The Non-Writers' Guide To Writing Better Social Media Copy
These days, there's an almost endless array of options for promoting your small business or organization, with one of the most popular being to post about what you’re doing on social media.
Suddenly, you’re expected to be a social media marketer in addition to whatever business you’ve started.
To be fair, it’s true: Even if you have zero experience with content or social media marketing, social media is a pillar of digital marketing, and can help you drive traffic, find leads, and rank higher in search.
Not a writer? You could outsource the job to a third-party, hiring a freelancer or marketing agency to handle your social copy needs. Rather than adding another expense, however, you might actually find that you enjoy writing. You just need to give yourself some simple guidelines to follow, to help you stay productive, on-brand, and effective.
With so many options for writing social media copy - Facebook updates, tweets, Instagram captions, or even LinkedIn’s publishing platform for blog-length posts - we’ll start with the basics of writing for the web, then build out to best data-driven practices.
Here’s how to get started and write better for social media:
Write the way you talk
Let’s start with some basic rules of writing, and writing for the internet. The number one rule of thumb is to write the way you talk.
Imagine you're sitting with friends over a drink and describing your business. That tone, that choice of language, and that level of simplicity should be your goal. By tapping into this, your content will come across as more natural, more authentic, and will be easier to read.
This is especially true on social. Unlike a white paper or a formal press release, a social media post is an informal means of expression. It should be accessible to anyone who wants to learn more about you or your business. Stay away from industry jargon and dense paragraphs and try to have fun with it.
Another rule of writing: Do it often. Write as much as you can. This has two benefits:
One, you’ll get better at writing: Practice will help you hone your skills and identify your voice. One of the most respected marketers in the business is Seth Godin, who writes a blog post virtually every day.
According to an analysis of 14 different studies on how often to post to social, you should post to Facebook and LinkedIn once a day, and send about 15 tweets each day. That schedule will give you plenty of practice.
Not every social media post will be a gem - and that’s okay. Each post that doesn’t see great engagement will be a lesson in what not to do, rather than some failure of marketing.
Write first, then edit heavily
For many people, the hardest part of writing is simply starting out. You might have an idea for a post or an update, for example, but you don’t know how to begin, or what it should look like.
The best way to get through writer’s block is to write yourself out of it. Your first draft of your copy should never be the final one. Get all the important information you need to say down on “paper.” Some bloggers even use voice-to-text to get their initial thoughts out.
Once you have a draft, go back and edit, revise, and rewrite entire sections until you’re satisfied.
Worried that your writing still isn't strong enough? Online tools like the Hemingway App can scan over your text and let you know if you overuse the passive voice, or if you should rewrite sentences to make them more clear.
Read your competitors’ feeds
You need to read. Whether you want to be a great social marketer, a great blogger, or a great novelist, this advice remains the same.
A good place to start is the feeds and blogs of your competitors, peers, and others in your industry. You’ll get a sense of what good (and bad) writing looks like, and discover topics that you too can discuss. You might even consider working with those in the same field to link to and/or promote each other.
Provide value with every post
Every social media post will have a different goal.
Do you want to boost traffic to your website? Establish yourself as a thought leader? Increase email newsletter signups?
The length, tenor, and structure of your posts will vary depending on what you decide.
What isn’t variable is that your posts should always provide value to the reader. An aimless, wandering post about what you had for breakfast tells readers nothing of value. Impart actionable advice, thoughtful wisdom, humor, or information about your business (a discount, a deal, new hours or products) in every update.
Conduct hashtag and keyword research
Keyword and/or hashtag research is a great way to drum up topics to write about if you’re in a dry spell, while it can also help to make your updates more competitive in the sea of ever-growing content on the web.
To research hashtags, use a tool like Hashtagify to come up with a bevy of related tags, see what’s trending, and which influential people also discuss that topic. You can then tag and hashtag your posts for maximum impact.
If you want to link out to a keyword-heavy blog post, use a tool like Google Keyword Planner or Ahrefs to see if there are any keywords or phrases in your industry that you could rank for with a quality blog post.
But don’t let terms drive all your content
Keywords and hashtags are great, but they can also limit us as writers. A post that's trying too hard to rank for a certain term will feel like it - if a blog post starts with ‘Webster’s Dictionary defines ‘content marketing’ as…” then you’ve likely clicked a post written expressly to game Google’s search results.
The same goes for a tweet that's overloaded with hashtags, or reads like a robot stuffed it full of keywords.
Use keywords as your guide, but write naturally. You’ll enjoy the process more, and your content will read better as well.
Write to your target demographic
Who are you trying to reach? Younger readers or older ones? Fellow business owners or everyday web readers?
Your content has to speak to the demographic you’re trying to capture.
Going back to the “sitting with your friends over a drink” analogy, some of your friends might be peers in your industry, while others will have little idea what you do. The way you talk about your business with these two types of friends will be markedly different - and your blog content should follow the same theory.
Write short for engagement and long for traffic
Let’s go back to that idea of linking out to your blog - one of the main reasons why people use social media is to drive traffic to their properties. What kind of blog posts are you writing? Are they long, short, or somewhere in the middle?
Every marketer will tell you different things about the length of your posts, but there's no definitive rules as to how long your posts should be. Above all, they should be well-written.
That said, length can make a difference in how people and search engines react to your posts.
For example, short posts are best for garnering feedback, comments, and other engagement from readers (which makes sense: people prefer to read short posts, so you’re more likely to have their attention if you keep it under 300 words). Longer posts (anywhere from 1,000-2,500 words), packed with keywords and information, are better for garnering social shares and search engine traffic.
Worth keeping in mind, not as rules, but as guides as you go about your process.
Add visual elements to your posts
Only the best writers will keep readers’ attention through blocks of text. If you want to keep readers engaged with your content, add photos - as well as graphs, charts, videos, GIFs, and other visual media - to the body of your posts.
Video has been popular for some time, and social networks like LinkedIn and Instagram are promoting more video content, and longer video content, than ever.
The same goes for writing for your blog - not only will readers appreciate not having to scroll through a wall of copy, but you’ll have an additional way to rank on Google, which crawls images and their captions.
You won’t become a better social media marketer overnight, and your business won’t reap the benefits of your new tactics after a single post. This is a long-term play, and there are no shortcuts - but the payoff will be worth the investment, since you’ll be able to apply your new skills as a writer to other aspects of your business.
In the meantime, use the low stakes of the social media-sphere to practice, improve, and grow.