There’s a small theatre company in my town that’s run by a charming 70 year old man. He is the face of the brand, introducing every performance and interacting with patrons at every turn. It’s impossible to think of that organization and not think of him. But someone other than him runs that organization’s social media, and churns out communications that sound nothing like him. Phrases like “wassup!?!?” and “in da house” crept into the organization’s Facebook posts and felt…odd. Disingenuous. Wrong.

Like many nonprofit organizations, the medium of social media tempted their staff to create communications that were young and hip and trendy and #hashtagable because they thought that’s what the medium demanded.

Several years ago, another nonprofit I know posted the following message on Facebook: “We’re crowdsourcing a poem for our outgoing ED!” What? How many of this organization’s followers knew what “crowdsourcing” was? (Keep in mind, this was posted in 2009.) And what does the term “outgoing” mean in this sentence? Is the ED very gregarious and extroverted? And what does “ED” mean in this context? As nonprofit professionals, we know it means “Executive Director,” but for those outside the nonprofit trenches, it could just as easily mean “erectile dysfunction” or the name “Ed.”

When writing social media posts, it’s difficult to know the correct tone to take. You’re writing for a specific audience, right?

You could try to write to the demographics of that audience, but that’s nearly impossible. How does one write to demographics? How does one create copy suited to females, age 50-65 who own their own homes and live in the greater Miami area?

Maybe you could try to write for a specific “type” of person. That’s challenging, too. How do you create meaningful messages for the “type” of person that likes boats and enjoys Thai food?

The answer is specificity. Write for a specific, real person.

For one performing arts client, I identified a person who was, in many ways, typical of the group’s audience. Her name was Diana, and I got to know her. I asked others about her. I worked to get a good sense of who she was. And every single Facebook post I created for the group was written for Diana.

This solved nearly every challenge regarding “tone” in the group’s social media communications. Would Diana understand the acronym used in this post? No? Then I’d better spell it out. Would Diana recognize this clever pun? She probably would? Okay, it’s appropriate to use.

This organization could have spent months creating a social media style guide, but instead just “wrote for Diana” and achieved the same results. And Diana needn’t be representative of every member of the group’s audience (how could she be?) but writing for her maintained a consistency of tone that made the group’s communications seem recognizable and authentic.

Identifying a real flesh-and-blood reader also helps when multiple people are managing your social media presence. If you have three staff members creating Facebook content, they don’t have to try and write like one another–they just have to write as if they’re communicating with the same person.

For each social media platform, you might identify a different reader. On Facebook, you’re writing to (and for) Diana. But on Instagram, you’re writing to Ted. And on Twitter, you’re writing to Chris. In communicating with these real people, you will avoid the trap of appearing overtly promotional, and your messages will be more sincere, relevant and engaging.