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What Not To Do: 5 things to avoid when writing content

May 30, 2013

David Beharall
After 11 years in professional football David retired in 2006 to set up CandidSky. He currently holds the position of Managing Director.

It’s not unusual to see posts on marketing and copywriting sites detailing what to do with content and how to plan a blogging strategy. Slightly less common are posts telling writers what NOT to do.

Making mistakes in business (and life!) is inevitable – even big brands are prone to gaffes. Adweek regularly runs features on advertising and marketing fails and botched brand tweets often go viral. If you know what you’re doing, however, this kind of failure is easy to avoid. With this in mind, we’ve put together a little guide on not getting it wrong…

Know your “their” from your “there”

One of the easiest mistakes to make when writing is to slip up on grammar, spelling or punctuation. While spell checkers can detect a misspelling, many words can be technically spelled correctly but used in the wrong context. The worst offenders: there/their, your/you’re, where/were,  its/it’s, of/have, which/that…the list could go on.

As a copywriter, I’m probably more irritated by these mistakes than a normal person might be, but bad grammar or spelling is definitely a problem. It makes content imperfect, and thus affects the professionalism of your site.

The solution? Get someone to proofread your work – or make an investment in a professional copywriter.

Don’t be spammy

This is something that occurs most frequently on Twitter, and is often considered the online equivalent of the “cold call”. Many companies set up systems wherein promotional tweets are sent out automatically – the same, scripted message sent to hundreds of people in the hope of a lead.

It might seem like a good idea to try to get your message to as many people as you possibly can, but the desire to reach a huge audience shouldn’t overpower the need to be a real, engaging human brand. It’s great to talk to your customers, but don’t overwhelm them with information they may not be interested in. The most successful brands use social media to engage with their customers without inundating them.

The same can be said for blogging. It’s great if you have enough content for numerous blog posts in a week, but space them out. Consistency is key (as we’ll explore below), but oversaturation will lead your readers to become disinterested.

Don’t forget to do it

As we just mentioned, consistency is key. It’s really important to keep up with your social media content and blogging schedules in the form of a content strategy and plan – consistency is what brings your readers back again and again.

As we’ve mentioned before, there’s no topic off limits for your blog, so don’t be disheartened if you get writer’s block. Industry news, responses to legislation that affects your business, product news or tips and advice are all suitable for blogs – so there’s a huge scope for both creativity and consistency.

Don’t be offensive

It seems like an obvious point to make, but even big brands have made big mistakes here. Most recently, the car manufacturer Hyundai made an advert depicting a man attempting to kill himself with exhaust fumes – an attempt to highlight their 100% water emissions that went badly wrong.

Social media sites went into overdrive. Bloggers wrote emotive pieces on suicide, petitions were drawn up – Hyundai and Innocean, the ad agency responsible for the video, were roundly condemned. The video DID go viral, as they intended – but not for the right reasons.

GAP, the clothing brand, had a similar reaction to an ill-advised tweet during Hurricane Sandy. Gap decided that a hurricane was the perfect opportunity to do some on the spot marketing and came up with the following tweet – unsurprisingly, this did not go down very well.

Gap’s Hurricane Sandy tweet

One of the best things about social media is that your customers can communicate with you directly. It’s a powerful tool, but if it’s not going your way it’s impossible to control. It’s okay to be controversial – you’re entitled to an opinion – but try not to be offensive. Think twice before you post!

Don’t forget who you’re writing for

 This is probably the most important “don’t” of all. Knowing your target audience is key to any business strategy, so failing to recognise what that audience needs is going to have a hugely negative impact.

If your business is B2B, the tone, style and topic of your blogging and social media output will be different to that of a B2C company. Similarly, if you’re in fashion, your readers will want something different to those who are visiting an engineering or building blog. It’s therefore important to tailor your writing to your readers.

Make sure you don’t lose sight of what your customers want by asking them what they need from you and paying attention to their feedback.

What are the worst examples of content you’ve ever seen? Do you disagree with any of our points? Let us know by commenting.

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