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Why should I share this? Social media writing techniques

June 12, 2012
The Mad Hatter at James Lock & Co

Social Media Engagement? James Lock & Co’s Mad Hatter lives the brand from social media to customer service.

As the old argument goes, you can make the world’s best mousetrap but no-one will beat a path to your door unless you tell them about it. If truth be told, especially (but surprisingly not necessarily) in the B2B arena, social media interest levels in product or service are likely to be low. Indeed, a quick study of Facebook statistics often reveals a low engagement between brand and consumer. How do you engage with your audience effectively and truthfully?

Background work first…

Before we examine techniques, it’s important first to look at the background to effective social media. What is the best environment in which it can flourish? How can good social media coverage be promoted with a business? How do you overcome the nay-sayers and those engaging in mindless turf wars to keep their job and their seat by the window? Let’s look at some preparatory factors – I’d argue that three are crucial: brand understanding; management support; knowledge of time involved.

Inherent truth

Brand personality has a key part to play in social media so brand strategy needs to define personality, vision and belief to create a demonstrably true position. We talk about these issues here on A Brand Day Out.This is so important to encouraging and retaining engagement.

However, in a human relationship, things go wrong rapidly if it’s “me, me, me” the whole time, so social media needs to encourage engagement through curiosity rather than being simply a cheaper method of direct marketing. As is well known, social media is a two-way conversation rather than having things rammed down people’s throats. We’ll talk about this later in terms of technique.

Immediacy and the one-to-one

To view social media marketing as direct marketing in another guise is flawed in every way. Most crucially, social media strategy needs to envision an environment where events can change quickly and where individuals or groups need a response in the here and now rather than in three weeks time.

So a key part of effective social media communications is ensuring that management believes in the time it takes. By the same token, the marketing staff themselves need to immerse themselves completely in their brands and product ranges. Nuance is only understood through familiarity. Management needs to believe in social media and to give marketers time to develop the method. Brand training should be an inherent part of a company’s induction – and general staff education – processes today.

Metrics and measurement

In austerity times, businesses want to know what is working if they are to maintain investment in marketing channels. So it is important at the beginning to understand how performance will be measured. Marketing in many businesses has an unhealthy reputation for simply “doing things” and, when criticised, for saying that their activities “generate awareness”.

I don’t believe in bland nonsense like this. If awareness is being generated we need to know how and we need to understand, with reasonable clarity, the commercial impact. A company board will only tolerate for so long investment in certain activities before it starts asking hard-hitting questions. So, think issues such as: web sales; demonstrable sales uplift; increased regional sales in given products; trends which can be tracked – with relative certainty – to the activities undertaken.

And now for social media writing techniques…

Having looked at creating the right garden for social media to flourish, let’s now look at the writing methods themselves.

Immediacy and context

Things happen. Fast. So social media writing needs to reflect the speed of events – and within the context of the events which occur. It’s this word context which is so important. The best copywriters understand context – context takes away the perception that social media is just marketing in another guise.

Why should it matter that company X has launched product Y? What a company is doing should exist within the context of its own reason for existence. Knowing this fundamental truth in depth is key to social media performance. Pricing professionals describe a phenomenon on the “perceived substitute” as a reason not to purchase; social media marketers need always to have in their minds “where else could someone go today as an alternative to here”?

Keep it short, keep it varied

Siegfried Vogele’s “dialogue method” in direct mail refers to different levels of eye entry as a consumer reads a message. This is no different in the Twitter stream or on Facebook or wherever. Thinking of Twitter, if a stream of articles were all similar, the chances of take-up and engagement would be low.

So, the approach is not to follow the crowd – at least not slavishly so that your message disappears – but to have a credible angle which people would identify with your brand. And, thinking of Vogele here, keep the hooks short so pick up in a scattered space becomes easier to achieve. Girls wear make-up in a night club; men act the fool.

Made for sharing

Tired cliché but true: social media is about sharing. But what’s to share? To encourage sharing, excitement and inherent interest must be obvious. Just as companies like Kraft have devastated old brands like Terry’s by turning them into just another product, so social media marketers have the capacity, through indolence, of laying waste their brands.

Brands are not tired. Or rather, they shouldn’t be. And if marketers cannot feel the positives of their brands and product ranges then really they should be doing something else for a living. So in making social media posts for sharing, think “who would be interested in this – and why?”

Sometimes a product image could be shared if, for example, the product was in context with a certain interesting environment. For example, Norton Motors, one of the great legacy motorcycle companies in Great Britain, has recently returned  to the Isle of Man TT races and has posted some exciting stuff on their web pages which is getting a lot of traction.

However, and Norton take note, not responding to any of the comments on your Facebook page really is NOT the way forwards – social media is about engagement with your fan base (and you are growing a nice niche group here)!

Engage with the audience

Brand engagement is one of best assets of effective social media. As we saw with Norton Motors, some feedback to fans would take this page to the next level and it’s worth noting that on their site there are some negative comments too. For example someone comments on the TT machine having an Italian motor and a Spondon (specialist British frame maker) frame but says, sarcastically, “nice tank badge”. Other fans engage but no-one from Norton, who could say, for example, that they designed and built the entire package etc etc.

So here we have a case of a company which has a growing fan base but doesn’t quite get the engagement bit. This could be difficult in the case of something going wrong. Crisis communication in particular creates problems and getting it right is key. Here’s a classic You Tube post from someone whose guitar was smashed up by United Airlines – he got no redress so produced a song about his experience which then went viral (12 million hits and counting). Social media demands informed immediacy.

Engaging with competitors

In the past, direct marketers could rent other companies’ lists and mail to their customers. Some companies hate the idea of giving out their data but the truth is that in today’s social market place competitor assessment is all part of the purchasing process (think of insurance purchase sites and others).

In social media, to comment on competitor activities as part of growing and sharing experience should be encouraged. However, I’d never advocate doing this in any negative way; instead just promote the good things. Deliberate negative comparisons only ever make people think badly of those who are making the comments.

The questions you ask

In a job interview, it’s often the questions you ask that create the chemistry which leads to the offer. Most questions are fake – and the job offer doesn’t come. The reason is that you’re not really interested in the job and the interviewer knows this and is not interested in you. The same applies to social media.

Asking questions which are genuine rather than contrived can elicit an engaged and helpful response. Alastair Sawday’s Facebook page is a fascinating insight into an interactive community engaging in sharing experiences about holidays, experiences and where to stay. This site frequently asks questions of its growing number of fans and the fans write back with their ideas and suggestions and – crucially – within the context of the brand: “special places to stay”.

 Engaging in general…

One of my favourite Facebook pages is that for James Lock & Co, hatters of London. With this page, consumers are actively encouraged to share pictures of themselves in hats, to comment on the latest hat ranges, to discuss the nuance of hat wearing. The “Mad Hatter” who writes their page is a genuine hat fan and, when you visit the shop, you meet him personally. When I went there to buy a hat recently, he knew who I was because of my own engagement with the site.

As can be appreciated, not everyone can “do” social media. Writing for effective social media therefore implies an understanding of the brand, a passion for the brand, and an understanding of how people inter-relate with the brand. So effective writing demands a positive – and receptive – outlook.


This brief article is intended as a guide not just for social media writers but for management who may themselves be interested in its value but don’t quite understand what is necessary.

I believe that fundamental brand knowledge, training and developed ways of measurement lie behind effective social media as, ultimately, there has to be a commercial reason for everything we do in business. Vanity alone is unworthy of success and almost certainly will result in commercial weakness.

A brand should be happy and positive and live its values through social media. It is only through inherent truth that credibility is engendered, fans grow and sales increase. As a brand strategy asset, effective social media writing is today crucial to brand perception.

Brand strategy, training and marketing communications implementation? Let Red Page Consulting help…

Red Page Consulting is run by this blog’s author Michael Smith, a professional message specialist with over two decades of business experience. He works with mainstream and small businesses to help them understand their brand, brand perception, and the commercial relationship between brand and consumer so to deliver increased customer retention and to attract new customers.

Visit the Red Page Website

Image borrowed from the James Lock Facebook Page in the interests of social media engagement!

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