How to Write an Article That Moves People on Social Media

While there’s no single formula for writing an article that will resonate with your social media audience, there are guidelines that can increase your chance of success. Here’s a formula that’s worked very well for my content team:

1. 300 to 500 Words of Text.

Yes, the words in this text should contain a modicum of keywords you’re shooting for, but my advice is not to obsess about keyword density or even word count. Google, especially post-Hummingbird, is a lot smarter now than it was a few years ago about identifying article themes based on elements not directly related to keywords. As far as word count goes, it’s far better to write a punchy 300-word article than a 500-word article filled with lazy words and editorial fluff. (Google to my knowledge has no plans for a “content fluff” penalty yet but my hope is they’re working on it).

Also, remember that on social media the first words – and only the first few – will be excerpted in the text field surrounding the thumbnail image used when you add your post to a social media service. Make your point (or ask your question) in the first 25 words: this string of text will function as your “teaser” and must be as arresting as possible.

2. At Least One Large (at Least 800 x 600) Image.

Social media thrives on visuals; without images, blog posts have no traction at all. You should have at least one great, compelling image on each post you publish, preferably two or three, because this gives your social media team a choice of more than one image to promote when listing the URL on Facebook and LinkedIn.

It’s clear to me that images are the often the weakest element on most blog articles. Using cheaply licensed images is always a mistake because doing so broadcasts the subtle message “everything on this page is a commodity.” A strong, unique image, however, can add credibility to the message in your text.

Make sure that this image renders well as a social media thumbnail image, because that’s the way most people will see it in their content streams. Factor in image search and/or production time into your blog production schedule. In some cases, finding an appropriate image can take almost as much editorial time and effort as generating the copy.

Conventions for image display in blog articles have changed in the past couple of years. Small right- or left-aligned images that looked OK in 2008 look archaic today. Perhaps because of the influence of mobile and/or tablets, full-width images mark your post as “modern.” It’s best to plan for any images you select for your blog post to be at least 800 x 600 in size.

3. Links.

When I read a blog article that lacks a single link (other than the one in the author box), I feel cheated. Sprinkling a few hyperlinks strategically through your text conveys emphasis to your reader, as well as supplying textual context. These can be used to guide your reader’s eye to your main point.

Links aren’t simply decoration, of course. Well-chosen links function both as footnotes (keeping the exposition off-site and reducing your word count and “fluff”), and as visual signs that show you’ve done your research.

From a social media perspective, links are absolutely crucial because your social media team’s first post-publication job is to aggressively promote to those sources linked to in your article that a new article with this link is live. As I explain more fully in my ClickZ post about my Yearbook approach to content marketing, there’s no better way to increase the chance of social pickup than to reach out – on a one-to-one basis – to those whose work is being referred to in every article you post.

Try my approach out on your next blog post. The results may surprise you. Remember, it’s not enough to write great text, create great images, and include well-curated hyperlinks. You, your social media team, or your agency, still has to get “into the trenches” and perform personal outreach to motivate folks to share it. This job is the “marketing” component in “content marketing,” without it, content will never find the audience it deserves. In many industry categories, it’s a challenge to find the emotional triggers that stimulate sharing behavior. People share because it reflects well on them. They are trying to impress their followers or in some cases they are trying to impress (or get the attention of) the person who created the content (you).

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