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Writing for social media: 5 rules to live by

In the world of marketing, communication is key. So why do so many businesses let sloppy writing get in the way of a great message? Quality writing might not be the first thing that comes to mind when we think of Facebook and Twitter, but for business owners and marketers who want to build a following and engage with clients, it should be! Read on for five writing rules that I swear by.

Keep it simple.

We’ve all heard this rule, but it really is one of the most important -- especially when it comes to social media. One of my old journalism profs was a real stickler for simplicity. His most hated word (and it's used all the time in journalistic writing) was “blaze.” He would constantly shout about it: “When was the last time you saw a fire truck drive by and thought ‘I wonder where the blaze is?’” This example really clicked for me, and I can honestly say I haven’t used the word in my writing since (except for just now… that doesn’t count though, right?) The same is true for phrasing in general -- your message should be stated as clearly and simply as possible. Ask yourself, "Is this how people would actually talk?" If the words you’ve chosen would sound ridiculous in everyday conversation, it’s probably best to revise and simplify your wording. Social media is a communication tool; the simpler the message, the easier it is to understand.

 Don't lose your readers with overly-complicated words and sentences. (Photo from memegenerator)

Don't lose your readers with overly-complicated words and sentences. (Photo from memegenerator)

Know your audience.

This is one of the most important rules of marketing in general, so of course it should be top of mind when you sit down to write a social post. Write everything with your audience in mind -- if you’re targeting a group of professionals within a specific industry, some jargon is fine; if you’re trying to reach the end consumer, stick to layman’s terms. Using more technical language to address an “in-the-know” audience will show that you know your stuff, whereas simplified wording will convey a clearer message to the general public.

 Choose your tone wisely. (GIF from  mrwgifs.com )

Choose your tone wisely. (GIF from mrwgifs.com)

Cut the caps.

Overuse of upper case letters is one of my personal pet peeves. If it’s not a proper noun or the beginning of a phrase, chances are it doesn’t need to be capitalized. WHEN YOU READ THIS, HOW DOES IT MAKE YOU FEEL? It all seems a bit aggressive, no? I think a lot of people feel that caps can add emphasis. To me, it only feels like yelling (or like Nan attempting to comment on a Facebook post). Use your images and messaging to emphasize the things you feel are important; don’t resort to the digital equivalent of screaming at your audience.

 Don't be like Grandma. (Photo from BuzzFeed)

Don't be like Grandma. (Photo from BuzzFeed)

A picture’s worth a thousand words.

While we’re on the topic of creating emphasis, let’s talk imagery. When it comes to social media, good images are essential. You may have crafted the perfect copy for your post, but without the image to match, it’s unlikely your audience will engage. Visual content is more than 40 times more likely to get shared on social media than copy-only content. That’s huge! Use images to convey the most important parts of your message, then include the extra details in the copy. This way, your audience sees the most important message first and is more likely to engage with or share your content.

Proofread twice… then proofread again.

I saved the best and most important for last. Maybe it’s my journalism school PTSD talking (we got a zero if the prof found one misspelled name in our copy), but proofreading is the absolute most important thing you can do for your writing. We've all had slip-ups (I once approved the copy for a giant banner that went to print... only to have a client point out a spelling mistake to me at a trade show), but there’s nothing like a typo or improper choice of “your/you’re” to take away from your message and invite an onslaught of comments from grammar enthusiasts/know-it-alls (like me). Grammar not your strong suit? When in doubt, check it out. There are lots of great online resources (Grammar Girl is one of my go-to faves... I used it twice while writing this post), and a simple Google search will usually get you the answers you need. 

 Spelling matters! (Photo from Tattoo.com)

Spelling matters! (Photo from Tattoo.com)

So there you have it: my top five writing laws for social media (and life in general). What are some of the writing rules you use to create effective messaging? I'd love to hear about 'em in the comments below!