Get Human! Monolithic Voices Aren’t Credible, Especially Online

Recently I was interviewed by a major international organization about what makes great Web content. I’ll protect their anonymity, but I would like to share a key point that arose in this interview. It hits on something so fundamental to content from organizations, institutions, or businesses that I must share it with my CONTENTIOUS readers.

This organization asked, “When we write we often have to take a more general tone and angle to incorporate the views and policies of our consituencies. Consequently, our style tends to be wordy, generic, and serpentine. What tips do you have for keeping us in check?”

My advice: Get human! Stop trying to speak in a monolithic, generic voice. It’s incredibly difficult to write that way, and it’s even more excruciating to have to read that kind of content. Why make things so hard for yourself and your audience? Just write clearly, in human terms, and don’t be afraid to display diversity and dissent. No one believes a monolithic voice, so it undermines your credibility….

Fortunately, online media is a great vehicle for presenting multiple perspectives.

Maybe a better approach than trying to water everything down into an unintelligible generic voice might be to first address your organization’s pronouncements or decisions and findings of fact, and then delve into the differences of opinion or varying concerns of constituents. Give each relevant or significant faction a voice through a more journalistic approach, in other words. This would not only make your overall message clearer and more effective – it would also present a truer and more diverse perspective on your organization.

I would recommend this book for advice on that approach: Beyond Spin: The Power of Strategic Corporate Journalism. It works well for non-corporate organizations, too.

I understand this approach may terrify some people in large organizations. I know that many large organizations feel that speaking with anything less than one monolithic and consistent voice is tantamount to heresy. But the fact is, any large organization is comprised of a diverse group of people who handle very complex issues. Everyone knows this – especially your audience.

Web content from large organizations is infinitely more effective when presented in human terms and in a fairly human voice. Attempting to speak with one monolithic and generic voice that denies internal diversity is totally unrealistic.

Don’t be afraid to present debate and differences of opinion. In most cases, these represent the core strengths of an organization. If you only present the laundered, sanitized results of internal debate, no one will appreciate the true value or weight of that outcome.