The right kind of writing: Follow simple writing tenets to increase your likelihood of social media success

February 20, 2009

Copyright © 2009 PRSA. All rights reserved.

By Ryan Zuk, APR

The following article appears in the February 2009 issue of PR Tactics.

People continue to seek fine-tuned writing to anchor successful communications, often through social media outlets. The public can now quickly respond to and critique a campaign, essentially holding the power to make or break it.

“Businesses need to learn how to operate in the attention-deficit economy,” says technology marketing strategist and consultant Greg Head, about the present condition of business communication. “Today’s tactics are reliant not only on getting people’s attention, but their immediate responses too. Consumers want something valuable from you right now.  They don’t want to sit through your commercials.”

Head goes on to explain that most businesses seeking success in today’s economy need to initially excel at three criteria: creating a valuable and readily available product or service, describing their offer succinctly and letting people have something for free.

As communicators, we’re particularly drawn to the second part of this formula.

We have to evaluate the implications of what we write, and how, when and where we convey our messages. Consider the following ideas to help create a strong foundation for your writing — online or in another medium.

• Know your audience to help guide your message.
Who are you writing for? Your marketing colleagues may have already defined a target audience, yet you’ll need details in order to communicate effectively. Understanding psychographics such as key issues and how an audience prefers to be addressed will aid your writing.

With a baseline established, try drafting ideas liberally at first, then distill these to a core message and a few supporting points. Your extra ideas will benefit you later. Blogs, Web sites and integrated campaigns frequently need new content.

• Go where the action is.
Adding social media to the mix means that there are many places where you and your clients can have a presence. Resist the temptation to be everywhere and focus on the communities that your audience is actually using. This is where the conversations you need to be a part of are occurring.  Maybe it’s a combination of using Facebook and Twitter, or perhaps it’s posting on a branded blog and commenting on similar ones. Whatever you prefer, remember that most emerging social tools are just that — emerging.  You can consider using them when they’ve been proven to be efficient.

• Be direct and accurate.
Talk directly and succinctly to your target audience. The attention-deficit economy demands this. Some of the best advice is to offer your own advice. Better yet, describe precisely how you can fix someone’s problem, and refrain from fluff to avoid distraction.

Accuracy counts too. Saying it correctly on the first try brings you closer to a sale or successfully placed pitch.  And don’t forget spelling and grammar. Professional communication requires responsible writing.

• Write for each format’s function.
Writing less to say more is a good guidepost, although different sites call for varied copy length. Microblogs like Twitter restrict you to 140 characters and force you to stay on message, while communities such as Facebook allow more open-ended profile and message writing.

Be sure to monitor your tone. Is your prose professional on one site, and tending toward slang on another?  You’ll want to write for the culture of each community, but don’t sacrifice professionalism. Set a goal to maintain consistent message delivery.

Finally, don’t hesitate to grant yourself degrees of flexibility with any of these concepts. Adhering to a handful of writing tenets is sometimes a good thing, but at times this can constrain your approach to specific communication opportunities and challenges. Overall, let your judgment guide you.

Ryan Zuk, APR, is a media and analyst relations professional and Phoenix PRSA Chapter member. Zuk can be reached at and @ryanzuk on Twitter. He also blogs at



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