Writing for social media is NOT the same

20 11 2010

Whether you are writing a magazine article or a white paper, the core elements of great writing are universal: clarity, flow and liveliness are a few that stand out.

But skilled writers also understand the importance of adjusting to the medium they are working in and, more importantly, the audience they are writing for.

That brings us to social media.

At least for the forseeable future, social media is only going to get bigger and bigger. So for writers, understanding what works and what doesn’t when writing for blogs, Facebook, etc. is a must.

Here are a few ideas to consider when writing for a Web 2.0 audience:

Write a killer headline: Social media users have hundreds of headlines vying for their attention every day. How do you stop them in their tracks and get them to click on your story? Web 2.0 headlines should be short, bold and enticing. Oftentimes, the headline should speak to the reader directly, rather than simply describing what the article or post is about. Ask the reader a question. Issue a challenge.

You can have the best blog entry or link in the world, but if your headline doesn’t grab readers, no one will ever know.

Start strong and get to the point: It’s no secret that the average American’s attention span is alarmingly short, particularly those who have been raised on instant messaging, texting and everything else, all at the same time. So your first few paragraphs better be good, and you better get to the point. Tell the reader why he/she should be interested in what you have to say. What does he/she stand to gain or learn from your story?

A magazine writer or newspaper columnist might be able to get away with a long, winding intro that works its way to the point of the piece. But a 16-year-old boy who found your story through his Twitter feed probably won’t have that much patience. Again, it’s all about knowing the medium and the audience.

Be conversational: This is an idea that applies to most effective writing, but it’s even more true in social media. The key word in social media is “social.”

Blogs and the like are, for the most part, less formal than traditional media. Writers should view this as a good thing. Have fun with your writing. Write with personality.

It’s a two-way street: Current technology allows content creators to engage in a true conversation with the audience. Readers can instantly comment on your column or post, and you can instantly respond. This type of engagement helps build a rapport with your audience. Instead of throwing your message or story out there and being done with it, writers can now see exactly what readers think and respond in turn.

This two-way communication not only is attractive to readers, it is valuable to writers. Writers who don’t view the opinions of their readers/customers/shareholders as an asset are making a huge mistake in the Web 2.0 age.

The explosion of social media and the effect it has had on how we communicate is undeniable. For those who create content, it’s essential to have a handle on the do’s and don’ts of Web 2.0 writing.

To borrow a quote from H.G. Wells, you either “adapt or perish.”

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