How to be a Better Social Media Writer

by Ivan Walsh on August 2, 2011

Want to be a better social media writer? How is social media writing different from what you learn in school?

This is the first in a series of articles about writing for social media.

Let’s start with who you’re writing for and the best way to deliver content… that they find useful. Remember, what’s useful to one person may not be to another. Some how do we solve this riddle?

social media writer

9 Steps to Better Social Media Writing

Here’s a framework for getting started as a social media writer.

1. Write For Humans, not Search Engines

One of the differences between social media writing and, for example, direct mail, is that you know you’re writing for. Or at least you should.Make notes on what your readers are talking about. Follow them to other social media channels to get a better grasp of their (most immediate and pressing) needs.

As Nick Usborne reminds us, ‘you’re writing to individuals, not to algorithms or personas’. Here are 10 more ways social media writing is different from web writing.

The more you know about their fears, hopes, desires, and prejudices, the more you can shape your materials.

Peter Shankman keeps very close to his readers. Here’s an interesting QA format he uses that is informative, witty, and engaging.

2. Be Interesting 

Read your blog post aloud.

How does it sound? Interesting? Pretentious? Salesy?

Write your content so that it’s easy on the eye, with lots of white space. Break up the text quickly. Look at how Men With Pens do it.Move from point to point and keep the reader’s attention. Never go into cruise control. Be entertaining.

Study the headline structure in this post from Sonia Simone.

Karen Marcus recommends that you ‘use bullets, subheads, white space, brief paragraphs, and other effective web writing tricks to help them do it.’

As Lisa Barone reminds us on Small Business Trends, ‘ It’s not the best marketers or the best business owners who make the best bloggers. It’s the best storytellers.’

3. Be Brief

Look at the number of emails in your inbox. Then your Twitter page, Facebook page, Google Plus account… you get the idea.Keep it brief, useful, and make it shareable.

This article I wrote for ProBlogger is over 2,000 words but it reads much faster as I broke up the text quickly, wrote lots of lists, and used plenty of headings.

4. Focus on You 

Instead of talking about you, your brand, and your products, flip it around and look for ways to engage the reader.

One simple way to do this is to write in the ‘you’ format. Imagine the person is sitting across the table from you. Now write the blog post as though you were talking to them.Keep it light, short, and down to earth.

John Paul Aguiar does this very well in his article, ‘Are you stuck not the blogger hamster wheel?’ It’s engaging, helpful, and written for you!

5. Use Short Words

Your aim is not to impress. You’re not trying to win the Nobel prize. Use monosyllabic words (that was an exception) and avoid cliches and jargon. Here is an excellent example from Kristi Hines.

6. Learn to Edit

Once you finish the blog post, go back and remove any waffle that’s crept in. Look for ways to compress sentences together. Remove fillers and tighten up phrases such as ‘as a matter of fact’ or ‘research has shown that’. Write ‘Research shows’ instead.

David Meerman Scott has a nice, fluid writing style that marries his deep marketing experience with a commitment to good, clear prose

7. Write Lists

These are very popular, especially if they promise on the delivery. What that means if that if you say you’re going to give ten ways to be a better social media writer, then you explain the ten ways to do this.

NB: Here is a classic example for Chris Brogan.

Another good example is this evergreen post from Neal Schaffer  where he suggests seven reasons to start blooging and to ‘consider blogging as the ultimate Pay It Forward device!’

8. Think Mobile

Remember that X percent of your readers are on mobile devices. Write to be read on small screens. Using short words will allow your text to flow more smoothly and not break over the page margins.

Study Rohit’s writing style which gets right the balance between providing detailed information (usually in the opening paragraphs) and then easier to read lists with the key takeaways.

Chris Penn’s blog offers a nice template where the social media icons are above the fold (i.e. you dont have to scroll down to find them) with plenty of white space. It also loads VERY fast. Which Google loves :)

9. Create a Dialogue

You want to find ways to get a response, create enagement, and stimulate conversation. One way to do this is ask questions. See this from Michael Hyatt. For example, ask your readers what’s their favorite TV show, romantic song, line from a movie, or other questions that get people off the fence.

John Jantsch has a different style. Study both and see how they structure their posts differently.

Conclusion

This is the tip of the iceberg. If you want to read more, please subscribe to the newsletter as I’ll send out more tutorials when they’re ready.

What else would you add?

Ivan Walsh, Editor at Klariti About Ivan Walsh

Got a question about improving your business? Contact me on Google Plus, @KlaritiDotCom, and Facebook

  • http://www.johnpaulaguiar.com John Paul

    Ivan.. just saw this in my email.. internet issues. But great article man., and TY for including my post along side some bloggers I look up to.. just awesome :)

    Im with Kristi.. keep it simple. Big words turn people off and makes it harder for them to understand what you really mean.

    I like to say “I write the same way I talk” if you meet me in person, Im the exact same way in my posts.

    If you dont use big complex words in real life conversations, why do it on your blog?

    Simple is the way to go.

    • http://www.ivanwalsh.com Ivan Walsh

      Hi JP,

      The hardest thing for me was to ‘unlearn’ the writing style I picked up in school.

      I used to model my writing on the Classics, real long flowery prose. Doesn’t work on the web. Took years to shake that off 

      Kristi is terrific in that her writing is positive, personal, and drives the information forward. Otherwise, there’s no punch.

      Tim Ferris is also worth looking at, if only for some of the incredible headlines he comes up with.

      Take care,

      Ivan

      PS – hope the web is sorted out. Real head-wrecker when that stuff starts to act up.

      • http://www.johnpaulaguiar.com John Paul

        Sometimes Un learning something is harder then learning it. I agree,, Tim is great too.

        It’s sad how lost I am without internet access.. lol Good sign that I spent wayyyyy to much time online.

  • http://www.moremoo.com Adam

    Hi Ivan, nice post here and I must agree with your points. I think especially editing is an important part that many bloggers underestimate.

    Also using short words is a good advice. It is a nice way how to make your article easy to read and understandable to everyone.

    • http://www.ivanwalsh.com Ivan Walsh

      Thanks Adam,

      You’re right about editing. I find that writing is the easy part but editing takes forever, at least to do it right.

      One trick I’ve learned is to start at the end of the document and read it backwards.

      Why? This forces you to pay attention and not get caught in the flow of the words. Bit tricky at first but have saved my bacon more than once :)

      Ivan

  • http://windmillnetworking.com/ nealschaffer

    Ivan – I’m honored to be mentioned in your blog post. What an amazing resource of information, both insight from yourself as well as from other bloggers. How I wish this blog post was available when I had started blogging!

    • http://www.ivanwalsh.com Ivan Walsh

      Thanks for the kinds words, Neal.

      I still feel like a beginner :)

      and when I look at what I wrote 5 years ago… it makes me smile. There’s so much to learn, which is great really.

      Ivan

  • Pingback: Social Media – How to be a Social Media Writer | Social Media Index | Scoop.it

  • http://GrowMap.com Gail Gardner

    I have another tip for maximizing traffic from social media: include Twitter length soundbites throughout your content. Look at your most important points and rewrite the sentences so that they will fit in a tweet. Call attention to them with formatting to make them more obvious. If you do that, people like me will turn them into scheduled tweets.

    When your points fit in a tweet I’m going to share more of them than if I have to try to distill your key points down to fit. Sometimes I’ll schedule two or three tweets – sometimes as many as a dozen or more – IF the content is easily shareable.

    • http://www.ivanwalsh.com Ivan Walsh

      That’s a great idea, Gail.

      I’ve seen OnStartups.com do something like that and Hubspot.

      hmmm…. have an idea for an article already about this.

      Thanks again,

      Ivan

  • http://twitter.com/JefreN Jefre Nicholls

    All of these tips are great, but, anyone who is already writing for social media is well aware of them. Not that I’m saying I was expecting the lost arc of social media advise but at least something new…

    • http://www.ivanwalsh.com Ivan Walsh

      hmmm do you mean the lost ‘ark’ :)

  • Pingback: Social Media – How to be a Social Media Writer | Social Influence Marketing | Scoop.it

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