5 tips for (better) social media writing

If you want people to share and bookmark your content you have to write with their needs in mind. Hard news style and web usability writing are key.

[tags: socialmedia writing webwriting usability headlines socialbookmarks ]

Let’s start with what you’ve just read my keyword specific headline tells you what this post is about in plain language. The two sentence lead gives you a why and a how. Writing this way saves you time by conveying context and, possibly, value – simply and quickly.

Hard news style and web usability writing are key

The brevity and clarity of hard news style work really well for the web. A hard news headline isn’t about being clever, cute or poetic it’s about telling the reader – specifically – what the piece is about. This is also the rule of web usability writing. The more keyword specific, the more searchable. There’s also the matter of brevity. If you want people to bookmark and share your content you should consider the following 5 principles:

1. Avoid clever or cute. Be concise and specific
Save the poetic impulses for your prose poetry and fiction. Web readers don’t have time to guess what your article or blog post is about. Most blog readers aren’t visiting your site to be inspired they’re looking for a solution to a problem.

Example: I found the following headline the other day: “Social services” – this led me to assume the article was about that; social services. But the article was actually about social media services. This wasn’t apparent from the headline. When I bookmarked this article, I gave it a new headline that conveyed what it was actually about. I shouldn’t have to do that. Note to the WSJ editor: Witty headlines belong in the New Yorker, not the Wall Street Journal.

2. Headlines: 8 words or less
When I wrote for the CBC I was provided with two style guides: CBC Web Writing and The CP Style Guide. Both style guides offer very specific guidelines for headline writing. The rule for headline length: 8 words or less. This is tough but you’ve ought to learn it – especially if you want people to redistribute your content.

3. Write a strong lead
Take a look at any major news site online. The first few lines (the lead/lede) tell the reader what they need to know about the story. If you write a good, simple, short lead people can simply cut and paste that into the notes of a social bookmarking tool like delicious or Diigo – saving the need for them to write up an original description or sift through the article for a good explanatory line.

4. Use active voice
All hard news writing is written in the active voice. Active voice provides clarity and cuts down word count. Here are a couple of simple rules to help you avoid passive voice:

– Passive voice describes a state of being (to be, by the, done by) rather than a concrete action.

– Subject followed by the verb (i.e., somebody doing something, not something being done by somebody)

Passive: There was a protest by auto workers at the GM Plant.
Active: Auto workers protested at the GM Plant.

Note the differences. The active sentence tells us who, what and where in that order. It is also less wordy.

5. Write for the reader
This one seems fairly obvious but few of us actually approach our communications this way. As I see it, it’s the difference between self expression and writing for an audience. If you’re really writing for others, you’re already considering their time and patience. If you want people to share your stuff, make it easy.

In conclusion:

If you want people to read and share your stuff. Give them a reason to do so. Time and energy are two things people don’t have. Value on the web = saving people time or energy.