Mistakes brands make when writing for social media

Tara Hunt

Tara Hunt

Tara Hunt, CEO of Truly, has over 20 years experience in market research and strategy on both client and agency side. She wrote one of the first books on how the social web is changing business, was named one of 2013's Entrepreneurial Women to Watch by Entrepreneur Magazine and one of the Most Influential Women in Technology in Fast Company. She has built an engaged and enthusiastic business audience online of over 345,000 followers, including a significant number of thought leaders. Tara combines a data-centric with a human-centric approach to building an audience, leaning heavily on insights into consumer patterns and behaviors while keeping an eye on online trends and changing expectations.

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Before I dive into the individual lessons, here is the list of the biggest mistakes that brands make when it comes to writing:

  1. Burying the lede
  2. Writing like you’re in love with your brand
  3. Scrubbing out the personality
  4. Making the message too high-level; and
  5. Making the message too low-level

We’re not talking about SEO here, either. These are writing mistakes that will affect how your audience interacts with your content. Let’s start from the top.

Lesson #1. Don’t bury the lede.

In journalism-speak, burying the lede is when you’ve failed to emphasize the most important or interesting part of a story. For example, say you’re a software company that is pushing a new update. I’ve seen too many examples of companies doing this:

“Update version 10.1.4.5.67.342.11 is here! Learn more!”

– Technical brand

If you get anyone to click through on that one, they may scroll down to find what’s in the update that matters to them…but good luck with that. Why not feature the improvements that were most requested. It would sound more like:

“You asked and we delivered: autosave and real-time collaboration now available in the latest update! Read about these and many more great features here!”

– Technical brand with a clue!

Lesson #2. Don’t write like your own biggest fan

Ever notice how brands seem to highlight stuff that would only matter to people that work there? Endless announcements, team photos, and rah-rah-rah to the best company ev-ah!

Sorry to be a Debbie downer, but that Koolaid should be posted to your Yammer, not your public channels. It doesn’t show the world you have a great culture, it makes you look like the Borg. 

If you have a string of posts that look like this:

Canon Tweet

…or if your “awesome” engagement numbers are coming from Linkedin Elevate – possibly the most dangerous echo chamber creation tool ever sold to businesses – you’re not only missing the point of social networks, you’re likely damaging your brand image.

Post stuff that people who don’t work there will get excited about and click.

Lesson #3. Don’t scrub out all personality

One of the tools we use in our day-to-day writing is Grammarly, which is not an ad for them, but I do like a beta feature they’re trialing, the Tone Detector:

vocal tones

I’m particularly digging this feature because too many businesses, especially B2B ones, start sounding too formal and stuffy on social platforms. According to Linguistic expert Gretchen McCullough:

“Normal people don’t talk in the vanilla standardized language of books and television.”

Gretchen McCullough in her fabulous book Because Internet: understanding the new rules of language

In her book, she discusses how using the new rules of language builds solidarity and connection with an audience and how formal, tone-less language comes across as stilted, distant, and robotic.

I’ve worked with several brands that made rules like no exclamation marks, no emojis, no use of internet-speak. Though I’m sure they were doing this to try to sound professional, it led to their posts coming across as cold and lifeless. 

Social media writing is not and should not be treated like writing an academic paper or a book. You can still sound smart and confident using informal language. I wouldn’t call NASA childish, but they love their emoji and exclamations:

rocket launch

And why not? What they’re doing is 🤯 awesome!!!

Lesson #4. Don’t make the message too high-level

In other words, using marketing-speak and fancy words to express something that is better expressed in simple, straightforward terms. 

Imagine the possibilities

Break free from monotony

Building the future

Ooooo…leveraging artificial intelligence to amplify marketing initiatives…

adviso

Wow Adviso, you’re fancy! I’m especially convinced by that floating city brain thing coming out of that cellphone.

Actually, no. That’s terrifying. I love Adobe and I’m sure they’re doing something cool, but no way I’m clicking on that. 

On the flip side, there’s:

Lesson #5. Don’t make the message too low-level

Often the same brands that are speaking in inspirational quotes and Tencent words use their next breath to go all the way to third-base. You know what I mean? It’s like a bad dating site experience. They throw a cheesy pickup line, then follow up immediately with something you weren’t ready to receive. Girl, you know what I’m talking ‘bout.

There’s the too technical follow-up:

8000 mAh battery AI quad-camera Octa-core processor

…kind of like receiving the flexed biceps shot…

Or the let’s go straight to the pitch – aka the junk – follow-up:

motorola

It’s Valentine’s! Buy a Motorola! I gotta know…does this work? Like ever?

I’ll be talking about the proper way for brands to engage in holidays and memes in another video, but darn it Motorola, can’t you be a little more like Best Buy here:

Aw…dontcha just want to go shop at Best Buy? THAT’s a cute approach that feels engaging and social. Social media and digital content isn’t really the time to “always be closing…” – you need to read the room and write for it.

And that’s the biggest lesson here: 

You need to write for the context.

If you’re writing for social media, BE SOCIAL. Interact, have fun, engage, listen, connect, build relationships, be funny, emote, teach, learn…you know, the social stuff.

If you’re writing for an ad, PROMOTE. Be clear, grab attention, pique interest, have a call-to-action. 

If you’re writing an article for your blog, BE INFORMATIVE. Give value, teach something useful, offer insights, make it entertaining, blow their minds.

The great Canadian theorist, Marshall McLuhan, said the medium is the message, which is as true now as it ever was. What it means is that where you read/hear/see a message will shape how you perceive it. In real life, you change up how you speak all of the time in order to match your context. This is called context switching. 

For example, you speak with your friends in one way and your boss another way. The internet, however, is messing a bit with those contexts and, now, your boss is following your Tweets, which are for your friends, but because your boss understands that Twitter is for social expression, even she is less formal with you there.

Brands that tweet like they’re typing a memo or a press release will be seen as out-of-context by the denizens of the network. 

So, leave your sales pitches to the sales floor and brochure, your announcements to the press releases, and your junk for Tinder. Or actually, scratch that, don’t do that.

Ever.

There’s never a context in which that works.

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