Want your articles to spread like Gangnam online? You’d better master the art of capturing the micro-attention of your readers. Here are 10 guiding principles to help you on the path of writeousness (yes, that word just happened). 


1. Craft a compelling headline.

A catchy headline can make all the difference to the success of an article. Content startup UpWorthy has gained millions of readers based on their ability to rewrite headlines about serious and important issues in a catchy, web-friendly way. If you want your content to spread online it is worthwhile to dedicate extra time to crafting an enticing headline.

2. Start with the most important content.

 Summarize the point of your article in the first paragraph. Be specific in this summary, and try to add immediate value. Even if some of your readers won't get further than this, their first impression of an article of often determines whether or not they'll share the post with their networks.  

3. A post should only be as long as necessary.

Beware the ever-shrinking attention span of your reader! Even in super-short form web-publishing formats like the Facebook status it has been proven that posts with less characters get shared more. In longer formats like articles and blog posts your article should be compelling from beginning to end. Usually the easiest way to achieve this is to simply write shorter articles. There are a few masters who can hold reader attention for long-pieces on the internet. Those writers and those pieces become the stuff of web legend.

4. Where a picture will say more than words can, use it.

 It’s worth spending the time to select the picture that will bring your writing to life.  Also, a good caption to a picture is as important as a good picture for the story. I’ve learned this from using Instagram, Pinterest and Facebook that a fairly ordinary photograph can become a conversation point by accompanying it with a caption. You could, for example use the caption to draw the viewer’s attention to a particular aspect of the picture, or to help them see the picture differently. 

5. Format for the Skim-Reader

The skim-reader is not a lesser being. The skim-reader is half your audience! Use formatting such as sub-headings, bold, italic, underlined, and bullet points to help content stand out for skim-readers and search engines.

7. Be specific.

If you are vague online, you will lose your reader. Also, using specific language is a great way to get search traffic on different search terms. For example, instead of just saying “the horse” every time you mention it in your article, you might try “the Arabian thoroughbred”. 

8. Cite your Sources.

Use hyperlinks to reference points that may require back-reading or validation. This is part of enhancing the user experience of your article. It helps build trust and interest in the issue you’re writing about. 

9. Tight prose wins.

Editing for clarity and simplicity, down to the sentence-structure level will make a difference.  On the web, full-stops tend to beat commas and semi-colons. Rather break a long, complex sentence filled with commas and semi-colons into a few shorter sentences. Also, take care to craft a few take-out sentences that social media readers can use to summarize highlights when they are sharing your article. While you’re at it, eliminate cliches. 

10. Check before you publish.

It’s very difficult, and embarrassing to try to retract misinformation or grammatical mistakes once your post is live on the web - particularly on Twitter and Facebook where your post can be quoted and shared on profiles and pages that you don't control. Even if you might lose the scoop by taking a little bit longer to confirm your facts, it is better in the long run to gain the trust of your readers. 

11. Encourage Social Commentary. 

Your work as a writer online doesn’t end when your article is published. You should share your writing on your own social channels, and also participate in the commentary around it. People are encouraged to comment when the writer responds and acknowledges their contribution.

The commenters may not be experts in the subject you’re writing about (although they could be). They may even be completely clueless about the issue. However, their opinions on a subject can be indicative of public perception about an issue, and therefore very interesting and relevant. The comments are often as interesting as the main piece.

So there you have it. I went up to Mount Table, and came back with these Commandments. Fortunately they're not written on stone tablets (so old school since the iPad, really) so we can remix them if we want. If you like, then please hit the little heart below, or leave comment below to enhance it.

One fear is that dealing with complaints publicly online may tarnish the flawless public perception of a brand. I would suggest that the opposite is true: brands who are brave enough to deal with their customers openly online are actually giving tangible evidence of their commitment to their customers

The fact is that people are already discussing companies online. They’re complaining, explaining and sharing their thoughts and experiences. Brands on the other hand are often only engaged in push messaging online and not dealing with the more negative issues that customers have. This approach is fatally flawed: A 2011 Conversocial survey found that if ignored by brands on social media sites, 45 percent of respondents would be angry, and 27.1 percent said they would no longer deal with the company. In other words, you're losing by not responding.  

“He who is absent is always wrong” – French Idiom

On the other hand, the 2011 Retail Consumer Review  survey found that by listening and proactively responding on the social web, retailers have a chance to turn disgruntled customers into social advocates. Of those who received a reply in response to their negative review:

  • 33% turned around and posted a positive review;
  • 34% deleted their original negative review; and
  • 18% turned into loyal customers and bought more.

A large part of the success of South African online retailer Yuppie Chef is their exceptional customer service. Rather than begrudging customer complaints, they treat them as an opportunity to show their commitment to delighting their customers and delivering on their promises. If, for example, a customer mentions that a pan is delivered in less than perfect condition they immediately dispatch another one, rather than grilling the customer to shift the blame, as many other retailers do. This, ultimately, builds trust and loyalty even if some people do occasionally take advantage.

One of the questions that comes up is what online channel is best for customer support? My belief is that true customer centricity demands that you provide support where the customers are: Hello Peter, Facebook, Forums, Twitter and Blog Posts are all public channels and your social media support should extend to supporting them. I also think that it's a great idea to open up IM support on Mxit, or being available on BBM and Whatsapp. I personally resent being forced to call the call centre whenever I've got an issue with a big company, and also text is much more convenient for me as a customer. 

Customer expectations of online response times. 

Customer expectations of online response times. 

Responding to customer issues online is becoming a hygeine factor, and now leading brands should differente themselves by how quickly they respond online. Most customers (70%) expect a response between 8 - 24 hours of an online complaint. However, brands that respond within 10 minutes of a complaint are likely to impress everyone, including the 16% of customers who expect an immediate response. (Business Insider)

Doing Social Media Customer Service for large company properly requires commitment, investment, a dedicated team, and specialised training.  Discovery Health is one of a few brands that excels in Social Media customer support. They have a dedicated social media response team who are well versed in all the company policies, and are empowered to resolve customer complaints and escalate issues as high as they need to go in order to be resolved. Now, bear in mind that they're dealing with life and death issues along with all the complexities of medical insurance, and you realise that this is no small undertaking, and they've had to invest heavily in training a social media support team that not only resolves customer issues speedily, but also represents the brand well online.

Virgin Active South Africa tracks mentions of their brand on Twitter and often chimes in with answers, suggestions, as well as co-ordinating responses at gyms around the country. The tone of voice is energetic, positive and informal while also showing the appropriate urgency that indicates the importance of customer service to Virgin SA. 

FNB's RB Jacobs is an oft-cited example of an exemplary customer service by a South African company on Twitter. The account is backed by a dedicated team who are online throughout the day. In addition to this, CEO Michael Jordaan often gets involved in addressing large issues using his own Twitter account to engage with customers and the media. This has led to a lot of brand-love for FNB. A social-savvy leader can make a huge difference to a brand's online reputation. 

Dell was one of the first large companies to establish a dedicated social support centre, and provides the following guidelines for brands or brand representatives responding to issues on social media, including a note on the appropriate tone: 

Dell's online response check-list.

Dell's online response check-list.

Deal with issues before they become crises: McDonalds Canada recently shot a video that dealt with the fact that the pictures of food in their adverts look better than what they serve in branches. The result is a short video that has been viewed millions of times. 

By the time a customer mentions a complaint or issue on social media they have often exhausted the traditional complaint channels. This is why it's important to prioritise online complaints. For one thing, these customers are probably more irate than usual. For another, these customers are more influential than your average customer simply because they are publishing their views publicly. 

Despite all the benefits, it's still not the norm to deliver customer service on social media, and in fact 61% of consumers would be shocked if a retailer responded to their negative comment on the social web (MediaPost). While some brands may use this as justification not to respond, the most customer-centric brands will see it as an opportunity for delight

I'd love to hear your perspectives and experiences on Social Media Customer Service. Please share in the comments section below. 

AuthorDave Duarte
6 CommentsPost a comment
Modern Mechanix Cover.jpg

What hobby or skill would you develop if you could find the time and energy to work on it every day? The answer to this question may provide a major level-up for your creativity, career and company. 

So many of us are so busy being Professionals that we forget to be Amateurs.  The word Amateur comes from the Old French meaning "lover of", and ultimately from the Latin amatorem meaning "lover". But these days being called an amateur is often a put-down. 

Many great companies and products have grown out amateur hobbies and side-projects though. Yuppie Chef, the popular South African e-commerce company, is a good example of this. It grew out of a side-project at Live Alchemy where staff were playing a game to see who could conceptualize and launch a business in a day - and a couple of kitchen-geeks in the team did that and just kept going. 

Jamiix, a South African IM support business that is now operating in four countries, grew out of a young man's desire to help curb drug addiction in his neighbourhood. 

Woothemes, one of the world's top Wordpress theme development companies, was developed after-hours by Adii while he was working for a large printing company. He offered the CEO the opportunity to buy-into his side-venture and to run it as a business-unit within the company but his offer was declined. Within a year Woothemes was making more money every week than Adii originally valued the whole venture.

Twitter grew out of a side-project at the now-defunct podcasting start-up Odeo. 

Apple Inc. grew out of a border-line-illegal little blue box that the young Jobs and Woz built that basically hacked telephone networks so you could make free long-distance calls.

And if you want to know what the start of this process called "innovation" looks like, read the following two forum posts:

Here's Linus Torvalds announcing Linux 

Hello everybody out there using minix -

I’m doing a (free) operating system (just a hobby, won’t be big and
professional like gnu) for 386(486) AT clones. This has been brewing
since april, and is starting to get ready. I’d like any feedback on
things people like/dislike in minix, as my OS resembles it somewhat
(same physical layout of the file-system (due to practical reasons)
among other things). 

Larry Sanger posted about the experiment that would turn into Wikipedia as follows:

No, this is not an indecent proposal.  It's an idea to add a little

feature to Nupedia.  Jimmy Wales thinks that many people might find the

idea objectionable, but I think not.

"Wiki," pronounced \wee'-kee\, derives from a Polynesian word,

"wikiwiki," but what it means is a VERY open, VERY publicly-editable series of web


On the front page of the Nupedia wiki we'd make it ABSOLUTELY clear that this is experimental, that Nupedia editors don't have control of what goes on here, and that the quality of articles, discussion, etc., should not be taken as a reflection of the quality of articles, review, etc. on the main part of the Nupedia website. Does anyone have an objection to our trying this out? Larry

I think that’s what the beginning of innovation is like - not really sure of itself, perhaps a little cheeky, but backed by a person's commitment. Also note that the authors of these posts above aren’t trying to keep their idea secret, not asking readers to sign NDAs, just trying to get the support of others.  

The thing is, it's not the idea that succeeds. It's that you manage to put it into practice and help it gather momentum. 

What about big established companies? These are the hardest to change, because of the many established routines and practices that people have. 

Google has a process called "Innovation Time Off", where employees are encouraged to spend 20% of their time working on side-projects. This practice has given rise to products such as GMail, Google News, Google Transit, and their main money-maker AdSense. 

Sometimes it's not even that radical. Say, for example, you want to do more gardening but you're stuck at work the whole day. So you start a little guerilla gardening around the office - it starts with a pot-plant, then a window-box, then others join you. Soon the office is blossoming, literally, a company herb garden is estabished, people's moods and productivity improve and a greater awareness of the natural environment is fostered. Do you think that this could make a difference to the culture and results? I believe so. 

Another great example of this kind of small but significant change can be seen in the Standard Bank's "Takkie Day". Branch Manager Maggie Lesele started helping customers get served while they were still lining up outside the branch on pay-day, and soon expanded this service ethic to getting her staff to start wearing running shoes instead of high-heels on these days in order to serve customers faster. This has been a resoundingly successful initiative that has spread to other branches around South Africa, while providing a brand-boost to Africa's largest retail bank. 

So, Im interested in your next small idea. That little something in your world that you think you could improve, or that project you want to do because it might just turn into something (or not).

Have you ever had a side-project or experiment turn into something bigger? Please share and help inspire others to start on theirs. 

Will work for Attention, by Stephen Poff (via Flickr)

Will work for Attention, by Stephen Poff (via Flickr)

There is a misconception that Social Media Marketing is free, easy and cheap to do. This misconception can lead to poor results and missed opportunities for brand owners as well as digital media practitioners. While creating accounts on Social Networking services may be free to do in many cases for individuals, there are a number of real costs involved when it comes to creating social media constellations that deliver value and return on investment for larger organizations.

I was recently quoted in Malaysiakini (paywall) saying that Tourism Malaysia's RM1.8million for a Facebook page was "a bit too much". Since this is such a hot issue in Malaysia right now, and one that can have ramifications on social media budgets around the country, I feel that it is important to clarify and contextualise my comments.

My first response to the journalists' line of enquiry was to state that each Facebook campaign is different, and the cost should be dictated by a) what you aim to achieve, b) in what period of time, and c) with what budget. The costs may include consulting, design, development, application hosting, management and advertising among many more.

I did state very clearly that if Malaysia tourism is investing a lot of money in developing and hosting applications for their Facebook pages, that they would likely be spending their money on Facebook and Google ads. Ads are necessary expenditure if you want to drive a lot of visitors to your Facebook page over a short period of time. By the way, some companies pay as much as $8 per fan on their Facebook page.

The statement that the average social media campaign costs $30 000 per annum is ridiculous and I was quoted out of context here. I was referring to one of the fixed costs of doing social media marketing: the annual salary of a Social Media Administrator. If you want a more thorough breakdown of social media spend, see this infographic based on Focus research. It shows that average total spend per annum among companies who use Social Media is currently $210 000. Now, I wonder how many of those companies are national tourism ministries responsible for generating RM56billion per annum? Let the budget match the reward.

Here's the basic sums to work-out the rough break-even numbers on this particular Facebook page:

RM1 800 000 (total budget)/RM2500 (average spend per tourist) = 720 (number of people who need to be convinced to come to Malaysia per Facebook page)

720 (visitor target - see above) / ±3% (guesstimate average Facebook Page conversion rate) = ±24 000 (fans needed for the page to break-even)

With only one application out of six launched, there are already 34 000 fans of the Facebook page. Now the question is one of efficacy in converting those fans. This should be easier than with traditional media due to fact that once someone has "liked" your page they will continue to recieve updates from you. In fact, recent research has shown that advertising to Facebook fans instead of non-fans can reduce the acquisition cost of registrations by 44%, event signups by 33%, and purchases by 15%. As a bonus Facebook Pages also provide demographic insight into who the fans are, which can inform campaigns across other media too.

Lastly, one quote in the article said “(The Facebook page) should be connected to other things, like TV perhaps" - while this is a good point that media spend should be co-ordinated and cross-polinate, what I actually said was closer to the spend on the Faceook page "should be compared to other things, like TV perhaps". The point being that RM1,8million is a small fraction of tradtional media spending (e.g. producing and placing TV ads). In fact the budget per region for Malaysia Tourism is RM30million, the region is among the world's top Facebook using countries, and so perhaps the question should be "why isn't more being spent on this?".

Malaysia's Tourism Minister YB Dato’ Sri Dr. NG Yen Yen has expressed a similar sentiment (with facts and figures too) on her blog. These views are my own, although I did consult with the Minister subsequent to the article being published to find out how the budget was being spent. I will be attending a press conference in Kuala Lumpur today with the minister, but I'm also very happy to discuss further in the comments below or on Twitter.

AuthorDave Duarte
14 CommentsPost a comment
"These are a few of my favourite things". Image by Conorwithonen on Flickr

"These are a few of my favourite things". Image by Conorwithonen on Flickr

The phenomenon of Social Media is revolutionary in the truest sense. Citizens, Consumers and Communities can now organize without “organizations”.  It is an issue, then, that Organizations need to take very seriously.

While Social Media may seem to some to be a bunch of online websites and mobile applications, it is in fact a cultural phenomenon that is coming to define our times.

These websites have all emerged as a result of the convergence between people’s fundamental social needs and a host of enabling technologies - the founders didn’t invent online social media, they responded to an emerging trend with well-designed database-backed websites that made it easier for people to do what they already wanted to do.

It’s useful to distinguish between the tools that we use, and the trends that enable their use. Making this distinction will ensure that we invest our effort in ways that are meaningful as opposed to simply ‘cool’. To make this clear, try consider Social Media in terms of Trifles, Trends and Truths:

Trifles are fashionable at a particular time, but aren’t likely to represent a major societal shift by themselves. In the product world this could be something like skinny jeans - it might seem like a great idea right now, but in time that feeling will pass. The technical world is filled with trifles - thousands of websites and applications that are launched every month, each one promising to be the next big thing. Trifles are here today gone tomorrow. Even giant companies like Facebook and Twitter could be seen as Trifles, because there are no guarantees that they’ll be around in a couple of years - we’ve certainly seen many other large companies come and go in recent years.

Trends are more sustainable shifts in commerce and culture than any particular company or product can represent. Whereas YouTube.com may be a Trifle, Social Media and people’s capability and desire to share their perspectives online is a Trend. The trend is large, millions of people and thousands of companies are behind it, and it’s likely to shape the way we all do things over the coming years.

Truths underpin and enable any trend. The closer a Trifle or Trend is aligned with a human Truth, the more likely it is to be sustainable. The human truth of Social Media is that people are fundamentally social. People’s need to connect with each other is almost as high up as the survival instinct. Combine this powerful natural driver with web-based tools to enable social connection with mobile devices that connect seamlessly to the web, and you have the makings of a major behavioral shift. People are responding compulsively to the opportunity to do social grooming whenever and wherever.

The idea is to align why you use technologies to the truths (and this is the most important work you can do), what you do to the trends, and how you do it to the trifles.

Digital Nomads

The use of mobile phones is a particularly interesting trend to pay attention to. Smart phones -  that enable web browsing and applications - grant us the wherever, whenever access to our social networks that we so compulsively desire.

The first mobile social-network was your phone’s contact list, and it was every bit as revolutionary as Facebook’s social graph - if not more so. The contact list in the phone in your pocket accompanies you to work, and the work-places of your “friends” (I use inverted commas because we all know how far the definition of “friend” is stretched in social media). The effect of which is to blur the boundaries between our social-lives and our work-lives. No need to deny you use your phone, however occasionally, for personal communication while at work - the research shows that we all do it.

The thing is that your work life is probably creeping into your social life too. Email is no-longer confined to your desktop. Thanks to mobile devices it now follows you around to dates, lines at the supermarket, and even holidays.

In this way we are digital nomads: mobility allows us to roam with our economic and social structure carried with us in tiny digital caravans. We’re seeing the enterprisation of our social lives, and the socialisation of our enterprises.

Companies around the world have blocked Social Media access at work, because it’s seen as an unproductive waste of time. However, as we all know - with the rise of smart-phones, people are accessing Social Media media at the office anyway.

The good news, though, is that research conducted at the University of Melbourne has shown that a certain amount of free web browsing is actually conducive to productivity, as long as it doesn’t take up more than 20% of our day.


This blurring of boundaries can have a host of unforeseen consequences. For one thing, there’s a general sense that we are all more busy and distracted than ever before.  There’s always something demanding our attention.

Multitasking has gone to another level. Tabbed browsing online, multiple applications running on your computer, and people contacting you on various devices and channels - everything urgent, everything “real-time”. While media multi-tasking may have seemed like a good idea some-time in the 90’s, it was clearly a trifle, because subsequent research has shown that it may have adverse affects on memory and brain function.

Do you ever get anxious when looking at your email? You could be suffering from “Email Apnea” - the tendency to hold your breath when dealing with an over-full inbox. This nasty little unconscious habit activates your sympathetic nervous system to kick-in the fight-or-flight response - so your poor body thinks it’s being chased by a mammoth animal while you’re just sitting at your desk. This is generally experienced as “stress”, which by the way can make you fat.

A simple way to deal with this overload is to just force yourself to single-task. Commit uninterrupted time to complete work tasks, enjoy short guilt-free social-media breaks between, and take regular “tech-free” sabbaticals on holidays and weekends.

Social Media and Reputation

Time-wasting is perhaps the least of company worries when it comes to social-media. With entire organizations connecting to the outside world publicly, the potential for PR blunders, Wikileak-type scandals, and general impropriety is greatly enhanced.

Qantas Airlines discovered this earlier this year when their share price was significantly affected by a false rumour that emerged on Twitter. The hard-earned lesson, in words of their CEO, Alan Joyce: "In this modern day and age with social media, you have to be responsive immediately. You have to be out there with the facts very fast, so it's changing the whole dynamic and speed to market that organisations like Qantas have to respond to."

It’s not just companies that need to be mindful of social media. It has become standard hiring practice to do a Google search on someone before hiring them. Have you Googled yourself? What comes up there is colloquially called your “Google CV” - the contemporary alternative to the paper version. If you want to take control of the impression you make online, the best advice I can give you is to ask yourself if you’d be happy for your boss or clients to see what you’re uploading. If not, don’t post it.

Clearly it’s not possible to stop people from using social media, so the most viable response seems to be simply to educate people on responsible online activity. Forward-thinking companies have drafted official Social Media guidelines for staff, along with ongoing training to help people use these powerful tools responsibly, professionally, and sustainably.

Radical Authenticity

One of the fears that people have with all this online use is that Big Brother is watching us, but with all our millions of tiny cell-phone cameras, tweets and wikis, the bigger story is that we are now watching Big Brother.

With the explosion of information available online - much of it unreliable - we have become far more skeptical consumers.The true currency of the web today is Trust. And Trust is built over time by aligning what is said with what is done.

Ultimately, social media is not just a communications channel that can be managed and controlled. It is a not a set of technologies to be mastered, it is a cultural reality to be engaged with. It promises to expose the corrupt and reveal the extraordinary, and if nothing else it is to guaranteed to keep us on our toes. It is chaotic, unpredictable, and uncontrollable. So the best social media strategy, then, is not a strategy at all, it is to be purposeful, ethical, and transparent and let our communications and behaviours flow from that.


If you enjoyed this post, you may be interested in a course I'm running in July for UCT Graduate School of Business: Nomadic Leadership

AuthorDave Duarte
3 CommentsPost a comment