What’s the right conversational style for your social media posts?

Business communication today is dominated by “the new kid on the block”: writing for social media! But noticeably few companies actively train staff on how to get results: a glaring oversight.

Some tips: firstly don’t forget the “social” in social media! Posts succeed when they’re not just “conversational” in style; they really talk to and with people. They actually foster response in a different way from the “broadcast” style in traditional business writing.

Adaptation is key

So is there a happy medium between formal and informal? There’s no one answer: you need to adapt your style to your target audience. What interests them? What vocabulary would they use? How can your posts add value?

That’s step one towards achieving your objectives. They’ll vary — but it’s generally about engaging, being shared/converting, being relevant, knowledgeable, credible, consistently professional and personable! An extensive list… but every aspect contributes to success.

When building an online community be mindful that, the world over, people prefer to do business with people who care. A style in-between formal and informal is likely to attract their interest.

Be authentic

The next step: be authentic; add something to your readers’ life. If you’re only interested in a conversion, your community will notice.

So why do so many Facebook posts, for example, overdo the “tease”? You know the sort of thing: “A homeless person found a long-lost fountain pen, and you won’t believe what happened next.” What happens next turns out to be a plug for the company or some totally irrelevant fact. Many people avoid clickbait like the plague!

Imagine a real-life situation where someone came up to you and said “Hey, tell me how cool I am, then please buy a car from me and while you’re at it, recommend me to others?” You’d walk away, wouldn’t you? Their style might seem conversational but it’s out-and-out broadcasting. Isn’t it similar with Facebook posts or tweets from people we scarcely know, asking “Hey, like my Facebook page” or “Please RT” or “Let’s connect on LinkedIn”?

Now compare this. A car salesman approaches you when he knows you’re actively looking for a car. He listens to you. He builds rapport; unearths the perhaps unstated issues. He then has the finesse to tailor his message for your needs: to use words that matter to you as a buyer.

How much better might you feel about “you look like you have a lot on your plate. Let me help you in your buying decision and by the way, if you do decide to buy with me, here’s a great offer”.

In stark contrast, the clickbait tease rarely works. Its sole purpose can be to lure people to a webpage that’s nothing to do with the “captivating” headline. That’s infuriating.

Successful social media posts feature the “you,” not just the “I” (compelling though your personal story may be!).

An easy checklist to help:

Be authentic, helpful/add value; converse

Write compelling, relevant headlines; don’t write clickbait

Show you care about readers; invite questions; respond to comments

Include calls to action offering value for them as much as for you

Be concise (provide links to further details needed)

Don’t try to be someone you’re not — or use completely different language to that on your website etc. This undermines credibility/confuses.

So a measured, directly conversational style can work, but don’t sacrifice your corporate identity or professionalism. Use your checklist: in time you’ll be a natural at knowing when to be formal, informal — or the happy medium between the two that so often works best for today’s business.

Fiona Talbot is the author of best-selling business communication books including “How to Write Effective Business English.” She’s the founder of the #wordpowerskills writing system, helping employees across the globe enhance their business writing skills. Follow Fiona on Twitter (@wordpowerskills) and check out www.wordpowerskills.com for tips on writing for social media, as well as traditional channels.