Social Media Success Tip #2: Learn how to write headlines

April 12th, 2011 Karine Joly 3 Comments

If you can’t write well for the Web today, your writing won’t probably be read.

Your title might get a look from friends of friends and your introductory paragraph a quick scan from your biggest fans, but the remaining 100, 500 or 1,000 words you lovingly typed on your keyboard will be ignored for a more promising link.
 
FACT: Web content rarely gets 100% of its reader’s attention.

I know that YOU might be attending a business meeting, doing email, answering the phone, watching TV or tweeting as YOU read these lines. Just like YOUR potential readers might when they come across YOUR social media content.

What writing for the Web and social media really means is writing for people with busy lives, differently-sized devices connected to the Web, lots of friends (not a dozen but more like 300 or 5,000) and ridiculously low attention spans.
 
Executive summaries were invented to help busy decision-makers grasp the gist of a report without reading it from cover to cover. With the explosion of social media and the multiplication of publishers, everybody on the Web has the information diet of an executive.

That’s probably why Twitter caught up very quickly among Internet power users – and imposed the status update as an essential feature for any social media platform. By squeezing any message in a 140-character format, Twitter put the reader’s need for brevity first. Writers and publishers could only adapt.

The ultimate goal of social media is to build or grow the relationships between your target audiences and your institution. As a result, writing for social media should make your fans talk and your constituents act. But, nothing will happen if you can’t grab their attention with your titles and headlines in the first place.

Whether you write a blog post, a tweet, the title of your YouTube video or a status update on Facebook, if your headline doesn’t do its job, your readers will click elsewhere. They won’t either share your content with their friends, connections or followers.

So, how do you write great headlines for social media?

Learn from others outside and inside of higher education
If you take the time to follow popular accounts on social media, you’ll be able to learn a lot. You can also get some guidance from the research conducted by Dan Zarrella, a social media scientist or by attending the Web Writing Boot Camp lead by Michael Powers next month.

Dan Zarrella at Harvard on January 24th 2011.

Practice, practice – and measure
Use your social media accounts as your own lab. Don’t keep writing the same type of titles. Experiment with questions, numbered lists or how-tos. Then, assess the performance of your different trials to find out how to write great headlines for your audience on a specific platform.

The most important step is to understand that your social media headlines shouldn’t be after-thoughts.
They will make or break your efforts, so learn how to write them and do it fast.

Web Writing Boot CampWant to learn how to write to be read on the Web or social media?

Register for Web Writing Boot Camp (May 10-12, 2011): $350 for 3 webinars including writing challenges.