The Unexpected Trap of
Writing for Social Media

Social Media Trap

Attention is a rare and precious resource. It’s arguably more difficult than ever before to demand someone’s attention for any length of time.

Attention is now something that cannot be taken, only given. As marketers it is crucial to understand these facts in order to better perform our jobs in a digital world. We must now optimize on numerous fronts. We must be witty, pithy, catchy, exciting, controversial, bright, unexpected, or some combination of all.

And so we come to understand these truths, brush up on our writing skills, and dive headfirst into the realm of social media marketing. We educate ourselves and follow resources like Copyblogger, Problogger, and others. We find many of the old persuasive writing rules still hold (e.g. the purpose of the headline is still to get readers to read the first sentence). Upon further research, we find a bevy of tips and tricks for optimizing social media efforts for Stumble, Digg, RSS, etc.

But in the wake of SEO-ing, SMO-ing, and all other types of O-ing we face the danger of falling into a trap. We must always remember that the quality of the content is paramount and be vigilant not to sacrifice that quality upon the altar of optimization.

Certainly, the headline of your blog post is crucial and, of course, there are ways to tweak it for an increased likelihood of success on different social media channels. I also agree that hooking readers with powerful opening sentences or images is integral to social media success. But a fundamental tenet of social media is that you must engage your readers/viewers/consumers. It is unfortunate and frustrating to find a blog post that is just a series of hooks with no real meat. I have found more than one company blog attempting to play the social media game where each paragraph was just a teaser for the following paragraph. There was no payoff at the end. When methodically optimizing your writing for search engines, social news sites, social bookmarking sites, scanners, visual learners, and diagonal readers you might forget to optimize for the most important person of all: your reader.

Taken directly from the about page here at Copyblogger, copywriting is:

The process of writing words…with the ultimate intention of having the reader take some form of action.

If the purpose of your blog is to provide meaningful content on a subject, then don’t forget that one of the main actions you want your readers to take is to keep reading. Use your skills/tips/tricks at the beginning of your writing to snag the reader’s attention but then don’t be afraid to set those tricks aside and earn that attention with your quality content….with your meat. That is how to engage social media consumers and start to build a relationship with them that will lead to whatever ultimate goal you have.

Effective writing for new media is more than the sum of optimization efforts. The internet is not a commercial, pamphlet, catalog, brochure, radio ad, or magazine spread. Optimization is certainly key to your efforts, but remember that it might not always be best to sacrifice your quality content to the fickle gods of (insert-your-favorite-qualifier-here) optimization.

Matthew Peters is the co-founder of Pandemic Labs. He blogs at PandemicBlog.

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Reader Comments (34)

  1. says

    Thanks, Matthew, this is such a good point. Unfortunately, I see a lot of folks new to blogging who follow all of the steps painstakingly, like a paint-by-numbers kit, but the “create compelling content” step is mystifying and hard, so they skip that one.

    And it *is* mystifying and hard, but if you don’t have a grasp of how to do it, the other steps are just noise.

  2. says

    Your point “Attention is now something that cannot be taken, only given” is right on.

    It used to be that if there was something to read, people would read it. The default mode was “seeking” – where readers had an open willingness to read whatver came across their field of vision. I think there has been a rapid shift over the past two years to a default mode of “screening” – where readers are in a closed or defensive mode because they just have too much information coming at them.

    As writers we need to provide not just valuable information, but the right valuable information customized to that reader, to get them to “open the door” to their attention.

  3. says

    Great post! I agree that attention is a scarce commodity… growing scarcer by the day… and it only proves the importance of personal branding.

    I just returned from Rich Schefren’s maven boot camp and he really convinced the participants that, now more than ever before, you have to literally make a name for yourself if you want to attract, and keep, your prospects’ attention. For copywriters, this is actually a gift because it means we have to tell more interesting stories. The way you get people’s attention is with a very compelling, very sincere, very personal story that resonates with their (secret?) core desires and problems.

  4. says

    This is a great post. Generating great content is crucial to any publication’s success. This seems to precede collaborating all the elements needed to generate a great platform. Thanks for the article.

  5. says

    Thanks to everyone who has commented so far. I appreciate the kind words and I couldn’t agree more with your statements. I especially like Barbara’s point about about “screening” vs. “seeking.” That is a very elegant way to describe the shift that has been taking place. I might have to use that in an upcoming post. Credit will, of course, be given.

    Robert, I also agree that the need to earn attention is a gift to copywriters. Perhaps that need will soon liberate copywriting from the dank dungeon of corporate hogwash.

  6. says

    Matthew, I absolutely love this post. It stands for every reason why I started writing in the first place… because writing is an activity I truly enjoy. Though I am having a lot of fun contacting new people and love the thrill of making those connections, I would much rather have just a couple of readers who really enjoy what I write (because I am producing something of some amount of quality), than hundreds of views each day only because I know the right phrases which will boost me to the top of search engine results.

    With the numbers of bloggers growing by the day, your message is an important one that needs to be heard by all — keep up the good work.

  7. says

    I am having a really difficult time with my blog. I feel my writing is compelling, but if no one comments, and my traffic is low, is it really compelling. The term is completely relative.

    How does one gain some attention even if you feel your blog posts are good? Or is this a clear sign to throw in the towel?

  8. says

    Glenn and Sandra, keep in mind that Matthew is not saying to avoid appealing to social media (that’s how traffic is obtained, and that’s a good thing). He’s saying that once attention is granted, don’t squander it. Without value, that attention will be fleeting, and will likely never return.

  9. says

    Bravo Sir!

    The word that springs to mind is ‘integrity’.

    If the article you write comes across as the sum of various optimisation techniques, you’ve missed the point and likely lost a reader.

    If you can’t offer value with your post, don’t post at all.

  10. says

    Indeed Brian, I am not saying to avoid appealing to social media. In a way, the main element of my business is to appeal to social media. Social media should be used as a means to an end, not the end itself. Of course, as in all things, there are exceptions.

  11. says

    You could rename this post “just say no to blogger crack”! As I am sure that most bloggers have discovered, the formula for posts that find sustainable traffic from social sites like stumbleupon is often different then the type of content that may be useful for your subscribers. My posts on “eight tips on ______” or “things you should know about_________” get a greater response on SU than longer, informative posts on the same subject matter. As a result, the temptation for that quick fix of increases traffic burst and resulting increase in alexa ranking is hard to resist when compared to the lower number of hits from search engine queries which tend to find my longer posts. But the sobering fact is that I have yet to notice an increase of subscribers or comments from the social sites, where the slower growth from visitors from other sources actually provide motivation for the long term.

  12. says

    Matthew, congrats on the guest post. I do agree with the content is key idea. Disappointingly, people look at Copyblogger and Problogger and basically copy what they do. Well, if they write a top 10 list on something, I should do the same thing and then they agree with everything the original source said.

    If you write what you know, you should be ok. I would never write about writing/blogging, as that is not what I do.

  13. says

    Very Good Post–You must be interesting and you must have leave the impression that you have more to say. The reader will always be persuaded to return if they think that it is in their best interest. More useful information, a continuing story line, or just a chuckle every now and then, are all reasons readers return. Keep up the great work COPYBLOGGER.

  14. says

    Excellent points and tips! Many spend hours daily on optimization and forget to pay attention to just adding good ‘ol quality entries anymore.

  15. says

    While I am relatively new to the blogging community, the thing that annoys me about the content created is their “fluffyness” with no “real meat” to them.

    Not to be a hyprocrite (as I’ve written a few articles of this nature), I feel this flood of “instant” and “quick fix” articles are drowning out those few rare gems of insight that are thought provoking and ultimately stimulate the reader to action.

    I still have a lot to learn.

    Matthew; thank you for writing this engaging and thought provoking article.

    – Will

  16. says

    Well said. It’s really incredible how many websites out there focus so much on the hook — they forget that the purpose of fishing is to *catch* the fish. Not just hook the fish.

  17. says

    Hey Brian I dont know if you know this or not but you’re number 50 on The world’s 50 most powerful blogs.
    the url is here:
    Freaking brits give you a fifty, below some knucklehead that blogs about stupid cat pictures, oh and they called you dry?, maybe you should start talking about paris hilton or something. Anyhoo just a little heads up

  18. says

    Hi Matthew,
    Great article with many key points. One thing that’s a challenge is that blogging or any other form of social media is about communication and the purpose of communication is often misunderstood or misapplied.

    The purpose of communication is not to be understood, but to produce a desired result. The headline produces the desired result of getting the attention of the reader so they will read. And it cascades from there as you have described.

    Ultimately though the communication should produce a big result a big outcome. That’s where I think it gets really tricky. What’s the big result the blogger or other social media interaction intended to producer?

    Getting the reader to add you to their social feed?

    Getting them to ask for more?

    Getting them to contact you?

    Then how to you provide enough value in that content to produce that ultimate result the writer wants?

    I’d love to read what you specifically have to say about the actions to take to produce a specific desired outcome.

    Kind Regards,

  19. says

    Excellent insights here, Matthew. I think the trap we fall into when SMO’ing is forgetting that there’s no such thing as “a reader,” meaning that the people reading are all particular people reading for particular, discrete reasons. Writing a general, popular post that ranks well in the social media outlets is one thing…sometimes writing that post and a post that resonates with your current readers is quite another.

    But I think you’ve hit the nail on the head in that the bottom line is to keep people reading your blog…not clicking your ads.

  20. says

    “Attention is now something that cannot be taken, only given”

    Never thought of it from this point of view, you are totally right, that just says it all, write good content and people will give you attention you wont have to “take it”.

  21. says

    Thanks for the great post! There is no option for the great content. Along with the social media, on my Pune real estate market news blog, i have recently realized that i should not ‘play for the gallery’ of search engines! Let me explain. In the real estate slow down obviously property buyers in Pune (India), search for the property rates. If i keep on talking about real estate rates and ignore other important aspects which influence the buying decision, i may get more hits but less readers. Along with the social media, in certain situations, it is better to focus on posting useful content to your readers than trying to grab the ‘attention’ of search engines’ spiders.

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