I’m putting together some toolkits for Hallam staff who are using social media to tell their stories and engage with their audiences.
So this is the first in a series. It’s a simple how-to guide for people who want to write blogs and LinkedIn articles.
I’ll repost this under a new ‘Toolkits’ sub-heading in the social media guidelines.
What should I write about?
Your blog – whether you’re hosting it on WordPress or posting it on LinkedIn – is a window into your expertise, and you as a communicator. A good blog isn’t used as somewhere to store research papers and resources, or a method of sending out information. It’s a way for people to get a sense of your expertise, your ideas and your values.
So you should write about those things. Your expertise is what makes you different. Your ideas are what people will take away from your blog, and your values are what will keep them coming back.
A great way to get started is to write about something that’s in the news, and examine it through the unique lens of your expertise, ideas and values.
How many words?
The ideal blog post or LinkedIn article length is anywhere from 600 to 800 words, depending on the amount of rich media that you’re including in the post.
Getting the structure right
Your first paragraph is important. Along with the headline, it’s the hook that convinces the reader to read on.
Try a few different ways of opening your post, and run them by friends and colleagues. You could reference a recent news event, explore a personal reflection, or make a dramatic statement.
Once you’ve hooked them, your reader is likely to skim-read, so use section breaks, sub-headings, lists and bullets to break blocks of text up, and keep paragraphs short (one to three sentences).
Images and videos do the same thing, and they can help you illustrate a point. Make sure you have usage rights for visual assets. You can use the search tools on Google image search to find images that have been labelled for reuse.
Embed URLs as hyperlinks, and set them to open in a new window, so that your readers stay on your blog.
You want to take your reader on a journey throughout your post, so promise them something juicy (revelation, insight, facts) early on, then deliver it in the middle section.
Wrap things up with key takeaways and learnings, but don’t worry about making your ending too neat and perfect. You can leave loose ends for another post.
If you’re in doubt about how to end the article, pose your readers a question. Ask for feedback, opposing views, other sources.
And remember: your blog post is supposed to be a conversation-starter. Ask for comments, and respond to them. Maybe you’ll get ideas for a follow-up post.
Language, tone and punctuation
Unless you’re writing for a niche audience, plain language is a good idea. So, if you want to reach a wider audience, keep jargon to a minimum.
Avoid cliches and archaic words and phrases (use ‘while’ instead of ‘whilst’, for example). Your sentences should be a maximum of 30 words long. Your grammar and punctuation are important, but don’t use overly-complicated punctuation (I heartily recommend R L Trask’s Penguin Guide to Punctuation, by the way – it busts a lot of myths).
Use exclamation points sparingly, and only ever one at a time. Question marks can be used as and when you need them, and are also solitary characters.
Pay attention to the rhythm of your writing. Vary the length of your sentences to add pace and dynamics. Try it. It’s fun.
And it’s fine to start the odd sentence with ‘and’ or ‘but’. But don’t overdo it.
Your tone of voice should be warm, personal and direct (‘During the event, I was amazed to learn that…’, ‘By now, you’ve probably noticed that…’). If you’re writing something from a position of authority, you can afford to have a more authoritative tone of voice, but beware of sounding pompous.
I don’t recommend writing about yourself in the third person. Ever.
Remember, a blog post isn’t a news bulletin or an announcement. It’s more than technical writing: it should give the reader an insight into the situation or issue from the author’s point of view.
Your blog’s not just informative: we want to see the human being behind the words.
Different approaches to headlines
Write the headline last. You want to address the reader directly, so make it engaging. It could be counter-intuitive and subversive (‘Why face-to-face meetings are making you less productive’) – if that gives you a springboard into an interesting argument.
The list-article format (‘Six ways to manage your inbox’) works for some people, but don’t use it for every blog post, because your blog will start to look like clickbait.
Here are some common approaches for blog post titles:
- Numbered lists: “Five cat photos that changed the internet”
- Dates: “The best cats on the internet in January 2017”
- Questions: “Why are cats so popular on the internet?”
- Call-to-action: “Download our expert guide to cats on the internet”
Tags are important
Be sure to add some relevant tags to your post before you publish. They help people find your posts. You might want to use categories, if your blog has that functionality, so that people can easily search and browse your blog.
Writing on LinkedIn
To post your blog on LinkedIn, log in to your account and hit the ‘write an article’ button in the status update box. This will take you to a simple WordPress-style interface, where you can:
- Upload a header image
- Insert a title for your article
- Add formatted text, including bullet points and sub-headers
- Add rich media, such as images, videos and links
You can publish your article by hitting the ‘publish’ button in the top right, or you can close the browser window and come back to it later – it will auto-save.
When you publish your article, you’ll be asked to add a status update so that you share the link from your profile. Add a comment about your article and hit ‘publish’. You’ve just posted your first article on LinkedIn!
If you look in your browser’s address bar, you’ll see you’ve got a unique URL for that LinkedIn article, so copy it and share it with your networks.
By the way, here’s a really good article about writing on LinkedIn. A lot of it applies to blogging in general. Have fun, and let me know if you found this useful.
Joe Field, social media manager