This article appeared in the November/December 2010 issue of Writer’s Journal.
For a number of years, the marketing hype has included expressions like, “If you want to be an expert, you have to blog,” “The only way to market on the web is through social media,” and “Twitter will drive traffic to your site.” Maybe you’ve heard me spout some version of that. I know agents have said it to me.
In the last issue’s article, I described a type of social media participant that I called the “wallflower” – lovely site, perfect hair and make-up, but stands with her nose in a corner rather than socializing. There are a lot of companies out there who jumped on the latest marketing buzz and never did anything with it. They’re now in the process of waking up and realizing that they can’t just leave their sites and accounts dormant. Doing so leaves them vulnerable from more than one angle:
- Their fans and enemies will socialize about them without their input or guidance.
- Their competitors will push them out of the spotlight.
Neither condition is acceptable. The problem is that companies have cut back on staff, and mom and pop businesses don’t have the time to keep up. Those people that remain may not have the writing skills necessary to make a social networking campaign effective. Denny Hatch is a long-time direct marketing guru and recently blamed poorly written direct email marketing for causing Americans to stop reading. This is where you writers come in.
There’s a trick to writing effectively for a company’s campaign. The style has to be conversational and friendly, helpful and informative, and true to the brand image the company wants to project.
Step one is to get to know the company you want to write for really well. If they have an on-staff marketing contact for you, you’re in luck because they’ll be able to communicate any changes in the company’s priorities. Ask to listen in on strategy meetings or conference calls so you can get a real feel for how the company runs.
You have a better chance of landing several smaller writing engagements with local mom and pop businesses. Those people are the ones most likely to have invested in the infrastructure (blog, Facebook, Twitter), and then not have had the time or desire to follow through. You can offer to relieve these people of the burden of writing any or all of their marketing messages.
Step two is to craft posts that will cause people to circulate them and talk about the product or service. For blogs, it means being on topic in an informative and succinct manner. For social media, it means prompting conversation in a positive way. It also means you’ll have to give up a by-line. When writing on behalf of another company, you are usually doing work for hire ghostwriting.
Social Media Trade Secret #1
Social media has turned marketing upside-down or, more to the point, ass-backwards. You use the media to give good customer service to a collection of people who aren’t yet customers. By creating an image where the company cares about and nurtures its customers, those customers start to look forward to contact from the company and then get their friends involved. When it’s done well, it’s extremely effective.
Case Study – Good
SoBe (twitter.com/sobeworld, facebook.com/sobe) SoBe, makers of lifewater, gets it. Their website is engaging, but more to the point, their Facebook and Twitter feeds are active with fans and they participate. Their Facebook fans are so chatty it’s hard for them to get a word in. Sobe’s participation is more apparent on Twitter. Look at the @responses. Each of those is a response to something a follower said directly to them.
Case Study – Bad
Nestle (twitter.com/NestleUSA, facebook.com/nestleUSA) Nestle got hammered back in March of this year when Greenpeace went after them for using environmentally unfriendly palm oil. They did it by encouraging people to post directly to Nestle’s Facebook page using altered versions of the logos and expressing displeasure about the practices. Nestle’s immediate response was to censor the posts. The outrage over that drove the campaign into the national spotlight. You can see from their pages now that while things have calmed down, Nestle’s still directing things from the top down—pushing out their message instead of encouraging fans to post for them. The campaign worked, by the way. Nestle’s looking into an alternative to palm oil.
Social Media Trade Secret #2
Think short and think in three lengths. Has anyone ever heard of a sound byte? If the company’s primary site is a blog, then think of that as a five-minute interview with commercials. The Facebook version is going to be like a thirty second commercial, and the tweet is the sound byte. Depending on how big the company is, you could be doing an interview a day, three Facebook posts a day and five or more tweets a day. If you think about the two shorter versions while writing the long version, not only will you save time, but the full article version will be punchier as well.
Social Media Trade Secret #3
Luck plays a roll. No matter how fascinating or informative you are on a regular basis, there’s no substitute for tweeting the right message at the right time. There’s also no way to guess what that will be. You just have to keep trying and be fluid enough to change. Tweets about blueberries being yummy can be more effective than tweets about more useful things, like a how-to article on removing allergens from your house.
Social Media Trade Secret #4
Have a clear idea of what success is. Companies are about numbers. Most companies focus on growing their page views or the number of fans the have because those are things that are quantifiable. Those might not be the best goals for the company. The companies you’re most likely to land jobs with are probably local which means that there are a finite number of people who will be interested in them who are also worth their effort to court (an acupuncturist in Maine isn’t interested in attracting a client in Florida). These people should be more interested in keeping their name and face in front of their existing clients and encouraging referrals. Regular dialog and helpful tips or reminders are things you can write and post for them that they wouldn’t have the time or desire to do for themselves.
Social Media Trade Secret #5
Social media includes video and audio productions. The larger companies have staffs who put together video skits and small productions to post on the web and syndicate through their channels. Podcasts, too are less expensive and reach a broader audience than text only. You could be writing those scripts.
There’s More Than Social Media
A staggering concept, I know, but there are other ways to make money writing for the web. In addition to using social media, most companies use direct email marketing campaigns as well, and people are right to gripe about the quality—or lack thereof. With bulk postal rates set to go up yet again in January of 2011, more and more companies are going to look to their email lists and social media efforts as an alternative.
Writing good direct email marketing copy is a lot like writing good direct mail marketing copy, except that you have a much shorter time to get to your point. In direct mail, you might have a few pages to drive your point home. In an email, you’re lucky if you have two paragraphs. Effective direct marketing copy is an artistic blend of emotion-triggering creative story writing, reporting, and sales. Direct marketers have known for years that the words, “free,” “exclusive,” and “gift” generate excitement. It’s why those words and a few others appear so often, including “free gift,” an effective redundancy that makes my teeth itch.
Online Writing Gigs
Finally, I want to leave you with a short list of places buying articles.
Good luck and have fun writing.
Angela Render is an author who has been designing and developing websites for over a decade. With free-lance editor Ally Peltier, she is offering her first ever one-day seminar: Self Publishing Success Intensive.