Finding our Twitter voice

The what, why, and who cares of how we tweet from SlackHQ

finding bird
Image Credit: Alice Lee
early brand twitter example
Early brand twitter is a delightful place. Because the first people posting in the company account will likely be the same people who thought to set it up — people so ebullient and excited about talking to the users that their tone is informal, casual, playful. Certainly was the case for us. Still is.

For almost the first year, only a few hands touched the SlackHQ twitter account. The CEO, founders, early employees: the same people running the company and building the product. It was a small team: all hands on deck. And the tone, reflecting the people, was conversational, slightly off-kilter, playful, and informative. Confident, but self-effacing—helpful, but slightly odd.

As we’ve grown, the number of mentions has exploded from a couple dozen to hundreds (sometimes thousands) every day. But we’ve still tried to maintain the same tone, whoever is tweeting. It’s the place that the Slack voice is the most playful, but it’s also high pressure — which makes it a tricky one to scale.

These aren’t suggestions for other companies necessarily to follow, partly because that would be weird, but mainly because every company has its own voice and values. This is just how we do.

bird at nest

The style guide for our main Twitter handle comes in two parts — the one for the few, and the one for the many. There are a lot of people answering individual questions, offering support, and dealing with feedback, but that requires a slightly different tone (and more scalable version) of the voice we use for tweeting out to the world from SlackHQ. In a later section we’ll get to “how we expand that single voice to a much larger support one” — but we couldn’t go there without going here first. So here we are.

Step one: SlackHQ in the planning

What do we tweet?

We need to be clear about what this account is for, so our outbound tweets (that is, posts we initiate that are not responses to questions or comments) fit into one of the following categories.

  • Product news
  • Tips
  • Announcements
  • Nonsense
  • That’s it.

And all in moderation.

With any of these, we always first ask “is this worth tweeting?” Will this impact enough people to make the broadcast worth it? If not, let’s find a better way.

What you’re doing is important

It’s not important because of who started the account, or who has done it before you. And it’s not important because it’s high-profile. And it’s not important because your words are special.

It’s important because the tweets we put out represent the end point for a lot of people’s work, and the starting point for a lot of others. If it’s a feature announcement, then the work of dozens of product managers, user researchers, designers, developers, QA engineers, product marketing managers, and many others have been part of bringing this thing to the point of release. The work of hundreds of Customer Experience agents, account and sales managers, who will be explaining it to people, will start from the moment it’s released.
You’re shining a light on the work of hundreds of our team, and putting it out into the world — you owe it to them to do a good job of it. Or at least spell everything right.

Step two: SlackHQ in the writing

Content is more important than character

People need to understand exactly what you’re trying to tell them more than they need to be impressed with how you’re saying it. Be clear; be concise. If you’re announcing an updated app or a new feature, use #changelog, so people who don’t care about the rest can search for it.

Emoji are far from mandatory

Never ever replace words with emoji. If you add emoji, they should be funny/celebratory. But they’re not required. Look back at our account to a time when we were using them in every tweet and you’ll see why. It’s painful.

Use words that people know

Avoid puns. I know, I’m British, that’s tantamount to storming the palace and throwing my passport at the Queen, but avoid them. Wordplay is slightly different, but particularly avoid puns that require a particular cultural understanding or educational experience to get. Puns make some people feel smart, and others left out. Let’s not do that.

Use words that give people joy

Explore the thesaurus and dig through the dusty corners of your brain to find the words you’ve squirreled away in there for the winter. Or say something plain and simple but allow the music or meter of the words to make it dance in people’s minds as they read it. You don’t have to shock or annoy or provoke; words that are charming are just as disarming when used in an apposite way.

Don’t take words that don’t belong to you, do not use words that could offend

Cultural appropriation is not a good look on a corporation. Also avoid ableist language, or words that could hurt. We’re not going to use words that are a slur in another dialect or language, so ask around if there is any doubt.

It’s ok to sit and watch the bandwagons pass by

And we won’t join in on whatever the current meme is going around Twitter, whether it’s a reference to a current event, or Talk Like a Pirate Day or anything else. It will age badly and make us look like we’re trying to be cool. We don’t care about cool. Doesn’t mean we’re not. Doesn’t mean we are. Either way, we’re not going out of our way to try and be cool.

In fact, it’s ok to sometimes be way way way behind the curve

Sounding like you’ve just tap-danced off a movie lot in 1934 or been coughed up by the cellar of the British Library can be, if used sparingly, SO fetch.

Do the work

Don’t use the first thing you think of. Write it down somewhere, but then write down every joke you think of after it, look at it sideways, flip it — spend 15 minutes, then ask someone else: writers rooms exist for a reason.

Throw ideas around. Or get people to vote on options. But always have a time limit to brainstorms, a vote limit on the best tweet and a power of veto. You cannot write by committee. There can only be one hand holding the pen when it hits the paper.

We will not take ourselves too seriously

And we do not brag. While we’re always proud of the work we do, let’s keep perspective. We’re just making software. Be self-effacing: think of it as our Canadian side coming through.

We always take people who use Slack seriously

We may take ourselves lightly, but people who use Slack? Those people we take seriously. When we’re putting out a new thing, be light about our part in it, but serious about how it can improve people’s working lives.
It’s why we don’t say, “We’ve been working so hard” in announcements. No one cares. Of course we have. So never mind that: this thing we’re telling people about, what does it do for them?! Put the user at the center of every story: even 140 character stories.

But mainly: Don’t overthink it.

Lol. We know, we just reread everything above. Seriously though, you’ll be fine. It’s only Twitter.

Step three: SlackHQ in the tweeting

Check that it’s an appropriate time to tweet

Before you tweet, check the news and check Twitter to see if there are news events that would make it an inappropriate time to tweet. If there are, hold off. Check with the Customer Experience team to make sure there are no known service problems, that you’re not going to be adding to the support load unnecessarily. This is why we don’t schedule tweets — courtesy to our team, and an understanding that we live in uncertain times.

Take responsibility

“You break it, you pay for it.”

We don’t just fire things into the world and walk off — if you’ve written a tweet that’s confusing people or causing a lot of questions and feedback on twitter, be prepared to step in and deal with it, be around the tweeters channel to provide helpful phrasing, or follow up on Twitter with a clarification.

We have a conversational tone, so be prepared to be conversational

Be involved in the conversation — follow the replies to whatever it is that you’ve tweeted out. If you see people replying to something you tweeted, don’t just reply to them in the channel that feeds all our tweets into Slack. They can’t hear you. Go and say it to them on Twitter.

twitter feed

The serious business of nonsense

SlackHQ isn’t just about announcements and serious news. The real humans building Slack like to talk to the real humans using Slack sometimes. Person to person. Those are important moments too.

So occasionally tweet a word. Or a random collection of words that sound good, or encouraging. Or a question, or an invitation to talk. And then if people want to talk to us, we will. It’s like walking past someone in the street and telling them their hair looks good today. You don’t want anything, you’re not expecting anything, you’re just being human.

Because it’s enjoyable to do so. People are good. Talk to them.

Anyone who has ever picked up the baton for tweeting as SlackHQ has a part to play in this last thing. And in the second part of this, we’ll go deeper into that half of the Twitter voice — the support voice. How the tone is different, and how the voice is scaled.

Anna Pickard is basically just a fancy typist.

About Slack

Slack has transformed business communication. It's the leading channel-based messaging platform, used by millions to align their teams, unify their systems, and drive their businesses forward. Only Slack offers a secure, enterprise-grade environment that can scale with the largest companies in the world. It is a new layer of the business technology stack where people can work together more effectively, connect all their other software tools and services, and find the information they need to do their best work. Slack is where work happens.