You, Me, Us?

It’s a small thing, but one that can make a big difference to your future relationships: not the remote control, but the question of whether to write your website in first, second, or third person.

First person means using words like “I,” “we,” and “me.” Our website is written in first person. Using first person gives a friendly, personal air. Our relationships with our clients are friendly and personal, and using first person conveys that. In fact, one of the things our clients will tell you they like best is that we sincerely care about them and their businesses and do all that we can to help them succeed. I want my visitors to know that about us.

On the other hand, first person can put you in the position of talking about yourself a lot, which may not be comfortable for you, or appropriate for your business.

When using first person, you can choose between saying “I” and saying “we.” One of my clients is a sole proprietor, but uses “we” to recognize all the other people he partners with in his business. Another uses “we” to disguise the small size of the business — it’s going to be bigger in the future, so why not go ahead and start that way? Another of my clients has a fairly large team, but prefers to keep that one to one feeling, so he uses “I.”

Second person uses “you.” Studies have shown that people respond very well to “you,” so we use second person a lot, too. Particularly if you solve problems for people, your visitors are really thinking about themselves and their problems when they come to your website, so second person can have a sense of immediacy for them.

Using second person can make it difficult to talk much about your company, unless you also use first or third person. It can be very good for sites which don’t need to provide much information about the company. It also works well in combination with the other voices, if you have the writing ability to mix it up well.

“He,” “she,” and “it” are the pronouns for third person writing. Third person is a more formal choice. It can make your company sound larger, it can give a professional feeling, and it can allow you to keep some distance between yourself and your customers.

A website I’m working on right now has an “About Us” page mentioning two different family businesses which are partnering on the project. Using third person allows equal emphasis on both without implying that customers will be dealing directly with both. Third person also provides the level of formality which is most comfortable for the companies.

Any of these choices will work; it’s a question of which feeling you want at your website: friendly, customer-centered, or formal.

Here’s a very important point: be careful about mixing the different voices. I’m not saying not to mix them, because it can certainly be done. I’m saying that it takes skill. Many of the first drafts of web content I receive have text that meanders from “I” to “you” to “we” to “the Company” for no particular reason. This can be confusing, and as irritating to readers as … well, as channel surfing when your spouse is watching a movie. It’s safer to choose one and stick with it.






Leave a Reply