The headlines about the Bradley Manning WikiLeaks trial offer a great lesson on messaging development. Scanning my Twitter feed and the Washington Post headlines, I thought, at first, that the uber-leaker was acquitted. That’s because the headlines all focused on the fact that he was cleared of the major charge of aiding the enemy rather than the fact that he was found guilty on the 20 or so other charges. The only thing, however, that jumped out from my IPhone screen was the word, acquitted.
The editors’ framing of the headline was the right one, but reminds us how important message development is, especially when you are limited to 140 characters. There isn’t room for fine print when you are skimming content on a mobile device, so it’s easy to misunderstand and be misunderstood. As you think about Twitter and Facebook posts or subject lines in emails, take the time to word these carefully not only to get people to read them but also to be accurate.
Here are a couple of tips for better message development in your communications:
Be really clear about what is the most important thing you want to get across. For example, if you are tweeting about a frustrating customer relations experience, you could tweet “ACME Company Stinks,” which allows you to vent but doesn’t really communicate anything beyond displeasure. Or you could say “ACME Company won’t respond to me to fix my broken product,” which now tells me a lot more and opens the door for conversation.
This is especially important in email subject lines. How many times have you sent an email requiring a response only to find out that it was never opened? Perhaps the recipient didn’t feel the pressure and focused on other more urgent emails. Consider writing “URGENT: NEED YOUR RESPONSE” as opposed to “QUESTION ABOUT UPCOMING MEETING.” The former tells me that I need to respond and because it doesn’t tell me what it’s about, I’m curious, while the latter suggests that I could wait.
Don’t Beat Around the Bush. People don’t have time when reading 50 to 100 emails a day or scrolling through their various feeds to figure out what you are trying to tell them. Keep it simple and short. “Manning Acquitted of Most Serious Charge; Guilty on 20 Others” might have been a little clearer than “Bradley Manning Acquitted of Aiding the Enemy.”