This week I read this brilliant article by Shannon Johnson at Hubspot: “7 Unglamorous, Unpopular Truths About Content Marketing.”
Although the whole article is informative and interesting, it was number 3/three (you’ll get why I wrote both in a minute) on her list that really tickled my fancy- “You can forget almost everything you learned about writing in college.”
At school, writing was always my strongest natural ability. I was in top-set English, but not far off the bottom ones for maths. I could write you a story well enough, but could get you into a bigger mess with numbers than a Spanish economist if you were to ask me to get mathematical.
Naturally then, I went to study journalism at university. My dream job back then was to be a reporter on a local newspaper. So three years studying journalism, taking raw writing skills and reigning them in, you’d think it would set you up for any potential future career with writing involved?
Wrong. Ok no, that’s too far. It definitely helped. But Shannon was spot on in her article, you really do have to ‘unlearn’ a few things that are drilled into you by ex-hack tutors.
The article got me thinking and I’ve come up with 5/five (again, you’ll get this in a minute) things that I’ve definitely had to leave behind in my beer-sodden, warzone-resembling student house:
As Shannon said, it’s ok to break some of the rules. The biggest rule that I’ve come to accept breaking is the number rule i.e. when to write a number or the word.
Writing numbers between one and nine have to be written like, well, how I’ve just written them- as words. Once you hit 10 that’s when you start using the digits.
Have you seen how many number listed blog posts and articles there are on the internet these days!? Even the title of this post sticks two fingers up to this rule! The point is, numbers grab people’s attention. List post headlines and titles work better with them.
My blog title, for example, is more likely to gain your attention as your scanning your Twitter feed than if I had wrote the word ‘five.’ If that’s what will make your content sticky, then take your grammar hat off!
2. You must know how to write in the style of a broadsheet
Yes, some content has different styles. So a blog post will be different to an ebook, for example.
However, even ebooks need to have the b******t taken out. Everything that you write online has to be short, sharp and to the point. Waffling is a huge turn off. As soon as you make your stories and writing too complex, you’ve lost your time-precious audience. I’ve heard stories of ex-journalists who have 30-40 years experience on myself struggling to write online copy because it’s a completely different style to what they’ve previously known.
The point is, if you can’t write in a more ‘tabloid-style’ (short paragraphs, short sentences etc.), you’ll struggle.
3. It’s all good once your editor gives it the thumbs up
If you did work on a paper and your editor (after going through subs) says yes to your work, then it’s off to the printing press.
Great, so your content manager at your agency likes it, has proofed it and says it’s fine. That’s only half the job. It’s then got to go onto the client!
Depending on what they’re like to deal with, they’ll find a hole in your work that both your content manager and yourself, full-time, professional writers, could not. They’ll not know what they want, exactly, they just know that they don’t want what you’ve sent to them!
The truth is, it’s a lot harder to get the initial inspiration that you penned to become the finished product.
4. Working on a newspaper, you’re guaranteed to get readers
Ok, so that would all depend on your headline, intro and also the distribution of your publication, but you know what I mean? Your paper will be bought and your article, more than likely, read.
On the internet, you have to earn it. Your content is just a robin in a content marketing tree full of eagles. Not only does it have to be good to get noticed, but you’ll also need to have a strong social presence behind you.
That process of building your brand’s social media standing from scratch will take time. Identifying influencers, interacting and all that jazz is hard work. But only then does your content ever stand a chance of being read by more than your mate and a robot in Taiwan ready to soil it with one of those awful spam comments.
When you go digital, this is just a tiny facet of your everyday job. But personally, I’ve come to accept this as a good thing.
You need to know what Analytics is saying with regards to previous content before coming up with new ideas. You need to liaise with other departments to find out what customers are having problems with and whether or not you can help produce content for them. You also need to understand what different goals every individual item you write and produce has and how you’re going to achieve them.
The online marketing arena changes so quickly that you’re always having to learn new stuff. And that’s great.
Are you an online writer that can get on board with this? What things have you had to ‘unlearn’? Let me know!