THERE IS MORE to posts and tweets than the art of self-promotion. Social media provides a degree of public feedback that simply does not exist in other fields of intellectual output. While often addictive and disruptive, this can also be constructive—allowing us to experiment and obtain instantaneous returns with only moderate effort. Social media, in that respect, is a cheap and effective writing school.
It is a paradoxical learning place, however, rewarding both nasty and elegant practices. At the dark end, platforms like Twitter and Facebook tend to boost rants, rumors, self-aggrandizement, and easy entertainment. But people aren’t algorithms or their own worst instincts: The public’s striking capacity to respond to sophisticated arguments and substantive content is also on display. Respecting your audience is thus key to leveraging social media’s more positive side.
At the same time, social media’s format focuses our attention on core, transferrable writing skills. That starts with concision: Stick to essentials, cut out everything else. Social media posts force you to go straight to the point or be overlooked. Every word must be deliberate—a truism that equally applies to writing a great novel. Twitter is a perfect exercise in text reduction: Less can be so much better.
Brevity also leads to clarity. Social media content must read smoothly, and therefore invites special care in simplifying language, ordering words, and checking spelling and punctuation. Bullets, arrows, and emojis can add to the message or distract from it, again based on whether each symbol serves a clear, specific purpose.
Writing is always about connecting with others. Social media compels us to think carefully about the people we are addressing, for a simple reason: Our message will only travel as far as others carry it. In writing social media copy, digital marketers tell us to ask “so what?” or “why should anyone care?” and answer such questions in our posts. Other marketers prompt us to visualize our target consumer, and make our posts as “useful and urgent and unique and ultra-specific” to them as possible. All repeat that authors should make their writing about the audience, not themselves.
This memo, for example, aims to provide practical guidance to a particular group of people: social media users who want to build their confidence in sharing substantive content in a professional context. For the piece to have any reach, promoting it over social media must bear their needs in mind. Examples will follow below.
Closely related is the fact that social media always purports to induce a reaction. That may boil down to likes, follows, and shares; it may also be purchases, greater awareness, or controversy. Acknowledging that no one publishes without cause helps focus our message; the latter must always contain, however implicitly, a call-to-action. An earnest way of approaching this issue is to think about how readers will benefit from what you’re sharing. Your post should thus clarify how it purports to help others.
One last piece of general advice, before shifting to practicalities, consists in finding your voice. Effective writing often takes significant planning and editing but it need not be lifeless and sterile. Your preferences, personality, and quirks are part of what makes your message relatable, and your online presence should naturally reflect them. Parts of you may nonetheless need to be kept on a leash: Frequently overreacting and publicly venting will only obscure your added value. A slower approach to drafting posts, mulling them over, even sleeping on them at times, can actually help you refine a more personal, confident style.
In experimenting with social media, you may explore a whole range of output. Beyond the all too familiar cat memes, angry outbursts, and random holiday pictures, posts relevant to the professional context can be classified into a number of categories. Understanding these distinctions will help you find your style. They can be demonstrated through different ways of promoting this very memo on Twitter:
- Novelty is a classic in the era of breaking news. In Tweet form, it could look like this:
Synaps’ latest memo tackles a nagging question: how to build a professional social media profile constructively
- Your latest is a personal variation on this theme, for people who specifically follow your work:
Posting for Synaps could have made me a social media master; instead, it taught me a few lessons of moderation and modesty
- Curation involves sharing a resource you see as useful to others, while explaining why it’s worth their time:
Unlike most advice on social media writing, this piece will bring out the honest person—not the propagandist—in you
- Synthesis comes close, with your takeaway giving people a preview of what’s in store:
The concision, clarity, and effectiveness of social media writing all hinge on one thing: knowing and respecting your audience
- Reframing consists in using the opportunity to discuss the topic as a whole:
In an online world full of narcissism, the best social media users know how to make their posts about the audience, not themselves
- Making a case is a more pointed, opiniated, and prescriptive form of analysis:
Social media is a free and effective writing school: It rewards not only our worst behaviors but our best–concision, clarity, and respect
- Rallying addresses the public, often in emotional terms, with a specific request:
We need your help with this quick experiment: In the thread below, like the message that, in your view, best promotes this memo on social media
- Confession goes further into the realm of emotions, by sharing a bit of yourself:
After creating an account, it took me years to post my first tweet. In hindsight, here are the things I would have liked to know from the start
- Outrage sadly dominates the social media genre, sometimes for good reason:
Algorithms work relentlessly to determine and dictate our behavior. Here are some tricks to regain control and get your message across
- Humor is one of the most effective tools in grabbing the audience’s attention:
We’re told a few honest human beings still lie in the thick of bots and trolls out there. We’ll find them. Here’s how
- And a cliffhanger will give away just enough for the reader to want more:
Whenever I go on social media, I die a little. This is what keeps me going anyway
All these examples present different, genuine ways of promoting the content of this memo—while avoiding clickbait tactics such as “The 11 techniques that guarantee your social media posts will buzz.” In truth, none of these formulations guarantees anything. High quality posts are sometimes ignored, while successful ones often catch on for unpredictable reasons. But the returns on individual posts are partly irrelevant: Sustained, consistent output builds a rapport and a style that only gradually becomes meaningful for your audience. As with any form of writing, the goal is to develop and deepen that sense of connection.
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Illustration credit: adapted from Will Bradley advertising poster by Flickr / licensed by CC.
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