Monday, November 1, 2010

Social Networking for the Business Writer: Network Updates

This post continues a series on effective writing in social media.

To many people, blogs and tweets still equal "a lot of boring talk about what so-and-so had for breakfast." Though the business world hopefully knows better, no one is interested, either, in the minutes from your research team's latest meeting or the exact number of components to be included in your new computer's circuit board. If network updates by whatever name are to promote your business effectively, they must be concise, professional, well-timed, and, above all, interesting.

Concise. Twitter had the right idea setting a limit on characters per tweet; network updates were never intended to be as long as articles. Writing an update that runs beyond one short paragraph is like responding to a casual "Hi, how are you?" with ten minutes of details on your problems and triumphs. If what you want to say will take more than two sentences, put the key points into one sentence and append a "for more information" link.

Professional. While brevity is a requirement for network updates, compacted words and heavy abbreviations ("Thnx 2 our lyl cstmrs") are better left to text messages. They look super-casual, even flippant, and done-in-a-rush as well--leaving the subconscious impression that your products and services are created after the same fashion. Abbreviations are best limited to dates ("11/1/10"), numerals (as in "9" for "nine"), addresses (especially state names), and the symbols "%" and "&." Also, try to write in complete sentences; though they needn't be grammatically precise, they should at least sound like normal business-setting speech.

If you have real trouble writing both concisely and professionally, set aside half an hour each day to analyze how the experts--the top business writers and those whose social networking updates you follow--do it. Remember that adjectives and adverbs are usually dispensable. Keep a thesaurus handy to check for shorter synonyms to words and phrases. If all else fails, hire a social media specialist to write your updates!

Well-timed. Your updates will be better-written if you make time to compose them carefully, rather than dashing them off. It helps to have a daily or weekly schedule for posting; how often depends on how often newsworthy things happen at your business. If you have an event or new product launch scheduled, post updates on your plans (ideally with each post providing fresh information) once or twice a week for a couple of months in advance.

Interesting. The reason blogs and tweets got a bad reputation was that too often what they said was of interest only to the poster. In writing your updates, use the "what's in it for me?" principle--"me" being your network contacts, not you. An exclusive focus on self-promotion is boring by definition, which is why famous brands tell funny stories in their commercials rather than focusing on things the viewer has probably already made up his mind about. Even if everyone doesn't already know what you sell, people would rather have information they can use whether or not they're planning to buy a car or a computer. When composing your network updates, think about making website recommendations, inviting the public to events, or linking to blog posts, rather than always talking about what your company has to sell now. And don't be afraid to report the occasional hilarious gaffe--particularly if you can say in the update that it's now corrected.

Remember that people like their information in sound bites. Those bites can be very tasty when well-written!

Other posts in this series:
Social Networking for the Business Writer: Profiles
Social Networking for the Business Writer: "Cold Call" E-Messages
Social Networking for the Business Writer: The E-Article Connection
Social Networking for the Business Writer: LinkedIn Discussions
Social Networking for the Business Writer: LinkedIn Q & A
Social Networking for the Business Writer: Top-Ten List

Quick note to Houston-area followers who are fans of the writer's other blog at on Saturday, November 6, a poetry book based on that blog will be for sale at the Gifts of Grace expo at Grace Presbyterian Church, Houston, TX. Contact for more information.

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