Informality Online

about celebrity blogs highlights an issue I’ve been thinking about for years: The style and tone of online communication.

In order to effectively communicate in any medium, you must take into account two fundamental things the context within which communication will take place and the expectations any audience will have as a result of that context.

When planning any online marketing campaign, you have to understand how online communication works. It may seem obvious, but it often overlooked.

Consumers have different expectations for different contexts for the same medium. They have a different set of expectations, for example, when getting emails from friends that they do when getting emails from a company. They will expect and use an informal, more conversational style in email exchanges between friends but if they signed up for an email of product updates, they’ll expect a typically traditional promotional type of communication.

The trick is appropriately fulfilling online consumers’ expectations.

Increasingly, though, online communication is becoming more informal and more conversational because most online communication mediums lend themselves to that style.

Most people use email most of the time for communicating one-on-one with another person or to a small group of people and the expectation in that context is to use an informal, conversational style.

Instant messaging is almost exclusively a one-to-one medium and its truncated, acronym-filled conversations practically enforce informality.

Blogs are perhaps the most visible example of this trend toward informal conversation. Nearly every blog you stumble onto will be written in a first-person voice. In the hands of a skillful writer, It can evoke a just-you-and-me intimacy.

You would think that podcasts would carry with them the expectations of the conventions of the medium they most resemble, radio. If the producer of the podcast is National Public Radio or ESPN, then the listener will most likely expect professional production values and the sort of voice-of-authority type of tone that you would hear on any radio station. But many of the successful podcasts are very informal affairs where you’re eavesdropping on a conversation between the hosts.

Even with the tons of video content that is now going online, most of the citizen generated video adopts an informal, conversational style (see my post on product placement on YouTube from last week for an example).

These technologies encouragement of informal, conversational styles of communications are putting a premium on and raising expectations for organizations to begin to, plainly put, start talking like ordinary people again. In this environment, meaningless buzz words and corpspeak becomes less effective because it is more transparently meaningless and insincere.

It speaks volumes that in the wake of the enormous popularity of Microsoft employee Robert Scoble‘s blog, the software company has developed a policy and initiated a company-wide program to encourage their employees to blog.

They’ve learned from their Scoble experience that it will help to humanize the company’s image.

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About David Erickson

David Erickson is principal of e-Strategy Media, a digital marketing consultancy based in Minnesota. David has extensive experience in digital marketing and is often used as an expert source by media and asked to speak on the topic before organizations and to sit on panel discussions.