Scaling up your social writing

As public relations professionals, we wear a variety of different hats for our clients. On a normal day, we can assume anywhere from five to six brand identities and write social posts for multiple industries – all while maintaining a consistent posting rhythm and prioritizing innovative content generation.

While there is not one secret ingredient to boosting engagement metrics, there are helpful practices to implement and social media gurus to learn from.

Speaking of social media gurus – Erica Schneider and Kasey Jones are some of the best in the business. The two women co-teach an online class called “Social Writing,” that I recently took. With their professional counsel, I was eager to discover what it takes to write captivating content on social channels, with the potential for it to #trend.

For two weeks, I joined live Zoom classes centered around writing content that transforms ideas into what Kasey says is “content gold.” While the class focused on helping entrepreneurs and business leaders write for social, I found my GenZ-self thinking about how I could use the lessons learned in class for my clients and for my budding personal brand.

Here are some takeaways I gathered that can help you write with purpose when it comes to social media.

Find fans, not followers

Flexing a high follower count doesn’t mean much if your followers aren’t engaged. This idea was covered early in the class and helped guide the course and its emphasis on writing content that impacts your followers’ lives. Speaking to people’s struggles and emotions is where meaningful content takes off, and being a successful writer on social media starts with understanding your “why.”

Who are you talking to? What can you share that benefits their day-to-day life? How can you have an impact on their career or overall well-being?

Poke the pain

Just like a well-written news story outlines the most essential information early on, creating catchy social content starts with an out-of-the-box, thought-provoking first sentence.

Focus on finding a pain point relevant to your followers. In the PR world, this could be expressing your frustration about never hearing back from a certain reporter, losing creative juice for an ongoing campaign or battling your Zoom fatigue. Whatever the topic may be, focus on bringing attention to a problem in your first sentence.

Kasey says in order to “stop the scroll,” you need to “poke the pain point” and pique interest. People engage with social content when they see a solution to their problem, and your content needs to fill that void. Active LinkedIn users see this daily—a trending thread most likely started with an issue many people experience every day.

Incorporate white space and listicles

After you’ve reeled in your big catch—also known as an audience-based interaction in the non-fishing world—it’s important to “make the juice worth the squeeze,” a phrase Erica frequently repeated in class.

How do you make the interaction worthwhile? It starts with keeping the reader moving—think short blocks with white space in between—and bringing to life the gold hidden in lengthy articles and wordy publications.

For beginners, the best approach to writing impactful social content involves a listicle. And no, we’re not talking about that sugary frozen dessert stuck to a stick. Forget all you’ve heard about narrative stories, and try listing tips, takeaways and advice broken up into digestible chunks. For example, if I was writing a listicle on public speaking advice, I might break it into the following chunks:

  • Keyword notecards are a crutch to lean on. Number the notecards and write down the most important points for your speech.
  • Incorporate purposeful pauses to slow down your speaking rate and give yourself a chance to catch your breath. You don’t have to spit everything out at once.
  • Give the entire room some love. Eye contact matters, and scanning the room helps everyone feel valued.
  • If you’re funny, embrace humor. It helps you remember you’re simply talking to people like you do every day.

Scanning is the new “reading”

Gone are the days when lengthy paragraphs and full news stories hold readers’ attention. According to a 2021 Pew Research Center study, more than 86% of U.S. adults say they get news from a smartphone, computer or tablet “often” or “sometimes.” More specifically, of U.S. adults surveyed, over 50% say they get news from social media. If you’re like me and have tried reading the e-edition of a newspaper on your iPhone recently, it’s safe to say the clunky text-approach isn’t working.

And I’m certainly not the only one who feels that way.

In our class, Erica referenced a Nielsen study utilizing eye tracking technology to better understand how people read online.

Understanding online behavior informs social media writing, and to hold attention think about:

  • Using white space to break apart chunks of text
  • Using bullet points and dashes to your advantage
  • Having fun with emojis…trial and error is key👌
  • Incorporating photos, videos and GIFs to enhance descriptions

As another rule of thumb, Erica recommends never having more than four sentences in a block of text and limiting passive voice at all times.

Don’t overlook your expertise

Lastly, we all fall victim to assuming our baseline knowledge of the industry we work in is known among our followers. Even so, what we consider common knowledge in our circles can be seen as real insights by others. Think of rules you live by in your day-to-day life, such as PR professionals cutting out unnecessary fluff or having a coworker proof copy before posting on social media or sending in a newsletter.

As we all continue navigating a world of blurred lines between social and professional social media platforms—most notably found in the evolution of LinkedIn—think about what problems you can solve for your followers and bring them to life on social channels. Maybe you’ll win new business, inspire a young professional to think outside the box, help a colleague work more efficiently or maybe just release some joy into the world.

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