Contrary to what most people think, writers don’t spend most of their time writing. They spend it thinking about writing. The actual physical process of writing is only a small part of their day. Shocking I know but anyone who’s tried to write for a living knows it doesn’t work any other way – you need time to let the ideas steep in the brain so you can output quality stuff. Anyone can spit out words but a truly crafted piece takes time, it’s important you understand that. If it’s all about price then we suggest hiring your niece; four years of basic schooling and $5/hour makes her an ideal choice.
So what do writers actually do while they’re thinking about writing? It could be any number of things from researching the subject, the audience, the client’s voice and tone guide (if they have one) or … goofing off watching stupid, mind-numbing videos on facebook (in the name of research of course). And, before you get all judgey about writers wasting time on social media, it can actually help. While it appears to anyone else looking in (or passers-by) that the conscious part of them is “leisure-browsing”, the subconscious is furiously at work processing all the prep work they’ve done.
But social media is doing more than just giving the conscious part of the brain a break, it can also give a writer inspiration on effective ways to present ideas. Popular social media channels have mastered the art of developing a catchy concept and presenting it in a way that grabs people quickly – something that copywriters are trying to do as well.
Let’s consider six elements of an effective social media post and tie that over to good copywriting techniques.
- Front loading – The art of putting the most important things first is key in social media. As potential readers scan through their feeds at a million miles an hour, how you choose to lead out your post can be the difference to someone stopping or scrolling right on by. Today’s consumers have a lot of content to get through every day so if you haven’t grabbed their attention in the first second or two you’ve lost them – load up your first words with the big-hitting benefits.
- Dropping unnecessary words – Word economy is the lifeblood of good copywriting. Every word gets analysed to check it’s really needed. And then checked again to see if there’s a shorter one that does the job. It seems counter-intuitive for a writer (who’s job is to produce words) to spend their time eliminating them but a good writer knows the less words they use to get across the same message the better their writing.
- WIIFM – The ‘What’s in it for me’ marketing principle is well-proven and good social media marketers know this works. Smart social media marketers know there’s fierce competition for eyeballs, they know they have a fraction of a second to grab someone’s attention – they also know that we’re all about self-interest (yeh deep down we’re all good people but the harsh truth is our lizard brain is all about me!). So they feature words or images that go directly to basic wants – money, happiness, health or sex – so think about your target audience and figure out what they want, and let that guide your copy.
- LCD – As much as you might dislike what appeals to the masses if you’re trying to target the ‘masses’ then you might just have to lower your standards to the Lowest Common Denominator (LCD). The LCD, when it comes to what the market wants, is the lowest form of what you might consider social decency – it’s the stuff of tabloids, shameless clickbait designed to get an instant knee-jerk reaction, good or bad. It might be something topical, something polarising, something crass, even scatological humour if you must. I’m not a fan but as with all writing you need to put your audience first – or you could take the high road and hope they follow (good luck with that!).
- Repetition – A lot of social media managers use automated systems to send out the same post several times. They know people skim read and it’s possible they missed it the first time, or maybe the timing just wasn’t right for them. The lesson is: if you’ve got something really important to say don’t just say it once – repeat the message several times. This might include rewording it, or changing how you emphasise it in the copy e.g. as a heading, list or call-out box.
- Don’t take yourself too seriously – Social media is supposed to be all about fun. Advertising and old people put a bit of a wet blanket on that but it’s still the place a lot of people go to de-stress and just have a laugh (normally at someone less fortunate than them). Writers keep their stuff un-stuffy, bright and light and never too serious. Sure you might be writing about something serious but they need to lighten up from time to time, otherwise readers will leave feeling seriously depressed and not inclined to take up any call to action you might be leading to – unless making them depressed was the end goal, in which case well done.
We’re not saying you should flat out copy social media writers but as you can see there are things to be learned from other writing styles.
So the next time you’re copyediting your writing and you need help to fine tune it, why not take some time to review popular social media posts and apply it to your work? Sure it might look like you’re wasting time but that’s only because they don’t truly the understand the magic of professional copywriters [insert cow emoji here] *winks knowingly* [insert poop emoji here]…