It’s hard to be heard on social media.
Tightening algorithms are crushing organic reach. You can’t outsmart bots or hack your way to success.
Plus, more content is being created daily (meaning more competition for your posts). It’s not just other marketers you’re competing with, either. You’re fighting for attention against everything else folks can find on social media.
So, what’s a busy marketer to do?
The answer starts with honing their writing skills. Cutting through the noise and capturing the user’s attention is nearly impossible without a sharp copy.
Too often, companies prioritize mechanics (such as timing and posting frequency) over craft and creativity. This leads to a “quantity over quality” approach, producing uninspired posts that fall on deaf ears (and waste precious time and budget on ineffective execution).
Read on and learn:
- Basic writing best practices for each major social network. Readers will go beyond mechanics (like character limits and hashtag guidelines) and learn how to tailor messaging to each network.
- Time-tested copywriting formulas and tactics to create compelling messaging. Platforms and technology change. The basic principles of marketing and persuasion, however, are different.
- Examples of what good social media writing looks like in real life. Success is often easier to emulate when seeing it in action.
Success is undoubtedly never guaranteed. But, by committing to writing better for social media, you can give yourself a fighting chance.
Basic Writing Best Practices For Each Major Network
Quality content and creative copy beat sound mechanics.
However, following basic best practices will give your posts the edge.
Know Your Character Limits
Everyone knows Twitter has a 140-character limit.
However, did you know other networks have limits, too? Sure, they’re less relevant outside of the blue-birded microblogging platform. Still, it’s good to understand how much room you have to work with:
Optimal Post Length (Per Network)
A lot of (metaphorical) digital ink has been spilt pondering this question:
How long should social media posts be?
The short answer is that great content is excellent, regardless of length.
The longer and more data-backed answers are more complicated.
Our team at CoSchedule wanted to get to the bottom of this once and for all. So, we analyzed 6,399,322 social media posts (seriously) to see how length correlated with performance.
Our findings contradicted some popular wisdom around the subject (including some things we assumed were commonly-known truths).
Here’s what we found (broken down by network).
Traditional wisdom (for retail brands) has been shorter equals better on Facebook. However, we discovered that posts around 110 to 120 characters (with some rounding) performed best overall.
However, one widespread assumption our data did confirm was that hashtags underperform on Facebook. The platform simply doesn’t utilize them as effectively as Twitter or Instagram.
This may be because they’re a telltale sign you’re cross-posting onto Facebook from one of those networks (and the empire Zuckerberg built would prefer you create content specifically for Facebook instead).
Emojis are a popular platform, however, but use them in moderation.
The top-performing posts we analyzed on Twitter included an image and around 100 characters (give or take).
Hashtags are highly recommended here, where applicable, too. So are emojis (although we don’t recommend going overboard).
Instagram is all about stunning visual content. Strong captions do matter here, though, as does liberal usage of hashtags and emojis.
So, give your Instagram posts detailed descriptions. Load up on relevant hashtags to make your posts easier to find.
Like Instagram, Pinterest is all about eye-catching imagery. Similarly, though, detailed descriptions demonstrated better performance than shorter post copy.
Hashtags didn’t prove to be practical here. The only place where they’re clickable is in Pin descriptions (which is something to keep in mind if you use them).
Emojis, meanwhile, aren’t widely supported on Pinterest. That likely accounts for their limited impact on Pin performance.
LinkedIn is all about information sharing and establishing yourself as an authority. Link posts (with well-written and authoritative content) performed best.
Like Facebook, the best posts were long enough to be descriptive but short enough to skim. That puts them around the 90 to 150-character range.
Hashtags aren’t supported here. Emojis aren’t either unless you copy and paste them in from elsewhere. Since this is a professional network, emoji’s whimsical flair isn’t likely to connect with your audience as they might on other networks.
Tailor Your Messaging to Each Network
Perhaps more important than understanding network mechanics is understanding network intent.
This means knowing what people want when they use each platform is essential. After all, if your posts aren’t aligned with what your audience expects on a given network, they’re not likely to perform well.
So, your writing should uniquely suit each network where you’re creating and sharing content.
For example, your Facebook posts (where they’ll be seen sandwiched between updates from friends and family) shouldn’t sound the same as your LinkedIn copy (where it’ll be read along with updates from people’s professional networks).
Let’s start by looking at how each network is typically used:
Establish Your Social Media Voice and Tone
How do you make sure your posts sound like what your audience wants?
Start by developing your social media voice and tone.
If this feels murky, it might help to understand precisely what voice and tone mean.
- Voice: What does your brand consistently sound like on social media? Another way to understand this is to think about your brand’s personality.
- Tone: This is the inflexion you apply to your voice (ex: excited, serious, happy, etc.).
So, how do you establish your social media voice? Try following one (or both) of the following exercises:
- Describe your company in three words. Which trio of adjectives best describes who you are?
- Fill in the blanks: “We are ______ but not ______ .” Repeat this four or five times to quickly clarify who you are (and are not). For example, “We’re serious, but we’re not boring. We’re authoritative, but we’re not condescending.”
Each of these processes can help you begin defining what your voice sounds like in clear and straightforward terms.
Next, think about your audience. Ask yourself:
- What’s the average demographic for our audience?
- Do we have a casual or professional audience?
- What problems does our product solve, or wants do we fulfil?
Once you’ve answered these questions, you’ll find your voice at the intersection of:
- Your audience. Who are you writing for (and what kind of verbiage do they use)?
- Your choice of language. Personal? Professional? Casual? Serious?
- Your tone. This will adjust to suit your subject matter.
- Your purpose. What do people buy your product to get done?
Test Every Post With the Social Media Optimizer
How can you know whether your posts are effectively optimized and well-targeted toward your audience with the right voice and emotional sentiment?
One way is to use the Social Message Optimizer. This free web-based tool makes it easy to test and optimize every post you create for all major networks:
Visit the tool, enter your copy, and select your post type (image, text, or link):
Then, you’ll see which network this post is best suited toward:
Next, you’ll get a summary overview of what works (and what doesn’t) about your post:
You’ll also get a general analysis of your post and feedback on which type of emotional sentiment it conveys:
Useful stuff, for sure. Try it yourself here.
Follow Classic Copywriting Formulas and Best Practices
Platforms and technology change. The basic principles of marketing and persuasion, however, are different. That means many classic copywriting formulas that have worked for decades still work on social media (even when writing organic campaigns).
Granted, there are tons of copywriting formulas out there (copy mastermind Joanna Wiebe has gathered an impressive list here, and so has Buffer’s, Kevan Lee). However, here is a handful that works well on social media to get you started.
Formula 1: Problem / Agitate / Solve
Everyone’s got problems (Jay-Z once famously had 99 of them—sounds rough). Pick one you can solve (whether with your content or product), remind people why said problem is a hassle, and then roll out the solution.
This one is as simple as that.
You don’t know how users act on your site. That = lost $$$!
Unless you use … [INSERT URL]
Formula 2: Attention / Interest / Desire / Action
This formula follows four phases:
- Attention. Include something hard to believe in your copy (like an exciting stat or attention-grabbing phrase) or an eye-catching graphic.
- Interest. Once you have someone’s attention, follow through with something interesting.
- Desire. Reinforce what makes your content exciting and stoke the desire to take action or learn more.
- Action. Get that click-through/purchase/form completion / etc.
77%. That’s how much more traffic you could get … With @ContentKings. Check it out:
Formula 3: Before / After / Bridge
This work is done by introducing a problem, offering a vision of a better future, and then providing a solution. It’s similar to PAS, but with more emphasis on looking ahead to a better version of you (and as we all know, people buy better versions of themselves, not features).
Monitoring user behaviour used to be hell. Then, it got awesome. Here’s how we made it happen:
Formula 4: Features / Advantages / Benefits
This is another simple pattern perfect for making a direct tie-in to your product or service (assuming that’s appropriate for your campaign). State a feature, describe what makes it better than the competition, and how it will improve your customer’s experience.
The catch? Your product or service needs to have the edge over your competition.
Introducing FUSE software. Only from Fender. Customize your bass tone more than before:
Formula 5: Clear / Concise / Compelling / Credible
The 4 C’s are essentially everything they sound like. Make your copy short, engaging, and backed by a reputable source. There’s no need to overthink it beyond this.
Punchy. Powerful. Performance. Hear the amp Guitar World says, “is 20% louder than the competition.”
Formula 6: Useful / Urgent / Unique / Ultra-Specific
This is similar to the 4 C’s but focuses more on utility and timeliness. It should also be narrowly targeted to one specific audience while promising to offer something the reader won’t find somewhere else.
Marketers! This Google change just upended the game. Here’s one secret tip to get ahead:
Formula 7: The Cliffhanger …
This one can get uncomfortably close to clickbait if you’re not careful. The way it works, though, is to leave out just enough information to compel your reader to click through to learn more.
Seven top bassists. Only one instrument to rule them all …
Craft Creative Campaigns Your Audience Actually Cares About
While spontaneity is good on social media, winging it each day will likely result in an inconsistent social media presence stitched together with rushed content.
One way to combat this is to include comprehensive campaigns and ad hoc posts in your social media content strategy.
For the purposes of this post, let’s define what each of these entails:
- Ad hoc posts are single one-off messages. They might be spur-of-the-moment behind-the-scenes posts from around your office, responses to breaking news, or other timely and unplanned posts.
- A campaign is a series of related posts. Strong social media campaigns reinforce consistent messaging that leaves a lasting impact on your audience. Planning and executing them effectively requires careful preparation, though.
Your social media schedule should include both types of posts. For now, we’ll focus on creating coordinated campaigns that purposefully promote one message or piece of content.
Start With One Core Creative Concept
What you intend to promote should be at the heart of your campaign. That could mean:
- A creative campaign slogan to build brand awareness and loyalty.
- A piece of content you’re driving traffic toward (like a blog post, podcast episode, or video).
- A signup form for a contest or newsletter subscription.
These are just a few ideas. Nailing this down is essential for ensuring your campaign has a unified purpose, which each post promoting a consistent message and goal.
Coordinate Campaign Copy and Content
Next, start writing your posts. This is where the rubber meets the road.
Each post will require the following:
- Copy. The actual text of your post.
- Image direction. If a designer needs to create graphics, what exactly do you need from them? If images will also have text on them, specify that copy up front, too.
- A URL (optional). If your campaign is linking somewhere, include it in your content doc.
- Hashtags (optional). If your campaign includes any hashtags, plan them in advance.
Open up a word processor (literally any will work) and create fields for each post. It should look something like this:
Lay out your document with each network and post clearly labelled, according to which networks you’ll target and how many posts you’ll create on each one.
What Does Good Social Media Writing Look Like In Real Life?
Success is easier to achieve when you have examples to emulate. Here are seven real-world examples of well-written posts that cut through the noise and delivered results. We’ll also break down the elements that did each work (so you can apply those lessons to your work).
Example 1: Fender Guitars
This is a short post. However, it shows people how their life could be better if they played the guitar. It then drops a link that directs to a solution (a new guitar lesson app Fender created). In this way, it manages to promote the app not by selling people on its features but by promoting the benefits of making a lifestyle decision (that necessitates using the app):
The benefits of playing the guitar.
— Fender (@Fender) July 26, 2017
Example 2: Taco Bell
This post is, once again, deceptively simple and to the point. It works, though, by connecting a significant accomplishment (reaching a million followers) back into their product (sweet, delicious tacos … BRB, I’m headed to the drive-thru):
A post shared by Taco Bell (@tacobell) on Feb 7, 2017, at 6:51pm PST
Example 3: Autopilot
This Facebook post from marketing automation software provider Autopilot agitates a problem (lead generation is tricky) and then offers a solution. Boom.
Got 99 problems, but leads ain’t one? Copy this lead qualification process designed exclusively for high-growth startups: bit.ly/2usKjt1
Example 4: Bobcat Company
This post from Bobcat Company hooks people’s interest, strategically incorporates a hashtag within the post copy (typically ill-advised on Facebook, but demonstrates an example of where one can work), and delivers a link to a quiz that encourages people to develop a greater connection to Bobcat’s brand.
You already know your spirit animal. Now find your #OneToughAnimal with our quiz.
Example 5: Casper Mattresses
Casper has been generating tons of social media hype recently (especially for a mattress company). Their barebones content strategy proves that creative copy can carry much weight. Take this tweet, for example:
— Casper (@Casper) July 20, 2017
This post speaks to people’s habit of scrolling on their phones in bed (and admit it, you’re probably guilty as charged here). Follow along on the brand’s Twitter, and you’ll see tons of tweets that are as simple and effective as this one.
As writers and marketers, there are a few takeaways for us here:
- You don’t need a budget to be creative. Casper relies almost 100% on Twitter copy (and very few images or videos).
- Great content will get noticed. Why are people talking about mattresses (something you purchase once every ten years) on Twitter and in marketing circles? Because their stuff is legitimately entertaining in its own right, and it’s flawlessly tied into their product.
- Best practices will only take you so far. Character counts and optimal posting frequencies should be considered as starting points for your social strategy. However, compelling content beats out everything else when determining what’s most important for driving success. No exceptions or excuses.
I’d like to nap, but we have a couple more examples.
Example 6: Charmin
Everyone poops and no one understands that better than Charmin. Like Casper, they excel at taking a “boring” product (toilet paper) and making it attractive with catchy copy and a consistent brand voice.
Here’s one example:
— Charmin (@Charmin) May 9, 2017
This tweet addresses a common problem (toilet clogs) and promises to deliver an actionable solution (linking to an article on how to avoid toilet clogs). Straightforward and effective.
Example 7: Netflix
This tweet from Netflix tells a story in three parts (under 140 characters). It promotes the launch of a blockbuster movie arriving on their service while indirectly offering a solution to their follower’s problems (going from having nothing to do to suddenly having something they absolutely have to stay home and watch).
You are Darth Vader.
Tonight’s plans are the Rebels.
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is now streaming. pic.twitter.com/mGTtdrqTCx
— Netflix US (@netflix) July 24, 2017
Creatively putting your audience in the driver’s seat works. 681 retweets and 2,472 likes can’t be wrong.
Stop Winging It (And Start Writing Better Social Media Posts)
It’s time to start thinking strategically and creatively about every social media post you publish. With the guidance we’ve gone over in this post, you should know to cut through the noise, reach your audiences, and drive more success. None of this requires a large budget or team (although those things help).
All it takes are a working knowledge of basic copywriting, creativity, and a commitment to doing better work.