Does social media make us dumb?
You may have read the study from the Project for Excellence in Journalism and the general reaction to it (the consensus was that social media sites make you stupid and uninformed). While the conclusions are incorrect, the study is incredibly telling about the social media audience and how to write for it.
For example, according to the study, social media users care less about mainstream news and hard-hitting journalism (even though both are present) and prefer content from disparate, sometimes unverified, and sometimes extreme (even conspiracy-theorist) sources that generally appeal to their baser instincts or guilty pleasures (i.e. Paris Hilton).
What does this mean for my writing?
This doesn’t mean that you start writing about Paris Hilton, but this does help you understand what your audience is looking to get from an information outlet and model your content for the social media everyman. The social media everyman is looking for an entertaining diversion, while being receptive to learning something new if presented in an “edutainment” format that ties the lesson into popular culture.
What do I mean by this? Have a look at the following CopyBlogger articles:
- Did Alanis Morissette Get Irony Right?
- The David Lee Roth Guide to Legendary Marketing
- What Owen Wilson’s Pursed Lips Mean to Your Blog
- Don’t Be Cameron Diaz
- What Prince Can Teach You About Effective Blogging
I know many of you thought that Brian was just watching too much E! (and he probably does) but there’s much more to it than that. The hooks used in these articles are celebrities that your average person (however educated or uneducated) knows of or has heard something about and can on some level relate to.
So how do I appeal to the social media everyman?
- Start with the familiar: Introduce your article by drawing from a source that you think the social media audience will relate to and is interested in. Pop culture will often provide the perfect hook.
- Introduce the unfamiliar: Once you’ve established a relationship with the reader by finding common ground, you can introduce your topic (i.e. the analysis or educational aspect of your article).
- Connect the two: Once you have established common ground and introduced your insight, you need to connect the two. This makes your content easy to understand and digest for the readers, but also easy to remember, comment on and apply to their own lives.
While I don’t suggest you dumb down your content for social media, I do recommend that if you’re writing specifically with the social media audience in mind, understand the mentality and what they’re looking to get from Digg, Netscape, Reddit, StumbleUpon, etc, and appeal to that desire.
Note: Copyblogger has also featured equally successful posts (as a credit to both Brian and the readers) referencing Benjamin Franklin, Mark Twain, Aristotle, Plato and Ernest Hemingway. The success of these posts may explain why the History Channel is so popular. 🙂
Reader Comments (46)
Personal Development for the Book Smart says
Yes, having the names of celebrities or anyone in the top 10 searches at technorati in any given day will definitely bring in traffic to your blog.
You can see most skillful marketers and even some spammers using this strategy to hook readers in. The most important element is still quality content, because getting them in isn’t that hard. Retaining them is… now that takes some creativity and good writing.
How To Start A Clothing Line From Scratch says
That has always been a hard angle for me to cover social media, but without being to off topic or going out of my niche just to gain traffic.
Sometimes I find a way to make them mesh…sometimes I don’t.
Matt Jones says
“Personal Development for the Book Smart” I think you are missing the value of this great post. Muhammad Saleem is not saying to just throw in the name of a celebrity into a title, but explains how to knit the perfect post which will have overall success on social media sites.
Tad Chef says
Well this post has some truths in it, but it does not tell most of them. To succeed on the anti-social mob sites like Digg you need to write like a nazi propaganda minister.
Especially if you refer to Digg and Reddit.
If you write for Digg: Most importantly choose one of these topics:
Apple (not the fruit)
If you want attract Reddit users:
For both of them include some hate, and/or take something spectalular:
SEOs? Hang ’em High!
Bush Plans To Nuke Iran
Make sure to mention some well known brand names or names. Celebrity names with “naked” combinations work best.
“[Pics]Paris Hilton Cought Naked With Britney Spears” would work best on both Digg and Reddit.
“Woman Runs Over Own Legs at McDonald’s Drive-thru” is also great. Btw. I’m not that crazy to make it up, it’s really the 2nd most popular post on Digg today…
Well, I could go on for a while like that. Probably I will write a post on that topic, hehe.
John Wesley says
Leveraging the knowledge and reputation of a renowned thinker or writer is a great way to get some social media exposure.
George Orwell helped my site make Digg. Just make sure you have good content to back it up.
Michael Dorausch says
Muhammad nailed this one! While Tad Chef offers some good comments above, Muhammad provides a nice template that can prove successful for ‘any’ market.
Add a ‘tickler file’ technique to know what’s upcoming, and use Muhammad Saleem’s article as a guide, and you are on the path to greater traffic.
It’s much, much more difficult than I thought to gain traffic, you need good design, good writing a bit of gossiping, unless you want to focus on a very specific niche. And I find even more difficult to attract a women audience (at least in Italy). Internet audience is represented by men, that’s why techno and naked women work so well in the blogoshere.
Dan Schawbel says
Great points here. You need to find common ground to connect reader to author. Celebrities or well-known/established professionals can be the bridge you use in this case.
Wayne Smallman says
Isn’t there are trick con artists use that’s similar to this?
Introduce a series of givens and then drop in the implausible.
But seriously, I’d also add that keeping articles short (within 700 words) usually does the trick, too…
Brian Clark says
Wayne, I think there needs to be a logical connection between the hook and the point.
For example, in the Cameron Diaz piece mentioned above, the point is not to treat your fans (blog readers) like crap the way Ms. Diaz does when she’s asked for an autograph. The goal of this method is to find a transferable lesson that you can tie in with the pop culture news.
You’re right, it is basic marketing.
If you’re trying to attract the Joe Blow surfer, you have to writing about what they are looking for to get found.
Then you have to present the information in a way that they “get it.”
I think bloggers who live on the web forget that many, many internet users don’t go much beyond Google.
If your target is in the 30+ age range, don’t assume that they know how to use all the web gadgets that you do.
Crazy does seem to work. Question, what do you think about making “above average” starts with selected text from good reference sources? Too high brow?
ugh, we’re already sick of hearing enough about these celebrities, they already get too much coverage if you ask me. So now, in order to entice people to view your blog or articles you need to give these celebrities MORE exposure??!! I guess anything “Hollywood” sells these days…
But on a more serious note, the study raises an interesting point. I think content online, to a certain extent, must be “dumbed down.” NOt because of the nature of the readers, but the nature of reading online. People tend to skim and read quickly rather than take their time which is why the headlines need to be catchy and the content needs to be simplified (ie lists and bullets).
Social media is giving the users a different kind of intelligence, and it’s the new trend of the online marketing, only the people that understand this are going to have a successful business in the future.
Joseph Ratliff says
Nice post. The easy three step process to write for the social market…two additional tips:
1) Visit http://www.google.com/trends to find out what “familiar” topics are most popular.
2) Keywords in those topics should be in your title post. Then, connect the two (familiar and unfamiliar) as stated in this post.
Author of The Profitable Business Edge 2
kher Cheng Guan says
If you don’t know the social media audience are, then you’re dumb! If you want to write to be read, then know your readers/audience.
Amrit Hallan - HowToPlaza says
I’ve been wary of social bookmarking and social media websites but of late I’ve observed lots of quality stuff there, and some of the headlines don’t even indulge in baiting sort of titles. I think it all depends on what sort of people are promoting your stuff by voting for it.
Well done, Muhammad… quality writing and advice.
Just write good content, the rest will take care of itself.
So I guess the audience that frequents social media sites tend to be the same audience that read the tabloids. They may even be the far left fanatics that are causing all of the trouble in this country.
When deciding to promote your business in the social media, it comes down to knowing your target audience. If your customers are consertive, chances are they may not be frequenting the social media sites. On the other hand, if your customers are more liberal than the general population, they will be monopilizing sites such as MySpace, Digg, StumbleUpon, Yelp, etc.
i think you are right. day by day social media making people dumb…
social media does give people different advantages but still thanks for the info enjoyed a read.
Great post. I am glad I read it. One important point in social media content writing is to participate in the conversations already happening till you gain a certain level of respect and then start new discussions that will add more credibility.
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