Several years ago I was on vacation and looking for a church to visit. This particular Sunday, I wanted to visit a church that was a little outside of my box—a church with a younger congregation, one that had a more upbeat, engaging worship style. For lack of a better term, I wanted to visit a “trendy” church.

I went through the usual routine of googling “Baptist Churches” in this particular city. For the first time, however, I decided to check out these churches on Twitter. The church I found appeared to check off all the boxes, they even had a Latin word in their name.

You can imagine my surprise when I showed up to find a stereotypical Southern Baptist congregation, full of middle-aged people, singing out of hymnals. Don’t get me wrong, I love this type of church, but suits and hymnals are not what I was looking for on this particular Sunday morning. More importantly, this is not what anyone would expect to find if they had first come into contact with this church on social media or their website.

Why developing your organization’s voice matters

This church is but one example of churches and Christian organizations who seek to live out a fantasy of who they want to be on social media, completely detached from the reality of who they are. Like the guy who uses a fake picture on an online dating profile, not only are you being dishonest, it’s just awkward (at best) when people discover who you really are.

A helpful way to avoid this type of false advertising is to know your organization’s voice. By taking the time to think through, develop, then consistently use your brand voice on social media, not only will you avoid these types of mistakes, you will advance your organization’s mission and culture by solidifying the things that make you unique.

Defining voice and tone

While not necessary, some marketers make a distinction between voice and tone. Gather Content helpfully defines both concepts this way:

Voice: Your brand personality described in an adjective. For instance, brands can be lively, positive, cynical, or professional.

Tone: A subset of your brand’s voice. Tone adds specific flavor to your voice based on factors like audience, situation, and channel.

Kevan Lee at Buffer makes the distinction even more clear by stating, “Voice is a mission statement. Tone is the application of that mission.”

Whether we talk about voice and tone separately or roll them up into one idea and just talk about voice, thinking through this on behalf of your organization is an essential step as you develop a strategy for social media engagement.

Developing your social media voice

Now that we understand the importance of developing a voice, let’s look at how to go about doing it. One of my favorite ways to develop a brand voice is the “we are, we are not” exercise from Ignite Social Media. They give two examples, one good and one bad:

Good example: “We are funny. We are not goofy.”

Bad example: “We are smart. We are not stupid.”

Also helpful are these questions from Distilled, Rocket Media, and Big Ideas blog:

  • How formal do you want your tone to be?
  • If your brand was a person what kind of personality would it have?
  • Describe in adjectives what your personality is not.
  • What makes you stand out from all the others who are after the same audience?

Gather Content uses a great template for thinking through your brand voice. This is a helpful and simple guide as you seek to establish and refine your voice.

Reviewing your voice

Developing a voice is not the end of the story. Over time you will notice your organization start to drift away from this voice. Or, your organization may change but your voice is still the same. Both of these point to the need for regular review. It’s a worthwhile exercise to sit down once a year and review your organization and its social media voice by going through the same list of questions and exercises you used to develop your voice in the first place.

By spending a few hours thinking through the social media voice of your church or organization, hopefully you will avoid being on the other end of what I experienced that Sunday on vacation.

Colby Adams
Colby Adams is director of communications at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. In this role, his work focuses on media relations, social media, and overall digital strategy. Prior to this, he served on a church staff in Lexington, KY for five years.