Here’s a recent item posted By Gary Hennerberg & Perry Alexander on the Target Marketing website

Are the words that generate response from social media and blogs different than words that work for direct mail? Or are digital marketers finally figuring out the most responsive words that direct marketing copywriters have known for generations? Whether this is new information to you, or confirms what you already knew, today’s blog is about words, and how response to specific words in the online space could strengthen your offline marketing initiatives.

A blog post titled “A scientific guide to writing great headlines on Twitter, Facebook and your blog” got me to thinking about how their findings correspond with that of direct marketer’s experience. In that blog, Leo Widrich  answers his most asked question: “How can I write great headlines for social networks and my blog?” So with credit to Widrich’s research, and other research I’ll acknowledge in a moment, let’s compare how these findings relate to direct marketing.

Twitter Words
Here are two headlines tested in Twitter, both leading to the same blog post, and each tweeted to the same audience within an hour of each other. Which do you think had higher clicks and was considered a “top tweet?”

  1. How many hours should we work every day? The science of mental strength.
  2. The origin of the 8 hour work day and why we should rethink it.

If you answered “2,” you’re right. It had double the number of clicks.

To an experienced direct marketer, this would probably come as no surprise. A specific number was used in version “2” (8 hour work day) combined with a provocative statement (why we should rethink it). Version “1” asked a question (not always the strongest way to write a headline) and used big words (science of mental strength).

A study by Dan Zarrella of Hubspot analyzed 200,000 links containing tweets and found that tweets that contained more adverbs and verbs had higher clickthroughs (1 percent to 2.5 percent higher) than noun- and adjective-heavy tweets (2 percent to 3.5 percent lower). Once again, an experienced direct marketing copywriter would probably not be at all surprised.

Finally, the study finds that when you ask for an action in social media, it increases clicks and response. Ask for a download or a retweet (retweets are three times higher when asked), and, remarkably, people will do as told. As direct marketers, we already know that a solid call-to-action is a must to generate response.

The 20 most retweetable words (some of which, by the way, could be well suited to be used in subject lines in emails):

  • you
  • twitter
  • please
  • retweet
  • post
  • blog
  • social
  • free
  • media
  • help
  • please retweet
  • great
  • social media
  • 10
  • follow
  • how to
  • top
  • blog post
  • check out
  • new blog post

Facebook Words
The news, here, is that the saying “a picture is worth a thousand words” holds true. But it’s not just any picture. The pictures that result in better click performance tell the story within the picture. In other words, the picture must be self-explanatory, more than just a graphic.

KISSmetrics says a photo with a Facebook post get 53 percent more likes, 104 percent more comments and 84 percent more clickthroughs. In addition, posts with 80 characters or less get 66 percent more engagement. These are trends that I can validate, based on an assortment of text-only posts, posts with photos, and posts with videos I’ve placed for an organization’s Facebook page that I administer.

The action item for direct marketers using offline media: First, when you use a picture, the picture should be self-explanatory. Second, photos combined with shorter copy in headlines and leads can result in creating curiosity for the person to keep reading.

Blog Post Words
In “The Dark Science of Naming Your Post: Based on Study 100 Blogs,” author Iris Shoor  reveals how much the post title has an impact on the number of opens. (Akin to a direct mail outer envelope teaser or a letter headline or an email subject line—should there be any surprise the words you choose make a difference?) What is credible about this research is that the author analyzed these words with a script that evaluated blogs and sorted all the posts from the most read, to the least shared. All good information for direct marketers writing direct mail or other print media.

Here are examples of words (called “let there be blood” by Shoor) appearing in blog titles that yielded high opens.

  • kill
  • fear
  • dark
  • bleeding
  • war
  • fantasy
  • dead

Negative words are more powerful for shares than an ordinary word, like No/Without/Stop. “The app you can’t live without” will go more viral than “The app which will improve your life,” Shoor states.

Confirmation for direct marketers: negative works.

And numbers work. Bigger numbers are better than smaller numbers. Despite what your grammar teacher told you, use digits rather than words. And place the number at the head of the sentence. No surprise here, to a seasoned direct mail copywriter.

And we like to learn. Preferably in five minutes. Titles that promise to teach tend to go viral.

Other words that tend to appear in viral posts:

  • smart
  • surprising
  • science
  • history
  • hacks (hacking, hackers, etc.)
  • huge/big
  • critical

Words that suppress:

  • announcing
  • wins
  • celebrates
  • grows

A couple of comparisons that seem to not make a difference: “I” versus “you.” Nor does “how to” have an effect on how viral a post will be.

What does all of this mean to direct marketers? First, I’d observe that many of these findings shouldn’t surprise an experienced direct marketer or direct mail copywriter. Maybe the online world is finally catching up to what we have tested and proven for generations.

But second, this is a reminder that what works in the online space can translate well into improving response offline, too. That’s a lesson to take to the bank.

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