Social Media Writing: A Quick Guide
Just a few years ago, being a specialty online writer was considered cutting-edge. It’s brand new. It’s exciting. And it required you to learn a whole new set of rules for producing content. The last year or so, writing for the web has become an old skill you should have mastered eons ago. The fresh, innovative thing on the pipe is social media writing — and it’s what everybody’s looking to get a handle on.
Simply put, a lot of the skills you built up to turn yourself into a qualified writer for online copy just aren’t the same ones you need to whip up effective social media copy. If you want to do good in this new field, you’ll probably need to drop some old habits and shore up a few new ones.
What Makes Social Media Writing Different
There are many differences between traditional web writing and social media. Just as writing for the web requires a lot of changes to writing in print, the same holds for social media compared to the traditional web.
1. You’re writing directly to people. With traditional web copy, you’re writing for both readers and algorithms. Striking the balance that accomplishes that is the tricky part. In social media writing, you’re writing purely for the audience, regardless of whether you’re composing 140-character Tweets, Facebook blog posts or LinkedIn recommendations. Writing for real people, particularly ones you may have a relationship with as you do in social media, requires a shift in style and attitude.
2. Social media is shorter-form content. Remember when you used to call blogging as short-form content. Social media takes the lack of length a whole other level. On the one hand, this limits the amount of information you can communicate. On the other, this allows you to connect to readers without heavy amounts of research and preparation. It’s both harder and simpler for different things, respectively.
3. You don’t just write conversationally — you literally carry on a conversation. Think back to your favorite Twitter and Facebook timelines. Chances are, these are from people who actually engage their audiences in one-to-one conversations. Rather than fill their timelines with general announcements, they spend a lot of time answering specific questions from people they’re connected to by engaging in genuine conversations.
4. Web copy is for linking, social media is for sharing. With traditional web copy, we wrote material that lent itself well to being linked to. That is, we wrote quality copy that fit into a lot of current issues that people are discussing and framed it so that the keywords we want are the logical anchor text for the piece. In social media, we aim to be shared, so we need to write with the assumption that it will be shared. People can see exactly how many other people read a shared sales letter, for instance, so we can’t rely on fibs like “You’re one of only 100 people who have access to this information.” Instead, you want to frame your copy so it is shared, so you use lines like “This information deserves to be known by not just 100 individuals.”
5. Social media demands you to respond to issues in real-time. With web copy, you can wait out issues, ignore negative information and, generally, wait for heat to pass before issuing a response. Social media changes that, since your own fans and followers will be pestering you for an answer. It’s a different kind of writing that requires you to deal with problems head-on.
6. Rhetorical questions don’t count. When writing regular copy, you can use rhetorical questions to steer ideas towards the direction you want the piece to go. In social media, you don’t get such benefits. Remember: social media writing is a conversation, so any question you pose are ones you would like to get an answer to. Asking questions is one of the most effective ways to get people to participate in your social media campaigns.
7. Social media is about sustained effort, not one-shot successes. With traditional web copy, you put a story up, get on your grind (pinging, tagging and all that), and measure your results, whether you’re going after sales, links or comments. With social media, the goals you set are usually worked up into using sustained effort, with measurable results only coming in long after your first tweet about the matter.
Tips For Better Social Media Writing
1. Lead with the most informative words and phrases. Social media writing is short, but it’s easy to get it lost among a wall filled with messages. A lot of the time, people scan lists of unrelated messages. The earlier you include the most important parts of your message, the lesser the chances it will fly over your audience’s attention. Pushing the important keywords up front makes sure readers see them immediately.
2. Choose words your audience will understand. In regular web copy, you’re told to write using language your readers will understand. The same guideline holds true in social media: you need to use words and phrases that actually speak to your followers. If your audience consist of academics, speak their language. If your supporters are made up of teens, then use everyday street language to your heart’s content.
3. Write concisely. Use short words instead of long ones and use short descriptive phrases rather than lengthy descriptions. Twitter only gives you room for 140 characters and LinkedIn allows you 700. Granted, both Facebook and Google+ (and a few other social networks) allow a more generous limit — keeping things short, however, serves your audience’s tendencies to jump from item to item much better. Remember the old warning that online readers tend to have very short attention spans? It’s even worse in social media where isolated articles don’t appear on a page; instead, they’re staring at multiple ones every time.
4. Verify auto-generated titles and descriptions. Some social networks will generate automated titles and descriptions for content when you share them. Make sure those generated for your writing are actually meaningful, lest risk having it ignored when appearing in lists, timelines and similar mediums.