Apply traditional writing rules to social media for true engagement

The critical elements of good writing were drummed into us by our high school English teacher. “Content, style and presentation,” Mr. DeSousa would say over and over again. They are universal and evident in the list of best sellers of the New York Times, in the articles of leading columnists of the global newspapers, and in blockbuster movies of the modern era. The elements are orchestrated with the audience at the heart and centre of the effort, intending to strike at their heart strings by connecting to their hopes, dreams and fears, and using language that they are accustomed to.

They also cut across platforms and are tried and tested; from the divinely inspired Holy Bible, to the literal masterpieces of Chaucer and Shakespeare, and the top billing film producers like Stephen Spielberg, Quentin Tarantino and Christopher Nolan. No doubt they are at play in the musical productions of the most viewed videos on YouTube including those by Psy, Justine Bieber and Eminem and evidently the majority are pleased by what appears to be a genuine expression in art and philosophy.

McLuhan, the author of The Medium is the Message, said that as the unity of the modern world becomes increasingly a technological rather than a social affair, the techniques of the arts provide the most valuable means of insight into the real direction of our own collective purposes.

At the last Eat and Tweet event at the British High Commissioners residence, I was chastised by the guests for suggesting that the purpose of the social graph that defines a new course for journalism and news consumption, was to uncover the truth. Rather they were convinced that the essence of it was freedom of expression. From content that is highly consumed online, it appears that people are seeking a genuine self expression and that overtly commercial activity is rejected. I feel that I am representing the majority when I thank YouTube for incorporating the ‘skip ad in 5 seconds’ option prior to watching videos.

Statistics show that people in the West disdain commercials and there is a higher tolerance for ads in Africa mainly because we see them as a source of information. The stats point in the direction that marketing communication is headed — away from the hard sell and towards the pull-factor.

At the Broadcast & Film Africa Conference in Nairobi a few years ago, film producers and techies proudly declared that content is king. At that time I had conflicting ideas because from a business development perspective we knew that the customer is king, and from a business operations view, our company chairman insisted that cash was king. I have since converted as it is clear that global advertisers are shifting from traditional advertising techniques to managing content across multiple channels. Video has risen to the top of the pile propelled by the ability of smartphones to deliver high-density video.

It’s hard enough to get a suitable budget for producing TV commercials in Kenya, and those companies that have invested in great ads have had impressive ROI. It’s even harder to get a video production budget for online advertising as a majority of advertisers dip their toes into the pool to test temperatures before they apply substantial sums for this.

They style, tone and manner used by organisations determine the type of engagement they generate from fans, followers and connections. Typically the broadcast type of posts yield little engagement and fail to take full advantage of the interactive nature of social media. Companies that insist on posting unedited press releases, photos of their staff meeting important people and images from the product catalogues fall in this category. On the other hand, organisations that inject a suitable personality into their social media activity and nurture it through consistency of voice, a sense of empathy and a natural responsiveness tend to leverage on two-way flow of web 2.0.

You don’t get a second chance to make a first impression and your presentation is the the initial contact consumers have with your brand, unless your reputation precedes you. The common phrase ‘different strokes for different folks’ comes to mind because heterogeneous audience groups have disparate and distinct expectations in order to engage and react appropriately. Engineers seek detail, logic and pragmatism while bankers like dashboards and infographics; Americans want conclusions while Europeans are more interested in process; the mature are interested in wellbeing and juniors prefer emojis.

Opportunities for new methods of communication come with new media, but in the final analysis, the traditional rules of writing apply universally. You’ll get the best results when you pay attention to content, style and presentation.

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