There you are, laptop at the ready and a new blog posting is needed for your website. And the words just aren’t really flowing. Break for a coffee. Try again. You get 500 words done and read it through. It’s alright you say to yourself and post it on the site. Days later and nobody’s commented. Sigh.
It’s pretty much the same with your emailers and Facebook postings. You’re doing all the right things – posting regularly, adding some occasional imagery and yet nothing seems to get a reaction. Umm.
The thing you begin to realise is that this writing lark is not as easy as it seems. It takes a bit of practice to start to get it working right. But it’s worth persevering and there are some useful tips and techniques to help you write more engagingly. These are my top 10 do’s and don’ts:
1 Always remember that you need to engage the reader. That means a snappy title and opening thought. Hook them in. A bit like a great first line to a song. I bet you know which songs open like this ‘I bought my first real 6 string, bought it at the five and dime’ and then ‘You can tell by the way I use my walk I’m a woman’s man’ or ‘You were working as a waitress in a cocktail bar’. See what I mean, you’re hooked and humming along aren’t you? Be intriguing.
2 Structure is important. Remember that old adage that a good story should have a start, middle and end? Well it’s great advice. Having created an interesting introduction you need to develop the opening idea into the core of your piece, the meat in the sandwich if you like. Then close with a thought provoking conclusion that makes a key point about your business or inspires the reader to respond. You could pose a question or invite people to react in some way – comment/like/share. Be bold.
3 Be interesting. Really think about the subject matter and try and come up with a fresh slant on it. It’s a neat trick, for example, to start writing about one thing but to use this as a surprising link to your main point. For example you may want to write a piece about what makes for great customer care but instead of leading with your ideas (which might come across as a bit smug and self-regarding) you could start by referring to an episode of Fawlty Towers, eg The Psychiatrists, and quote the classic line from Sybil which perfectly sums up what makes Basil hopelessly unsuited to hotel management…
‘You never get it right, do you? You’re either crawling all over them, licking their boots, or spitting poison at them like some benzedrine puff adder’
Having described Basil’s awful approach, you can then switch tack by talking about what makes your company’s particular approach to client care so effective. It’s just that bit more intriguing to allow the key point of your piece to unfold subtlely and unobviously.
4 Adopt a writing style which suits your personality and brand. For example if you are managing a small, friendly-run local business then it’s ideal to keep your writing informal, lively and chatty in style. Being over-stuffy and too formal doesn’t suit and comes across as insincere. Be genuine.
5 Be image-conscious. By which I mean when you do any content or postings it’s always wise to add some super photo images or moving images like short video or GIFs etc. As well as adding visual stimulus it is more attractive to search engines, especially if you can add image titles and tags. However always try and make sure you are using original or clearly freely-available imagery and not lifting from Google images as you may fall foul of image rights etc.
6 First up be careful with those exclamation marks. Less is definitely more when it comes to these rascals. If I see ranks of them lined up after OMG I just switch off. Using them to emphasise emotion is fine but you don’t want to come across as an over-excited puppy. Be sparing with your !!!!
7 Bad spelling is as much of a turn off as incorrect punctuation, so if you’re not confident about words use your spell-checker before posting. Also don’t repeat key words several times in the same sentence or two. If you look at a sports report it’ll often be constructed like this ‘Arsenal manager, Arsene Wenger, resigned this week as the Gunners boss. Known as ‘the Professor’ the well-respected Frenchman led the famous North London side for 23 years with considerable success’ It carefully avoids repeating the same ‘Arsene Wenger/Arsenal/manager’ phrases. This advice applies generally not just with personal names. A good tip for looking for alternatives for a particular word is to search Google for synonyms.
8 These days people are more relaxed about things like strict rules of grammar and sentence structure. Nobody really worries unduly about split infinitives so don’t be afraid to boldly write or to start a sentence with the words ’and’ or ‘’because’. Because let’s face it, it’s the 21st not 19th century. That said it is always good to remember solid basics like a sentence usually contains a subject and a verb and an object. I’d also suggest varying your sentence lengths and to cluster sentences which support a single thought into a paragraph. Turning every sentence into its own paragraph is tiring to read.
9 Don’t be boring. If you want people to respond to your postings then be light and amusing, not dull. And don’t drone on and on. Time is precious and folks like writing which is concise and to the point. Also people don’t want to be lectured to. Your opinion is as valid as anyone’s but avoid expressing strong judgement on matters which can be controversial like politics and religion, and if you come across as disrespectful towards people, the reader won’t forgive you and you risk losing your audience. Don’t forget, engage not enrage.
10 Finally if all else fails, don’t be afraid to ask for help. If copy-writing or other marketing activity isn’t your thing then we’d be only too pleased to help.
It doesn’t matter who writes your content but it does need to be engaging and effective at getting people to react and respond to you. That’s what makes for good marketing.
Paul Leonard, writer and marketing consultant