With the shift to social media as a key platform for building customer relationships, many organizations, from small “solopreneurships” to large-scale corporations, are struggling to communicate effectively across channels. This is as much a technological problem as it is a strategic one: many organizations fail to present effective written communication to all their audiences on a consistent basis. Now more than ever: writing matters for business and a business’s ability to write effectively may greatly affect its position in a given market.
Below we explain exactly why writing matters for businesses of all shapes and sizes, and also provide 3 tips for improving the way your organization writes.
Your Company Is Only as Good as Your Writing
Writing is a tricky balancing act, juggling dozens of nebulous constraints. Writers have to think about audience, and about style, and about tone— factors that are hard to anchor down. In business, writing is inextricably tied to company identity: writers have to think about what a company stands for, where it’s going, and how that company should be presented to the public. Difficult considerations.
A good answer to the question of why writing matters for businesses is: because it is a primary means through which people encounter your organization. Think about it— customers, investors, stakeholders, partners. How do they learn about your organization? How do they keep track of it? Through webpage content, emails, blog posts, social media posts, internal reports, etc. Writing is everywhere nowadays and bad writing is becoming public in a way it never was in the past.
As group of highly-educated content, marketing, and UX people, some of whom work in higher education, we are often approached by people with questions like: “when did everyone get so bad at writing?” Referencing poor grammar on Facebook and other public appearances of what they consider to be ineffective writing, people often have the perception that everyone is getting worse as writers.
In their book Content Strategy for the Web, Kristina Halvorson and Melissa Rach provide a much more logical explanation for this phenomena:
While organizations have struggled for decades—centuries, even—to make sense of their content, they were always able to keep the chaos (and consequences) to themselves. Then came websites, which created the perfect content strategy storm. Suddenly, organizations had to put all of their content (product info, investor reports, press releases, etc., etc.) in one place. For the first time. For all the world to see. And it hurt.
It’s not that everyone suddenly got worse at writing. We are all just writing more publicly now than ever before. So, our mistakes are now more public than ever before.
This is very true in the business world as well where company websites, marketing materials, social media platforms, and other channels all converge to provide audiences with a window inside organizations. The question becomes: will these audiences like what they see?
To help your organization write better, below we provide three writing improvement tips.
Writing Improvement Tip #1: Document All Key Business Processes
One of the first things we do during a conversation with a new client is ask what they’ve written down about their organization. Do they have a website? If so: when was the last time they updated it. Do they have a content strategy guide? If so: does anyone follow it? Do they have a customer database? You get the picture.
The point of these questions is not so much to collect information, though that’s important, but to find out how the organization writes. Is it realistic for the organization to manage their own content? Are staff sufficiently trained to handle a full-blown content strategy? What are weak areas we need to help improve?
You can imagine what it’s like when an organization says no to all our questions. We are essentially starting from scratch.
Documenting all key processes that your business regularly undergoes is a key writing task that is often overlooked. You need to do more than keep your business financially healthy. You need to keep your business’s content healthy, too, through regular updates, tweaks, and tune-ups.
Writing Improvement Tip #2: Engage in Regular Peer Review
Another thing we often notice when working with a new client is that people who are in charge of one channel (i.e. social media) often don’t know what people in charge of another channel (i.e. internal reports) are doing. This is what Ann Rockley and Charles Cooper call “content silos”: funnels where content gets stuck and is rendered unavailable to other members of the same organization.
To battle the formation of content silos, organize regular peer review sessions across teams. This is especially useful if teams, or individuals, are struggling with a new type of content and need a careful editorial eye. Placing more experienced employees in peer review sessions with less experienced employees guarantees that each piece of content will have more eyes on it, which will reduce the chance of bad content becoming public.
Writing Improvement Tip #3: Specialize, But Not Too Much
Another important way to avoid bad writing is to make sure that the people doing it have sufficient subject matter expertise. If you’re an engineering firm, you probably don’t want your head of marketing to write all the content by him or herself. You need some of your engineers to serve as subject matter experts, at the very least.
We encourage clients to go beyond subject matter expertise to create cross-functional writing teams, however. Just because certain employees don’t think of themselves as writers doesn’t mean they will never have to write. On the contrary: as we mentioned above, we are all writing more than ever. Creating teams of writers will help your organization improve all its content over time, rather than constantly trying to put out fires.