Let me start this post by countering an all-too-common offense taken by traditional copywriters who tend to rise up when they hear terms like “digital copywriting.” Employers who specify “digital writer” or “digital copywriter” in want-ads are not implying that traditional copywriters cannot write for the new media or that writing for the new media requires some magical or secret expertise over which digital writers have dominion. Nor is it a term copywriters created to show that they have a specialized skill. The vocabulary is engendered by technological and social media advances.
Recently, in a copywriting group discussion on linkedin.com, members asked the following questions and follow-up questions (housed in their comments):
Writing for a Different Medium
Question: On a job searching spree, I learned that there is a new term very much in fashion these days, DIGITAL WRITING. How is it different from the rest? Isn’t it just writing for a different medium?
Answer: It is writing for a different medium, but for efficiency purposes, employers want to make sure the writer has a working knowledge of all the other stuff that doesn’t typically come into play in traditional copywriting.
(a) Traditionally, copywriters write to persuade prospects and customers. In today’s consumer-controlled marketing environment, your text will more than likely have to engage your target audience – an audience that is simply not interested in being sold to. And you need to know how to do this or should I say, how to finesse this, which usually comes from having done it already. Major corporations are still trying to wrap their heads around how to engage their audiences; it’s easier said than done. To me, marketing messages almost have to have a sort of tribal appeal that they did not have to have before. Actually, this seems to be turning into a standard all around;
(b) You need to know what to do to make certain groups of people inclined to share or talk about info/sales/content/contests/events/ coupons, etc. For example, in social media, you run into things, e.g., where certain target audiences have a key influencer, the alpha type person(s) to whom a company may need your text to appeal in order to get the sharing/WOM ball rolling, etc.;
(c) If you don’t understand how “keywording” and other SEO techniques are effectively applied, your knowledge of copy is of less value than a “digital writer’s.” This is very important for a variety of reasons;
(d) Then there’s just the basic stuff, e.g., knowing that “read more” works better in email marketing than “click here” in certain instances or knowing how and where to distribute the words “pay now” on a sales page and knowing what not to put in a subject line to increase an open rate or ways to increase an ads click-through rate . . .
(e) Do you understand how to use metrics to assess performance of campaigns and where to start to improve results or how to exploit promotional structures on a website and drive traffic to ensure a site feels continually updated or how to analyze and document detailed online content with an eye for optimizing user experience?
What about Writing Adaptability?
Question: Isn’t it a matter of decoding the brief and adaptability?
Answer: I think it’s more than that. I don’t know if decoding a traditional brief would give you the appreciation you need of the value of things like social media integration and the direction you need to effectuate that or to offer constructive strategies, e.g., to incorporate online and offline approaches involving an sms text/FB promotion or a Twitter campaign . . . along with all the little annoying things you need to know about the best practices of each of these tools.
Filtering Out Old School Writers
Question: Does it mean that the term is coined to filter out the old school writers?
Answer: It’s coined to filter out copywriters who aren’t aware that the media landscape has been completely transformed and who don’t get that consumers just don’t experience or interact with brands the way they did back in the day, albeit “the day” was only 3-5 years ago. It’s coined to filter out copywriters who are still trying to fight the fact that, good or bad, times have changed, and the copywriter’s landscape is changing.
My take for myself: Even if things are moving at the speed of light, I think it’s my job to keep abreast of and keep up with the trends of my industry and profession, and it behooves me (and my clients) to stay relevant. I don’t always get it right, but it’s nice to get vastly more right than you get wrong, and that only happens when I keep up. But this is what it is, and, well, whether I like it or not, these are the realities of my passion.
Comment: . . . “a great radio or long copy copywriter can rule the digital realm.”
Response: Great copywriters already rule the digital realm. And, yes, a great TV or radio writer can write great digital copy. Simply put, I am saying that these employers who ask for digital writers probably specify “digital” because they want someone who can demonstrate that he or she understands the new media, is up to speed and can jump right in WITH all of her or his other writing talents. These employers are not saying you are not a great writer and can’t adapt; I think they just want to be confident that you to have a grasp of the digital environment already. No, it’s not rocket science, but sites like marketingsherpa.com don’t exist for nothing.
IN OTHER WORDS, DIGITAL COPYWRITING IS DIFFERENT IN MANY WAYS FROM TRADITIONAL COPYWRITING.
These are just a few of many, many things copywriters in the digital arena already know and it’s why employers ask for digital writers and digital copywriters as opposed to writers and copywriters. They need to know that you understand the nature and mindset of the digital environment. The same goes for mobile copywriters. Writing for mobile is not merely Internet copywriting. There are different rules when writing for apps, or SMS Text promotions, which you want the writer to have an understanding of coming in.
Yes, conventional copywriters can learn digital copywriting, but it helps the employer (and his client, if any) tremendously if the writer is already aware of all these differences and nuances, and knows how to incorporate all this as they go along, etc., especially for time-sensitive promotions and campaigns.
No one has time for folks to learn this stuff on the job, when you need them to hit the ground running.
Let’s not even talk about what happens when the writer doesn’t even know that he or she needs to know this. And many copywriters don’t.
Traditional Copywriters – If you saw the following job description for a “Digital Writer,” could you jump right in and get started?:
“Need Digital Writer Who Understands Social Media Strategy As Well As SEO”
Primary Responsibilities: Write for search engine optimization; evaluate existing content assets and feeds based on target audience and business objectives and make recommendations for content migration; wireframe content for use in design discussions; provide rationale for all recommendations; ensure content management systems meet publishing and legal requirements (this is especially true with mobile); utilize metrics to assess performance of campaigns and know where to start to improve results; understand how to exploit promotional structures on a website and drive traffic to ensure a site feels continually updated,; analyze and document detailed online content with an eye for optimizing user experience.
No matter how great a copywriter you are, if you are not up to speed in the digital realm, it’s not like learning what text goes on which panel of a brochure. There’s a method to this stuff and even the absolute most talented copywriters in the world don’t learn this osmotically and it’s why employers request “DIGITAL” writers.
They’re not asking you to learn it; they’re asking you to know it.