Let’s play pretend for a minute, shall we?
Let’s say you live in an old Italian Market. On your rounds as a door-to-door zucchini salesman, you drop in on two tailors’ shops that are quite different.
The first is run by Roberto Andolini, a very skilled tailor who has a ridiculous mustache and always greets you warmly, asking about your kids and your business. Roberto has a large collection of fountain pens and is always telling you about his latest acquisition.
Each time you see him, he cracks the same joke about making sure to keep the pens away from the clothes he’s tailoring. And each time he tells it, he’s so amused by his own hilarity that he uncorks a big, billowing laugh. You like Roberto very much.
The second shop on your route is Tailor, Inc., run by John Smith. (His name used to be Giovanni Smitto, but he had it legally changed.)
John is also a very good tailor, but he’s incredibly boring. He never rises from his sewing machine, and all he’ll talk about is hemming and fabric types. If you’re lucky, sometimes he’ll tell you about thread.
Got the mental picture? Two tailors of equal ability, one of whom is personable and warm and one of whom is slightly less interesting than a can of hairspray. Now, pretend you have a suit that needs taking in. Who do you go to?
Both tailors are good, so you do what your gut tells you to do. You go to Andolini, because you like him.
It’s the oldest, most obvious sales principle in the world: people do business with people they like. Yet the internet is filled with boring, dry text unworthy of even John Smith’s personality.
But listen up, because you can’t afford to write boring copy. Doing so is a great way to lose your readers to the Andolinis of the world.
What you know is a commodity
Let’s get this unpleasant truth out in the open. The world is far too big for your knowledge to be truly special.
If you write about gardening, there are hundreds of millions of competing pages on the Net. Even if you drill down into a niche (say, “gardening for seniors”), there are still hundreds of thousands of competitors.
The law of averages says that many of those competitors will be good at what they do. In fact, quite a few are even going to be excellent.
This means that even if you’re excellent in your niche-within-a-niche, you’re still just one among thousands.
“Being excellent” is not a USP. It can never be enough to define you. Yet, “trying to be the best” is the way that most people online hope to improve readership and gain popularity.
Yes, you should always seek to improve. Yes, being good at what you do matters.
But no, it’s not enough. Not by a long shot.
To be popular, you need to be likable. For the most part, you’ll need to rely on your writing (whether as text, in a podcast, or on video) to do that. But luckily, learning to write personably is actually more about unlearning how to write like a stiff.
Try these tips:
1. Write like a real person
Naomi Dunford of IttyBiz is known for her legendary foul mouth. And I’ve been known to let the occasional curse word fly myself.
Naomi swears because it’s how she talks in person. I swear because I happen to believe it makes everything funnier. (Picture Donald Duck cursing inventively right now. Hilarious, right?)
I’m not saying you should swear, especially if it doesn’t mesh with your personality. But don’t hide who you are in an attempt to sound “professional.” If you normally pepper your speech with quaint Southern expressions, do the same in your writing. Genuine speech conveys authenticity and allows your best audience to find you and develop a connection.
2. Make it personal
Marketing consultant Marcia Hoeck (who, as it happens, is also my mother) found that when she added personal details to her business’s blog and e-zine, she got a significant increase in clicks and responses.
She wasn’t writing essays about personal issues, but she’d occasionally incorporate anecdotes about her dogs or grandkids into her articles. She might explain how she was conducting a teleclass from our house, but had to hide in my basement to do so because the baby was in a noisy mood that day.
Adding personal details to your copy doesn’t make you look unprofessional. It humanizes you, making you more than just a member of the faceless horde.
3. Be interesting
My own topic is technology, but I started blogging as a humor writer. In fact, I picked up a lot of readers by getting a reputation for funny one-liners on Twitter.
Thanks to this, I’ve become “the funny technology guy.” Even though I’m teaching the same stuff as thousands of others, readers come to me because I’m usually somewhat amusing even when discussing dry topics.
If you can make someone smile a little when discussing the ins and outs of domain forwarding, they’re likely to come to you when they want to know more about, say, how to manage their web hosting service.
Again, you don’t have to be funny when you write. (In fact, if it doesn’t come naturally to you, you should probably use humor sparingly, if at all.) But you do have to be interesting.
Talk about sports teams you like, and why other teams suck. Infuse knitting know-how into a post about salesmanship. Refer to your hatred of Ashton Kutcher in a post about how to do affiliate marketing.
In other words, say what’s on your mind. You’re a normal, well-rounded human being who doesn’t think about one topic 24/7. So be that person in your writing as well. When we find true humanity online, we tend to flock to it.
We’re taught in school that the purpose of writing is to clearly convey a message, or to overcome objections, or to persuade. And all of that is important.
But writing isn’t just about conveying information. It’s about communication. The minute you start being more of a person and less of a knowledgeable robot, the easier it will be for your audience to find you, trust you, and like you.