What Is Social Media Writing and How Does It Differ from SEO Copywriting?


As a professional SEO copywriter, one of your responsibilities is to stay on top of what’s happening in search/SEO/internet marketing so that you can do justice to client copy. With this goal in mind, today’s discussion is all about social media writing. We’ll answer the following questions . . .

What is social media writing;

How does it differ from straight SEO writing; and

What SEO content writers need to keep in mind about it.

So, let’s get started. First up, some basic stats.

Social Media Stats

I want to start with some statistics to underscore just how fast this online marketing niche is growing – and how/why social media management can be a lucrative part of every SEO writer’s freelance business. I plucked the following from The Social Skinny post, 99 New Social Media Stats for 2012.

Social networking is most popular online activity, with 22% of time online spent on channels like Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest;

53% of small businesses are using social media; 88% believe exposure is the biggest benefit; 

91% of experienced social marketers see improved website traffic due to social media campaigns and 79% are generating more quality leads; and

40% of Twitter users regularly search for products via Twitter. 

For me, the most interesting stat of all is . . .

Nielsen estimates that social media and blogs reach 80% of all active US Internet users (of which there are 245 million). [Source: Infographic: Social Media Statistics For 2012]

So yeah, social media has arrived – and it’s not going anywhere. When that happens, it’s time for us as tech writers in this niche (search engine optimization writing) to learn about it and, if so inclined, integrate it into our service offerings.

Social Media Writing Defined

Even though a definitive definition is given below, I agree with the following assessment in a post on Social Media Today when it comes to this form of writing. It states:

As a writing specialty, social media writing is just coming into its own. Social media writing is a bit of a hybrid – part copywriting, part communication tool – so the rules aren’t hard and fast. Social media writing isn’t an exact science . .  .

So, if it isn’t an exact science, then what is it?

Social media (SM) writing can be defined as writing content with the specific intent of getting it widely distributed on social media outlets like Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn (which, by the way, are the three largest social media outlets as of this writing). One word that I would say perfectly describes this type of content is “linkbait.”  

At this point you may be thinking, how does social media writing differ from SEO writing? The following is how I’d describe the difference.

SEO content is technically content that is written for search engines (ie, content written to be found by search engines). It is keyword driven.

Social media content on the other hand is content written to be found – and distributed/shared by – users on social media. I’d go so far as to say it is “headline” driven because if the headline doesn’t appeal to potential readers, it’s unlikely that it’ll get clicked on, read and shared.

Before we go any further with this discussion, I want to point out a couple of very important things . . .

First, the overall end goal of social media content and SEO content is the same – to be found and shared with a businesses’ target market. The difference is simply in how that’s done (eg, via a search engine as opposed to users on social media).

Secondly, the rules of SEO change all the time. SEO content used to be very keyword driven. This is still true, but only to a certain extent. Search engine giant Google came out with 23 SEO writing guidelines that clarifies how copy should be written. It’s much more than “just” keywords. So although I use keywords as a baseline factor to differentiate social media writing from SEO content writing, realize that online writing is much more nuanced than that.

I like the way the post Who Are You Writing For? SEO Copywriting vs. Social Media Writing summed up the differences between SEO and social media writing. It stated:

You should use the same keywords you would when writing content for search. However, think less about how Google will read your page, and more about producing great, quality content that people will link to and share simply because it is good.

6 Things Every SEO Copywriter Needs to Know about Social Media Writing

I don’t want you to get too hung up on the differences between the two forms of writing because in reality (as stated above), the end goal is the same — to be found, shared with and acted upon by your clients’  target market. Keeping this in mind, following is what you need to remember about SM writing (notice how some of these tips overlap with what is required to be an effective web writer).

1) Learn SEO: You’re writing for the web, so you must have a foundational knowledge of search engine optimization.

2) Learn How to Write Effective Headlines: I still struggle with this, and it’s why I constantly study how to do it better. In my opinion, this is one of the best skills you should cultivate as a social media writer. As I wrote in the post, 9 Web Copywriting Tips for Busy Freelance Writers and Bloggers: Produce Better Copy, Get More Traffic and Increase Sales — Seamlessly:

This is my number one “web copywriting tip” for all online writers (learn how to write effective headlines). Sometimes, the headline won’t come to you immediately; it may materialize after you’ve written a post. This is fine. I almost always start with one headline, then wind up with a completely different one after I’ve written a blog post/web article.

Regarding writing great headlines, Copyblogger put it best, stating . . . “A great headline [should] communicate a full message to its intended audience, and it absolutely must lure the reader into your body text. At its essence, a compelling headline must promise some kind of benefit or reward for the reader, in trade for the valuable time it takes to read more.”

Read the full post to learn how to write effective headlines.

3) Know the Audience: As a social media writer, you have to know exactly who you’re writing for in order to produce content that will appeal to them.

4) Know the Rules of the Social Media Outlet in Question: What I mean by this is, if your client’s social media outlet of choice is Twitter, then get familiar with Twitter, eg, what is most likely to get shared there, why, how often, by whom, when, who are the influencers (in your client’s niche), what times of day are they most active, etc.

5) Know Your Client’s End Goal: Don’t write in a vacuum. For example, does your client want to grow his newsletter subscriber list, increase her website sales by “X” percent; increase in-store sales by “Y”; etc.

6) Don’t Sell, Inform: Social media is about sharing and informing. It is definitely not a hard sell outlet. So, social media writing is all about the soft sell. Hence, content should be written to inform and enlighten.

Now that you know what social media writing is and have some insight into what TO do, let’s look at some no-no’s. 

Are You Breaking The 3 Cardinal Rules of Social Media Writing?

As we discussed in the definition section above, this form of writing isn’t an exact science. But, there are some things you should definitely NOT do when it comes to social media writing.

This is discussed brilliantly in the post, Three Cardinal Sins of Social Media Writing, which basically says not to: (i) over share or over sell;  (ii) bore your online community(ies); and (iii) produce content in a vacuum (ie, without a social media marketing plan).

Social Media Writing: Conclusion

Even though it’s a “new media” way of communicating, the “old school” truisms of marketing and selling still apply. This means educating/informing your client’s target market (via content), not “selling” to them; and producing engaging content, not boring sales messages. This should be a part of your clients’ overall marketing plan — which you should always ask them about when you take them on as a client.

By doing this, you let them know that as an SEO content writer, you’re aware that they have goals and you want to help them achieve them. Hence, it’s important for you to know who the target market is and how the content you’re producing is going to be used (eg, on a blog, in a newsletter, as part of a white paper). 

Need more help?

Helpful Social Media Writing Guide

The link is to the CDC’s social media writing guide for health professionals.

No matter what your profession though, it’s an excellent tutorial for professional SEO writers to study because it gives great examples on how to write for social media (see pages 44-47 specifically). On these pages, there are before and after examples of “flat, lifeless” tweets and Facebook posts, and improved ones using the social media writing guidelines suggested throughout the tutorial.

Related Post: What Is Social Media SEO and Why SEO Writers Need to Know About It

Share Your Thoughts

Had you ever hear of social media writing before reading this post? Did you learn something here? Do you have any social media writing tips to share? Please respond in the comments section below.

P.S.: Want to learn how to earn $100-$250+/day writing SEO content? Get SEO copywriter training. You can take the class online, or attend a hands-on seminar in Jamaica! Learning SEO is about so much more than learning a new skill; it’s about changing (taking control of) your life!


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3 Comments so far

  1. Nina on August 30th, 2012

    I totally agree with all the content written here. However, I would add that writers who want to learn social media have to get very familiar with the different platforms. Writing for Twitter is very different than writing for Facebook or Linkedin. Each social network has its own culture and selected audience. I manage a lot of different social media platforms, however, Facebook is my favorite. So, one of the most effective ways to share content is by writing your communications message on a picture. I don’t have the stat right now, but pictures get shared more than regular text. So, when communicating on Social media, you have to be very creative. And as Yuwanda said, it’s more of a soft sell approach than anything. From my personal experience,I have gotten clients from Facebook, not because I was promoting my business, but because I was offering value and showing my personality. Most of the times I got clients off of social media was because I was posting an inspirational quote, sharing vacation pictures, are talking about how I was going to birth the alphabet because I was writing so many articles for a slew of clients. :). Thanks again for sharing!

  2. Yuwanda, SEO Writing Jobs Editor on August 30th, 2012

    Nina your insight on social media marketing is always invaluable.

    I’m finally getting on the Facebook bandwagon professionally. It’s become a “must”.

    I know how busy you alwawys are, so I really appreciate you taking the time to share your insight with this blog’s readers.

    Enjoy the upcoming holiday. I’m looking forward to doing absolutely nothing — other than a bit of marathon training and stuffing my face! 🙂

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