The following was originally posted on the PRevolution blog on Thursday, May 5.
We hear it all the time. The number one skill PR and marketing pros need to succeed: Writing skills. I’ll take that one step further. In today’s world of 140 character messages, Facebook updates that have shelf-lives of 80 minutes and 24/7 news cycles, what you really need to hone in on is writing uber-compelling and intriguing headlines.
After all, what doesn’t get clicked, doesn’t get converted.
So headlines are the name of the game in today’s wired world. You could write the best post or article ever. Deep thoughts sure to get your prospective customers thinking–and hopefully, converting to a NEW customer. But, if the headline doesn’t speak to them, they’ll never even see it.
So, I might argue headline writing–not just writing–is the most important skill for today’s marketing and PR pro.
The question is: How do we get better at it?
I thought I’d share a few actionable tips to becoming a better social headline writer:
* Use multiple “Twitter headlines” for the same blog post. Many subscribe to the theory of sharing your blog posts multiple times per day (morning, noon and night). If you agree with that premise, why not create three distinct headlines (tweets, in this case) each time you share. And, be sure to use a trackable link (bit.ly) so you can see which headline resonated more with your readers and followers. Using this approach, you’ll fine-tune your headline writing skills quite quickly.
* Start a photo blog on Posterous. That’s an odd suggestion, Arik. What do photos have to do with headlines? Think about it. By starting a photo blog, you’ll be forced to write headlines that both describe the photo and pique readers’ curiousity. It’s the ultimate headline game–what headline can you write that will entice people enough to click. Again, the Posterous stats will give you instant feedback into what headlines are resonating and which aren’t. You may have noticed, I started a new blog recently focused on shoes. While I don’t plan posting all that often (not the intent), it will force me to write compelling and pithy headlines that will convince folks to click thru.
* Write 10 headlines for each blog post. This is an old trick I’ve been doing more lately. By exhausting every possible angle for your posts, you’ll hone your craft and get valuable practice. Another side benefit of this exercise: You’ll most likely stumble upon future blog post ideas in drafting these alternate headlines.
* Pay attention to your subject lines. We forgot how much writing we all do via email each day. Just stop and think about it for a second. How many emails to you write each day? If you’re like me, it’s probably north of 50–at least. That’s 50 chances for you to write new headlines. OK, sure, some of those are replies and you don’t want to mess with the subject lines. But, for all those new emails, you should be carefully considering and practicing your headline writing by thinking long and hard about that subject line. Especially, for PR pros, with your pitches. A good subject line can make all the difference between a pitch that gets clicks and one that gets trashed.
What about you? What headline writing tips would you share?
In the past few weeks, I’ve had numerous conversations with colleagues, partners and in some cases, clients, about blogging and the challenges of keeping a blog up and running.
Most of those conversations come down to one thing: Content.
Do you have enough to say to sustain a blog? Do you have strong enough opinions and takes to cut through the massive sea of clutter that is the open Web these days? And, maybe most importantly, do you know what to look for when it comes to content your customers or audience might be interested in?
That last one is the key point I want to focus on today. So many brands, when they start blogging, think too myopically about blogging. I need to talk about my product or service. I need to talk about my company. I need to talk about what my product or service can do for my customers.
Sure, that’s part of the mix, but in my view, it’s actually a pretty small part.
The much larger portion of your blog’s content should focus on everything AROUND your product or service.
For example, take Patagonia’s The Cleanest Line blog. Here’s a blog that actually rarely talks about Patagonia products. They spend much more time talking about the culture that SURROUNDS people who buy Patagonia products. Rock climbing. Environmental issues. Stories from their customers. These are the topics their customers talk about and are interested in.
Brands will then ask, “If we don’t talk about our products/services, how are are we supposed to sell them?”
Fair question. But remember, we’re talking about your blog content–not a one-page sales letter. Customers look to corporate blogs for information, perspectives, and personality. Not necessarily deals (although there are exceptions–see Punch Pizza’s Posterous blog).
So, as I’ve been through this scenario a number of times now with clients, the bigger question for me as a counselor is: How do I get clients to start thinking like publishers?
Here are 13 ideas to share:
* Don’t be afraid to pull out the laptop (live blogging). Attending an exclusive event solely for senior-level marketers in your niche? It might make sense to bring the laptop and live blog the event. Think: Content your readers can’t get anywhere else.
* Always carry a publishing device. Laptop. Tablet. Smart phone. Whatever the case, never leave your office without one of these devices. You need a way to capture content–video, photos, text. You never know when you might need it.
* Take advantage of your “I’m already there” moments. In many ways, being an effective content publisher means killing two birds with one stone. That means capitalizing on your existing opportunities. Conferences. Customer meet-ups. Community events. Grab content in the spots where you already are.
* Check yourself in the middle of a heated discussion. Conversations that gain steam do so for a reason. People care. Find those inflection points and base posts on those topics. They’re often great conversation starters for your blog.
* Don’t turn off your mind after 5 p.m. Just because you punch the proverbial time clock at 5 p.m. doesn’t mean you stop thinking about blog post opportunities. Blog inspiration often comes at family events. At the movies. Even at church. You never know where you’ll find an idea or metaphor you can relate to your brand’s world.
* Look for opportunities to share the heavy lifting. Remember, you don’t have to be the only voice on your blog. In fact, sharing is highly recommended. Why not bring in a customer from time to time to guest post? What about a key partner? Their perspectives can add depth to your blog content mix. In our world, Jason Falls and Shonali Burke do this exceptionally well by bringing in regular guest bloggers to build community and share different viewpoints.
* Take a contrarian viewpoint. To be honest, I picked this tip up from my friend and colleague, Adam Singer. And, it’s a good one. Take on an industry leader and challenge them on a key point they made that you might not agree with in your own post (here’s a great example where Adam takes on Mashable). Do it constructively. Don’t get personal. But, the resulting discussion can and should lead to above-average traffic and comment streams.
* Tell your story through pictures. Words don’t always need to tell the story. Sometimes it makes sense to let the photos paint the picture. Side benefit: Much less time-consuming.
* Be a reporter. You know those trade show you attend. Why not bring along a small video camera and interview key customers and industry influencers at said event? To do that well, you need to start thinking like a reporter. What questions do you want to ask key customers? Keep it to three or fewer. What would customers who aren’t at the event want to know? Think like a journalist and you will capture that same storytelling perspective reporters and editors excel at.
* Pick a time to blog and stick with it. One of the real keys to keeping up a blog long-term. Pick 1-2 times a week when you’re going to blog and stick with that schedule. Don’t deviate. The moment you let yourself give those times up is the moment you let your blog die.
* Think in lists. Yeah, we all see too many lists on the Web these days. But, there’s a reason for that. They work. In many ways. People LOVE lists. And, they’re great link-building tools. Train yourself to think in terms of lists. If you’re a micro-brewery, maybe it’s the top 10 beer bloggers in your market/region. If you’re a hardware store, maybe it’s the top 13 ways to get your lawn ready for summer. You get the idea.
* Ask yourself: “Would I click on this headline?” With blogging, headlines are everything. You can have the most insightful post in the world, but if your headline isn’t compelling, no one will ever know. That’s the nature of the Web–we’ve bred a legion of “scanners.” So, that headline needs to pop. Would you want to click on your own headline? Ask yourself that question repeatedly and you’ll weed out a lot of junk..
* Share the spotlight–often. Once you’ve built up your blog a bit and you have a number of regular readers, share the stage. Ask readers if they’d like to guest post. Troll your Twitter stream or Facebook page for customers or fans who are particularly enthusiastic and ask them if they’d be interested in sharing their story. The point–by sharing your stage, you’ll cast your net (read: reach of your blog) that much wider.
What did I miss? How do you coach clients to think like publishers?