May 18, 2010

Improve Your Copywriting with Help from Social Media: 7 Tactics from David Meerman Scott

SUMMARY: Potential customers want to hear how you can solve their problems in simple, understandable language -- not empty marketing clichés. Social media can help teach you that language.

Read why marketing strategist David Meerman Scott thinks phrases such as “robust” and “mission critical” can do more harm than good to your marketing, and how you can use social media to move past them.
By Adam T. Sutton, Reporter

Much of the world’s marketing does not speak to customers’ needs. Instead, it describes how "innovative," "world class" or "cutting edge" a product is, says David Meerman Scott, marketing strategist and author, The New Rules of Marketing & PR.

Scott first challenged the use of these kinds of terms -- which he deems "gobbledygook" -- in 2007. He has since conducted several studies to illustrate how deeply these phrases pervade the business world (see Useful Links below).

He describes how gobbledygook phrases hurt companies by:
o Not differentiating a brand
o Being ignored and possibly scorned by customers
o Being unlikely to be used in search engine queries

But after three years of sharing this message, has Scott seen much improvement?

"No. Not at all. In my experience, there are still a majority of companies I see with their press releases and websites laden with their own jargon," he says. "It’s more important than when I first identified it, there’s no question at all. Companies are still doing this everywhere."

The good news: Social media’s growth over the last three years has made it even easier for marketers to learn how their audience talks. Below, we describe seven tactics for using social media to better understand your customers’ language and to get more value into your marketing copy.

Tactic #1. Read what your audience writes

Scott suggests, first and foremost, interviewing people in your target market to learn more about their language (more on that later). But you can supplement this information with research on social sites.

Find your audience online and read what they’re writing about your industry. Look in places such as:
o Social media profiles
o Blogs
o Personal websites
o Chat rooms and message boards
o User-generated review sites

Study the language your customers use there -- they’re probably never going to say "mission critical." This is how you should be talking about your products.

- Avoid industry websites

Don’t study outlets maintained by other businesses or industry organizations. They are likely to contain the type of language you’re trying to avoid.

Tactic #2. Monitor event chatter

Many industry conferences encourage attendees write about what’s happening at the show. Twitter is a common network for this, and its tweets can be organized by hashtags.

Hashtags are marked by the pound sign, "#," and are used to organize tweets into topics.

For example, tweets about the South by Southwest music festival often include the "#SXSW" hashtag to be marked for aggregation. Clicking the tag in a tweet will take you to a page showing only other tweets using the same tag.

You can monitor chatter around conferences in your industry, and even watch real-time updates during the conference, just by searching Twitter for the event’s hashtag. The process will reveal more ways your audience talks about important issues in your industry.

Tactic #3. Eliminate empty language online

Once your team makes a concerted effort to eliminate "gobbledygook," you should prioritize removing it from your customers’ main entry points, such as your:
o Homepage
o Advertising landing pages
o Outbound marketing material

And it’s especially important to remove gobbledygook from your social media content, because these channels are designed for more personal communication. Stop using clichés such as "innovative" and "industry-leading" in your profiles and updates. Make sure your blog posts avoid describing how your "new and improved" product was designed with the "latest technology."

Tactic #4. Use authentic video and images

"Gobbledygook" can extend beyond textual content and into images and video. Scott singles out stock images of happy multicultural office workers as a form of "visual gobbledygook" that’s just as empty -- and potentially insulting.

"Everybody knows that the happy, pretty, multicultural-type person does not work at your company. That’s just a place holder someone put there because they didn’t have a photograph of a real employee."

If your team is working to get videos or images virally shared on social networks, you should avoid using stock images of models to represent your customers and employees. Such images are boring, phony and unlikely to be shared.

- Stock imagery has a place

Stock imagery is acceptable in many situations, Scott says, such as using an image of the outdoors to represent nature. Even using models to represent customers and employees in advertising is fine, he says.

But you’ll cross the line when the images make their way from your advertising to your website and communications. Employees and customers should be authentically represented in these areas.

Tactic #5. Get customer service on board

Ask other customer-facing employees, such as the sales and customer service teams, to help with your research.

If you maintain separate social media presences for your customer service department, such as a customer service Twitter account, ask that group to look over their audience interactions to provide more insight into how customers’ talk about your industry or products.

Also, once you’re ready to change the type of language used to describe your brand, make sure customer service and other outward-facing departments adopt the same changes in their social media profiles and other customer interactions.

Tactic #6. Always conduct interviews

Researching your audience’s language in social media should supplement -- not replace -- interviewing members of your target market.

Interviews will teach you more about your audience’s needs, how your products meet them, and the language your audience uses. This information will reveal topics you should discuss online to connect with your audience and the types of phrases you should use.

When interviewing, be sure to:
o Select candidates who represent each of your market segments
o Ask about their relevant problems in detail
o Regularly interview potential customers until common themes emerge

The amount of time and number of interviews required will vary for every market. Keep pushing until you’re able to identify key categories of customer challenges.

"It might take 12 or 15, or you might have to do 20-plus," Scott says. "What you’re looking for are patterns."

Tactic #7. Find interviewees online

Social media is a good place to recruit interview subjects. Ask your followers on Facebook, Twitter and your company blog if they’d be interested. You can add an incentive such as a gift card or discount to get more responses.

- Use searches or advertising to reach non-fans and non-customers

Your social media connections likely are customers and fans of your brand. The information they provide is valuable, but you also need to find people who aren’t current customers and may provide a different perspective.

People reveal a lot of personal information about themselves on social networks. You can search the networks for users who fit your demographic, or belong to relevant interest groups. Major networks, such as Facebook, allow advertisers to target advertising to specific groups, which can also help you generate responses.

Useful links related to this article

Members Library -- Social Media and SEO: 7 Tactics to Boost Rankings and Generate Links

Members Library -- Research-Driven Message Conveys Product Advantage: 5 Tactics to Lift Sales more than 10%

Top 25 Gobbledygook Words and Phrases in 2008

Encyclopedia of Business Clichés

Twitter Search: #SXSW

Facebook Advertising

David Meerman Scott: Books

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