How to Ruin Your Reputation on the Internet: Improper Tone

[This post is part of the How To Ruin Your Reputation on the Internet series, written by CEDAM Communications Intern Olivia Courant.]

This series highlights mistakes nonprofits make online that hurt their reputation or make their online communications strategies ineffective.  In the last post, we talked about how out-of-date information on your nonprofit’s website can drive away your audience.  Today we turn to another common problem: improper tone.

—Nonprofits, Nonsense, Negativity, and Cats—

Every day, nonprofit employee Sarah goes through many emails, Facebook posts, and Twitter posts from her coworkers and other nonprofits.  Today, she has seen:

  • One Facebook update from Nonprofit A that reads, Every1 come to Rob’s 30th birthday partyyyyy!!!!
  • One very negative blog post where Nonprofit B rants about Nonprofit C’s latest publication.
  • Two emails from coworker Dan that are full of cat pictures and are carbon copied to everyone on Dan’s contact list.

These are all examples of improper tone and/or mixing personal life with business.  In the first scenario the nonprofit publicly announces a personal event that should be kept between staff members.  It is unlikely that this nonprofit’s volunteers and members are interested in Rob’s birthday party.  The second scenario is an example of unconstructive negativity.  Extreme criticism will cause an organization to be viewed the same way it treats others: negatively.  Finally, sending or forwarding an email, especially a “chain letter,” to everyone on your contact list is a good way to get people to start ignoring your emails.

The best way to avoid using improper tone is to match your tone to your audience.  Ask yourself, who is reading this? There will be a difference when you are writing to a group of professionals about foreclosure resources, versus announcing a fun community event.

In some cases it is perfectly acceptable to write about personal stories – for instance, positive testimonies from the people your nonprofit works with can give your organization legitimacy and show how it is directly involved in the community. CEDAM member Jackson Affordable Housing Coalition has a “success stories” section on their website that demonstrates a perfect use of personal stories. No matter what you are writing, be sure to proofread for spelling and grammar mistakes.

Ultimately, the goal is to balance formality and personality so that you do not look too bland but also avoid putting off your audience.  Having fun is great, but not everyone on your contact list wants to see pictures of your cats.

A CEDAM cat chows down on some pet grass.