Does social media make us dumb?
You may have read the study from the Project for Excellence in Journalism and the general reaction to it (the consensus was that social media sites make you stupid and uninformed). While the conclusions are incorrect, the study is incredibly telling about the social media audience and how to write for it.
For example, according to the study, social media users care less about mainstream news and hard-hitting journalism (even though both are present) and prefer content from disparate, sometimes unverified, and sometimes extreme (even conspiracy-theorist) sources that generally appeal to their baser instincts or guilty pleasures (i.e. Paris Hilton).
What does this mean for my writing?
This doesn’t mean that you start writing about Paris Hilton, but this does help you understand what your audience is looking to get from an information outlet and model your content for the social media everyman. The social media everyman is looking for an entertaining diversion, while being receptive to learning something new if presented in an “edutainment” format that ties the lesson into popular culture.
What do I mean by this? Have a look at the following CopyBlogger articles:
- Did Alanis Morissette Get Irony Right?
- The David Lee Roth Guide to Legendary Marketing
- What Owen Wilson’s Pursed Lips Mean to Your Blog
- Don’t Be Cameron Diaz
- What Prince Can Teach You About Effective Blogging
I know many of you thought that Brian was just watching too much E! (and he probably does) but there’s much more to it than that. The hooks used in these articles are celebrities that your average person (however educated or uneducated) knows of or has heard something about and can on some level relate to.
So how do I appeal to the social media everyman?
- Start with the familiar: Introduce your article by drawing from a source that you think the social media audience will relate to and is interested in. Pop culture will often provide the perfect hook.
- Introduce the unfamiliar: Once you’ve established a relationship with the reader by finding common ground, you can introduce your topic (i.e. the analysis or educational aspect of your article).
- Connect the two: Once you have established common ground and introduced your insight, you need to connect the two. This makes your content easy to understand and digest for the readers, but also easy to remember, comment on and apply to their own lives.
While I don’t suggest you dumb down your content for social media, I do recommend that if you’re writing specifically with the social media audience in mind, understand the mentality and what they’re looking to get from Digg, Netscape, Reddit, StumbleUpon, etc, and appeal to that desire.
Note: Copyblogger has also featured equally successful posts (as a credit to both Brian and the readers) referencing Benjamin Franklin, Mark Twain, Aristotle, Plato and Ernest Hemingway. The success of these posts may explain why the History Channel is so popular.