LEARN HOW TO GET HUGE RESULTS USING SOCIAL MEDIA
Donald Trump’s recent ascent to the White House caused shock waves of disbelief around the world. Over in New Zealand, another unlikely aspiring politician also caused a stir — albeit on a much smaller scale – by placing third in the race to replace Len Brown as mayor of Auckland.
The politician in question is Chloe Swarbrick. If the name is unfamiliar, you may be curious about her background. Well, she’s not a seasoned local-body politician, a well-known businesswoman, or a celebrity.
Chloe Swarbrick is, in fact, a precocious 22-year-old who, up until October’s elections, no one had heard of.
Now, to you, third place may not sound all that impressive. However, consider this: Chloe collected around 5,000 more votes than the previous election’s main contender and one-time reality-TV personality John Palino. The two who finished ahead of her were ex-Labour Party leader Phil Goff (he won the mayoralty) and ex-Xero managing director Vic Crone.
She’s got to be rich
Perhaps surprisingly, Chloe didn’t have a bottomless ‘war chest’ to draw from – she had about NZ$9,000. As a result, her face was absent from the thousands of billboards that littered Auckland’s streets – billboards that were much too expensive. And, predictably, mainstream media showed little interest in her.
So, how did she do it?
While everyone else used the dusty old strategy of putting up billboards and posting pamphlets – which most of us never read – Chloe took a 21st century approach.
You see, by day, Chloe is a social media strategist. So, knowing too well that traditional media would gobble up her funds before she had a chance to say ‘down with Len Brown’, Chloe stuck to what she knows.
“Social media lets me, as it does with all candidates, create my own content. What social media and the internet did was democratise information… people can ask questions and get answers in real time,” Chloe told the New Zealand Herald.
Five social media tips
Of course, just being on social media isn’t enough. To be successful, you must:
- Add value – don’t create content for the sake of it. Make sure what you produce is informative and answers your audiences’ questions.
- Be relevant – stay on message. Being an expert baker doesn’t mean that talking about chocolate cakes will help your cause.
- Choose the right medium – what type of content does your audience prefer? Chloe made a lot of videos; however, you could write blogs, create memes or run competitions.
- Be consistent – set a publishing schedule and stick to it. This shows you are active and keeps audiences engaged.
- Be responsive – one wonderful thing about social media is that it enables you to engage with your audience in real time. So, be around for the conversation; when people comment, make sure you respond.
What can we learn from Chloe?
Most of us hold no political ambition. However, if you are reading this post, you probably run a business or a not-for-profit organisation. To achieve your goals, you need to reach out to your target customers or donors.
Before social media, ‘reaching out’ usually meant buying expensive advertising – something that is much easier for big organisations.
Incidentally, during the recent US election, as of late October, Hillary Clinton spent US$141.7 million on advertising; Donald Trump, on the other hand, spent just US$58.8 million.
What Chloe’s campaign demonstrates is that social media evens out the odds – ‘David really can challenge Goliath.’
Know your audience — it’s one of the first rules of copywriting. (Not to be confused with picturing your audience naked. That’s reserved for the public speaking domain…).
Why is it so important? It comes down to making connections with your intended readers. You wouldn’t walk into a university library and start singing at the top of your lungs. (At least we hope not!) And you probably wouldn’t talk to a group of primary schoolkids using a bunch of scientific jargon. You’d find a way to make your topic accessible to them, putting it into words that they’d understand.
That’s the key with good copywriting too. It isn’t about your capabilities or stylistic preferences as a writer; it’s about using language that will connect with the people who you want to read the piece.
Defining your audience
When thinking about your audience, don’t make assumptions. And don’t generalise either.
Knowing your audience means going beyond demographics such as age or gender. Dive deeper and think about values and motivations. What does your audience care about? Why would they take the time to read your copy? What will drive them to take action? What, if any, knowledge do they already have about your topic?
Consider what type of language will be appealing to readers. (This is also a key consideration for organisations when refining their brand tone of voice.) Will pop culture references make people LOL, or go right over their heads? Do people like when you write with familiar, casual terms and slang or do they expect a level of formality?
Think in terms of real people
It also helps to not just think about your audience generally. Think about actual people, individuals who will – hopefully – read and be moved by your copy. Writing an appeal for a non-profit? Think about your Aunt Maggie who’s made monthly donations to a cause she cares about for decades. What kind of language would connect with her? Writing B2B copy for busy marketing professionals? Consider what a full day looks like for someone working in that industry. What content is already landing in their inbox? And what would it take to grab their attention?
Picturing a real person can help you write more naturally (which means more effectively, too).
Ways to get deeper audience insights
Truly understanding your audience is easier said than done, but it pays off to put some time and effort into creating a holistic picture of the people who you want to read your copy.
The above tips can help copywriters get a more comprehensive view of their audience when starting an assignment. From a broader perspective, there are many different ways businesses and organisations can better understand their target market (and then pass those insights on to their freelance writers, of course…). These include:
- Running focus groups to get a variety of perspectives
- Conducting an online survey
- Asking for direct feedback on social media
- Measuring content effectiveness online
- Creating personas for different audience segments.
Want to make sure people read your copy? Whatever the medium – print, web, social – start by thinking about your audience first.
People enjoy humour, it’s part of the human psyche. The desire to laugh and be happy are shown to improve productivity, success and lifespan. Also it is widely agreed that laughing is part of human bonding. With this information in mind wouldn’t it make sense to employ humour in your content to improve it and gain appeal, creating a bond with your audience.
The simplest way to do this is through puns. One of the best wordsmiths in the world so far, William Shakespeare, was incredible at this. Many people are capitalizing on this – I mean we all do don’t we? People consume humorous content all the time – this can be seen through the popularity of Buzzfeed and The Onion.
My personal favourite punny content is a webshow called ‘Whine About It’: a show in which Matt, the host, gets drunk drinking wine at his desk and whines about things. It’s a perfect mix for me – humour and complaining. Upwards and onwards, here are five steps for you to include satire, hilarity and cleverness in your writing to engage your readers and consumers.
Consider your choice of words carefully and think about how they sound and how they play together. For example, at The Copy Collective we are always trying to make our social media more engaging. “A gift from a grateful client, heads up Dominique greatly enjoys grapes of the red variety, Maureen’s muse is more of the Moët kind” was a post we put up recently with an image of wine from a client. Something as simple as alliteration can take an ordinary sentence and make it magical.
When talking about a story or explaining something, compare it to something that’s completely different i.e., an oxymoron. To quote Oscar Wilde, “I can resist everything but temptation” or Andy Warhol, “I am a deeply superficial person”. The simplicity of an oxymoron can really boost any content in both how clever it is and its humour.
In my experience some of the best jokes are my worst jokes, although my friends may not agree with this, obviously they’re wrong. Making people groan is just as satisfying as making people giggle. For example, every opportunity I have to say, “Hi hungry, I’m Rachel” I will. It’s just like with media; there’s no such thing as bad press, all press is good. The same goes for puns.
It’s all well and good to throw in an odd joke here and there but you will upset readers when every single thing they read is a joke. They’ll stop taking you seriously and the comedy will lose its value. Be strategic, hit them when they don’t know it’s coming and make it good.
Isn’t that the point of comedy, to have fun, enjoy yourself, and make people laugh? So be funny in your writing, be clever and most of all be creative.
I’ll leave you with this: A person walks into a bookstore, “Where’s the self-help section?” they ask the clerk. The clerk shrugs and replies, “If I tell you, won’t that defeat the purpose?” – Anonymous
“The Great Barrier Reef is in grave danger” – David Attenborough
Larger than the Great Wall of China, and the only living thing on earth visible from space, the Great Barrier Reef almost escapes description. Its scintillating beauty, whether photographed, filmed, or for those lucky enough, glimpsed up-close and underwater, is a testament to the vast diversity of life with which we share our planet.
And now we face a future without it.
It probably won’t be news to you that the Reef’s destiny hangs in the balance. Whether it’s reports of the potential impacts of coal mine developments, 2016’s global coral bleaching event, or UNESCO’s admonishment of Australia’s efforts to protect perhaps our best known World Heritage area, there’s a lot to keep up on.
Here’s a rundown of three key recent developments:
Legal challenge to Adani coal mine relaunched
A well-publicised court case, led by the Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF), has sought to challenge a huge coal mining development proposed for Queensland’s Galilee Basin. The basis being that burning coal and climate pollution is inconsistent with international obligations to protect the Reef.
Adani’s Carmichael mine, if built, would be one of the largest coal mines in the world and would release more CO2 emissions annually than Bangladesh with its population of 160 million.
The ACF has argued that then federal environment minister Greg Hunt failed to consider the impact of emissions and climate change on the Reef when making his decision to approve the mine.
Threatened ‘In danger’ listing by UNESCO World Heritage Committee
Coal developments proposed by the Queensland government led to a warning from UNESCO in 2012 that the Reef risked being listed as a World Heritage site ‘in danger’. The UN body urged Australia to reconsider a coal terminal and port developments proposed on the Reef’s doorstep.
UNESCO has been closely monitoring progress since their initial warning, including an official visit to Australia. In 2015, UNESCO decided against listing the Reef, but said it would closely monitor conservation progress over the next four years.
On 26 September, Queensland Deputy Premier Jackie Trad met with UNESCO officials in Paris to discuss how the state government has progressed in protecting the Reef Amendments to tree-clearing laws that failed to pass parliament. The amendments were intended to reduce polluting land and agricultural runoff, one of the major ongoing threats to Reef health. Tree clearing has more than tripled in Queensland in recent years.
UNESCO said the status of this promise to strengthen land-clearing laws would be reflected as “significantly delayed” in future reports on the Reef. The commitment forms part of the Federal and Queensland government’s Reef 2050 plan.
Worst coral bleaching in history
Adding to pressure on the reef from development and pollution, a strong El Niño heralded what is widely regarded as the worst global bleaching event ever recorded in 2016. Ninety-three per cent of the Reef has been affected, with almost a quarter of its coral killed this year alone.
Some scientists believe it may now be too late for the Reef.
Others hold onto hope, but with the cool pragmatism of those who comprehend the scale of the task ahead. As Attenborough has said, “the resilience of the natural world gives you great hope really. Give nature half a chance and it really takes it and works with it. But we are throwing huge problems at it.”
Attenborough has seen first-hand the impact of these problems. The Reef he first visited 60 years ago was a very different place to today, having lost around 50 per cent of its coral cover in the 27 years between 1985 and 2012 alone.
Current efforts are not enough to save the Reef. More needs to be done, and quickly. Climate change is happening faster than predicted, and other human threats to the Reef like pollution and development continue to grow.
For freelance copywriters, versatility is crucial. Like many freelancers, I’m often switching gears. On any given day, I may be writing pithy B2C web copy in the morning before drafting a long-form industry white paper or annual report in the afternoon.
Adaptability is essential in terms of writing for different formats and channels.
It’s also essential in terms of whom you write for.
Being versatile allows you to round out your freelance writing portfolio (and your job options). But if you’ve been working in the corporate or commercial space, how do you transition to writing for non-profit organisations? And vice versa?
You can write for both if you think about what corporate/commercial and non-profit communications have in common: It’s all about them (the target audience), not you (the organisation).
Focus on the benefit and impact, no matter who you’re writing for
We’ve all had a chat with that person — you know, the one who rambles entirely about themselves and never asks any questions. That self-centred focus is just as off-putting in communications as it is at a cocktail party.
Compelling writing for any client — corporate, consumer-facing, non-profit or otherwise — is audience focused.
For corporate and commercial writing, that means communicating the benefit. Instead of talking entirely about a new product or service offering, write about how it can help. What business problems will it help users solve? Or how will it make consumers’ lives easier?
Likewise, when writing for non-profit clients, emphasise the impact that your target audience can make (or already has). What fundamental issues does your target audience care about, and how can they make a difference? Go beyond talking about who the organisation is; focus on the outcomes and benefits through compelling storytelling.
Understand your target audience
Effective copywriting for any client reflects a deep understanding of the target audience (more on that to come in a later post).
If you’re looking to diversify your work as a freelance copywriter, realise that your experience in one sector can help you write for another. If you keep your audience in mind (and avoid that cocktail party sin of only talking about yourself), you can write anything.
A brand is more than a logo and signature style for communications. It’s also what people think about your organisation. In this way, a brand is alive. It’s constantly being recreated in real-time based on people’s perceptions.
For your organisation to succeed, you want to ensure that those perceptions align with your own beliefs about who you are and what you stand for.
Your brand voice plays a key role in achieving this. But how do you finesse your brand voice? And what is brand voice anyway?
Identifying your brand’s personality
Your tone of voice helps your brand become memorable, meaning that how you say something is just as important as what you say — and sometimes even more so.
But how do you make sure you’re consistently using an authentic and effective tone of voice?
Start by thinking about your brand voice as an extension of your organisation’s personality. If your brand were a person, how would you describe them? Humble and wise? Cheeky? Direct? Friendly and approachable? Compassionate?
Establishing personality traits helps you set parameters. If confidence is one of your company’s main traits, then your tone of voice may be bold, assertive and direct. If you consider your organisation to be visionary, then your tone may be uplifting and aspirational. A bit lofty even.
Guiding questions for refining your brand voice
Clearly personality and tone go hand in hand. But there are other factors to consider as well.
As you continue to refine your brand voice, here are some guiding questions to consider:
- What type of language will resonate with your key audiences? Casual language, including slang? Or more formal language?
- How do personality and tone impact the cadence of your written communications? Are sentence fragments ok to use? Or are you more academic?
- Are you conversational in your content, using ‘we’, ‘our’ and ‘you’, for example? Or do you strictly write about your organisation in the third person?
- Do you use contractions in written communications? (This links back to your target audience as well as the level of formality you’re aiming for.)
- How do you/your employees naturally speak about your organisation? How can this organic approach be captured in your written communications?
Making your organisation distinct through your unique brand voice
Finessing your brand voice means delving deeper than questions of style, such as punctuation preferences. It’s about communicating in a way that helps you effectively connect with your target audience and stand out from the crowd at the same time.
It can be daunting. That blank screen glaring, the blinking cursor taunting you and a deadline looming. Returning to work as a writer after a break is a bit like getting back to the gym after an indulgent holiday. You may need a few extra minutes to get out of bed, but you know you’ll feel better once you’ve just done it.
So, whether you’ve been on a globetrotting getaway or taking time off for parental leave, here are a few pointers for sharpening your copywriting skills when you return to work.
Allow some extra time.
Give yourself plenty of time to warm up. Plan extra time for assessing your brief, conducting any necessary research, brainstorming, writing and reviewing. That way if your writing muscles seize up, you have a bit of a buffer.
Ask for input.
Just like grabbing a spotter for the bench press, ask someone you trust to read your copy before you submit it. A second opinion can be invaluable (regardless of whether you’re returning to writing after a break or not).
You’ve heard it here before – reading is essential to effective copywriting. Especially if you’ve been reading nothing but tourist websites (or in my case, stacks of rhyming baby books!), then carve out a few extra minutes each day to read. It could be the newspaper, industry magazines, fiction – anything to stir up the stagnant words in your head and help you find your rhythm again. Even reviewing the TCC Style Guide can help.
Get back to basics.
Focus on the fundamentals of good writing. Who is the intended audience? What is the goal of the communication piece? You won’t feel overwhelmed by the task at hand if you keep best practices in mind.
Hey, you’ve done this before! Every experience enriches your writing, so leverage that time you spent away from the screen while reminding yourself you’ve got it covered.
Sometimes a break from the gym can be just the thing you need to push yourself harder when you return. And the same can go for writing. So, if you’ve taken a hiatus, whether for family, work or play, follow the above tips to fire up your writing muscle memory. You’ll be back in top copywriting shape in no time.
Smartphones are changing the way we do activism. Sites such as Facebook and Twitter have given voice to the masses and a means to publicise messages quickly. But not all online tools are equal. Some social media sites are not safe for those living in fear for their lives or at risk of torture. Others are not available if you live in a country that restricts access to the internet and suppresses freedom of expression.
Here’s a list of some of the best tools to help you mobilise, organise and stay safe online.
A little bit of information can be a powerful thing
CrowdVoice is an open source tool that ‘tracks and contextualises information on social justice movements worldwide’. Get lost for hours in the amazing infographics, video content and insightful articles. If you see a new protest taking shape, book yourself a front row seat by hopping onto one of the live streaming apps mentioned below.
The revolution will not be televised, but it will be recorded
The ability to record and instantly upload footage to the internet has been instrumental in drawing global attention to police brutality and injustice around the world. From the Umbrella Revolution in Hong Kong to the Black Lives Matter protests in the US, the humble smartphone is being used to bear witness and speak truth to power.
Burn after reading, best apps to protect your privacy and personal data
Sites such as Facebook and Twitter are great for gaining global attention to a cause but not suitable for those who are concerned about governments spying on us, or corporations stealing your personal data. Encrypted messaging apps such as Telegram, Wickr and Signal allow users to communicate without fear of eavesdropping. Telegram also includes a ‘Secret Chats’ service where you can send self-destructing messages, photos and videos.
Search the internet in stealth mode
If you’re concerned your activist search history could be made public when you stand for Prime Minister one day, consider using a search engine that does not store your personal data or cookies such as DuckDuckGo. Alternatively, use a proxy or VPN service such as Orbot which uses TOR to encrypt your internet use and hides it by bouncing it through a series of computers around the world (this could also be useful if you’re in a country where the Government limits access to the internet, such as China, Iran or Vietnam).
Alert the ones you love when you are in danger
Amnesty International’s Panic Button app turns your smartphone into a secret alarm and helps those at risk of being kidnapped, arrested or disappeared, tell people they’re in trouble. By rapidly pressing the power button the app will send an SMS and your GPS location to a preselected list of contacts. I’m Getting Arrested is similar and enables anyone, with one click, to broadcast a custom message to SMS numbers in the event they are arrested. It was inspired by a real Occupy Wall Street incident.
Be the change you want to see in the world
If you’re feeling inspired after reading this post, turn your anger into activism by signing an online petition today. Personally I love change.org and New Zealand’s ActionStation, which allows users to create and share petitions based on the idea ‘that many people together performing small actions can lead to big change’.
No team understands teamwork better than the All Blacks. They know success isn’t about personal glory – rather, it depends on people pulling together with the bigger picture in mind.
But, isn’t content writing a solitary craft? Well, it can be. However, whether you like it or not, as a content writer, you are still part of a team. At The Copy Collective, for example, writers work in partnership with account managers, proofreaders and graphic designers. The goal is to deliver high-quality work for clients, not satisfy our own ‘creative’ urges. So, resisting edits and suggestions for improvement is counterproductive — good content writers keep their egos firmly tethered.
2. Being organised
Focusing on what matters is something the All Blacks do very well. That’s because they are organised.
As a content writer, it’s easy to veer off-track — particularly when home-based. So, it’s important to keep a schedule of work to be done with your deadlines. Though far from high-tech, I use a colour-coded Excel spreadsheet.
Content writers are not athletes (well, maybe at the weekends). However, we must still manage our energy levels. In my case, I find my brain functions better in the morning until early afternoon, so that’s when I write. Other tasks, like following-up customers and preparing quotations, I leave till later. Oh, and though coffee provides a great kick-start to the day, after two or three cups, it does more harm than good. Water is far better.
3. Ongoing learning
If the All Blacks stuck to the ‘tried and true’ that delivered their first World Cup, I’m pretty sure that today their trophy cabinet would look rather sad. Thankfully (for us Kiwis) they understood that what worked in 1987 could only be effective for so long. The world changes. So, they continually keep up-to-date with new tactics and training regimens to maintain their winning edge.
The writing profession has changed dramatically over the years. And much of what content writers do now, like writing blogs and e-books, was unheard of not so long ago. What does the future hold? Who knows? So, like the All Blacks, we must keep learning.
“Once a year, go someplace you’ve never been before.” – Dalai Lama
Maybe you love travelling so much that those words are already scribbled on a post-it note above your desk, and the reason you’re freelancing is to fit work into your nomadic lifestyle. Or maybe international trips are required of you, whether you like them or not.
Whatever your reasons, freelancing overseas is more than just cocktails on the beach. Just ask anyone who’s spent hours lugging around their laptop in desperate search of WiFi, while baffling kindly locals with botched attempts to ask for directions in the local language. Wander where you may, The Copy Collective lets you work wherever your fancy takes you.
Here are five tried and tested hacks to help you land on your feet – wherever that is.
Invest in some travel essentials
As a freelancer on the road, your office comes with you – which may mean being prepared for long stints away from a power point. Ever pulled out your laptop on the plane only to realise it’s out of power – for the next 22 hours? Not a great feeling. A portable, external battery charger can be a lifesaver. Look for one that can charge your laptop and phone or tablet at the same time.
You’ll also want a good pair of headphones, with a built-in microphone. Noise-cancelling, if you can afford it, will make plane travel and work in noisy spaces that little bit more bearable.
Build your local network
Before you head off, ask friends and colleagues if they have contacts where you’re going. At the very least, you’ll have some potential coffee break companions – which can be very welcome if you’re travelling solo.
And once you’re there, speak to as many locals as you can. Look up people who do the same kind of work as you and ask if they have time to meet. I know an Australian photographer who organised a coffee with a photographer working in a similar area when she travelled to New York – they met, and now work together all the time (and got married!)
Learn the language (or at least a few words)
There are some fantastic apps out there to help you, and many are free. Try and get one that you can download to your phone, so you can use it without chewing up data when you’re away from WiFi, and which speaks words out loud. Try Ultralingua and Wordreference.com. If all else fails – type something into Google Translate, cross your fingers and hope for the best (and get ready for some giggles from the locals).
Find a good place to work
Once you nail this one, half the battle is won. Sure, your hotel might work – but when you find a beautiful old library complete with an atrium (and free WiFi) in Paris where you can work undisturbed for the day, you’ll feel like you’ve won the freelancing overseas lottery – and positivity is great for productivity. Ask locals, or do a search for co-working spaces and check out forums on sites that cater for ‘digital nomads’ such as Nomad List.
Cultivate a micro-routine
Having a mini routine to get you into work mode while you’re on the road is even more important than when you’re at home. Why? Exotic procrastination temptations. Work or gelato from that little piazza I haven’t explored yet? Work or a surfing lesson on the sparkling beach I can see out my window? Work or… you get the drift.
Part of the thinking behind having a routine is reducing the amount of decisions you have to make before you actually start working. President Obama knows decision fatigue is a thing – that’s why he wears only a blue or grey suit every day.
So decide the hours you’re going to work in advance. You may need to be flexible – that’s fine. That’s why your travel routine is micro: it’s small enough to take with you. It might even just be opening your notebook and taking a few minutes to write a to-do list. A friend of mine listens to the same film soundtrack every day when she sits down at her desk. Pick something that helps your mind shift from ‘I’m travelling, I want to explore, maybe I can squeeze in a quick [insert whatever distraction that applies to you here]’ to ‘I am working now.’
And once you do get your work done, shut your laptop. Don’t get bogged down in emails that can wait til you’re back home – wander outside and immerse yourself in your new surroundings. You never know what you might find.