Social media copywriting: why it matters

When you’re communicating online, words are the most important tool that you have. (Hark, is that a thousand designers screaming, “oh no they aren’t! “at their MacBooks? Well they are, so there.)

It’s been argued that we get the least amount of information from written or verbal communication (7%, as opposed to the 93%of information which we get from scrutinising someone’s body language).

I’m not sure how accurate that stat is, but I know from personal experience just how easy it is to misread the tone of an email. (Did you know that some people now find the full stop rude? I can only apologise for all the full stops in this post, and assure you that I mean no offense.)

Written communication, such as copywriting, has to convey the appropriate tone for the topic. It has to evoke particular thoughts or feelings in the reader. All it takes is one wrong word to change the tone of a sentence.

Choosing the wrong word: @NHSChoices

Domestic violence isn’t a condition that flares up now and then. It’s one person abusing another. The use of that phrase makes the organisation sound as if it understands why these things happen, that they are unavoidable.

NHS Choices posted an apology – Tweets that appeared to mix up Christmas stresses, family arguments and abuse. (I imagine most families argue at Christmas. It’s not the same thing as domestic violence.)

Words matter, even more so when you only have 140 characters available.

Irony fail: #HasJustineLandedYet

Justine tweet

But what about personal Twitter accounts? I mean, if you only have a few hundred followers, who cares if you don’t spell something right, tweet in text speak, or post outrageous statements? I mean, it’s your Twitter account, right?

As one communications professional recently discovered, you can cause a huge amount of offence with a mere 140 characters. Sure, some might say that it was just a comment, and people don’t have a right to be protected from being offended – that a single tweet has resulted in a hate campaign, global media coverage about how stupid the tweeter was, and the tweeter being fired from her communications job – but it doesn’t matter.

Social media is all about perception. We’ll never know what Justine really meant by that tweet. Most of the people who’ve read it will never meet her. All they know is that she had that thought, and then felt it appropriate tweet it. Even if it was meant as irony, that’s no excuse – especially for a communications professional. Irony is hard to read over Twitter, and race and AIDS aren’t great subjects to joke about.

Sometimes it’s what you don’t say: Ben & Jerry’s

Twitter gives you 140 characters and a picture or video to make your point. But great copywriting isn’t just about the words you use, and the way you use them. It’s also about what goes unsaid.

When the US state of Colorado legalised the sale of marijuana, Ben & Jerry’s used a popular stereotype to comment on the issue via Twitter. It didn’t even use the word marijuana, but got more than 10,000 retweets and significant press coverage from the tweet.

Pointless posts: Carefree World of Fine

Carefree Facebook Post


This Facebook post, highlighted by the fabulous Condescending Corporate Brand Page shows that sometimes, it’s better to post nothing at all. Social media management isn’t just about churning out posts to hit some arbitrary target for the marketing department. It’s about creating engagement, selling a product or service, or building a community.

Posts like the one above serve no purpose, and shouldn’t be published.

Designed to be short and snappy, social posts are meant be shared. Humour and controversy can result in posts going viral, but as #HasJustineLandedYet shows, that’s not always a good thing. You only have a short amount of time to grab the reader’s attention, to make them click on that link, or share the tweet. If the writing doesn’t tempt them to find out more, that “social” network post will remain just words on a screen.


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