How do you write in the now when tomorrow already came?
If someone finds a piece of content through search, is it immediately clear if it is in the past, present or talking about the future?
And with weighted timelines throwing content all over the place (I’m looking at you, non-chron-Instagram and like-driven-Twitter) how can you make sure it still makes sense?
This is particularly relevant if you’re promoting an event or time-specific giveaway. If you’re really lucky, readers will get it bumped to the top of their timeline three days after the event. Which at least gives you eyeballs, if not action.
Whether it’s social content, web copy or intranet news, it’s becoming less likely that people will see it right away so how do you make sure your copy stands the test of wibbly wobbly time-y wimey?
A tense situation
Have you ever reached a sign-up page to find the event’s already full? Or worse – has already happened?
I first considered the challenges of writing in the right tense when I heard Wedge talking about intranet content. If you write in the present where possible, you’re far less likely to confuse or disappoint your readers.
Suggesting something will happen in the near future is a sure-fire way to put a shelf-life on your copy – unless you’re planning on updating it.
On a news article at least, the content usually has a date stamp, but it’s not always clearly displayed. As pages get reformatted or archived, historic content becomes less easy to navigate. Getting rid of out-of-date content is probably a subject for another post, but less is usually more.
Show me the way to go home
- Is there a link to find out more information?
- Is the date really obvious? Including the year?
- What about links to other relevant info if the date has in fact passed?
If users find a web page from search, social or serendipity, make sure it makes sense on its own.
A timely call to arms
It’s copywriting 101 to give people the information they need, when they need it. If you have a time-specific call-to-action (CTA), it’s even more important to be clear about what you want your reader to do, whatever time it is now.
It might be a personal preference, but I find including the day of the week can help too (whatever your official style guide says).
Listen online from 6pm, Thursday 14 September is clear to understand, albeit slightly longer (whether before, during or after the event) than Available tonight from 6pm.
It should be possible to weave in all of the info you need without making a mess of the copy. If you’re interested in more CTA goodness, there’s some great advice from Paul Boag about writing calls to action which encourage web conversion.
Keeping your pictures on the shelf
With increasingly weird algorithms, you might find that any graphics you do make have a longer shelf-life on social media, or appear fleetingly, but out of sync.
Unless you’re able to code something that counts in real time, or are using a channel with fleeting permanence like Snapchat, don’t waste too much time (and budget) on count-down pictures on social.
Keep tense-specific context to the surrounding post. That way you can also re-use that image in the future. And can help keep the word count on your pictures down, which is particularly useful on Facebook (not to mention from an accessibility point of view).
Well, here we are
I am here, NOW, writing this. But you are reading this in the future.
I’m not having an existential crisis (I don’t think).
But I DO have availability for copywriting, content, web projects and digital strategy. Or at least I did at 4pm on Thursday 14th September.
What about you? If you’ve got a tip to add, bugbear to share or want to meet for a coffee and chat about how I could help your organisation, I’d love to hear from you!