Last week I shared with you some alarming statistics which suggest that a huge proportion of businesses are failing to use social media in the right way, particularly with regard to Twitter.

As both the infographic I published last week and the follow up blog post made clear there is a huge gap between what businesses think is going on, and what is actually happening. I mentioned that I would be providing some practical tips on how to create an effective call to action through social media, and today I’m going to offer what I believe are the most important aspects to creating an effective call to action.

How to create an effective and successful call to action

The British are terribly bad at asking for things. We tend to feel presumptuous or too forward if we take enough pride in what we are able to offer that we feel inviting people would be worthwhile. Rather than offering a cup of tea we’ll ask pitifully if we might possibly be able to make someone a cup of tea. The problem is that whilst this attitude might be a little endearing, it falls flat on its face when it comes to using social media to sell and market your brand.

The First Rule Of Creating An Effective Call To Action

The first rule of creating an effective call to action is to make it clear what you want people to do. In other words, what is the point of your call to action? Perhaps you want people to visit your website, or your blog. Perhaps you want people to enter their e-mail address to sign up for a subscription, or you simply want people to read tweets, like or share your post or content. The problem is that people tend to word their calls to action in such a vague, ambiguous way that it’s not always clear what they are after.

For example, I’ve seen this call to action quite a lot: “you can find more information on our website.” This is not a call to action, it’s a casual statement, perhaps comparing the fact that there is more information on your website than is contained in your tweet or blog post. It’s not going to generate many clicks.

Similarly, I’ve seen some businesses who are trying to gain subscribers word their call to action along the lines of “enter your e-mail address below.” Frankly the last thing I’m going to do is to share my e-mail address with all and sundry, since the only inevitable result of this is that I spend even longer each morning trying to filter out all the spam. Is not a call to action, it’s an instruction, and it’s an instruction which offers no purpose, or at least none which is apparent.

An effective call to action therefore needs to combine a clear and unequivocal instruction with a clear, defined purpose. So rather than saying “you can find more information on our website”, you could phrase it more along the lines of “visit our website for more practical tips.” Similarly, rather than instructing people to enter their e-mail address you could say “to receive our newsletter containing practical tips enter your e-mail address below.”

73% Of Social Media Statistics Are Made Up. Probably.

Another way in which a call to action can be made more effective is by including a number or a statistic. Numbers and statistics seem to have a positive effect when it comes to encouraging people to act on a call to action. There are two ways of doing this, and I can demonstrate by adding a number into each of the two example calls to action I’ve just offered.

So by adding in a number I can change my first call to action to “visit our website for our 20 top practical tips.” This has the effect of giving the impression that by visiting your website people won’t just be given a vague mishmash of potentially useful information, but will be able to benefit quickly and immediately from a well structured set of tips.

Similarly, the second call to action could be strengthened by adding in a statistic, such as “join 56,724 others receiving our information packed newsletter by entering your e-mail below.” This has the effect of encouraging people to register, simply because it is clear that so many other people already have registered, and this gives credence to your newsletter.

Creating A Social Media Call To Action Which Actually Gets Read

But when it comes to social media there is another rule. Generally I would say that when including a call to action on Twitter or on Facebook, you should not start with the call to action itself. This is simply because people rarely read an entire tweet. They tend to read the first few words, deciding quickly whether or not it’s worth reading the rest.

No matter how good your call to action might be, it will be obvious from the first few words that you are asking them to do something, rather than offering them something. The distinction might be subtle, but the psychology means that you’ll lose much of your audience if you do it the wrong way round.

A good way of structuring a social media call to action is to start with a question, or an observation. After this you can then follow it up with your call to action. So, to take our two examples of Twitter, Facebook or blog-based calls to action we might phrase them as follows:

  • “Have you worked out how to beat the Penguin update yet? Visit our website for our 20 top practical tips.”
  • “Do you want a concise and entertaining summary of the latest SEO news delivered each Monday morning? Join 56,724 others receiving our information packed newsletter by entering your e-mail below.”

These calls to action begin with a question or observation designed to grab the attention of our target audience. By then including a number or statistic, offering a purpose and a clear and unequivocal instruction we have created a much more effective call to action than the examples I quoted at the beginning.

How would you improve on these calls to action? Have you come up with, or come across a really effective and successful call to action? Have you seen a really ludicrous call to action? Share your thoughts and join in the conversation by leaving a comment below.


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