Awesome You Be


Marie Hélène André

Creative Writing for Social Media: 10 Tips

By Jeffrey Baumgartner

Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Google Plus, blogs, web sites, etc, etc, etc. There is a phenomenal amount of on-line content available to anyone and everyone. On one hand, that's great. Want to know how to remove a tick from a cat? Within seconds you can find videos, articles, blog posts, pictures and more. On the other hand, if you are tying to communicate in all the noise, it is not easy. You could try to shout louder than everyone else, which might get you attention in the short term, but you'll soon irritate people and gain a terrible reputation in the long term. Alternatively, you can be creative and interesting. You can write to stand out from the noise. Say something relevant as well as original and people will pay attention. Write such things a few times and people will begin to seek out your content, your insights and your wisdom. They will look forward to reading you and they will share your good words.

To help you do that, here are 10 of my favourite creative writing techniques for social media. Better still, most of these tips are valid for all kinds of writing: email, letters, ransom notes and more.

1. Write to the Individual, Not the Crowd

This is the most important tip of them all. When you write a blog post or a LinkedIn post, you are writing to an audience of readers. However, your individual readers do not perceive themselves as a group of your LinkedIn contacts or a blog audience. They perceive themselves as individuals.

Likewise, you presumably do not categorise yourself of Jeffrey's readership crowd, but as an intelligent, discerning and good looking individual. And, by golly, you are! That's why I am writing this article especially for you.

If you want an example of the power of communicating to the individual rather than the crowd, here are two things you can do. Firstly, you can watch this very short video (1½ minutes) below or on YouTube.


Secondly, if are on Facebook, try this. Write a Facebook status update along the lines of: "Of all my Facebook friends, you are the best looking [or, 'my very best friend' or the 'most intelligent of all' or any superlative]." Then wait and watch how people respond. Even though your Facebook friends will know that you are writing to everyone, each will still feel a sense that your message is intended for her or him.

No matter how big your audience is, always write to one member of the audience, rather than the audience as a whole. One way to do this is to visualise a friend or acquaintance who would be in the audience you are addressing and write directly to her.

2. Find a Unique Angle

Go to your favourite search engine and enter the phrase "Leadership Skills". You will be given links to millions of blog posts, articles and infographics on how to be a leader. Click on a few of the links and you will find that most of the posts say pretty much the same thing. Indeed, look up any business concept and you will find loads of similar blog posts, articles and infographics, all of which make the similar, if not identical, points.

Unless you are engaging in original research, it is likely that your intended social media post also covers a topic that has been addressed before − probably many times! This leaves you with a choice. Either you can write the same thing everyone else has written and hope for the best; or you can find an original way to write about the topic so that your article stands out from the others. If you are famous, in a powerful position or are wickedly attractive (and include a photo of yourself with the post), the first approach will probably get attention, likes and feedback. If you do not fit any of those categories, you need to be original. You need to find a unique angle for your blog post.

One excellent way to do this is to read research papers relevant to your topic of interest. Often these contradict, or at least challenge, popular assumptions about your field. Writing about the research in simple, jargon free terms can surprise readers and grab their interest. Be sure to credit the research paper in your writing both out of fairness to the authors of the paper and to verify your statements. Moreover, few self-proclaimed business experts seem to pay attention to research in their area of expertise. Presumably, they prefer to stick to their assumptions rather than learn. So, this is a great way to be original and challenge assumptions.

Other tricks for finding a unique angle include taking a stance that is the opposite of the status quo in your field, then find a way to argue that stance. Similarly, you can identify assumptions in your field and question them. Are they still valid? If not, why not? Might they become invalid in the future? If so, what would be the consequences?

Read broadly about business and other things and let your mind make connections. Recently, I read an article about insurance in The Economist and that sparked an idea on business innovation. I thought: ideas are risky, so why not insure them? How would that work? What would be the benefits? The result, I feel, is an original article in a field that is overrun with surprisingly uncreative content.

Importantly, always carry a notebook with you and us it. All authors, artists and other creative professionals do this. You never know when you will be inspired, but it is usually unexpected and such inspiration not jotted down can disappear as quickly as it appeared.

3. The Power of Three

People love things in sets of three. So, your blog post should have three parts, an introduction, content in the middle and a conclusion. If you are making a point, illustrate it in three examples. To do so is elegant, reinforces the point you wish to make and has a nice rhythm (Do you see what I have done here?). If you feel a need to use bullet points in your writing, try to limit any set of bullet points to three. If you want to teach people how to do something, try and break it down into three steps. If you want to discredit a popular opinion, find three examples to discredit it.

4. The Absurd Third

A great way to get more impact from the power of three is to include a third item that is absurd or really stands out from the first two. This technique is great for humour. I use it all the time as do most comedians. For example, when describing traditional brainstorming in my talks, I often say: "In a traditional brainstorm, you are absolutely forbidden to criticise ideas because to do so could hurt people's feelings, will inhibit creativity and, in a worse case scenario, might even cause people to die of shame." That last item is so unexpected and absurd, it inevitably results in laughter. It also hints at the disdain I hold for brainstorming.

The absurd third item on a list is also a great way to emphasise the third point. For example, "visualising the achievement of your goal and reflecting on how marvellous it will feel when you have accomplished your goal is a great way to: feel excited about your goal, remind you of the value of the goal and substantially reduce the likelihood that you will ever actually achieve that goal." BOOM! That third item stands out as a complete contradiction to the first two, emphasises the point that visualising achievement of a goal is not a good strategy for actually achieving a goal and it grabs readers' attention. They will want to understand the reasoning behind the absurd third point.

5. Structure

No matter how creative you intend to be in your writing, you should stick to a very traditional structure when writing a post of any kind − unless you have a very, very, very good reason not to do so. That structure is simply this: have a beginning, a middle and an end. In the beginning, you should make it clear what you will write about. Do not make people read three paragraphs into your blog post to work out what you are saying because people simply will not do that. Well, your mother might, but only because she loves you. No one else will. Use the middle of the post to make your point, argue your point or tell your story. In the final paragraph, sum up what you have just written about.

Get as creative as you want in your writing. Use jokes. Exploit the absurd third. Get a bit naughty. That's all fine and dandy if it is relevant. But, stick to the classic structure. It makes it more likely people will actually read and understand what you have written.

If you really want to have a long lead in, such as a story to make your point, that's fine. But start your post with a short paragraph telling the reader what you are writing about. You may think that this will spoil your story. It will not. It will make people want to understand how your story is connected to the point.

Article continues below cartoon
Cartoon: the power of creative writing

6. Call to Action

Traditionalist will tell you to put your call to action, if you have one, at the end of your post. That still holds true, but I recommend you also include it in the beginning of your post for three reasons. Firstly, with so much content available, there is a good chance people will not read your post to the end. So, a call to action at the beginning ensures they see it. Secondly, for those who do read your article all the way through, the call to action at the end reinforces the call at the beginning. Thirdly, it keeps the call to action in your mind as you write and this keeps you on topic and relevant.

7. Delete Like a Hero

Once you have finished writing your piece, review it and delete everything unnecessary. If you are not a professional writer, this will be at least half of the post. Really. If you are a professional writer, it will be more like a quarter, but you already know that.

Delete your first paragraph. Does your article still make sense? It probably does, although it might need a tweak or two to make it clear. Most  people feel a need to write a lead in to an article. However, the lead in is usually irrelevant to the reader, boring and fails actually to introduce the article.

Watch out for irrelevant tangents. Experts like to show off their expertise and include additional information to emphasise that expertise. At best such information confuses the reader. At worst it bores them. Delete it or, if you think it is important, cut and paste it into a new document and write a separate article about it later.

Adverbs and adjectives are often irrelevant and can be deleted. If a second sentence just restates the first sentence, one of those sentences can be deleted.

If you have written about something that does not fit with your introductory paragraph, delete it. It is not relevant.

When I read blog posts, I can always tell who has never had professional writing experience with an editor reviewing their work. Non-professionals' posts are way too long.

8. Stories, True and Otherwise

You probably do not need me to tell you that stories are great. You've probably heard it several thousand times already. Nevertheless, I am telling you again. Use stories to illustrate your points. If you want to tell people how to do something, tell a story to illustrate it. Want to personalise an argument? Tell a story that makes your point. Want to make a clinical article less clinical? Add a warm story to it.

Although it is nice to use true stories, it is sometimes best to make up stories or fictionalise events. Understandably, my clients do not want me sharing details of their innovative ideas or the problems that require innovative solutions. So, to illustrate my innovation, I often make up stories based on real client situations. In other cases, I might combine several real scenarios into a generic fictionalised scenario. This protects the confidentiality of my clients' work, but enables me to tap into the experience I have gained by working with great clients.

If you are selling a new idea and want to illustrate it in practice, you will probably need to make up a story. Likewise, if you want to demonstrate the potential danger of a new idea, a story is one way to do this. This is happening to some extent with artificial intelligence as some people are telling stories to illustrate its potential dangers while others tell stories to illustrate its virtue.

9. Be Careful with Social Media Rules

If you read up on social media posting, you will find all kinds of rules about how long your article should be, use of key words and lots of other details that will supposedly help you rank higher in search engines, get more shares in social media and bring you closer to your God. These are fine, but do not be obsessed with them. Focus instead on great writing. A high search engine ranking is useless if people find your article boring and do not read it through. A gazillion likes on Facebook are useless if the aim of the article is to generate interest in a new service and you get no queries about that service.

There is an interesting psychology to how and why people like content in social media. I will not go into it here. Suffice it to say, that people sometimes like and share content they do not actually read and often love content that they neither like nor share on social media. When looking at logs of my web site visitors, there have been occasions when popular articles get lots of likes, but not many hits (presumably, people are liking the article because they connect to the title, like me or want a favour from me; but they do not actually bother to read the article). Other times, an article that gets few likes gets a lot of hits and leads people to contact me.

In any event, social media like Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn use continually updated feeds. A post that is liked a lot today can easily be forgotten tomorrow. Other posts do not get nearly so much social media sharing, but remain popular long afterwards. Some of the most consistently popular articles on my web site are 10 and even 20 years old, like this on on Ten Steps to Boost Your Creativity, written in 1996 (and slightly updated over time).

So, you can follow the rules to ensure instant popularity or you can write good content that people actually read and respond to. I reckon that good, well written content has staying power and will be read for years to come while the click-bait (see below) piece that follows all of the social media marketing rules may get loads of hits, but will soon be forgotten.

10. Write a Great Title

Titles are very different today than they used to be. I started writing professionally in the early 1990s for magazines. At that time, a title was meant to make it clear what the article was about. It was short, relevant and intriguing. In any event, if people bought one of the magazines for which I was a columnist, they would probably at least look at all of the articles in the magazine. So titles were not quite so important unless they were cover stories. Today, my Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter feeds are overloaded with articles demanding my attention. So, titles have taken on more urgency and many aim to grab attention rather than indicate what the associated post is all about.

As a result, social media writers have learned to use provocative titles to encourage you and me to click on their posts (hence, the term click-bait which describes a title that aims to act as bait to catch readers). There is quite a science to creating click-bait headlines. Hyperbole is rife and I despise it. If a link to a blog post says, "This will change the way you think about cats forever!" I fully expect to have my thoughts about cats changed permanently. In fact, I am inevitably disappointed and think the same about cats as I always have. If a title promises to blow my mind, by the time I've finished, I expect to have a blown mind with bits of skull and brain spattered across the wall. But, this never happens. My wall remains clean. I remain disappointed.

My feeling is that click-bait has gone too far. People are becoming immune to click-bait hyperbole that regularly disappoints. Soon, we will see a resurgence of traditional titles that describe, intrigue and possibly provoke a little.

So, I suggest you focus on a title that intrigues but does not scream. Titles that question assumptions intrigue intelligent people like you and me. If I am looking for a reliable article on how to remove a tick from a cat, I am more likely to click on a title like "How to remove a tick from a cat" rather than a title that screams, "Ten things you absolutely need to know about removing ticks from cats, number seven will blow your mind!"

So, go for a title that intrigues, makes the topic of your post clear and does not scream. You can always add a click-bait subtitle if you feel you must.

And, just as this it the last piece of advice, you should write your title last, after you have written your post. Sure, you can write a provisional title when you get started. I often do. But rethink the title after you have written the article. You will find that it is easier to sum up your piece in a few words after you've written it.

That's Enough for Today

These have been just ten of the most important tricks for creative business writing. There are many more.  Do you have any favourite writing tips and tricks? If so, share them with me, please!


Creative Writing for Business Workshop

Would you like me to teach your team the tricks of creative writing for business? I would be delighted to do so! Follow this link for more information or contact me now if that's easier.




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