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How COVID-19 changed the way we write content

30-second summary:

  • Trust your process. Process is your friend, especially when you’re up against factors beyond your control. Our editorial process picked up the shift to third-person early and prevented off-tone drafts from going out the door. If you don’t have an editorial process, develop one and lean on it maintain the quality of your content.
  • Stay connected with your team. Life beyond the office has a way of sneaking into our writing. For example, I’ve noticed that when writers return from a leave or even a week-long vacation, they tend to favor passive voice, probably because they’re still mentally transitioning back to work mode. Regularly monitor the pulse of your team members and stay alert for sudden changes in writing style.
  • Be human. Sometimes we forget we’re writing for actual people — living, breathing human beings rather than an anonymous persona or nebulous target audience. When we work to humanize the voice and tone of our writing, it’s easier to convey empathy and create connections in our writing.

Great content creates connections between brands and their audiences. That’s why the most successful B2B marketers spent 40% of their pre-pandemic budgets on the creation, distribution and amplification of content.

But what happens when external factors jeopardize content creators’ ability to establish those connections? That’s the world we’re living in right now as social distancing and other COVID-era behaviors change our use of language in ways that create distance — not connections.

And unless you get a handle on it, you’re setting both your brand and your team up for failure.

A new point of view

As the executive editor at an integrated B2B marketing agency, it’s my job to make sure the content we create for our clients gets results — a job made easier by a talented team of in-house writers.

But after several weeks of pandemic-induced quarantine, third-person point of view started trickling into our writers’ draft content.

Instead of using second-person pronouns like “you” and “your,” our writers were suddenly mixing third-person words like “they” and “their” into their writing vocabularies.

Third-person point of view is perfectly acceptable in most contexts and a few industries actually prefer it. But as content marketers, we typically write in the second-person point of view.

Why? Because second-person pronouns speak directly to readers and create those all-important connections with audiences. It’s a lesson our writers learn on day one at the agency.

Before long, a spattering of third-person pronouns turned into a mini-epidemic. At its peak, about half the drafts I reviewed contained multiple instances of third-person point of view.

When I followed up with the writers, I discovered the shift to third person was unintentional — none of them even realized they were using it.

Fortunately, our editorial process worked like a charm and no third-person drafts made it to clients’ inboxes. As a content team, we’re paying even closer attention to the words we use and we’re back to writing mostly in second-person point of view.

But the shift to third person left me with an uneasy feeling. Why were we suddenly — and subconsciously — using language that creates distance instead of connections?

Language is a social construct

In a 2015 study of school-age kids, researchers showed that children with mild communications disorders — even a single speech-related error — experience more limited social interactions than their peers.

But what if the opposite is true, too? Is it possible that the limited social interaction we’re experiencing through social distancing and self-quarantine is somehow changing the way we communicate?

After all, language is a social construct, a tool we use to interact with other people. When our social reality changes, it’s only natural to expect our use of language to change along with it. In other words, the way we communicate inevitably adapts to our social context.

Fully remote work offers a lot of benefits for content writers and other digital creatives, but it also creates some unique challenges — including its impact on our writing vocabulary.

Strange as it sounds, I believe my agency’s experience with third-person point of view was a direct result of our pandemic lifestyle.

With our minds preoccupied by the need to create social distance between ourselves and other people, we used language that created distance between our brands and their audiences.

Tips for creating connections in your written content

Creating quality content is never easy. When you throw in a global pandemic and the mental stress of social distancing, it becomes even harder to consistently produce high-quality deliverables.

But as digital marketing and content pros, it’s our job to hit a home run every time — to use language in ways that bring brands and their audiences together.

Fortunately, there are several things you can do to help your team continue to create connections in their written content, regardless of what’s happening in the world around you.

  • Trust your process. Process is your friend, especially when you’re up against factors beyond your control. Our editorial process picked up the shift to third-person early and prevented off-tone drafts from going out the door. If you don’t have an editorial process, develop one and lean on it maintain the quality of your content.
  • Stay connected with your team. Life beyond the office has a way of sneaking into our writing. For example, I’ve noticed that when writers return from a leave or even a week-long vacation, they tend to favor passive voice, probably because they’re still mentally transitioning back to work mode. Regularly monitor the pulse of your team members and stay alert for sudden changes in writing style.
  • Be human. Sometimes we forget we’re writing for actual people — living, breathing human beings rather than an anonymous persona or nebulous target audience. When we work to humanize the voice and tone of our writing, it’s easier to convey empathy and create connections in our writing.

When it’s functioning at its best, language bridges divides. It brings us together. For me, one of the most important takeaways from the pandemic is the reminder that words matter and it’s on us as digital content creators to use them in ways that connect people and the brands they care about.

Tim Morral is the Vice President, Executive Editor at Walker Sands, bringing nearly two decades of editorial and content marketing experience. From nuanced brand storytelling to the development of attention-grabbing owned media assets, Tim guides teams and clients in the creation of content that drives revenue and delivers measurable business results. A firm believer in the idea that great content generates real value, Tim helps B2B firms achieve clarity and amplify the volume of key messages in crowded markets. You can view his LinkedIn here.

The post How COVID-19 changed the way we write content appeared first on ClickZ.

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