How to Write for Social Media

Jenny Force Jenny Force, VP of Marketing

Wherever you publish your content, it’s important to consider the needs and preferences of your audience. Writing for social media is not the same as writing for your blog, website or print publication.

Not all social media sites are the same, of course. Each has its own particular rules and idiosyncrasies. There are, however, certain guidelines that apply to social media as a whole. The focus here will be on writing for business purposes but the principles really apply for any type of social media writing.

Brevity, Clarity, and Informality

Brevity, clarity, and informality can be considered the governing principles of social media writing. The real trick is to find the right balance among the three. Keeping your message short and on-topic is the first thing to remember. You obviously have more leeway when writing on your Facebook page than on Twitter, where you’re limited to 140 characters. It’s a universal law of social media, though, that it’s preferable to be as brief and concise as possible.

Social media is becoming more and more image-oriented. If you are using images, your writing is often secondary to the visual content. The fastest growing social media sites, such as Pinterest, Instagram and Snapchat all have a strong visual component. These are also sites that appeal to younger users. Remember that many of these users communicate frequently by text message, which is another platform where brevity is mandatory. You should balance this principle, however, with the next one that we’ll be discussing.

The need to be clear is not always consistent with the need to be brief. In the modern jargon of text messaging and Twitter, you’ll see lots of abbreviated words and emoticons in place of full words. Unless you’re writing exclusively for a very young and hip audience, you should not overdo it in this area. For example, most people can decipher a sentence such as “It was gr8 to cu.” That type of message is appropriate for messages between friends. If you’re communicating to a general audience, however, you should spell out words for greater clarity.

At the same time, social media writing shouldn’t be too formal. It’s closer to spoken than traditional written language. This means using contractions when that sounds more natural. So, you can see that putting these principles together means finding the right balance between brevity, clarity and informality. The exact formula will depend on your purpose and your audience.

Who’s Your Audience?

While the above guidelines are valid for almost any kind of writing on social media, you also have to take your particular audience into consideration. Social media targeting involves factors such as the age, gender, location, interests, education level and values of your audience. That’s why it’s so important to know who you’re targeting before even starting any type of social media campaigns.

Social media demographics also vary based on the platform you’re using. If you’re targeting LinkedIn users, for example, your audience will tend to be older than the average user on Instagram. They’ll also tend to be more focused more on business and career. Compared to many other platforms, LinkedIn is more like a blog where you have to be a little more professional and formal. At the same time, you still have to be direct and concise.

Customizing Your Message

You can tailor the same general message a little differently, depending on your platform and audience. Let’s say that your goal is to get your social media followers to visit your business blog where they’ll hopefully opt into your list or purchase one of your products. Let’s further assume that you make software products for businesses. The following are a few hypothetical posts you might make on different social media sites.

Facebook – Facebook has the largest user base and gives you plenty of flexibility. You should still keep your posts short, though. More than a couple of paragraphs will strain the attention span of any social media users. You might write a couple of paragraphs about your latest product along with a YouTube video or image depicting it. Naturally, should also include a link to your site.

Twitter – Here you only have room for a sentence or two, so you have to pick your words carefully. You might link either directly to your website or to an article or video that describes your product.

Pinterest -You could post a photo of your product along with a brief description and link.

LinkedIn – Because LinkedIn is a B2B platform, you could post a brief review of your latest software. This could be done as a regular post or, if you want to invest in it, a sponsored post. You can also be active on LinkedIn forums. Here, however, you have to be careful about blatant self-promotion. It would be better to discuss the problem your software solves and let people find your link by clicking on your profile.

Instagram – Because Instagram is an image-centered platform, you need compelling pictures to get people’s attention here. This is a youth-oriented site whose users like to be amused and entertained. So photos of your business or products on their own will probably not create much buzz. You could, however, create clever memes or striking photos, finding a way to tie these in with your business.

Refining Your Social Media Writing

Creating content for social media can be tricky. Each platform is a little different and you have to customize your message for your own audience. At the same time, it’s helpful to remember to keep your messages brief, clear and informal. Beyond this, you want to take into consideration the limits and rules of each platform. It’s also important to keep good analytics to find out what kind of content gets the best reception from your readers.

Photo credit: Bruce Guenter.