I love how social marketing is allowing us to get to know businesses on a different level, but I think many business writers struggle with that happy medium between being professional and being approachable. While a relaxed, casual style is often encouraged in today’s social online environment, ‘relaxed’ has somehow been interpreted as ‘anything goes’ by many online writers/marketers. We don’t have to be aloof and impersonal online, we just have to temper how we represent ourselves and our company. This is especially important for business to business (B2B) or business to professional (B2P) companies.
I am not ‘one of those’. I don’t feel the need to correct grammar or spelling in other people’s posts, or lecture a business blogger because they couldn’t help mentioning their new granddaughter. Part of the appeal of writing and reading online is we’re allowed to be human, and I’m certainly not a perfect one either. However, when I have to stop reading an article because it is so riddled with errors, acronyms, texting abbreviations, excess search terms, melodrama or other such nonsense, you’ve lost me and I won’t be back.
When aiming for a casual writing style for business, imagine an invitation that indicates an occasion is ‘business casual’. You know you won’t be attending a stiff, formal affair, but you won’t put on your old jeans and a stained t-shirt proclaiming you to be the barbecue king either. This will be a professional, yet relaxed environment and you’ll be expected to look and act accordingly. At a business casual event, we can still be friendly and even a little personal. We do, however, conduct ourselves professionally at all times.
11 Tips for Bringing Your Business Casual Persona Online
1. Brush up on punctuation and grammar but don’t stop at the old standby, The Associated Press Style Guide. Online writing has developed its own acceptable style that differs from print standards. To illustrate this point, The Yahoo Style Guide has published a chart comparing the two styles.
2. Avoid texting habits like using a letter to represent a word, such as U=you. This is comparable to approaching the President with “Yo, Prez!”
3. Acronyms work in texting, chat, etc., but not everyone is familiar with them and they look sloppy.
4. Expanding your vocabulary speaks of intelligence, but don’t overuse your thesaurus and avoid industry jargon when writing for a general audience.
5. Don’t get too personal or mundane in your posts. You wouldn’t ramble on to attendees of a business event about the coffee you just had and expect to keep them engaged. If you have nothing good to post, it’s better to not post at all.
6. Humor is OK, but be careful with it. When in doubt, make a list of people you know with a wide range of tolerance levels and ask yourself if they’d be amused.
7. Imagine saying your product name in every sentence at a business gathering. You certainly won’t fool or impress anyone. There’s a fine line between search engine optimization and an unreadable article. Use your search terms creatively and spread them around rather than repeating the same phrase. Ask someone to read it for you to determine if it’s awkward. There’s little point in gaining search traffic if you’re bringing visitors to annoying, amateur copy.
8. Would you recite your radio commercial at a business event? Keep your marketing subtle. Providing quality information suggests expertise, and engagement is lucrative in its own right. You’re not writing sales copy in the traditional sense, you’re using a marketing method.
9. Know and serve your audience. Personal websites, blogs, etc. are for publishing whatever you want to publish. Business online publishing is all about getting to know the reader and giving them what they want. The great thing about online publishing is if you don’t know what your readers want, you can just ask them. Your posts may include industry or company news, education, information, resources, or special offers, as long as it’s useful to your readership.
10. Respond to negative feedback in a calm, professional manner and politely respond to as many comments as possible.
11. Read it or weep. Check your writing by reading it from a visitor’s perspective and never post anything without checking it first. If you maintain personal and business social accounts, make sure you’re logged into your personal account before making a personal post. Even some of the most professional social marketers have made this mistake.
Professionalism encourages trust and confidence in your level of expertise. Whether you sell products, services or yourself, maintaining a business-casual frame of mind will produce consistent content and results. Go ahead, take off your tie, but save the barbecue shirt for weekends at the cottage.