Voices and Choices

Guest blog by Colin Cather, Brand Strategist & Founder at Brilliant Mistake Branding

If Twitter is a cocktail party, it’s one where the lights are down low.

So now, in this hashtagged room, what we say (our ‘content’) and how we say it (our ‘tone’) become the strongest of our brand-signals.

And these 140 character or less gestures will lead some people (the ones we want to speak to) our way, and they’ll let some others know that we’re not for them.

Just like any real cocktail party (the ones I’ve been to anyway), there will be someone declaring their opinions loudly, forcefully and – if they can – from on top of a step they’ve found. And there will be people listening. There will also be someone speaking in a clear, quiet voice – intriguingly, perhaps conspiratorially – and there will be people listening to them, too.

The point is – we need to know our Tone of Voice or TOV. And this – like anything else we do in our businesses, with our brands – should be deliberate. Thought-through.


If you’ve had expert help in creating your brand guidelines, your TOV will already be encoded. If you haven’t – here are two simple pointers.

Be distinct.

Just as Nicole Kidman would be horrified to step onto the Oscars red carpet in the same dress as Cate Blanchett, so, our brands’ ability to find a target, and become famous, must begin with distinctiveness. Our differentiation.

At its most sophisticated – this is part of Brand Positioning. Finding a sweet-spot, where we can be something meaningful to our clients, customers and consumers.

In the same way that Pepsi is forced to wear blue, because Coke stepped out first with an entirely red wardrobe, we must – at the very least – listen to the other voices in the room and select an alternative. Otherwise we are just flattering others with our mimicry, or we are white-noise.

The Quick Fix

  • Try examining the Brand Archetypes. (These are as crude as the Seven Basic Plots of Storytelling, but we’re being a bit crude here.)
  • Identify who the others are. Identify who you most naturally are. Maybe because you have an affinity with one of the brands they reference. Go with that one.
  • Now we have a basis for our brand identity. And how we are going to speak.

And to those who say– “a distinctive Tone of Voice can alienate…”, I say “Good.”

Pick a Step.

We’re all familiar with the idea of ‘being talked-down-to.’ Well, when it comes to our TOV, just like that guy in the cocktail party, we have to decide how high to climb – relative to our audience.

The TOV steps look like this:


Here are three pieces of brand copy:

  • PARENT: “It deserves a little respect” [Green & Black’s]
  • HIGHER AUTHORITY: “One Day You Will” [Glenfiddich]
  • CHILD: “Hello. We make lovely natural fruit drinks…” [innocent smoothies]

Sometimes, brands choose their step based on the norms – like luxury goods tend towards Higher Authority (“maybe, someday, you too could look like this”). Other times, they are electing to buck the norm. To make this one of their ‘rule-breaking’ points of difference.

Again. Make a choice.

So that your clients and consumers don’t have to.

Colin loves brands so much he made one of his own. Burnt Sugar began selling crumbly fudge at Borough Market and went on to sell in Waitrose, Tesco and other big shops. Burnt Sugar beat the confectionery Goliaths to win The Grocer’s Branded Excellence Award, the Observer said it’s “the world’s best fudge” and sweet-lovers still say “mmm.” Now, as Brilliant Mistake, Colin likes to share the love by helping businesses, big and small, to unleash their brands’ specialness.

Klout… and how it can be manipulated

Guest blog by Jillian Ney

imageKlout was first introduced to me as a status symbol – a symbol of your online influence. Influence is a hard variable to measure, so how can a tool measure your online influence?

Klout attempts to do this by monitoring ‘over 35 variables on Facebook and Twitter’ – with the aim of measuring your overall online influence.

Is it valid metric?

I have always questioned the reality or accuracy of Klout scores. Statistics can be manipulated!

So being a researcher, you gotta love me, I set out to manipulate my Klout score.

I have neurotic episodes with Twitter, some weeks I Tweet constantly, and others, well I guess my research takes priority. The week of the 7th of March I was back to being neurotic and attempting to manipulate Klout.

Can you manipulate your Klout score?

You sure can!

The 7th of March I started with a Klout of 43 (an increase of 10 over the past four months). In the next four days I moved up to 44, 45, 46 and then 47.

  • Tweets sent: 92
  • Retweets: 8
  • Direct Tweets: 59

Resulting in a gain of 4 Klout points in 4 days.

I do not have a record of how many Twitter followers I acquired in those four days but considering I currently have just over 1,200 – I wasn’t setting the Twitter world alight.

Conclusion: Klout can be manipulated if you try hard.

I can’t sustain that level of constant engagement and there is only so much one person can say before they get annoying. To do it without annoying or loosing you Twitter followers, consider this:

Klout scores are moderated by:

  • The number of times you are retweeted
  • The number of tweets directed at you

And of course the dependent variable:

  • The content you post

No one is going to retweet or feel the need to engage uninteresting content, or even overt self-promotion!

Having gone back this week to have a look at the scores on my door, I was back down to 45.


This would suggest that scores are time dependent. I’ve gone back into research mode and become a half Twitter recluse. For instance since the 11th of March I have posted 138 times.

If your Klout score matters to you, my advice would be to:

  1. Take Twitter at a constant pace – no marathon runs like me
  2. Tweet useful and interesting content
  3. Join conversations

I want to add ‘grow your followers’ to that list, but I have a sneaking suspicion that the number of Twitter followers will moderate the required number of retweets and direct tweets.

So, I’ve found nothing new but we do know that Klout can be manipulated in a short space of time. I also hold my hands up to say the science isn’t exact. Maybe you can try it out for yourself?!

Jillian is a doctoral researcher and marketing tutor at University of Strathclyde. Jillian’s research explores the use of social media in a purchase decision, particularly the cues used to determine the credibility and influence of what she terms social content. The research seeks to understand what cues hold most significance in credibility judgement decisions.

“All opinions are my own” – disclaimers, risk warnings and social media

Warning Sign

Regular readers will know that I recently co-hosted a twegal (tweeting legals) tweetup. Before following someone new on Twitter, I always read their profile and have noticed that many lawyers include a disclaimer along the lines of “opinions are my own, not those of my firm”…

I’ve not, however, noticed a significant difference between the tweets of those who include this disclaimer in their bio and those who don’t. I’d welcome any comments on how restricted lawyers do/do not feel in what they say online.

In contrast, my financial services contacts seem much more hesitant about using social media. I know that access can be a challenge. When I worked at Morgan Stanley I had less than a dozen contacts on LinkedIn because I couldn’t log on from work and didn’t want to sit at my PC when I finally got home. I couldn’t help but smile when I saw Morgan Stanley mentioned on LinkedIn IPO team!

But restricted access isn’t enough to explain the disparity. Everyone I know in financial services could overcome this obstacle from their phones or tablets. Many of them are incredibly competitive about having the latest gadgets and apps. So why aren’t they joining the virtual cocktail party?

FSA LogoRegulation undoubtedly plays a part. The Financial Services Authority (FSA) has previously warned firms about social media promotions – formal advertising rules apply regardless of the informality of the medium. When communications are not promotional, they must still be fair, clear and not misleading – regular reviews are required to ensure information is accurate, relevant and up-to-date.

However, while the FSA has said that firms must be aware that all their communications could come under scrutiny, they’ve provided very little practical guidance as to what is, or is not, acceptable. The FSA have highlighted that “Twitter limits the number of characters that can be used, which may be insufficient to provide balanced and sufficient information” but are unwilling to be prescriptive on whether or not a link to further details would fall foul of its rules on stand-alone compliance – “where space is limited it is for firms to decide which benefits (and consequently which risks) to include”.

Arbitrage opportunities are often found on the boundaries of regulation in financial services. These arbitrage situations can result in hugely profitably margins and significant market share. It will be interesting to see which of the major banks jumps first… Starting, perhaps, with disclaimers and risk warning in their online profiles, then encouraging Twitter to add a disclaimer/risk warning acronym that becomes widely adopted as with RT and #FF, then creating a campaign to have this acronym recognised outside of social networks, then…

Maybe I should nudge Twitter’s co-founder @Biz to have a chat with the FSA…