How do you write in the now when tomorrow already came?
If someone finds a piece of content, 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, how can you make sure it still makes sense? (I’m looking at you, Instagram and LinkedIn).
It’s particularly relevant if you’re promoting an event or time-specific giveaway. If readers see your content bumped up their timeline three days later, how do you make it work?
Whether it’s social content, web copy or intranet news, it’s unlikely people will see it right away. 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?
Wedge once gave my meet-up an excellent talk featuring a tense discussion 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. And who has the time for that?
At least on a news article, content usually has a date stamp. But it’s not always clearly displayed. And 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 Getting rid of out-of-date content is probably a subject for another post, but less is usually more.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
Do you know how people access your web pages? As Sharon O’Dea puts it far more articulately than I, content without context can be a challenge.
- 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 communications 101 to give people the information they need, when they need it. If you have a time-specific call-to-action (CTA), 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. And reduces the cognitive load for people who need to go find a date of posting, and check whether Available tonight from 6pm has passed.
Keeping your pictures on the shelf
You might find that any graphics you do make have a longer shelf-life on social media, or appear fleetingly, but out of sync. Thanks, algorithms.
Using something that counts in real time is great. But I wouldn’t waste too much time (and budget) on count-down pictures on social.
Keep that 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 some availability for content design, web projects and digital strategy. Or at least I did at 2pm on Friday 12th March 2021.
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!