26 Feb How Word Choice Impacts Social Media Messaging
When developing your executive presence on social media, what type of language do you use more often in your content: “I” or “we”?
Using singular first-person pronouns (e.g. “I”) versus plural first-person pronouns (e.g. “we”) might seem like a small difference, but for CEOs on social media, using one or the other can make a significant impact in terms of how your content is viewed by others.
In this article, our social media experts explain how you can create stronger social media messaging by using the right pronouns in your online content.
Developing a more personal executive presence
The use of first-person pronouns, such as “I” or “my,” in your content creates a much more personal tone. It clearly gives ownership to the author and isolates the executive as the one commenting. These types of pronouns can make your social media presence more authentic since the content and messaging are coming directly from you.
For this reason, executives who are using social media to establish their thought leadership should ideally use “I” or a form of singular first person, such as “my” and “me.” This type of thought leadership content—such as a LinkedIn article—is about establishing the executive’s expertise in their industry. Using “we” or “us” pulls in the company, and while this may be appropriate in some cases, executives should use “I” to establish their own credibility.
Here are some examples of when executives should use “I” or singular first person:
- I’m proud of the hard work my team has dedicated to…
- Given the changing trends in the industry, I believe…
- My advice to those graduating this year is…
On the other hand, here’s an example of when executives may prefer to use something other than “I”:
I’m proud to launch the latest initiative at [company name]…
This is an example where, depending on the context, one might instead say, “We are proud” since the use of “I” may be misleading. After all, if many people were involved in the company’s latest initiative, the use of “I” erases the other employees and makes it sound like the executive is taking sole credit.
For executives on social media who often or exclusively write in singular first person, it may be helpful to include this in your bio:
“My comments do not reflect that of my company” or “Opinions are my own.”
This sets the stage for users viewing the executive’s content and may help shield the company from any potential issues.
Pronouns that aligns executives with their company
When you use “we, “us,” or “our” on social media, you are clearly aligning your content and sentiments with that of your company. “We” means you are speaking both for yourself but also on behalf of your company. This means executives should be careful not to make any comments that may be construed as being endorsed by their company when it may just be the executive’s personal opinions.
Here are some examples of when executives should use “we” or plural first person:
- We believe that our actions in the community positively reflect…
- Our commitment to improve racial and gender equality is key…
- All of the people who walk through the doors are important to us…
“I” versus “We” In Practice
To illustrate what we’ve been covering so far, let’s look at Twitter content from Mary Barra, the Chairman and CEO of General Motors. She has an effective social media presence, which we covered in our previous article, Executive Spotlight: Creating a Consistent Brand Voice.
Thanks @ReshmaSaujani for your leadership in helping close the gender gap in tech by inspiring and encouraging thousands of girls to code. And congratulations to @DrTarikaBarrett. I am excited to see what’s next for both of you! https://t.co/QzU0LWyno5
— Mary Barra (@mtbarra) February 12, 2021
In this first Tweet, Barra uses “I” in her congratulatory post. Because the content isn’t a reflection of GM as a company but rather her personal thoughts, using “I” makes more sense than writing in plural first person.
In what case would writing in plural first person make sense? If GM has a direct connection to the initiative being mentioned, Barra could have stated, “At GM, we are proud to partner with @GirlsWhoCode and we are excited to see what’s next.” By phrasing it like this, it would not just Barra supporting Girls Who Code, but also GM.
Today @GM announced strong financial performance for Q4 and full year of 2020, all due to staying true to our values and purpose during a difficult year. We have the talent, tech and profitability to lead and we'll continue to do so in the months ahead. https://t.co/fEbzaxGkTD pic.twitter.com/d5P84EvpV6
— Mary Barra (@mtbarra) February 10, 2021
For many branded posts, executives will generally write in plural first person to frame the messaging as coming from both themselves and their company. This is common when CEOs share company news, such as in Barra’s Tweet above. Executives on social media may sometimes act as their company’s online spokesperson, which is why ensuring that certain content is written from the perspective of both the executive and the company is important.
It would not make sense if Barra phrased it as, “@GM has the talent, tech and profitability to lead and they’ll continue to do so in the months ahead.” This puts too much distance between the company and Barra, making it seem like she’s not a part of GM.
The LYRIQ is one of 30 EVs you’ll see from @GM by 2025. I'm so proud of the @Cadillac team for their great work on this vehicle and bringing us closer to an #AllElectricFuture. https://t.co/fT6uXxfC7d
— Mary Barra (@mtbarra) February 8, 2021
Here is an example of branded content that is written using both plural and singular first person. Having an executive personally and publicly congratulate employees is an effective way to boost company morale and showcases how involved a CEO is in the company.
In this case, Barra also pulls the messaging back to the company as a whole by using “us.” In other words, the messaging in the first half is more personal and conveys Barra’s sentiments, while the second half is meant to align with the company and strengthens branding.
Writing in plural first person may make less sense as “We are so proud” would make the Tweet seem more self-serving and less authentic.
“I” or “We”?
Successfully developing executive presence on social media takes many variables into account, including language and pronouns are used. When thinking about what type of pronouns to use on social media, consider what business objectives your online presence is driving toward. As an executive, are you trying to build a more human brand or are you complimenting your company’s existing marketing by driving to a specific website? Or is your online presence about setting yourself up as a leader through thought leadership and personal accomplishments? Making the right choice between “I” and “we” can help strengthen company or personal goals.
Another way to determine whether to write in singular or plural first person is to consider the context of the content. How many people are involved? If the post is just your thoughts and doesn’t reflect that of your company, then “I” would make more sense than “we” to avoid any confusion or issues.
For executives who aren’t sure how to use the right language and tone, they’ll often partner with their in-house marketing team or an agency that specializes in executive social media marketing. With one of our clients in the financial industry, our team developed a strategic social media program that uses the right language to build up their CEO’s thought leadership and influence.
Read our case study on thought leadership
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