Five Journalism Tips For Social Media Marketers

Social media marketers have to be part journalist, part advertiser. In an age of "brands as publishers," it's often more important to embrace the journalist  than the advertiser side. After all, your tweet, post or article is competing with the friends, news sites, entertainers, publications and brands that your audience is also following.

The following are five tips gleaned from nearly 20 years of writing for newspapers, magazines, blogs and brands.

1) Read, read, read. I could expand this list to 10 tips and make tips 1-5 just "read." It definitely goes without saying that reading makes your writing better. But reading a variety of different sources all helps spur ideas for your own content. Always be reading a book. Read a few different types of magazines a month. Don't just rely on your Twitter feed.

While it's important to read from these different media it's also extremely important to read on a variety of subjects. Don't just read about social media. Or business. Read about a hobby of yours. Read about psychology or sociology, about the history of your industry. Read about the policy decisions of your local government.

Read. Read often. Read variety.

2) Know AP style. There are a few major writing style books, like the “Chicago Manual of Style” and the New York Times Manual of Style and Usage. But the granddaddy of them all is the Associated Press Stylebook -- also known the "the journalist's bible." It's the rulebook for proper language in journalistic writing and it is what your audience is used to from reading newspapers, magazines and a lot of blogs.

AP Style teaches you things like: there is no such thing as "first annual." Instead, you should always say "inaugural." It also teaches you to (almost) always spell out one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight and nine, but start using numbers for 10 and higher.

Buy an AP Stylebook, read through it and check off the first two tips on this list.

3) Find the story not being told. Your "Pin It To Win It" promotion is not unique. Neither is your Follow Friday tweet. And, almost every brand has let their Facebook followers be "the first to know" about something. There definitely doesn't need to be another general bio of your CEO on the company blog.

Find a unique angle. Find the story not being told. Are you in the airline industry? Show some graphics about what the different positions of the light sticks mean for the people directing the planes. In the alcohol industry? Explain the science behind how beer goes funky. Make office furniture? Do an interview with a doctor to learn how to prevent carpal tunnel.

Finding the story not being told means finding tangents. It's the equivalent of getting lost on a small backcountry road -- you need to allow yourself to meander in order to find what others haven't. Then you tell people about the find.

4) Learn to edit your own work. I have a deep appreciation for some of the great editors I've had over the years. However, as social media marketers, we don't always have the luxury or time for someone to edit our work. So, you better be able to edit it yourself. Some tricks that often do the job:

• Read each paragraph backwards: Many people get caught in the flow of their writing and start to skim instead of edit. In a four-sentence paragraph, read the fourth, then third, then second, then first sentences. This will help you focus on each individual sentence, instead of the flow.

• Don't ignore the squiggly lines: Microsoft Word provides red and green squiggly lines under what you type for a reason: they mean something is wrong. Fix it.

• Set it aside: Write. Then step away and do something else -- preferably for a day. It's amazing how different what you wrote looks after you've stepped away.

• Know your most common mistakes: You always use "it's" when you should use "its” -- or write "over" when you should write "more than." There are probably three to five mistakes your brain is wired to make for some reason. Know what they are. Do a pass of your writing looking for ONLY those words and those mistakes.

5) Make it about a person or a number. Readers love to read about a person, not people. There can be more than one person you write about, but don't write about a group of people. Let your readers get to know each person you are writing about, instead of writing generalities about a group of people.

If you don't have a person to write about, find a good number. Readers love data. Like Tip #3, find the number only your company knows: how long something takes, how many of something was made, how much of something was donated. Have fun with the numbers by comparing it to something odd or abstract. "Our company makes enough jelly beans a day to fill the stomachs of 769 African elephants."

For both the person or the data, it's all about the details.

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10 comments about "Five Journalism Tips For Social Media Marketers ".
  1. Steve Schildwachter from rVue , January 8, 2013 at 3:53 p.m.
    Bryan, thanks -- as a former reporter and now ad exec, this is the same advice I've tried to dispense. The only thing I can add is that you should "know your beat". That is, what territory and/or topic you're covering. This is not unlike what good ad agency account people should do anyway, know their client's business as well as their client knows it. Or at least well enough to make smart recommendations. Great piece -- thanks! http://twitter.com/SteveS1
  2. Andre Szykier from maps capital management , January 8, 2013 at 4 p.m.
    Good advice, that most people do not follow. I sometimes edit copy for technical articles and find more than 60 percent of the words on the cutting floor after I'm done. I would add the principle of "six word sentences", as a goal in writing. Example: "spread her guilt like soft warm butter"
  3. Henry Harteveldt from Atmosphere Research Group , January 9, 2013 at 12:11 a.m.
    Excellent advice for anyone in marketing/communications. Thank you!
  4. Robert Gilmour from Innfinite Hospitality Ltd , January 9, 2013 at 8:53 a.m.
    Nothing really new in this, same applies, more than ever, to content marketing
  5. Pete Austin from Triggered Messaging , January 9, 2013 at 10:57 a.m.
    All good except #3. There are good reasons why most stories are not told - nobody cares and getting off the beaten track is SEO poison. Open a dictionary at random and choose a word each time, until you have 3 random nouns, then insert them in the following: Are you in the {x} industry? Then don't write about what {y} owes to {z}.
  6. Marc Honorof from First Person Productions , January 9, 2013 at 5:35 p.m.
    Good tips, but can one expect brands to become journalists? It seems they should either build an internal team (expensive to get good people), or outsource. Well crafted content will optimize SEO and link sharing, while engaging and entertaining their audience. Long live the content strategist and content marketing professionals!
  7. Jay Gonzales from Beyond The Server , January 9, 2013 at 6:54 p.m.
    Bryan - Thanks. Great list. Sometimes style guides don't offer much 'style'. They are full of rules, which you SHOULD learn, but then learn the exceptions and how to break them. Just like any art form. Yes, learn AP style. Then study how social style is different from marketing style. For example, I would use "inaugural" in a press release, but rarely in a conversation, even in the board room wearing a suit. I might even say "first ever". In many ways, 'social' complements traditional media and marketing, but it can also rescue us from those constraints. Or at least from the guilt of thinking different.
  8. Bryan Boettger from Reevuit , January 10, 2013 at 10:31 a.m.
    Thank you, everyone, for all the comments! Seems like this article definitely hit a passion point for a lot of people!
  9. Ngoc T from Iowa , January 11, 2013 at 4:19 p.m.
    You hit the bull's eye with this, Bryan.
  10. Karen Furlong from na , January 11, 2013 at 4:56 p.m.
    Many jounalists and advertising copy writers seem to have forgotten some language basics. Three pet peeves as examples: 1) Saying "less" when they mean "fewer" 2) Not knowing that "X times more" is not the same as "X times as much" 3) Using an adjective when they should use an adverb. Is this due to a failure to teach or a failure to learn? Some of us still care!