Everyone, it seems, is a writer in 2014. Social media and the boom in self-published books have provided us all with a platform to spell out our views.
After all, how hard can it be? But, perhaps, therein lies the rub.
Information overload is a massive issue for internal communications teams, anxious to ensure their key messages are absorbed by time-conscious employees.
As a result, content with impact is now an essential – but making your copy stand out in an already-saturated arena is a serious challenge.
Sue Kiddy, Headlines’ newly-appointed Content Director, has worked with major global brands like Shell and Mercedes-Benz for the past 15 years.
Sue, who received the Institute of Internal Communication ‘icon’ award for Best Writer in 2013 as well as the IoIC Best Feature award 2014, believes these simple steps can deliver your messaging with reach and impact.
Seven tips on creating compelling content
Who are you talking to?
Know your target audience before you start – and put yourself in their shoes while you’re writing. This will help you include the essential information and write in a tone and style they can relate to.
If you’re writing for a specific group of people about something specific to them, you can get away with more complex language.
But if your content is for your whole organisation, or the frontline people, make sure you explain terms or acronyms that may be unfamiliar and avoid using jargon. If in doubt, keep it simple.
People are likely to have been involved with whatever you’re writing about, so find out who they are and what they did, and tell the story through their eyes.
People love to read about people, especially those they know.
Whether it’s a new product, process or behaviour, a success story or even bad news, giving it a human interest angle will bring your words to life.
What do people think?
Opinions add credibility and transparency to your communications. Try adding a ‘vox pop’ panel of head shot + a 1-2 sentence quote from a mix of colleagues when you’re publishing a story about something that’s having an impact in your organisation – whether it’s a serious topic or something fun.
It will make your content more digestible and help reinforce that you’re an employer who encourages people to get involved and have their say.
Don’t be afraid to balance the positives with some negative comments – they help keep things real.
Climax at the beginning
Attention spans are short – statistics suggest the average time before we get distracted is now eight seconds, one second shorter than a goldfish – and we’re all busier than ever.
Assume most people won’t make it to the end of your article (so if you’re still with me, thank you!).
An intro paragraph that highlights the key points of the story will help your reader decide whether to continue. And short can be sweet – 300 words maximum for a standard news story, especially online, is a good target.
Limit yourself to 800 for a feature-length article. Adding links to more information for those that want it can help you keep things brief.
A short, interesting headline will help draw in the reader. A heading that describes the key content of the story (like the one at the top of this page) can work well.
Or you can try something intriguing that will encourage readers to click and find out more (‘Taming the black dog’ on a story about mental illness, a phrase coined by Winston Churchill, helped it become one of the most-clicked online features I’ve written).
If you can’t think of a heading that will grab attention, ask yourself whether the story’s really worth publishing.
Double-check your facts, stick to the truth and always spell people’s names correctly. Your credibility as a communicator – and even bigger, your organisation’s reputation – depends on it.
We can’t always spot errors in our own copy, and the spellcheck tool has a habit of not knowing what we intended – so get a colleague who’s a stickler for good spelling and grammar to proof read your work.
Keep it hot
Nobody wants last week’s news except the fish and chip shop.
As Headlines Chief Executive Peter Doherty reminds us in his Devil’s Advocate blog, the timeliness and reliability of internal communication is a litmus test for the competitive health of your entire business.
So plan ahead – and promote a culture where leaders and contributors understand the importance of prompt sign off.