10 Tips to Master the Art of Writing Micro-Copy for Social
Mark Twain hit the nail on the head when he said, “I didn’t have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead.”* This is the challenge of writing micro-copy. If an elevator speech needs to be conveyed in the amount of time it takes to get from the first floor to the sixth floor in an elevator, a social media post needs to convey the same idea … before the elevator doors even shut.
1. Craft the post for the platform
Each social network has its own unique personality, which requires you to have a different writing style for each one. Your customers and prospects are in a different frame of mind when they browse Facebook than they are when they are browse LinkedIn, so you need to keep that in mind when you are writing a post. You wouldn’t post a crazy cat video on LinkedIn, would you? Didn’t think so.
Although there are tools out there like Buffer and HootSuite that allow you to syndicate a single post to multiple networks at the same time, I don’t recommend it. It’s more effective to craft a post and tweak it to fit each social network, then use a tool to schedule each version.
2. Skip the shorthand
Social media and text messaging have created their own languages, which I like to refer to as “that-annoying-way-my-teenager-types.” Unless your target audience is in the 13-18 demographic, skip the net lingo and stick to complete words and sentences.
Of course, now that I’ve said that, I have to tell you that there are exceptions to every rule.
DO use well-known phrase abbreviations in hashtags, but use them sparingly.
Popular, mainstream abbreviations like #ICYMI (In Case You Missed It), #TTYL (Talk To You Later), #IMHO (In My Humble Opinion) are perfectly acceptable.
3. Spelling and grammar matter
There’s nothing more cringe-worthy than seeing a brand post that looks like a 5th grader wrote it. Spelling and grammar matter. Period. You may be writing in haste, but your target may be reading at leisure, and a poorly written post can last a loooong time. You don’t want to go viral as a bad example.
4. Use mentions to increase engagement
A “mention” is the method you use to tag another registered user or company in a post. When you mention someone in a post they will get notified, which increases the chance that they will engage with you, and/or share your post with their social network.
DO NOT start a Twitter post with an @mention if you want people to see the post. A post that starts with an @mention is treated as a Reply and will not show up in your feed.
DO put a period in front of an @mention if it is the first element in your tweet. This is what distinguishes the difference between a Post and a Reply.
Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr and Google+ support the @mention format. Google+ also supports the +mention. LinkedIn and Facebook support mention by username.
5. Use hashtags to increase micro-copy reach
A hashtag is a searchable keyword or phrase that you use to boost the reach of your post. If you want to be part of the online conversation on a certain subject (person, place or thing), use a hashtag that’s relevant to that subject, but don’t get too carried away.
Let’s play a game. Look at the two tweets (Twitter posts) below and tell me which poster is new to the world of social media.
@Actonsoftware is so #awesome. U #rockthehouse. And I luv @Skittles #tastetherainbow. #marketing #blessed @santaclaus
.@Actonsoftware support rocks! Love you guys. #marketingautomation
That first one makes my brain hurt on so many levels. Beyond causing injury to your readers, loading up on hashtags cuts down on engagement. This graph from SocialBakers shows the interactions with 200,00 brand posts in the month of February 2014:
DO NOT use more than one or two hashtags in a single post.
DO NOT sprinkle in irrelevant random hashtags that create visual clutter.
DO use a hashtag that is relevant to your industry. If you’re not sure what to use, look at what your competitors are using.
DO search the hashtag first to see who’s using it and what it’s being associated with. Use the wrong hashtag and you may find yourself in the middle of a social media meltdown.
Facebook, Google+, Twitter, Instagram and Tumblr support the #hashtag format.
6. Keep it micro
When a speech goes long at the Emmy Awards, the music starts playing until the speaker wraps it up and starts walking away from the microphone. And if the speaker just can’t stop talking, the producer eventually turns off the microphone. Social network character limits are like the microphone at the Emmys; go too long and you’ll get cut off. Save the lengthy speech for the blog.
Twitter is famous for its 140-character limit, but how many of you know what the character limits are on the other major social networks? If you don’t know, that’s a good thing, because it tells me that you’ve never written a post that’s so long that you got cut off.
I did a little research and here’s what I found on character limits:
LinkedIn: 700 characters.
Google+: unlimited, although one recent test showed a 100,000 character limit.
Just because you’re allowed to post 63,206 characters on Facebook, doesn’t mean you should. Make it a goal to never get close to hitting those character limits.
7. Add a visual element to cut through clutter
The one sure way to stand out in a sea of words is to include a visual element. You can significantly increase your engagement rate on LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter by including a photo or infographic in your post.
8. Make it sharable
My mantra for Twitter has always been, “Short and sweet promotes retweets.” Keep your tweets to 100 characters or less if you want people to retweet (share) your posts.
Retweets add up to 16 characters to your original post because they add a retweet mention. Make sure to allow room for a short comment as well.
I’ve seen posts on Twitter and Instagram that are nothing but a pile of hashtags and mentions. Not only is this vugly (visually ugly) and annoying, it also makes no sense when you read the post.
Always read your post out loud before you launch it to the public. Make sure it sounds like a real sentence that you would actually speak out loud. If it sounds like a bunch of random words – it probably is.
10. Include a Call to Action
In my mind there are two kinds of social media posts; passive posts and active posts. Passive posts may just be a statement, or a link to some content with no comment. An active post usually contains a verb that begs for interaction. If you want your audience to engage, you need to give them a reason to engage.
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This is a close up of one of our products. What do you think it is?
None of us is spending time and energy posting to social media networks for just the exercise or as a fun way to kill some precious time. We post in hopes that our audience engages with us. We post because we want the brand recognition, the reach and the referral traffic. Learning how to write great micro-copy is a useful tool to add to your social media marketing tool belt.
*This is an age-old problem; in 1657, Blaise Pascal wrote: “I have only made this letter longer because I have not had the time to make it shorter.”
“Village Rolling Over” cat photo by r.f.m.II, used under a Creative Commons 2.0 license.
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