How to Write Effectively for Social Media

7 Apr

Welcome to the social media age. We are bombarded with new technologies, and we use them for everything – to get our news, to keep in touch, to sell our products, to share our thoughts.

Social media is powerful. It has introduced new career opportunities to a gloomy, unstable job market. It has landed plenty of witty commentators in hot water for their “quick fire” remarks. It has even been used to orchestrate a nationwide revolt. It has changed the world’s communication landscape, or maybe ushered in a new one altogether.

As modern-day communicators, we can’t ignore social media. We must learn how to make it work for us. We need to fine-tune our communication style if we want to cut through the noise and reach our target audience.

So how can you succeed in writing for social media? You can start by using your words in a more professional, practical, and personal way.

Be Professional.

When you write for social media, your words are an extension of your brand and reputation – sometimes to extra and unintended publics. As with all communication efforts, professionalism separates the amateurs from the authorities.

  • Be upfront. If you’re speaking on behalf of your company, make that clear. Explicitly state whose opinions you represent in order to enhance your credibility. As an employee, you ought to consider your organization’s reputation in all your own social media communications – and then write accordingly.
  • Present yourself and your ideas appropriately. It’s easy to shoot an opinion into cyberspace without thinking about the long-term results – but your clever comments are more permanent than you think. They reach audiences instantly and can be referenced even after you thought you’d removed them.
  • Communicate with honesty and integrity. We trust people who are transparent and authentic. We trust people who tell us the truth and own up to it if they’ve made a mistake. To gain the trust of your target audience, uphold these principles and pay close attention to rules of attribution, copyright, and discretion. If you’re known as a reliable and reputable source, you won’t be lacking in followers.
  • Focus on facts, not fluff. An amateur uses social media to make undocumented claims and create hype. A writer with journalistic integrity, on the other hand, knows that the truth still matters and uses social media to offer verifiable facts.

Be Practical.

I don’t care how great your writing is; if it doesn’t make sense or fit into a larger communication strategy, it will fail. To make the most of social media, use it with common sense.

  • Set strategic goals. Establish objectives for your social media use, and then write to support them. If you’re writing to reach new business customers, your strategy will be different from someone who aims to keep followers updated on fashion trends. Know what you want to achieve, and go for it!
  • Choose the medium that best fits your message. Trying to keep up with 20 different platforms gets old pretty fast. Don’t get so caught up in mastering new technologies that you neglect the content you should be creating. Focus your efforts. Is it best to appeal to niche audiences or to craft a more mainstream message? Consider your target market, where it tends to gather online, and the best way of telling your particular story.
  • Work around word limits. Although Twitter, for example, limits each post to 140 characters, that doesn’t mean you should sacrifice your message. You can use that space to link to a longer article, blog post, or press release. Be sensible about it, and don’t waste space.
  • Consider search engine optimization. If you’re writing for Twitter, include hashtags to connect you with others who are talking about the same trend. If you’re blogging, use keywords, tags, and backlinks to increase your chance of appearing in search results. Work smart, but be realistic and know that SEO takes time, consistency, and perseverance to get results.

Be Personal.

Most of your success will come from being able to relate to readers in a concise way that cuts through the clutter and feels more like peer-to-peer than corporate-to-customer communication.

  • Listen before speaking. Assess what people are thinking and saying before adding your own two cents’ worth. You’ve got to know the way people interact with each other through social media and be able to capture that same spirit in your own communication. Remember that you’re not acting as a lecturer, but rather as an engager of thinking people who will react to your message.
  • Add meaningful content. Only talk if you can add to the conversation. Think in terms of what people want to hear, not what you want to get across. Provide substance, avoid aggressive self-promotion, and do all you can to foster interaction. If you aren’t worth listening to, people can easily “unfollow” or “unfriend” you. Social media success is about what YOU can offer to others.
  • Write in the voice of a real person. Social media carries with it a level of intimacy that requires you to demonstrate personality, express a distinct point of view, and steer clear of what PR expert Heidi Cohen calls “sanitized corporate-speak.” Be conversational! Add a few personal preferences and details in your comments to help build and advance relationships.
  • Be mindful of the scope of people who may read your messages. People of all professions and power levels – friends and enemies alike – frequent the social media circuit. Don’t underestimate your reach, and be careful to factor in how your comments might be interpreted in different cultures. Think of everything you write as having the potential to go viral.

Social media has painted a new horizon for communicators everywhere. Our goal is not only to reach people, but to open a dialogue with them. The more professional, practical, and personal you can be in your writing, the closer you are to achieving this goal.

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One Response to “How to Write Effectively for Social Media”

  1. Haley Collins April 7, 2011 at 3:36 pm #

    Keri, you’re an awesome writer! :] Thanks for the TIPS!

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