How to Use Linguistics in Direct-to-Fan Messaging (With Examples)
8 min read

How to Use Linguistics in Direct-to-Fan Messaging (With Examples)

It is said that birds fly, fish swim, and humans speak. As we've now fully entered upon 2019, it might be more apt to say that ‘humans chat’.
How to Use Linguistics in Direct-to-Fan Messaging (With Examples)

It is said that birds fly, fish swim, and humans speak. As we've now fully entered 2019, it might be more apt to say that ‘humans chat’.

Social media platforms' newsfeed models are in decline. While we've seen a massive rise in the use of direct messaging services and apps:

“Facebook Messenger has 2 billion monthly active users, while WhatsApp can proudly claim 1.5 billion monthly active users.”

Linguistics - the scientific study of language and its structure - can provide valuable insights into the way people use direct messages to interact. These insights, in turn, are indispensable to music artists and the teams behind their direct-to-fan messaging campaigns.

In today’s post, we will be giving you some examples of how linguistic research can contribute to your direct-to-fan messaging strategies.

But first…

Let’s quickly differentiate between:

Instant messaging and Live chat

One way to incorporate chat in your business strategy is to employ live chat - currently mostly used for customer service purposes.


However, live chat can be quite a strain on your company’s resources.

“For a website with thousands of visits a day, live chat can result in an overwhelming number of “live” conversations for companies to handle.”

Although chat as communication channel is preferred by most customers, it turns out not to be as successful as you might think.

So how is direct messaging different?

Personality brings life

First of all, even though live chat offers an actual interlocutor...

“despite its “live” name, due to scripts and templates, customers typically don’t feel like they’re talking to a live person on the other end, even if they are...”

What people expect from a direct messaging channel is an authentic, accessible and conversational experience. According to the following Chatbots Magazine article,

“Personality, therefore, is critical to the success of that natural dialog between human and computer.”

In other words…

Why have an actual person with low response rates on live chat go through scripted conversations that fail to engage, when you can script automatic conversations to feel like authentic chat experiences, at a fraction of the cost?

Which begs the question:

How do we create personality, or a persona, in scripted chat conversations?

The sweetest and most important sound in any language

Let’s start with the basics. With direct messaging channels taking over as the preferred mode of communication between consumers and businesses, personality is becoming the next UX. So how do we frame this experience?

In Dale Carnegie’s book, How to Win Friends & Influence People, he says the following about names:

“Remember that a person’s name is, to that person, the sweetest and most important sound in any language.”

Our tool allows you to use the [first_name] tag when designing a conversation flow. This means that, when you broadcast it to your subscribers, you can address them with that sweetest and most important sound!

If not their first name, at least try to use the second person pronoun ‘you’ as much as possible - it is, after all, according to Gregory Ciotti, one the five most ‘persuasive words in the English language’.

(The other four words Ciotti mentions are ‘free’, ‘because’, ‘instantly’ and ‘new’; try peppering your conversation flows with these to bolster your persuasive powers!)

Being persuasive and winning over your subscribers’ hearts and minds by addressing them by their first name is one way to effectively communicate. Let’s dig deeper and look at some linguistic theory on discourse and communication, and how your conversations might benefit from it.

Check out our most popular resources, by the way! They include 'The Ultimate Guide to Growing Your Subscriber Count'. Because what's a channel's use if it doesn't have an audience?

Dispreferred vs. preferred responses

Imagine someone asks you out to dinner. What response do you think they’d prefer?


They would most likely prefer you to say ‘yes’, right?

A dispreferred response, in this case, is your refusal to go out with them.

Consider the following quote:

“Socially, people find it difficult to say ‘no’ to requests or invitations. In spoken interaction (face-to-face), we orient to this difficulty through the design of our responses. An agreement response (preferred) is characteristically said straightaway with minimal gap between request and response. A disagreement response (dispreferred) is characteristically delayed through silence and by prefacing the disagreement turn with tokens such as ‘well’, ‘uhm’ and ‘uh’ or with accounts as to why the recipient cannot accept the request or invitation.”

In layman’s terms:

People are eager to say ‘yes’ and hesitant to say ‘no’ to requests.

At the moment, the response time for the messages in the conversation flows you write in our tool is based on the length of the text itself. Our development team is working on including a new feature where you get to override this standard response time. That way, you can have your dispreferred responses take longer to be delivered, giving your subscribers the idea that they’re speaking to an actual person.

Nice personal touch, don’t you think?

(Side note regarding negative and positive statements: try to stick to the 3-to-1 rule. Make three positive statements for every negative one. You’ll come across as way more constructive and likeable!)

Adjacency pairs

In linguistics, a pair of utterances that belong together, like a request and an agreement/refusal, or a greeting and its response, are called an adjacency pair.

Adjacency pairs are very important when trying to construct natural language. Take the following examples:

Speaker A: Hi.
Speaker B: I’d rather not.

Speaker A: Want to go out for dinner with me?
Speaker B: Hey there!

These conversations seem a bit… out-of-sync, right? In linguistic terms, this phenomenon is called “breaching”.

When designing your conversation flows, make sure you get these adjacency pairs just right - preferably by using quick reply buttons. Try not to ask any open-ended questions. Because answering a greeting with a refusal will definitely make your messages come across as inauthentic and scripted.

The guys over at found this out the hard way. They had to cut all polite rhetorical questions from their direct messaging conversations, because people found it difficult to interpret these correctly in chat and kept responding to them, prompting Howdy’s co-founder, Ben Brown, to say:

“You would never just stick a form on your web page and not expect people to type into it.”

Crafting personality can be quite the challenge, it seems...

Wit, banter, and the quirkiness of personality

Another great way to make your conversations more personal, and to add personality to your chat conversations is quite straightforward:

Keep things light-spirited and include some humour, or add unique character traits to the conversations you write.

Direct messaging lends itself well to an informal tone-of-voice and casual banter. Try to include this conversational style in your conversation flows, and your subscribers are guaranteed to feel at ease interacting with you.

What you want to achieve is a sense of anthropomorphism. You want your audience to ascribe animacy to something that is, essentially, inanimate - a scripted conversation. Want to come across as a real person? Crack a joke or two!

(Beware the pitfall of culturally specific humour, however. Having some sort of idea about who your audience is goes a long way here!)

Have your subscribers form an emotional bond with your flows!

How to communicate effectively

The folks over at Buffer came up with the following list of 5 habits that will set you apart as an effective communicator. We’ve reworked this list into some pieces of advice for when you’re writing a conversation flow:

1. Listen actively

Obviously, in a scripted conversation, the most you can do is offer the illusion of being an active and constructive listener.

How would you go about doing so?

We advise you to use our tool's quick reply buttons so you know exactly which response your subscriber chose to any of your questions. Then, consider the following stages of empathic listening:

  1. Mimic – Repeat what the other person said
  2. Rephrase – Rephrase their comments to show that you’ve understood
  3. Reflect – Put their feelings into words for them
  4. Rephrase and Reflect – Combine steps 2 and 3

These steps can easily be scripted as responses to any of the quick reply buttons you wrote into your conversation.

If you think this is too much work, at least remember to always reconfirm your subscribers’ answers. Your audience is going to love your active, constructive and empathic listening style!

2. Use people’s names

We already addressed this earlier on, but it doesn’t hurt to repeat something so essential to communicating effectively and building a personality into your conversation flows.

Keep using that [first_name] tag throughout your conversation flow - although maybe don’t overdo it. That’ll probably make you sound a bit … creepy.

3. Let your subscribers talk about themselves

At I AM POP we offer you a tool that aims to keep things simple.

We don’t want you to have to struggle with the infinitely complex issues of AI and NLP. Yes, being able to respond to natural language adds quite a human touch. But it can be quite a challenge, not to mention a lot of work!

Still, with the help of quick reply buttons, you can allow your subscribers to talk about themselves.


“talking about our own beliefs and opinions, rather than those of other people, stimulates the meso-limbic dopamine system, which is associated with the motivation and reward feelings we get from food, money and sex.”

Don’t cut right to the chase and prompt subscribers to opt-in to updates on your next gig, or try to aggressively sell them those festival tickets.

Show some interest, and ask ‘em how their day was, or which of your recent releases is their favourite. Which ties into the next habit of highly effective communicators:

4. Make them feel important

Everyone loves validation and a confirmation that their opinions matter, right?

So instead of asking your subscribers bland questions like “Who’s your favourite artist from our record label?” try something a little more personal and humble.

A question along the lines of “I can’t decide which artist from our record label I like best… What do you think?” can really make a difference.

By the way, try using I AM POP’s segmenting tool to gather valuable fan-data. Want to know which of your label’s artist is the most popular?

Ask your subscribers, and segment them according to their answers. This way, you will have a better view of how to budget your next marketing campaigns!


You’ve been an active listener, you’ve addressed your subscribers by their [first_name], you’ve let them talk about themselves and made them feel important. The last piece of advice we’d like to give you is to:

5. Emphasize similarities

If you want to communicate effectively and connect to your audience, you will want to emphasize similarities instead of focusing on any apparent differences.

Have you ever spoken to someone with a slightly different accent to yours, and noticed how you start copying certain traits of their speech?

In communication accommodation theory, this is what is known as convergence:

“‘Convergence refers to strategies through which individuals adapt to each other's communicative behaviors to reduce these social differences.”  

The ability to mimic your subscribers’ speech is, of course, very limited. Although, again, using quick reply buttons can help you gain more control over the flow of a conversation.

An easier way to emphasize similarities is to simply agree with your audience’s opinions!

So you’ve asked your subscribers the following question:

“I can’t decide which artist from our record label I like best… What do you think?”

Try replying with something like:

“Actually… that’s probably one of my favourites too!”

By now, you’ve probably got a general idea of how linguistic theory can inform the way you build and script your conversation flows to better connect to your audience.

Try out a few different approaches, and see which work best for your messaging statistics, such as your broadcasts' average open rates!

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