“People who follow corporate social media accounts that present a human voice are more likely to have a positive view of the company,” according to a recent study conducted by researchers at VU University Amsterdam, The Netherlands, and published in the Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication. The study goes on to say a human voice translates into a better corporate reputation.

As consumers, we know that to be true. Many of us have tried to interact with a company and encountered what felt like a robot spewing canned messages. This is not only frustrating but can actually cause a social media crisis. I recall reading a company’s Facebook page when the response to every complaint was exactly the same. They apparently had turned on “auto reply” and let it crank out automated messages which then went viral.

But change hats from consumer to PR professional and suddenly it’s not so easy. Especially when something bad happens, many companies hold a tight rein on their communications team, allowing them to only use “approved” messages. That leaves those in charge of social media with very little latitude in what they can and can’t say.

And watch out if the messages have gone through multiple layers of editing and approval! That often means “human vocabulary” has been translated into “business vocabulary” that means nothing outside the walls of corporate offices.

Here’s some advice on how speak like a “human” when you craft corporate messages for social media:

  1. Don’t get comfortable with anonymity. Remember, anonymous comments are written by a person and, even if that person posts a nasty comment, never respond in kind. Take a deep breath, count to 100, get up and walk around – anything to calm down before you respond.
  2. Be friendly but not condescending. Try to smile while you read it out loud. If you feel a frown coming on, rewrite it with a friendlier tone. But don’t try to be funny. Failed attempts at humor can be easily misinterpreted.
  3. Use first or second person (I, you, we) and active voice. You wouldn’t tell your neighbor, “The flower bed was dug up by my dog.” Rather, you’d say, “My dog dug up the flower bed.” (And you’d probably add, “I’m sorry about your flowers.”)
  4. Read it out loud. Is the tone conversational? For example, don’t say “utilize” when you mean “use” or “reside” instead of “live.” Contractions are fine on social platforms (I’m, you’re, can’t, won’t). Keep it simple.
  5. Don’t be afraid to say, “I’m sorry” but make sure your apologies are genuine. Be careful not to blame others or even to imply blame. Don’t “hedge” with phrases like, “I’m sorry if you were offended” or “I’m sorry if you liked those flowers.” That implies the other person is at fault or perhaps too sensitive.

These same tips work for media interviews and presentations. Saying what you mean in clear, concise sentences can go a long way toward humanizing your company.