How Slack Maintains its Unique Brand Voice
Evie Nagy gets paid to tell stories. In her role as Senior Manager of Editorial and Social Communications at Slack Technologies, she works across many functions to lead the creation and execution of editorial corporate communications. That means everything from the brand and company narrative to thought leadership, the development of distribution channels and the execution of a corporate social media strategy.
Nagy’s career has been heavy in editorial experience. She came to Slack from Fast Company, where she was a staff writer, and she also has completed stints as a music editor at Billboard and a managing editor at Rollingstone.com. This means Nagy has a deep understanding of what makes a good story—which means we wanted desperately to pick her brain to see what advice marketers could glean from her experience.
Read on for more of our conversation with Evie Nagy to get smarter about your own brand’s voice:
Jaime: How would you describe the Slack brand voice and how does your company go about cultivating, refining, and evangelizing brand voice both internally and across digital platforms?
Evie: Above all else we want our brand voice to be clear, concise, and human. Clear, concise, and human isn’t a particular voice, but it is an approach to having a voice. So, it doesn’t have to sound like the same person is writing everything, but we want our customers to feel that they are hearing from a person, whether it's with our customer experience team on Twitter or in our blog posts about the product or the company. We also don’t try to be too clever. We want to be smart but not overly witty. We want to acknowledge that our customers are intelligent and we want to talk to them that way while still being sympathetic to their needs and not making assumptions about what they know or are feeling.
@EvieNagy on the Slack brand voice: "We don’t try to be too clever. We want to be smart but not overly witty."
Jaime: I like what you just said about not being overly witty and meeting your customers where they are and assuming that they’re intelligent because I think those two things go hand in hand. If someone’s smart then they have a good bullshit detector on what actual wit is. And the truth is it’s not easy to be funny-funny. I think a lot of companies fall prey to clever for clever’s sake, or clever pushed over into precious or any other number of mistakes. If you can make someone grin, great, but trying to make them belly laugh while also trying to sell them something seems like an insult to intelligence. We’re all smart enough that we know we’re being sold to now.
Trying to make someone belly laugh while also trying to sell them something seems like an insult to intelligence. — @jaimenetzer
Evie: You’ve got it totally right. And in terms of how we maintain that we do several things. Everyone who will be writing for Slack in any capacity gets a presentation about our principles during their first week, led by our Head of Brand Comms Anna Pickard. We also have internal documents and style guides that everyone has access to. In addition to the onboarding session, we also have a very comprehensive learning and development program. People can take a huge range of workshops both in person and online, one of them is called “Writing at Slack.”
We also bring everyone together who leads a writing team of any kind across the organization as an uber-team. The leads meet monthly and every quarter we have what we call “Words with Friends,” which is the meeting of all the writers. We also have an annual Writers Summit. So that’s how we get everyone whose job it is to write at Slack to be on the same page about these principles, and it’s a way to get everyone on the same page about what we’re working on so that we’re all working in concert and we’re not doubling up on things. We all work in very different departments, so it’s important to be synced up.
We also have channels that we share work in, and we have a #throwback-Thursday channel where anyone who writes at Slack can post old things we wrote when we were younger, like poetry and college stories.
Jaime: Those are really lovely, tangible ways to maintain voice. I’d also like to hear your thoughts about the biggest mistakes brands make when it comes to voice.
Evie: Trying to be extra clever when that’s not what people are looking for is one of the biggest mistakes brands make with voice. When people are looking to get something done or get something fixed or to buy something they need, they aren’t necessarily looking for clever. I think humor obviously can be a very good tactic to help make brands relatable, but witty for witty’s sake is not necessarily going to do it, especially if someone is frustrated. If you’re frustrated about something and you tweet at the company, and they try to be extra funny to put you in a good mood it might actually make you more upset.
Trying to be extra clever when that’s not what people are looking for is one of the biggest mistakes brands make with voice. — @EvieNagy
Another mistake brands can make with voice is trying to be too topical. If there’s an internet meme going around, we’re not going to jump on that because it’s too short-lived. It’s trying too hard to be in a moment and that doesn’t help your customers.
Jaime: It feels like real-time marketing had a minute there, like the Oreo Dunk in the Dark, but it feels like it’s passed. It’s not as impressive.
Evie: Yeah, and it depends on the brand, too. We’re business software so people don’t need that from us. We help people get their work done during the day. You don’t need our latest Superbowl quips.
Jaime: What about the biggest mistakes brands make when it comes to content?
Evie: When you're a brand, it’s not about quantity of content, it’s about actually connecting with things that your customers care about. You don’t need to have a POV on every single thing. I don’t want to generalize, but we’re not selling advertising, so it’s not about just finding something people are going to click on, it’s about actually doing something that would mean something to our customers and potential customers. We try to publish content that could actually provide something useful.
Jaime: What advice would you have for a brand looking to differentiate themselves with their thought leadership?
Evie: Finding the people in the company that really have unique and smart things to say about something that has a broader use that can help other organizations is key. For example, a lot of what we do is tied directly to much bigger questions about the future of work. We care about how people want to work and how they’re going to be working in the future. We do a lot of research and talking and thinking and interviewing on these bigger thought leadership topics. Your brand can differentiate its thought leadership by finding your company’s unique perspectives and expertise. It’s also important to recognize that the really important bigger conversations might be happening outside of your company, so embracing those ideas and sharing them and being curious about what other people are saying is also important. We’ll do interviews on our site with people that have nothing to do with Slack but they’re working on things that are important to us. So, we’ll share their views and really try to just expand our perspective on things.
Want to hear even more from Evie Nagy? Join us at our upcoming Smart Social Summit, Nov. 5 - 7 in Austin.