Voice / Tone Guide

One awesome leader in this space is MailChimp. I'm grateful for their guide, which served as a great example as I set out to write this draft. One interesting lesson is that MailChimp makes a distinction between "Voice" and "Tone." To read more, visit: http://mailchimp.com/about/style-guide/#voice-and-tone and http://voiceandtone.com/

If we follow this language, then, my perception is that Buffer doesn't, at this point, have a "brand voice." We haven't spoken "as" the Buffer Brand. We, as Buffer teammates, each have our own voice. We sign our blog posts, emails, and tweets with our names to reflect that. You never have to worry about not speaking in the "brand voice."

So, in that vein, this is a "tone" guide, and I'm thinking of this as it applies to writing for customers, not the way you necessarily speak internally. :) This is how I can best put into words the goals I have when writing to customers. It is, by no means, final. :) In fact, I think it will do very well if it grows and is shaped by all!

Let's dig in!

The North Star

We are grateful for our customers. We have great respect for them. We listen. We are open for the next communication. We are here for them.

In all customer communications, they're doing us the favor. (Not the other way around. :))

To the customer, our language and tone say: I am grateful for you. I have great respect for you. I am listening. I am open. I am here.

So, some specifics:


Many customer interactions will include instructions. As a general guideline, invite them to take these steps. Try not to tell them. And make it easy for them to say no. This doesn't have to end in a question mark, as long as it's an invitation instead of a command.


In a Help Scout email, you might say: "Might you be up for taking a screenshot of that? It would be a huge help if I can compare it to what I see on my end."

Instead of: "Please take a screenshot so I can see what's happening and compare it to what I see on my end."

In a Tweet, you might say: "Could you try a refresh?"

Instead of: "Refresh the page."

In an error message, you might say: "Mind trying again?"

Instead of: "Please try again."

In a blog post, you might say: "If you want to give this a whirl..."

Instead of: "Try it out!"


We always try to take blame for any confusion or problem. In general, if you can avoid "you" or "your" when diagnosing the problem, stick with that. This applies also for third party troubles. When in a fault-pinch, eliminate pronouns entirely with passive voice. And don't hesitate to use the word "sorry."


In a Help Scout email, you might say: "I think we got your timezone wrong here; sorry about that! Would you mind hopping into the "schedule" tab and double checking?

Instead of: "Your timezone is set to the wrong time zone. Oops!"

And definitely try to avoid: "You set your timezone incorrectly."

In a tweet, you might say: "We aren't able to send out the same tweet within a week"

Instead of: "You can't send out the same tweet within a week."

In an error message, you might say: "We struggle with Internet Explorer."

Instead of: "You're on Internet Explorer."


Feel free to use the word Sorry, and address the end result for the customer, not the end result for us, if possible.

For example:

In a Help Scout email, you might say: "I'm so sorry for the awful interruption in your day we've caused you.

Instead of: "I'm so sorry that our scheduler wasn't working.

In a tweet, you might say: "So sorry for this hassle; we'll be updating again asap."

Instead of: "We apologize for the delay."

In an error message, you might say: "Sorry, we failed to send this tweet."

Instead of: "This tweet failed." (Or "Your tweet failed.")

In a blog post, you might say: "I'm so sorry we let you down."

Instead of: "We're so sorry."


Our customers are some of the kindest around, and they're totally cool. Address them like pals who you respect. (As you would speak to a Buffer team mate.) Also, if you're expressing an emotion in a 1:1 communication, use "I" instead of "we." When in doubt, speak for yourself and not on behalf of the whole company, as it is more honest.


In a helpscout email, you might say: "Hi there! Great to hear from you. Thanks for asking!"

Instead of: "We appreciate you writing in."

In a tweet, you might say: "I'd love that feature too!"

Instead of: "We see the benefits of that feature!"

In an error message, you might say: "Whoops, sorry, we're having trouble with that."

Instead of: "This request can not be completed."

In a blog post, you might say: "We're super excited to show you this and get this in your account today"

Instead of: "This feature will be launched today"


Warm, friendly, and approachable. Use names whenever possible. Try to invite a reply without demanding one.


In a Help Scout email, you might say: "Hi there, Becky!"

Instead of: "Dear Becky,"

You might also try Colin's famous "Heya Becky" - "Heya" may be super casual but also feels so personal and warm.


"Thanks so much for this detail, Becky. Looking forward to figuring this out together. :) All the best, Carolyn"

Instead of: "Thank you. Best, Carolyn"


"Does this help?"

Instead of: "Hope this helps!"

In a Tweet, you might say: "Hey Anthony! Sure thing, I can take care of that for you."

Instead of: "Yes, I can take care of that for you."


"Thanks, Anthony!"

instead of: "Thanks!"


"Hmm, maybe try a refresh? That fix it?"

Instead of: "Try refreshing. Thanks!"

Another way of looking at it:

In the style of MailChimp's guide, our tone is

  • Friendly and yet unassuming
  • Inviting and not bossy
  • Grateful and not dismissive of customers' time
  • Personal and not formal
  • Respectful and not degrading
  • Open and not final.
Some silly tips to help with this

I have found that my body language affects my writing. In preparation for an email that's going to need great empathy, I sometimes try to sit forward, like I'm leaning into the conversation, not back, as if I'm feeling defensive. It may work for you to hold your hands facing up and your shoulders relaxed as you read the customer email, not with your arms crossed. I am not sure why this has an effect on me, but it does! When re-reading your own email out loud, if you find yourself raising your eyebrows as you read to make your point, perhaps try to re-think the tone.


This is great to practice, but I often (and you may) miss. Anyone on the team would be happy to read over anything (and I'll often ask for this favor!) to help spot any areas of improvement. Thanks!

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