The mantra of the current high-intensity, high-tech age seems to be “edgy.” Those with an edgy self-image demand that their lyrics be defiant; their TV dramas, tense; and their recreation, risky. Needless to say, these folks are easily bored. Standard writing techniques will repel them faster than a Perry Como infomercial.
So how can we compete with the thrill-a-minute venues of YouTube, iTunes and virtual rock climbing? We can start by making some adjustments to the ways we approach our writing style and our audience. Here are seven strategies to keep in mind when trying to hold the attention of consumers who can’t sit through a movie without texting, surfing and videogame breaks.
- Forget logic—focus on impact. Those in the edgy crowd don’t have time to listen to your rationale—they just want to know the results and, most important, what’s in it for them. What ammunition can you give them to gain an edge on a friend, a foe or a competitor? Deliver content tools and weapons, not arguments.
- Draft shorter sentences. We speak in a 140-character town hall, and complex sentences with tailgating adjectives will just get drowned out by the flash mobs. Study Ernest Hemingway as a model for tightly written story-telling that shuns modifiers.
- Be conversational. Contractions, idioms and slang are fine. Just be certain that you’re up to date (read that, up to the minute) in the way you use them. Remember when “dope” meant “cool” and “shizzle” meant “sure”? That’s so-o-o 2002.
- Be controversial. Edginess inherently requires bold statements that express a strong point of view. When racing down the edgy road, the further your writing travels from conventional opinion, the more successful your trip will be. That’s not to say that you should just invent some outlandish opinion; you must be prepared to demonstrate the impact that your point of view can have (see strategy #1) on the topic at hand.
- Sharpen your verbs until they’re dangerous to handle without gloves. Avoid weak verbs, such as forms of “to be” or “to have,” and overused buzzword verbs, like “leverage,” “drive” and “interface.” Instead, choose verbs that paint a picture of an action or provoke an emotion, such as, “gnaw,” “melt,” “snivel,” “embrace,” “bellow” and “obliterate.”
- Be ironic and even sarcastic (but not mean) in setting up your thesis. Promulgating a strong point of view often requires that you adopt a ‘tude. The most concise expression of this stance that I have encountered appeared on a shopper’s T-shirt in the mall. It read:
National Sarcasm Society: “Like we really need your help.”
- Offer links on the edge. Find edgy communications—videos, cartoons, music clips— from like-minded individuals who support and/or extend your point of view, and include links to their work. “Occupy Wall Street” initially was an edgy demonstration, but links to websites and social media rapidly transformed it into a national movement.
That’s it. You can do it or not. What do I care? I’m gonna throw a Red Bull off the roof and see how high it’ll splatter.
— Steve Friedman is the director of marketing communications at Airfoil Public Relations, a high tech PR agency with offices in Detroit and Silicon Valley.