Writing for social media: Sarah Mitchell from Typeset explains how to create quality social copy

Sarah Mitchell is the co-founder of Typeset – a content writing agency in Perth. In 2019, Typeset collaborated with Mantis Research to conduct a survey to find out how effective marketers and communicators approach writing – including where social media plays its part. Earlier this year, Typeset published the results as The State of Writing 2020.

I spoke to Mitchell about some of their findings and to discover whether  marketers are treating their words in social media with sufficient care.

JC: Do marketers take the writing of social media posts seriously enough?

SM: According to our research, 77% [of marketers] write social media updates to support their business. And that’s the second most popular way that people use writing to support their business. The most popular way is website copy. So yes, they’re taking it seriously.

But I’m not sure that they are including it as part of the quality process. They’re not putting it through the same rigour. They’re not putting it through the quality processes. They’re not putting it through proofreading.

Often, it’s a different person than the writer who’s writing it. You might spend a lot of time writing a blog post or a white paper or a case study and then a different department is responsible for promoting that. Sometimes you can tell that the person writing the social media update hasn’t even read the post.

And this is the flip side: If you’ve got the writer writing the post, and not the marketers, then it might not have the right hashtags or keywords. A hashtag that works on one platform doesn’t work on another. You see a lot where somebody has gone through some rigour, but then they’re painting everything with the same brush. You can’t treat LinkedIn like you treat Instagram, like you treat Facebook.

Instead of treating social media and content separately, should the writing of updates to promote that content pass through the same planning, process and approvals?

I think it should. You need to give it the same respect that you give any formal business communication. It needs to go through proofreading. It needs to be tested for logic and flow. It needs to be fact checked, especially against the content you’re sharing. I don’t think marketers and communicators are looking at social media as a piece of the writing itself. They’re looking at it as an independent channel that they run differently.

When you’re promoting content that you’ve written, it should all be thought through and developed at the same time, even going as far as writing multiple updates.

For example, we know where our clients are promoting things and what channels they’re using. Their blog posts may go out on Twitter and Facebook, while a press release may go out just on LinkedIn. So, we use a different template for a press release than for a blog post and write all of those updates as part of the submission. It’s however many tweets, it’s Facebook, it’s LinkedIn, it’s the email subject line and teaser, it’s everything all in one.

And then that all goes through editing and proofreading so there are no spelling errors or factual problems. Whoever’s doing the fact checking looks at the whole package, not just the text of the article. It becomes part of the quality control and approval process.

While this approach ensures everything from the article to the meta description to the third or fourth tweet is completely aligned, does this encourage cut-and-paste repetition?

They need to be aligned, but I don’t think anybody enjoys moving from platform to platform or channel to channel only to see the same exact update.

It’s an opportunity for marketers to showcase different parts of the content, and also to test. Maybe your audience on LinkedIn is going to be interested in a different aspect of what you’re promoting than your network on Twitter. So why wouldn’t you target the social media channel when you’re doing it?

Is it ever enough to simply post the link, knowing that the platform will pull in the title, image and possibly even the excerpt too?

Then you’re missing the opportunity to have an opinion or to put a spin on it to support the angle that you’ve taken.

We could talk all day about titles and subject lines and headings and how difficult those are. But it’s not enough, if you’re posting content on social media, to rely just on the title.

Over the years, social media has become an increasingly more visual. Do you think that has come at the expense of the written word?

First of all, I’m a writer. I like words. I like to read things. I mean, I enjoy a good picture as much as the next, but I don’t think you can just totally rely on visuals.

Marketers can do a much better job of making images and text work hand in hand to really pack a punch. It’s easy to put up a picture and a bunch of hashtags, but what are you trying to make people feel? What are you trying to make people do? What do you want people to get from it? And I’m not sure I’m seeing that from brands.

What about emojis? As brevity is so important in social media, should marketers be looking for any way to get those character counts down?

In Hamlet, Shakespeare wrote that brevity is the soul of wit. Nobody enjoys a joke that runs on too long. Nobody enjoys poetry that’s the same length as a Russian novel.”

I think Twitter made a mistake when it extended the character count, because now how is it different to the other platforms where you can put a lot in? People don’t come to social media to spend a lot of time reading. They click on things to spend a lot of time reading.

I personally think emojis are just the next generation. If you’ve got them then you can use them – if your audience really understands what an emoji means. There are some that are loaded that your audience may view as having a different definition. The cool kids know it means one thing when grandma thinks it means something else.

Social media crops up in a few places throughout the report. Did any of the results surprise you?

One of the things that surprised me, because this is a huge opportunity for marketers, is that only 34% of marketers are embedding social media updates in blog posts. It surprised me because every platform’s got embed codes. The media has done a great job of this. In fact, the media has become so lazy that they just go to Twitter and search a term. There are plenty of places where they rely on those embedded feeds.

Especially if you’re brand building or doing brand awareness posts, those kinds of opportunities are out there and we’re not taking them.


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