Seven simple writing tips for social news

 

For bloggers and journalists alike, reaching the front page of Digg can be a boon for traffic. Case studies have shown hitting the front page can drive as many as 50,000 visitors to your site almost instantly, often dwarfing a site’s typical daily traffic, even overloading servers.

Other social news sites have a similar effect. Many blogs derive a large percentage of their daily traffic from such sources.

But even as the social news boon has been helping bloggers and online-only sites build a large audience, mainstream media has struggled. Blogs and news sites such as Engadget and ArsTechnica have had repeated success with the major social news sites. But newspapers, magazines and other traditional news outlets have only made sporadic appearances on the front pages of the major social news sites.

Although some of this may represent a bias against the traditional news outlets, much of the disparity stems from a clash between the type of content MSM organisations put out and what typically appears on social news sites.

However, there are simple tips and tricks that reporters and editors can take advantage of to improve their chances of making the front page of Digg, Reddit or other sites.

1. Write solid headlines

While the importance of a good headline is well understood, they are often overlooked on the web.

Headlines should be short, concise and motivate the reader to click. Unlike with newspapers, it is often best to use questions or statements that leave the reader seeking the answer in the article in order to motivate them to go further. Some examples might be “Why Barack Obama is leading the US” or “The key differences between the Iraq and Afghanistan wars”.

A traditional news headline quite often summarises the story. But on the web, headlines have to motivate the reader to click through. Headlines function as much as an advertisement as a synopsis.

2. Use lists

Social news seems to feature more list-style articles than just about any other type of content. Whether it is a top 10 list of the reasons Mac computers are better/worse than PCs or the five causes of the current financial crisis, social news users like their content broken down into easy-to-skim lists.

Not only do lists take less time to read and convey a great deal of information quickly, they also give reporters and editors a chance to be creative with their content and offer a unique perspective.

3. Use subheads/formatting

Even if you can not put your post into a list, you can help make it more easily skimmed by including subheads to break up large chunks of text. To those who intently read the article, this makes it so that they have natural stopping points. To those who skim, subheads are a way of getting the key elements of a story without reading the entire work.

Legendary advertising man David Ogilvy, known for publishing ads with over 10,000 words, once said that “A subhead between the headline and body copy builds readership. For long copy, additional subheads throughout the copy helps retain interest.”

4. Use images

Using an image with every single post, story or other item you publish to the web not only gives the work more visual appeal. It also gives those on social news sites something to use for a thumbnail.

With most major social news sites encouraging submitters to include thumbnails with their stories, including an image not only encourages people to read your post and vote for it, but gives your submitted stories a better chance of being noticed.

5. Focus more on technology

While the percentage of stories dealing with tech has been slipping heavily, technology stories still has a disproportionate amount of the front page of most social news sites and many other news stories have a technology element.

Integrating technology news into other aspects of your reporting can greatly increase its chances of being taken up.

Though social news is broadening in its reach, it still tends to attract a very tech-savvy crowd. So it makes sense to attempt to reach out to them.

6. Use links

Mentioned in a previous article about social media mistakes, linking is absolutely critical to obtaining good standing on social news sites.

Links not only show good faith and a willingness to share in the community, but they also alert other webmasters to the presence of your content. Those bloggers and writers, in turn, are motivated to help promote your article as it also helps them.

Linking to appropriate sites helps build a strong, if informal, network of sites that cooperate to promote one another’s work. This can greatly help in promoting your work.

7. Think of keywords

Keywords are difficult to keep in mind while writing. It is difficult to know exactly for what interested people might be searching. But repeating keywords related to your content not only helps your articles rank well in the search engines, but causes articles to come up on blog searches, Google Alerts and news feeds that many interesting in social media use.

To that end, you can use Google’s Keyword Tool to see roughly how many times certain phrases are being searched for and get suggestions for related ones.

Including keywords in the headline of the story can help increase clickthroughs and further encourage it to be picked up.

Conclusions

Most journalists understand the essential elements of writing for social news. The core elements of checking facts, writing compelling copy and getting as close to a story as possible are the elements with which many bloggers struggle. These are all things journalists are trained well to do, however.

Many of the problems with mainstream journalism and social news stem not from the practices of news organisations, but with the style of writing and presenting the information.

The Internet has not only shortened the news cycle to a matter of minutes, but also introduced a more personal and self-promoting style of writing that, for better or worse, works better at drawing in visitors.

The trick is to find a way to take advantage of this new writing style without sacrificing the integrity and the professionalism that has been long admired in the legacy press.