Your Public Face: The function of voice in your website copy
This morning I received a post from an old friend and colleague who lives in a rural area and is just starting out as a freelancer. She’s building her website and wanted to know whether I thought she should use first person or third person voice in her web copy.
It’s a great question, and one I hope you’re paying attention to, as well. Doesn’t matter whether you’re selling products (including books) or services (especially writing, and lots of authors make part of their living as freelance writers), you need to consciously decide the tone your Web copy needs to have. Here’s what I told Lisa:
It depends what I’m trying to do with the site. I use first person when I want to be more informal, friendly, approachable and personal. I use third person when it’s all business. I think it makes the business sound maybe bigger than just this little one-person shop. Which is true, because I do use subcontractors if a team approach is necessary, so often the effort behind any given project is a group one, not a just that of a single person.
I’d say that since you’re starting now, go with first person. The Net is getting way more personal in every way, and since at this point of the global economy we’re all something of a commodity, the only way we CAN stand out is to differentiate the personal experience. This includes customer service, of course, but in the beginning, it’s all about sounding approachable, talented and easy to work with.
There are all kinds of blogs and stuff that deal with this issue.
I tell my clients: If you’re on Facebook, your presence can be personal or business or both, so write your profile copy and posts accordingly. I use FB for both. But my websites (I have quite a few now) each take a different approach based on the audience I’m trying to reach, which is how EVERY piece of marketing/promo in your kit should be. The key is to remain consistent in voice for each separate piece, i.e., don’t flip-flop back and forth between first and third person or present and past tense, etc.
The other thing is that, unlike past years, you should revisit your web copy at least once a year to make sure it’s still current and maybe freshen it up a bit. Net Years are fast and short, and things change quickly. Updates also boost your search engine rankings.
She also asked, in typically straightforward and humorous fashion, “And how much person do I really need? Not sure everyone needs to know I own a farmette and am a chicken freak!?” Here’s my reply:
I say: Include what’s germane to whatever it is you’re trying to promote and leave the rest out. Your Web copy has but ONE job: Get the prospect to call. So you have to get right down to business, because these are busy people and they don’t have time to indulge your personal stuff.
However, once you have them on the phone, if you pay attention when you’re talking with a new prospect, you can sometimes pick up on clues that they may be interested in some of the same things you’re passionate about. Grab those and run with them!
If you hear someone mention they’re interested in or enjoy farming or livestock, jump right in and tell them, “Oh, me too!” And enthuse a little bit about your chickens or whatever, then wait to see if they take that bait and chew it awhile about their own stuff.
THIS is exactly the kind of small but important thing you can bond over with a potential client, and — given that your skill set is what it needs to be to get the actual work done — can be the deciding factor in you being the person they choose to work with. After all, all else being equal, who wouldn’t choose to work with someone they enjoy outside the actual work, rather than just some old someone?
The caveat to this advice is that the bonding needs to happen over something real. Don’t be insincere and make stuff up just trying to find some common ground — that’s the oldest trick in the book in the Smarmy Salesman’s Guide. (No, it’s not a real book, but I’ll bet you’ve met someone who subscribes to its rules!) People can sense when they’re being lied to or jerked around. Besides, it’s bad karma, so just don’t do it. Find that bonding agent where you can and hope that your knowledge, skills and experience can dazzle them where you can’t find common ground outside the work.