Because I come from a journalism background, I approach content management as a journalist. Not like a journalist, mind, but as one. And that’s a good thing, because part of my job is helping old-school journalists learn social media frames. But they have habits deeply ingrained, and trying to coach them into new media techniques is like herding cats. Now, I’m sure I’m not the first person to talk about these items, but it’s hard to find stuff on generating content in the socialmediasphere, and what sets it apart from traditional news writing–both online and print–for the organization that’s got both feet stuck firmly in Pulitzer world when all they want nowadays is a Webby.
So, without further ado, here are Helen’s handy tips for generating social media content.
- Share, share, share. I’ve found that there are two categories of share:
- The “Hey, I found this, and it’s really cool” share (:found). This is when you’ve found a link that is absolutely so cool/useful/interesting/funny that you have to give it to all your friends. Viral marketing totally depends on the “I found this, and it’s really cool” share. Social bookmarking and tagging are aggregators of this kind of content.
- The “Hey, I wrote this, and it’s interesting enough to me that I want to share it with you” share (:writ). Being a compulsive writer, I do a fair amount of this. Most corporate blogging (of the nonPR-fed variety) is made of this type of content, and quite a bit of “citizen journalism” gets created this way. Transmission of this type of content is facilitated by :found.
Most social media outlets aren’t all one or the other but on a spectrum, depending on how the user engages the platform. For instance, del.icio.us allows you to add comments to a link to give the link context. Blogs provide both ends of the spectrum, allowing armchair pundits to write essays about each other’s essays and content editors to pick and choose :found stuff for quick links. Twitter wants your content but limits you to short bursts of text, as does Facebook’s “status” update.
- Comment boxes do not a blog make. The read/write functionality is there, but if you post a 700 word article from your publication and bury a comment box at the bottom of it, you’re less likely to get comments. Rather, keep that content elsewhere on your site–a webzine, perhaps? Use the blog to tease readers over to that content in one of these or similar ways:
- An interactive table of contents, with links to the stories and 30-word teaser decks to help readers choose what to click to. This can be a mirror of your email newsletter, but worked this way it becomes a “pull” rather than a “push.”
- An introductory paragraph from the author of the article, providing context for the story before linking to it. After all, authors always have a story about the story. “This article was hard to write because the subject had gone deep underground. But we finally were able to reach Puxatawney Phil, and you can see the results here.”
- The three most important paragraphs from the top of the article, usually the first three paragraphs, with a “click for more” link underneath it. Great way to digest news articles.
- Your own introduction, explaining why you like the article. Compare this to the editor-in-chief’s page in a regular magazine, where they give shout-outs to articles in the month. “Don’t miss Pepe Le Pew’s heartbreaking tale of love and loss on Page 94!”
- Use first and second person. You want to engage the reader, so go ahead and speak to him or her directly and encourage the reader to answer. For instance, this is a new blog of mine with an initial readership of zero. How am I attracting readers? By going out and introducing myself. That’s first person. How am I engaging readers? By talking to you. Hi, there, you. That’s second person. Hey, you in the third row, I’m talking to you! Are you listening to me? I suppose that’s encouraging you to answer, but… no.
More encouraging would be for me to ask you a question that leads to you writing your own top 5 points for creating social media content. It’s not just blog posts, either. Today I was tasked with rewriting our mission statement to fit in that little block of text on Second Life for “Group Charter.” I did this by recasting it into second person.
- Determine what content you’re already generating that can be leveraged in social media. As an organization, you probably have plenty of content channels that you didn’t even know you could leverage. (Leverage is an obnoxious word, but using it causes CEO faces to light up.) Are you doing training functions that could be podcasted or webinar-ated? Are you passing around links to colleagues that you could blog to your members? Is there syndicated material on, say, a sister organization’s website that you can capture through a webfeed?
- Learn to let go. Part of generating content is getting more content from your users. And that means you’ll probably get some oddball typoese on your site. That might mean that u needs 2 bkum flooent n lolcat & sms just to make sure nothing inappropriate crosses your site (er, need to become fluent in “LOLcat” and text message shorthand). Today, I sat through an amazing webinar about all the potential in social media for publications. The pressing concern? “What will we do when the comments don’t meet our style specifications?” Oh, the horror!
Well, here’s one thing I do know. Two, actually. 1. As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches one. This is known as Godwin’s Law. There’s a corollary that I’m not sure has been made quite as explicit, but another truth is that 2. As an online discussion grows longer, the probability that someone will invoke one’s lack of spelling or grammatical talent approaches one. (It usually results in Godwin’s Law being invoked, anyway, because the person so invoked will usually respond with “Grammer Nazi.” Sic.) It’s rather like the debate over serial commas. Don’t sweat it. Create clear terms of service and reserve the right to edit that really egregious misspelling of “public,” but your readers are smart enough to know that user content is… just that. User content. And they really didn’t come to get graded on their participation.
Well, anyways, off I go contributing content. I have no idea whether it’s useful or not, but I suppose at some point someone will find it and tell me that I’m completely borked for writing this when it’s been done ten times over better elsewhere and link link link for examples. I left things out, too, like write short bits and if it gets longer than 600 words or so, you better have bullets and subheads breaking up the text. But honestly, I’m keeping these notes down for the benefit of the presentations I know I’m going to have to give. And in the spirit of social media, I’m all about the share, share share.