Why Your Social Media Message Isn’t Quite Right (Write!)

There’s a very simple reason your social media accounts aren’t yielding the return on investment you had hoped. And it’s not because you haven’t invested in enough courses, read the right books, or heard the right guru at the right conference.

It’s because you’re too busy looking at the bright shiny objects, pressing all the buttons, and downloading new tools when what you should be doing is getting back to the basics.

I don’t care how digital it gets, social media is still a print media, and the way you communicate on it is by writing.

Well guess what I do? It’s right there in my name – the Corporate WRITING Pro. So let me share with you a few (uncharacteristically snarky) basics that you need to remember (or forget) in order to be successful on social media.

The Writer's Triangle1) Analyze your situation using the Writer’s Triangle. Twitter and Facebook and LinkedIn and blog posts each present us with a different writing context. And while we the author are essentially the same person no matter where we go, we write a little differently on each platform.

It’s like this – a professional football player is the same person when he goes to church Sunday morning as when he hits the gridiron Sunday afternoon, except he’s not. Do you feel me?

What you say and how you say it will be a little bit different depending on which platform you’re using. That’s why the triangle and the circle are contiguous. Right where author meets purpose, your angle needs to touch base with your context. Otherwise, you’re missing the point.

Establish your purpose as an entrepreneur, a business, a researcher, a non-profit organization, a corporation, or a government entity. Work with a facilitator to create a vision, a mission statement, and an implementation plan. Understand your role as one of the ambassadors of that mission. And then go forth, understanding that how you carry out that mission will be slightly different on each platform.

2) READ! The best way to learn about your audience is to hear what they have to say. Most companies are so busy trying to engage their customers they forget that their customers are already engaged – with other companies.

Spend time on the platform seeing who your customers are talking to today. And in case you think I’m starting to sound like one of those social media gurus (which I’m not), one of the most basic tenets of good writing is that you have to read to learn how to write, just like infants listen to learn how to speak. Read what your customers are saying, and more importantly, read what other companies are saying to them that they are responding to (or not).Sleeping Dog

By reading on the various platforms, you can get a sense for how your voice should sound. Reading is an invaluable tool for developing a tone your audience can actually hear. Think of it like a dog whistle. If you’re not hitting the right pitch, the whole message gets lost.

3) Forget everything you ever learned about sentence structure. I know, you got A’s in all your high school English classes. Your teacher loved you, said you should be a writer, bought you a journal and a mug and everything. Congratulations (you little brown-noser)!

Welcome to the real world, where ellipsis reigns. No question on Twitter needs the few introductory words – they’re assumed.

Are you confused by today’s new syntax?

Confused by today’s new syntax?

People don’t read on the internet the way they read (or used to read) in print. We skim. We like short sentences and shorter paragraphs. We love it when people start a sentence with a conjunction. And we don’t mind fragments. Like this.

Get over it.

If you don’t write to your readers the way they like to read, they will find someone else who will.

4) Pay careful attention to your diction. In a slightly counterintuitive move, because we’re paying less attention to structure, we’re paying more attention to content (think exact opposite of the baroque or the 19th century Victorian novel, more like theatre of the absurd or modernism).

Words count. When Twitter allots 140 characters to a post and Facebook 420, the right ones in the right places make the message. Who was it that said brevity is the soul of wit? Well, careful diction makes brevity beautiful.

5) Punctuation – fuhggedaboutit! I probably should have paired this with number 3, because in today’s digital age, creative punctuation can substitute for proper syntax. And I’m not referring to emoticons.

For example, you can leave out a verb provided you put a dash or a colon in its place, like this.

New conference updates to be provided on today’s website.

New conference updates: today’s website.

We all know that exclamation points are now required, because they substitute for the perk, cheer, and generally friendly, but just social, smile we would flash if we were sharing the same cubicle but can’t because our grandchildren aren’t old enough to set up Skype on our computer (yet).

No one understands how to use a semicolon anymore, which I personally blame on the UK’s infiltration of American media. We give you Twitter, and you steal our comma splice. You couldn’t have just brought us curry? Fine, I’ll deal.

Anyway, here’s the point – social media is just another form of written communication. Treat it as such. Return to the basics – use your grammar handbook, but don’t overuse it. You’re not in a classroom. You’re conversing. Listen.

And my last bit of advice is to proofread. For God’s sake, it’s only 140 characters.


  1. Anna Biunno says

    The takeaway from this post is such a gem:

    “I don’t care how digital it gets, social media is still a print media, and the way you communicate on it is by writing.”

    I think people get lazy; it’s just too much work to tailor the message based on the medium. But the truth is that good writing prevails if you want the message to be clear and succinct.

    Your posts are always a pleasure to read.

    P.S. I think I used the semicolon correctly (wink, wink).

  2. Michelle,

    Great advise – thank you

  3. It constantly astounds me how much Social Media blogs has an impact on the volume of traffic that you can get when done correctly

    Keep up the great work,


  4. Several followers have emailed me to say that the comment feature is not working properly. Have you had this problem?

    • Faithful followers! – you have my sincere apologies.

      If your comments have not appeared on the blog, there’s a great reason for that. My spam filters have been overactive.

      Everything you posted for the last few weeks has gone directly to spam – do not pass GO, do not notify the teacher.

      I cleaned out the queue today, and your comments should be sorted, filtered, and ON THE BLOG! Thanks for commenting, and I’m sorry that I didn’t catch this earlier.

      All my best – Michelle

  5. Well done on this post. I would rate it as one of the best I have read: it isn’t a vehicle for blatant self promotion, rather a very educational piece. I’m going to start using the triangle.

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