Journalists and content providers can learn a lot from Social Media. Information is designed to flow; this was as true in the 1600s as it is now. Publishing has always been about interaction. When a person writes something they are seeking to elicit a response from the reader, and although we may be able to exert a degree of influence over that response, we cannot control it.
The soul of the Internet isn’t about control, it’s about freedom; not freedom of expression necessarily, but freedom of choice. Content providers should recognise this and be ready to adapt positively and intuitively to any recycling process their message encounters.
The Twitter service is the natural expression of the digital economy, the logical conclusion of an oral tradition that has its roots in folk tales, songs and Chinese whispers. Tweets are the currency of the moment. Just ensure that the next time you are taken out of context you use a service like Tynt to add a URL link back to your website when readers hit copy and paste. Here’s some ways you can ‘let it flow’:
- The ‘Social Life of Things’. Be more accepting of what Arjun Appadurai called ‘the social life of things’ (The Social Life of Things: Commodities in Cultural Perspective, 1988). If content is good, people are going to re-use it. Offer ‘Tweet’ buttons and ‘Share’ buttons that preserve the spirit of the original message. Whether it is brands, ideas or products, the meaning that we attribute to things has always derived from human exchanges and interaction. What consumers want is often the outcome of complex social mechanisms. The next time you see your product or idea in unfavourable context, have a think about why it is there. Could you have done anything different to change this? Is there a weakness in the general design or a dimension you were not aware of?
- Track user journeys. Monitor your content’s journey across the Internet using open source web tracking services like PiWick or analysis tools like Google Analytics. Tools like these offer you and your marketing team the opportunity to respond in real-time to its adventures and re-engage with users at the other side (either by responding to comments and tweets or by collating it into data).
- Think like the editor of a newspaper. It’s headlines that sell. Short and snappy sound bites travel well across the web. Give your users something they can copy and paste into Twitter and Facebook. Content that is worth repeating can spread like wild fire around the Internet. Make your sentences ‘punchy’ so they have an immediate impact on your visitors. Where appropriate, be provocative. Content can be a vehicle for discussion and if you can maintain a prominent role in that discussion you can reach a wider audience. A little controversy can go a long, long way, but use it wisely.
- Use the Inverted Pyramid technique. If you want to get and maintain the attention of your web users, then try the so-called ‘Inverted Pyramid’ technique, a theory explored further in Marcus Errico’s The Evolution of the Summary News Lead. Start by the getting the most crucial points of your message across first. All supporting claims should be placed below this. Web users like quick, immediate messages. If possible, say what you need to in the headline and follow it up in the first paragraph. Users are more likely to scroll if they feel their initial curiosity has been satisfied in the first few seconds of any visit.
- Keep your blog content columns under 80 characters in length. One of the best ways to get your users to read your content through to the end is by making your lines no longer than 80 characters in length. Not only does it look more smartly organized, readers will be able to absorb the information more easily.