Can you speak social media?
An international language, it is extremely visual with meaning conveyed via images, moving pictures, symbols and acronyms. Informal in tone and execution, it lacks grammatical rigour but is fast, pervasive and permanent. Conversational in nature some may criticise its simplicity, but it is powerful enough to instantly connect people from all corners of the globe.
Social media reflects the ‘voice of the people’ and for many brands, it has necessitated a fundamental shift in the way they speak with consumers and the tone they use. Corporate speak, legalese and sales pitchy language has limited appeal on social media. To join in the online conversation, brands have had to change from a monologue approach to one that is far more interactive, personal and responsive. It is a conversation that requires a human voice and a dialogue.
As a result, we are seeing many big brands humanising their voice by personalising their communications in this space with a friendly tone, casual comments, first name sign offs (and yes even emoticons!) and empowering a social media team to communicate for the brand.
Take a look at the Telstra Twitter feed and you’ll see what I mean:
@clancyteach No worries at all Clancy Enjoy the rest of your night & I hope you’ve had an awesome weekend, enjoy your week -Joe
In a world of 140 character limits, SMS acronyms and simultaneous media consumption, the art of brand communication is changing. The written word of social media is fast, colloquial and dare I say it..everyday language.
So what does this mean for marketing communications? Is social media the metaphoric ice age for copywriters? Are they being replaced by everyday employees using everyday language? Has the copywriter been usurped by the amateur who can add a few words on to a cute picture of a cat or baby or the teenager who can compress a sentence into a few letters punched into a mobile keypad? Does video kill the need for words?
Or does the brevity of social media communication demand direct, articulate and well crafted prose from professional writers?
I posed this question to Melbourne copywriter Andy Segal, a veteran of many big brand campaigns through his work at agencies such as SEE Melbourne and BADJAR Ogilvy. Andy kindly shared his thoughts on how copywriting is changing in both traditional and online channels:
Have you had to change the way you write advertising copy for traditional media channels because of Social Media and the increasing trend towards simultaneous media consumption?
While the way I write hasn’t changed, concept development in advertising has changed dramatically. People now have a smartphone or ipad tablet with them, basically at all times. So we have to consider not just what people will read, but also if and how people might want to further interact with the ad in front of them, and the brand.
What sort of writing style suits each platform?
First and foremost, a writing style and tone of voice is developed to suit a brand. Then it is carried across each SM platform.
On Facebook, images get the most attention with short captions accompanying them. Facebook is about lots of small frequent posts that engage the audience. Ask questions to get responses and likes. Be topical and current. Similarly for Twitter, use short posts, images and links that your audience will want.
Importantly, give something of benefit to your audience. They have chosen your brand as a friend. Think of yourself that way.
What is the future for copywriters in this new media landscape?
There is now more of a role for copywriters and creatives. Brands now have Community Managers who are in charge of creating the copy for posts on all channels. This is a new job that we never had before and it will only grow.
Also with more brands jumping onto Facebook, it has become just another channel in which advertising needs to cut through. Before the internet, most people would have to confront at least 100 advertisements a day (not sure of exact number), be it on tv, billboards, newspaper and print. Imagine how many ads a day you would see now!
Personally I agree with Andy, and believe that now more than ever good copy is important to cut through. But as he identified, the tone is different and social media written communication needs to be far more friendly than traditional messaging. It also needs to be shorter and this is where the experience of a professional writer comes to the fore – as it is a refined skill to succinctly capture and communicate a message in as few words as possible.
What do you think? Do brands still need copywriters for social media or is the casual everyday approach sufficient? What do you think of the new role of ‘community managers’ for brands? Look forward to hearing your thoughts.
Until next time…