Skip to content

Think headline – not article – when writing social media copy

July 17, 2012
Vimto Facebook Page image

Brand engagement – a curious fruit drink from Manchester becomes a funky social media brand icon

I’ve been reading some great material on Blackthorn Digital’s Facebook page recently and in it was a super piece shared from Beth Kanter about basics in social media. One piece of advice stuck out above the rest: Think headline not article. A classic piece of marcoms advice as relevant today as when Siegfried Vogele introduced his dialogue method 30 years ago. How can we use this to best effect?

In her Social Media Postings Guide (which, by the way, also includes helpful tips on Twitter, content and audience), Beth says after the main headline, follow with a question, or an action or a link. Good thinking – this promotes instant engagement. The question therefore is what makes for sharing?

Think backwards

Let’s think again about Vogele’s dialogue method. He identifies that the route to conversion (the order or the action) lies in the levels at which information is printed: headlines, pictures, captions, body text, close. We can use this approach for social media but we must – as in direct mail – think backwards from the (notional) order form.

So, in terms of social media, as elsewhere: what do you want the reader to do and why should they do it? Now, clearly, an overtly commercial approach will oft as not negate the performance of the piece. Consumer perception of your social media will be profoundly damaged if they see social media as merely another version of direct mail. And guess what, your response rate will go down.

Image from the James Lock Facebook Page

Style and elegance – lifestyle and history dominates the James Lock Facebook experience

This is why headlines such as “check out the latest from author x” is doomed to fail. Why should I “check it out”? I’d argue that the over-worked “check it out” has become today’s equivalent of the lazy old “comprehensive and totally up to date“. It doesn’t mean anything. It doesn’t grab attention. All it says is “I can’t be bothered to think of a reason for you to look at this but I’ve grown so complacent that I couldn’t care less”.

So, thinking backwards – WHY do you want someone to do something and read/share/like your post? One thing’s for sure, they won’t be complacent: if it doesn’t engage it won’t exite. It will certainly not be shared. Think strategically here – what ever happens is for the brand’s good; causing improved perception and brand relevance. Your brand needs to develop an emotional warmth so that sharing becomes easier.

Content to inform the headline

So we’ve worked out that we need the reader to do something and that this needs to something worth doing. Beth Kanter suggests the way to achieve this is by (1) asking a question; (2) solicit an action or (3) attaching a link. Thinking about what we said above, let’s examine some strategic brand imperatives:

  • Asking a question. How will the question be attractive enough to answer? This depends on you knowing your target audience. Those brands which engage best with their audience are those which have an emotional bond with them. It is the mark of profound brand success that the company feels free to ask questions which it knows will be answered. It is a mark of maturity that the company will also be able to take the rough with the smooth. Engagement is not just about the good things; remember, politicians today are treated with contempt because they have lost the ability to answer questions for what they are.
  • Solicit an action. Again, focus on the audience. YOUR audience. An action could be a poll, a competition, or even just a bit of fun (but a bit of fun which is brand relevant). Actions which appear to demand a commercial exchange will be less effective than those which are relaxed and not taking themselves to seriously.
  • Attaching a link. This is interesting: a link to be most effective needs to relevant to the overall brand of the company’s social media presence. If we think of Beth Kanter, she works in non-profit; I read her material because it appeared as a link from Blackthorn Digital’s site. Blackthorn Digital specialises in digital marketing but also works in the non-profit area. There is a logical leap – I engage with Blackthorn and trust that those links which it posts will be relevant to its own brand message of improving digital marketing for customers. Blackthorn shares the information for the common good and not to achieve an immediate sale. Notwithstanding, the perception of Blackthorn is increased in my mind and becomes a serious contender as a potential supplier when the need arises.

And so to the headline…

Triumph motorcycles Facebook Image

Go your own way – freedom is a key brand element of Triumph Motorcycles, the British motorcycle manufacturer and master of social media engagement.

As can be appreciated, thinking from the action backwards makes the headline easier. Vogele implies a logical progression from initial headline to substantiated experience through pictures, captions and copy. It is therefore the task of the headline to bring together the experience of the social media posting.

Here are three sample headlines as food for thought:

  • Question: Like eating a piece of the sun? Or chewing iron filings with a mouth full of fillings? How would you describe eating our latest Hottest Ever Norfolk English Mustard? Best answer wins a year’s supply – Yikes! 
  • Action: (courtesy of Vimto of Manchester – the quaintly British equivalent of Coca-Cola): We had a dream last night that everything was purple. Hit like if you’re a super clever scientist who can make this dream a reality.
  • Link: (courtesy of Triumph Motorcycles of Hinckley, Great Britain): Triumph Live Band Battle Final is tomorrow, where 6 bands will compete for 3 places at this years Triumph Live 2012 Event (followed by link)
  • General engagement: (courtesy of James Lock & Co, Hatters of St James’ , London) A lovely quote on a cap by Mr.John Steinbeck in “The Grapes of Wrath“: ‘His cap was so new that the visor was still stiff and the button still on, not shapeless and bulged as it would be when it had served for a while all the various purposes of a cap – carrying sack, towel, handkerchief’


In social media there is little time for reflection. Consequently headlines need to reflect an inherent understanding of product, of consumer, of company/brand and of the relationship between the three of these. Nuance is what drives social media performance and enhances readability, “like” volumes and sharing.

Engagement, like brand, is about emotional involvement. This is fundamental to social media. You are dealing with a target demographic and you MUST understand them and what drives them. You must speak their language. You must be a willing participant. You must not be precious in how consumers respond (see our earlier piece about Norton Motorcycles and how NOT to do social media).

Above all, it must be recognised that social media is not something to be done by an unskilled person. It is fundamentally linked to the old marketing mantra of AIDA – Attention, Interest, Desire, Action. It is also linked to brand longevity. Companies which fail to understand their brand and what it means to their consumers will ultimately not last the course.

Images courtesy of:


No comments yet

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: