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Power Points

The four dimensions of a website’s tone Add to ...

Also in this compendium: Tips for a digital summer break, managing Type T employees, and combatting the hidden problem of water dehydration in your office.

What tone of voice does your website use when customers visit?

If sales are a conversation, tone of voice is critical, says user experience specialist Kate Meyer of the Nielsen Norman Group. And it’s composed of four dimensions you should evaluate to be sure of brand consistency.

“Tone is more than just the words we choose. It’s the way in which we communicate our personality. Tone of voice is the way we tell our users how we feel about our message, and it will influence how they’ll feel about our message, too,” she writes on the group’s blog.

Until now, advice on tone has been vague and simplistic, stressing authenticity and consistency. But Ms. Meyer began with a long list of literary tone descriptions, and eventually whittled them down to four dimensions that seemed to fit Web pages:

· Funny vs. serious: Is the writer trying to be humorous or is the subject approached in a serious way?

· Formal vs. casual: Is the writing formal or casual? She stresses that casual and conversational are not necessarily synonymous even if often thought to be.

· Respectful vs. irreverent: Does the writer approach the subject in a respectful way or take an irreverent approach? “In practice, most irreverent tones are irreverent about the subject matter, in an effort to set the brand apart from competitors. They are not usually intentionally irreverent or offensive to the reader,” she points out

· Enthusiastic vs. matter-of-fact: Does the writer seem to be enthusiastic about the subject or dry and matter-of-fact?

Each dimension is a continuum so the site could fall at an extreme or somewhere between the two poles. By connecting them, a four-dimensional space can be imagined with each site having its own unique characteristics.

Ms. Meyer illustrates the idea using an error message as the example: “We apologize, but we are experiencing a problem.” It’s serious, formal, respectful, and matter of fact.

A more casual message – in which the other dimensions remain unchanged – might be: “We’re sorry, but we’re experiencing a problem on our end.”

Add some enthusiasm and you get: “Oops! We’re sorry, but we’re experiencing a problem on our end.”

For humour and irreverence, it could be: “What did you do!? You broke it! (Just kidding. We’re experiencing a problem on our end.)”

Obviously you want to choose according to the brand personality and the nature of your users, not writer’s whim.

“Decide what combination of dimensions makes sense best for your company and think about strategies to implement this tone of voice. When you’re defining your tone for a whole site or a specific piece of content, start with these four high-level dimensions first,” Ms. Meyer advises. Then test with users to ensure it conforms to the chosen profile.

She adds to keep in mind that it can vary for different aspects of your site: The tone on the page with the annual financial report could differ from a careers page aimed at university students. But understanding the four dimension can give you a solid starting point.

A summer break from your tech

It’s summer – time for a break. But if your mobile is continually with you, can you actually take a break?

Trainer Beth Kanter joined in the National Day of Unplugging in March, a 24-hour detox, which was a delightful reboot for her brain. She realizes that she should do that once a quarter, if not monthly. But she wants to available for her family by phone – and with that phone comes other informational attractions that plunge her back into digital overwhelm.

She suggests that if you share this struggle, you should opt at times to use your phone just as a phone. Some people call it 1995 mode, returning to an era before WiFi, Bluetooth and cellular data by turning those off. She also offers these ideas on her blog for reducing your digital habit:

· Take a one-hour walk in the morning without your phone. She leaves it on the kitchen table, since otherwise she is prone to checking her Fitbit or email while walking.

· Keep your phone face down in meetings: In fact, she usually leaves it in her purse, but sometimes needs it to check information related to the discussion. Keeping it face down prevents it from drawing her attention.

· Try a mobile phone stack: Have everyone turn off their phone and stack them in the centre of the restaurant table, setting a rule that if anyone touches their phone before the bill comes, he or she has to pay the entire bill. A similar stack might work for family dinners.

· Don’t use your phone as an alarm clock: If you expect your phone to wake you up, you can fall into the bad habit of checking e-mail or social media first thing in the morning. You can buy an alarm clock that works solely as alarm clocks. Really.

Reduce your digital dependence this summer.

Managing thrill seekers

You have heard about Type A and Type B personalities? But what about Type T?

That is applied to people with a thrill-seeking personality. They are addicted to stimulation, excitement and arousal. They need extreme risks. And those risks may not be confined to climbing mountains; they could be sought in your workplace.

“The question is how to deal with these people? How can we channel the positive aspects of their character and lessen the negative aspects? How can we get the best out of them?” asks Manfred Kets de Vries, a clinical professor of leadership development at Insead.

He advises managers to find creative solutions to channel their considerable energy into constructive paths. Look for unstructured tasks that require a high degree of flexibility.

“Accept that, just as some people are good at being organized but aren’t very creative, others are very creative but completely fail at being organized. The challenge is to help the Type T individuals to better structure their lives, while allowing space for the more spontaneous parts of their personalities,” he adds.

Finally, don’t expect them to turn into “normal” office employees. They are different – be alert to those differences rather than blind to them.

Quick hits

· A study by the VitalSmarts consultancy of close to 1,000 managers found that 97 per cent have at least one career-limiting habit. And while they tend to be aware of the deficiency, few make progress in overcoming it.

· Is meeting overload a result of collaboration overload? Productivity consultant Laura Stack says that instead of having a culture where everybody must say yes for an initiative to go forward, change to one where people have to say no to stop things.

· Improve your employees’ concentration by painting your office vivid red or yellow. That goes against the belief that pale, neutral colours are better, but while that may be true for calmness and relaxation, recent research on students suggest bright colours stir arousal and learning. In particular, if the work is boring, go red or yellow.

· We may talk about 110 per cent effort, but entrepreneur Seth Godin says very few of us try our best, at the maximum, ever. Usually we try our best under the circumstances. But those circumstances can be changed – they are just a story, the way we choose to see the world. Just as you would run faster approaching the finish line at the Olympics than in training, redefine the situation so that the circumstances seem more urgent and demand more leverage.

- Is dehydration draining your employees? Mild dehydration can lead to fuzzy thinking and trouble focusing, a Quill.com infographic notes. Install water coolers at convenient locations in your office and place reusable cups or water bottles beside them. Make it even more enticing by stocking up on lemons and limes, lemon juice, cucumbers and mint for flavouring.

Harvey Schachter is a Kingston, Ont.-based writer specializing in management issues. He writes Monday Morning Manager and management book reviews for the print edition of Report on Business and an online column, Power Points. E-mail Harvey Schachter

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