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Anyone can write good copy, right?

7 Feb
Statue of a woman in relief, in despair

I can’t bear to look… the typos!

I live in Brighton, one of the UK’s largest media hubs outside of London. As a resident here for five years, I can vouch for the fact that business is booming.

As an increasing number of media start-ups spread their wings to the tempestuous winds of digital media,  even the most reluctant  companies now realise that social media is a very powerful business tool.

Ok, so this isn’t news. But while social media in business may be at an all time high, a lot of organisations haven’t cottoned on to the one thing that actually makes a good social media strategy work. I’m talking about content. And not just any content; quality content.

Learning from past mistakes

As a content consumer, as well as a professional copywriter, I can safely say that organisations tend to have one of two problems. They either have no idea what decent content is, or they understand the importance of having it, but don’t know how to produce it. The result is a quagmire of spam content and poorly written copy. What many still fail to grasp is that good content is not something that floats on the surface of your social media strategy; it is an irrevocable part of it.

This week, Facebook turned 10 years old. Hark back for a moment to those days of silence, before we had pictures of puppies and babies shoved down in our faces at every turn. When social media was in its infancy, it was largely ignored by businesses, and understandably so; it exploded with the volatile speed of any five-minute fad, and it took a while to trust that it was here to stay.

However, the more savvy organisations out there soon got to work hiring a social media expert, while those with limited budget (or limited understanding) simply gave the responsibility of managing social media to an intern, with the general sentiment; ‘Well, they’re young. They get it.’

The side-effects of user generated content

While I hope most now realise that being under 25 and having a Facebook profile does not automatically equate to being a social media expert, the same can not be said for good copy. Just as businesses used to believe that youngsters were the best people to manage their social media, the boom in user-generated content has encouraged the belief that anybody can write effective copy.

And let’s face it, user generated content makes up a lot of the Internet. It is a crucial part of social media, because as the name suggests, it involves the user, which drives engagement and builds loyalty. However, though it serves this very important purpose, it has also increased the widely held misconception that quality copy is the same as any copy. This is a problem, and not just for copywriters.

The rise of copy-wronging

In my recent hunt for new business, I’ve come across of a number of ‘copywriting agencies’ that have almost had me fooled… after some research, I’ve realised many of them are simply well-dressed but low-paying content mills, cashing in on two things; the desperation of penniless writers and the desperation of businesses who know that they need copy, but don’t realise that good copy is worth paying for.

What I and my fellow copywriters do (when we do it well) is a valuable and specialised skill. Unfortunately, there is a growing culture of copy-wronging – people who assume that if they can type, and are able to litter a few arbitrary key words into whatever they’re writing, then they are a bona fide copywriter.

Re-evaluating your situation

My suggestion is this: if you’re looking at your social media strategy this year, give a little more thought to your copy. Anyone can write, yes. But to write something that is informative, promotional, considers your target audience, takes into account your social media and business strategy, is well researched and does all this while simultaneously reading easily and keeping your reader awake, requires skill. Your readers will think anything else is just spam.

So next time you’re looking for some good copy, don’t go for the cheap option; go for the quality one. Even if it means investing a little more up front, having faith in the expertise of your copywriter and most importantly – in good copy – will pay off in the long run.

Looking for help with your content?

Will Hillier is a professional freelance copywriter; not a freelance copy-wronger. You can contact him here  for help with you copy and your social media strategy.

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Why selfies just aren’t cool any more

10 Sep

Selfies are nothing new. The first documented selfie was taken by a man named Robert Cornelius, long before the age of the internet. But even back then, this devilishly handsome hipster apparently managed to add a little Instgram-chique to his pose with a retro filter… Or perhaps that’s just the fact that this selfie was taken almost 200 years ago.

First ever selfie: Robert Cornelius

“I wish they’d hurry up and invent #instagram so I can upload this #selfie” – Robert Cornelius, 1839.

The selfie’s rise to prominence

In spite of the selfie’s prolonged history, it cannot be denied that this phenomenon has exploded in recent years. Why? Well, the internet certainly played a part.

If you look back at most MySpace/ Facebook profiles circa 2006, you’ll see that the majority of profile pictures back then were selfies – way before anybody used the word ‘selfie’, of course.

The reason for this is simple; we had to use self-portraits not because they were cool, but because they were necessary. For a start this is before we all had camera phones. Back then, most of us were also still adapting to the idea of uploading our personal pictures – ones usually confined to the privacy of our printed photo albums – to the internet. The selfie was a means to an end.

And then, as with all trends, some people with a smart sense of satire caught on to the fact that taking these ‘selfies’ could also be amusing if done with a healthy pinch of irony; posing yes, but also mocking the photoshopped perfection of similar pictures in magazines and undermining society’s enforced concept of beauty. This irony is what made selfies edgy, and therefore, cool.

Stop the madness!

But it’s gone too far. If you have a profile picture I already know what you look like. I don’t need you to post endless pictures of you: with your cat, when you just woke up, at work, pouting topless in front of a mirror, on the toilet. That’s not the point!

As with most ‘cool’ stuff, selfies were trendy before somebody labelled them. It was fine when they were restricted to profile pictures or even those using Instagram. But they stopped being cool as soon as people started taking pictures of themselves for the sake of taking pictures of themselves. Selfies are now shoved down our throats wherever we go; carefully posed to look casual and random, when in reality what you’re looking at is usually one picture from a private photoshoot of about 50, with soft lighting and numerous different camera angles to make the subject look as alluring/sexy/cheeky/idiotic as possible.

But the final nail in the coffin, and frankly, the death-knell for any hip trend came in August this year, when ‘selfie’ made it into the Oxford dictionary.

But there’s a bigger problem

My real beef isn’t that selfies aren’t cool any more. Trends come and go, we all accept that. The problem is, this trend doesn’t seem to be going away. Instead it is evolving into a bit of a monster.

By participating in selfie culture, instead of undermining concepts of beauty, we’re now perpetuating the ever-expanding crowd of people who – instead of understanding that selfies are supposed to be tongue in cheek – are promoting self-obsession and rampant narcissism. Missing the point much?

The reason selfies were cool in the first place is because individuals had reclaimed and redefined unrealistic ideals around body image. Selfies weren’t airbrushed to perfection and the now notorious ‘selfie pout’ was intended to mock (not emulate) those of supermodels in fashion magazines. We had started to reclaim the notion of beauty for ourselves and we were reshaping it.

But now, rather than subverting society’s enforced concept of beauty, selfies have become an extension of it. Look at selfies today and see that the irony has been lost. Instead of something which was born of curiosity and necessity and then evolved into something amusing and cultural subversive, selfies now depict people who are instead replacing the emphasis on how other people perceive them (often reintroducing Photoshop) and reinforcing the the concept of beauty that they once stood staunchly against.

Where next?

The selfie has had far more than its fair share of fame and it’s not doing its job any more. It’s time we put it to sleep.

My humble suggestion is this; unless your selfie is still subversive and interesting, for instance, if you’re an elephant or if you’re taking a selfie in outer space, then turn the camera around and take a picture of your breakfast instead, or maybe even go old school and take a picture of a funny sign.

And if that doesn’t sound edgy enough, then why not try ‘Swearing at Beautiful Views’?

You, know, while it’s still cool.