Has Social Media Changed How We Write Web Copy? Here’s Why I Think So

Laughing Teenagers

Since 2001 I’ve been writing copy for the web. I’ve been in the web writing world long enough to have mastered the fundamentals of persuasive web writing. I’ve been writing copy for landing pages, sales letters, email newsletter sub forms.

And the rules for writing persuasive copy remain:

1. Clear

2. Concise

3. Compelling

Now I want to offer a new one.

Introducing Meme-Worthy Copy

Before social media entered the stage a marketer’s job was two-fold: write a compelling landing page and drive traffic to that landing page.

The internet has changed all of that.

Not so much the internet, but social media, in particular networks like Twitter, Reddit, 4chan, and YouTube — the most potent platforms for transmitting and spreading an idea.

An idea that takes off is a meme. Often the most popular memes are silly and juvenile.

For example, a reddit user named TrentonJ took the above photograph (six years after it was originally published), added some profane text and then submitted it to the subreddit /r/AdviceAnimals.

With just 278 upvotes in 27 days the photo failed to reach the home page. This was not a successful meme.

Twenty-six days later TrentonJ tried again. He changed the text (added even more profanity) and re-submitted the photo. This time it reached the front page with 13,850 upvotes in 48 hours.

That’s huge. But not as huge as the Overly Attached Girlfriend.

Young woman responds to a Justin Bieber singing contest. Her song signals a clingy, stalker-like lover — an overly attached girlfriend. She parks her video on YouTube, someone shares it on Reddit, and in less than two days it was viewed nearly 1.4 million times.

As of October 5, 2012, just four months later, the video has been viewed over 12,687,000 times.

Social Media Dominates Editorial Decisions

It’s this sort of monstrous influence that social media has on content that convinced Atlantic Monthly to abandon all serious efforts at SEO. Their editorial strategy is to increase the viral chances of each article by running their headlines through three layers of editors.

They don’t even invest in an SEO-friendly title.

And the headlines you see at the Atlantic Monthly site will probably be different from what you see shared on Facebook or Twitter. They are trying to find the most popular and shareable headline variation.

Long ago discovery by search was dominant. No longer. Now, discovery by social media rules. We let content come to us via our friends and via our social networks (for instance, people go to Reddit to discover the “news”).

Think I’m floating smoke up your skirt? Google buys into the social-media-dominates premise, too. And it proved as much by launching Google+ and authorship markup. No serious online content marketer would be without either.

Which brings me back to the influence social media has on persuasive copy.

A Brief History on Copywriting

The job of the online copywriter is to attract attention, stoke interest, create desire, and incite action.


Attracting attention used to be concerned with stopping the reader dead in his tracks. A good headline will do that.

(See related article: One Helluva Seductive One-Word Headline)

Before the web — in the world of print — advertisers bought space in magazines and newspapers. Naturally, promoting an ad in spaces with high volumes of traffic would increase the number of times eyeballs saw the ad.

This meant the front page, back page, inside front and so on.

In the early days of the web the sales letter was static. It sat on a page off of your website. You drove people to it by banner ads and email. It was all about pulling people to your message.

Then along came social media and the meme. You don’t have to pull people to your idea any longer — if it is good people will spread it for you.

Eventually companies began to adopt the meme approach to promotion. Every one remembers the Cadbury Gorilla, right? What about Burger King’s Subservient Chicken?

Both examples of successful viral marketing.

More than likely you saw both of those promotions because you saw it in your Twitter or Facebook stream. Or someone emailed it to you. Or maybe you heard about them at the water cooler and then jumped on online when you got back to your desk.

But are those promotions good closers? Did they results in more sales? Did they take that attention and turn gawkers into clients?

This is where the online copywriter comes in.

New Skills Online Copywriters Need to Adopt or Adapt

Granted, very few ideas are going to turn people into customers on the first try. The complexity and price point of your product will determine the length of the sales cycle. Simple and inexpensive products will have short sales cycles. Complex and expensive products, much longer.

But a great web copywriter will know not only how to make ideas attractive — but how to make them shareable. Clear, concise, and compelling is not enough. Copy must now be meme worthy.

(See related article: Pop Quiz: What Makes a Great Web Writer?)

Let me close by sharing with you some skills that copywriters must adopt or modify if they want to compete in an online world dominated by social media. Fortunately I could only come up with three:

  • Writing Social Media Ripe Headlines – Using the 4 Us is not enough. You need bizarre. Strange. Gawker and Buzzfeed style headlines. Business Insider and Atlantic Monthly. All online publishers who craft irresistible headlines. And of course Copyblogger.
  • Navigating All Social Media Platforms – Like you needed something else on your plate, but make yourself comfortable on platforms like StumbleUpon, Reddit, Pinterest — even if you are not a target user. Is your audience?
  • Testing Ideas Endlessly – Reddit is a great place to share content and test headlines in the process. Toy with different ways of sharing a headline on Twitter to see which wording gets the most click-throughs and shares.

Your turn: Can you think of any other relevant skills web writers need to adopt in this new world social media order? And where is my argument off? Am I making needless distinctions? Or am I spot on?

I would love to hear your thoughts. Brutal and all.

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  1. says

    Wild! We both post blogs on the same day and both about memes.

    Love this article and how it provides additional info on memes that I can learn from.

    I also enjoy seeing you adapt and change with this business. I know you had some thoughts about social media in the past that were not always positive. The fact that even you are now touting the power of memes just proves that there is something to this. :)

    It will interesting to see if memes have staying power, or if they are just a passing trend.

    • says

      I think memes and what make memes are universal. How they get spread, however, will change with technology.

      Yeah, crazy about the coincidence of posting about memes. I saw your email in my inbox and my eyes about popped out of my head because literally I just pressed publish, tinkered around for a minute and then popped over into my inbox and their was your email. Weird.

  2. says

    You must respond to reviews as quickly and professionally as you are able.

    The globe is changing everyday, marketing,chatting online or messaging has turn into part of our everyday
    lives for Net Users, and they’re tuning into this social Media’s New means of communicating
    around the internet with information that bypasses our ongoing
    costly advertising communication approaches. Social
    media is always opening doors for new companies, but if you approach it incorrectly it won’t be as advantageous as you would like.

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