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“Inverted Pyramid”: How to Write for Social News & Blogs

 If you are writing for Diggers, Stumblers, or Rss Subscribers in my opinion there is nothing more important then applying the "Inverted Pyramid" to your writing. I'm not Darren Rose or Brian Clark but I have written a lot of blog posts, submitted a boat load of stories to social sites, and I have tested technique after technique. The inverted pyramid has become my most effective tactic for grabbing readers or votes. The inverted pyramid is exactly what it sounds like, it is taking the meat and the core of the story and putting it at the top. It is a little more than "above the fold" which is making sure you have your most compelling info above the "fold" or "scroll" since we are talking websites. This is more about the title and then the content. It is giving up the pay off without users having to click through to read the full story. It works for readers with all attention spans as it maximizes the information the reader absorbs.

inverted-pyramid-1-3I learned about the inverted pyramid from the book, "Made to Stick" in the book it says the origin is rumored to come from the Civil War. Reporters would try to get back to their offices with information regarding the latest developments and their lines of communication would get cut or interrupted repeatedly by the war happenings. Due to the lack of time they had to convey their message they learned to communicate their information with the most important aspects first. When you have 15 seconds on the wire with your editor you're going to go down the Page from most important facts to the least.

This is the same with today's media, our lines are cut every minute through a new IM, text, email, phone call etc... when I go through my friends stories on digg I will go through all 200 plus submissions in minutes scanning and digging based off of the info in the title and the description, but mostly title. How many times have you seen a good story and thought, "that would be doing a lot better if it had a different title." You will see this a lot on digg and reddit, where the commenter's will correct the submitter and say, "the title should have read..." or that is an awesome story, too bad the title was so bad." The opposite is true as well, you will often see stories with great titles make the homepage of a social site only to have the entire audience say, "Tricked by the title" or "I thought that story was going to be a lot better." When you are on "Up and Coming" on Digg it is the Title and only the Title the users see. On Reddit you don't submit a description at all, everything revolves around the title.

A lot of people think that creating grabbing and creative writing is hooking the reader through vague leading stories or words all the way through trying to build anticipation until the very last paragraph. It is common to see people build up and up until the very end only to let you down by stringing you along. This works in a mystery novel, but not on blogs and social sites. When you follow this type of writing you will commit writing suicide or what Journalists call "Burying the Lead." You are just going to make your readers become disenchanted, loosing interest in your posts. Don't make your readers think about what your story is about. You will see more links, more comments and more rss subscribers if you make it a habit to give away the farm in the title and in the opening paragraph.

When writing your Titles or Headlines all you have to do is follow one simple exercise and that is finding the core.

Finding the Core: Why are you writing your article? What is the point you want to make and what are you trying to get across?
Guy Kawasaki in "Art of the Start" talks about how companies should adapt Mantras instead of Mission Statements. He rags on MBA's coming straight out of college and using the same 5 paragraph nonsense all inclusive mission statements. If I recall correctly he even conducted an experiment that used an automated software to build mission statements and those were seen as the better when compared to the statements written by someone from the actual company. Nike is the icon of Mantra with "Just Do It" Southwest Airlines applies their mantra to all decisions, "The Low-Fare Airline" if it doesn't help them stay "The Low-Fare Airline" then it doesn't happen. You don't fly Southwest to eat Salmon. Missions Statements bury the lead, Mantras are the epitome of the inverted pyramid.

Take your article and re-read it and tear it down to it's bones. If you had to say one thing or had to use only one sentence to tell this story what would it be? Write down your answers and play with them and you will come up with your "Inverted Pyramid."

As mentioned above I first came across these ideas through the book "Made to Stick" there is a section in the first chapter talking about James Carville and the successful Presidential Campaign he ran for Bill Clinton. One day he was frustrated with how things were going inside the campaign among his staff and he went to the a big white board in the middle of their office and wrote, "It's the Economy, Stupid." This is obviously the wheels on what became Clinton's victorious campaign. He also told Bill who is very smart and can talk for hours about any policy in great detail, that "If You Say Three Things, You Don't Say Anything." This helped Clinton to always bring his message back to the Economy.

Whether it is for you landing page for your website, that sells a product or a service, or in your blog posts or social news submissions, take an extra second to think about what you are trying to convey and break it down to it's core. Then use that as your "Campaign" or your message and you will see more readers, votes and comments.

If you care anything at all about Viral and Sticky Marketing you have to read, "Made to Stick" it is the "Unofficial" Social Media Bible.

Chris Bennett

Chris Bennett is the Founder and CEO of 97th Floor.

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