The importance of end-to-end strategy
Last week, the UK government [finally] allowed publication of an independent report that said the language used in government letters was confusing and legalistic.
It’s not exactly news to most of us.
What’s interesting is that I am seeing more and more conversations about language now. It seems the way we talk to people is becoming as important as what we are saying.
All content strategists are now sitting around nodding sagely. We’ve all been saying for ages that language choices in government – and all – comms is very important. And actually, this sort of thing has been said throughout history.
Just in recent history, Winston Churchill wrote to his staff telling them not to use verbose terms. President Clinton wrote a ‘Plain Writing in Government’ memorandum and President Obama made the ‘United States Plain Writing Act of 2010’ law.
All the words
The way we write is important – and it’s not just about banning words that are jargon-y or legalistic. It’s all the words, on all the channels. You can no longer know where your content goes, you can’t control who is reading it and if you are really lucky, your audience is on a multitude of channels: Twitter, Facebook, your site… anywhere.
Your organisation can communicate in many ways and many organisations have different teams with different ideas, styles and tones for web writing, comms writing, letter writing, internal comms etc. When you have one user coming to your content in different ways, it needs to be coherent.
There’s a stack of blogs and information out there on how to write for social media, getting attention and how to make your site successful but there’s a few golden rules for whatever you do, on every channel.
1. Understanding is more important than writing
Most organisations don’t want their audience to think ‘lovely writing’ and not much more when reading about their product or service. It’s far more important the audience understands the content so they can make a decision.
Reading isn’t as important as understanding – you can read loads. It’s your understanding that you act on, even if it is just remembering a new piece of information. So when you are having that difficult conversation about language, it should be more around comprehension – not the individual words.
2. Tone and style is important
Tone can change depending on the channel you are on or the thing you are communicating.
Your style should stay the same.
That way, you are keeping your brand and trustworthiness intact. If you change the style from page to page, people browsing will spend time wondering what’s a bit different to other pages they have read, not consuming your information.
3. Plain English
It goes without saying that plain English is important. Why alienate a new audience by using terms they won’t understand? But remember all the words – you can use plain English and confuse people by being too verbose. Writing 5000 plain English words will not guarantee 5000 words of good content – structure and user-centred content design is just as important as avoiding length and jargon.
4. Be consistent
If you use a sentence like ‘apply for a stack of wonderful candy’ on your site and ‘claim your 500kg of sweets’ on Twitter, don’t be surprised if your audience is confused and thinks it is a different offer. Consistent doesn’t mean being repetitive or boring, it means not making it harder than it should be.
5. User first
I keep talking about this on this blog so I am not going to write too much here. But if you don’t write for your audience and for the channel they are reading from, you are missing a trick. You might also miss them altogether.
Change the organisation, not the strategy
Smart organisations need to look at not only how much information they are publishing but how it will be consumed. You’ll probably see the most successful organisations are the ones that have an integrated content strategy. You may have a number of people working on what your organisation says but you only need one coherent, consistent content strategy to say it.