSite is a billing application. We handle sensitive records for our clients and we take that responsibility very seriously. We believe our current tone meets the expectations of our target audience. The question gnawing at me is, “can we lighten things up and make the relationship we have with our users more enjoyable?” I’ll bet we can, but how and what is the cost of a misstep?
I do not think “being casual” is necessarily for us. Maybe it’s for you, but it is not necessarily for 2ndSite. This speaks to Evan’s Rule #11:
#11 (bonus!): Be Wary
Overgeneralized lists of business “rules” are not to be taken too literally. There are exceptions to everything.
So those are my questions. I’m searching for answers. Feel free to chime in. Chances are if you read this blog, you have a blog or you run a business. How have your strategies and your positioning influenced your tone? Has your tone evolved since you started? If so, how?
“Hi Mike,Presenting ourselves with a fun tone is great for customers as it makes using our web application a lot more enjoyable. This is especially true when doing very repetitive tasks such as filling in a lot of fields.The question I pose is: Would you trust a company that has set a fun and amusing tone or one that is professional and serious? Will BMW, Microsoft, Rogers, and Mercedes-Benz start setting a tone that is fun with puns? I doubt it. Perhaps Kraft, Fisher-price, and Toys r us might consider doing that.Thus my answer is it depends on what you are selling. Generally, large fortune 500 companies present themselves in a very serious and professional manner. I suppose companies such as Coke and McDonalds are trying to present themselves with a fun tone by releasing slick, young, savvy commercials, but thats probably the audience they likely wish to cater to.Who is is our target market? Small business owners? I think one of our testimonies said 2ndSite makes me look professional. A small business owners dream is probably to grow to become a multi-million dollar company (or at least get bought by one ). My guess is that small business owners would try to mimic the giants as much as possible.I think I saw a single joke in Rackspace the other day. It basically said for geeks after listed some IP address information. I dont think anywhere else in the Rackspace system they made it fun or added some puns. Making a joke here and there might be alright, but we should keep it to a minimal. Invoicing is a serious service to business and Im sure we take it just as seriously. Having an amusing tone could make us seem relaxed, and ultimately insecure. 2ndSite was built with security in mind, and I think setting a relaxed tone will make our clients think we are lax on security.Good post.Daniel (part of the 2ndSite Development team)”
“I think it's ok to be casual or fun in print ads or promotional efforts, but in one on one business communication with customers or potential customers, a professional, upbeat tone is most appropriate.Dell had some pretty funny commercials a while back with their "Dude, you got a Dell" campaign. But I doubt you would ever hear a support or sales person addressing customers as "dude" on the phone.I guess Southwest Airlines gets away with it though.”
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