Business

Every company needs a voice, this is how Slack found theirs

By Oliver Smith 11 August 2016
Summary

Slack’s editorial director Anna Pickard explains how to craft the 'voice' of a company.

Software isn’t typically very human.

We’ve grown used to the corporate legalese found in Microsoft, or even Apple’s apps.

But there are some companies building software differently, software with character, software that users love.

Software like Slack.

 

You’ll instantly recognise this ‘voice’ of Slack, whether from their website or from the little Slackbot helper built into the app.

What you probably didn’t realise is that there are hundreds of rules that govern this ‘voice’ of Slack, most designed by Slack’s editorial director, Anna Pickard.

  • “We always say we, because we’re always speaking as Slack.”
  • “We never say Lol.”
  • “We can use literary allusions, but we never use pop culture allusions.”
  • “We don’t use puns very much because they’re exclusionary, especially pop culture puns. They make some people feel smart and other people feel really stupid.”

But why, you might ask, does Slack, a tech company building a business app, need an editorial director? And what does one do?

The Memo's Slack is a bastion of productivity... most of the time.

Meeting Slack’s editorial director

“So when I started, it was just anything wordy,” Pickard told The Memo.

Not just Twitter, but blog posts, app release notes, writing on the Slack website, developer documentation, even the help messages and popups in Slack.

It’s also, Pickard says, about building the character and ethos behind Slack into everything they do.

Like when you’re logging into Slack and you see inspirational messages pop-up like ‘you look nice today’.

“Which might seem odd coming from a corporate company,” says Pickard.

“But that’s what Stewart [Butterfield, Slack’s co-founder] and the team used to randomly say to each other in the office. And it’s the what we used to test our first Twitter integration, ‘Hey @SlackHQ, you look nice today’.”

“It’s not a gimmick, it’s just us, and this is the way we work. If we stop treating people as humans, we’re going to lose our sense of why we do what we do.”

Slack's CEO and co-founder Stewart Butterfield.

How to find your company’s voice?

But in a world dominated by corporate speak, having a human voice as a business isn’t easy. But once you’ve found it, it’s a powerful tool.

“People often ask me, how do you do your kind of sounding like you’re human thing?” Pickard says.

“I’m like, how do you not? How do you refrain from sounding human, given that that’s what you are?”

To find your voice, she says, is really a journey of self-discovery.

“You’ve got to actually sit down and create your voice, like it’s a character of yourself.”

“What are your motivations, who is this person, where do they come from, what do they want, what makes them laugh, what makes them cry.”

“It comes from ourselves as people, the voice of our founders and the early team at Slack, not that they all talk the same, but there is a shared sense of humour and a love of words.”

Do that and you just might find your users start falling in love with your business too.