Persuasion is an art and a science. Teaching the art is hard but the science is rather simple. Today I want to share with you five key characteristics of persuasive blog posts and a simple five paragraph template you can use to create your own persuasive blog posts.
Real World Examples of Persuasive Blog Posts
It’s always easier to teach something when you have visual aids. So let’s use a recent tussle on the Intrawebs pitting the Millennial generation against the world… or maybe more accurately their elder Generation X brethren.
What are they arguing about? They are arguing about the proper age at which point you can (as a brand) safely place a person in charge (I’m assuming that means with minimal or no direct supervision) of your company’s social media presence.
One the other corner you have GenX suggesting that you shouldn’t trust your online brand identity to someone because “they’re really good on Facebook.”
Both camps are trying to persuade you the reader that they’re right. And in doing so, they (collectively) are helping or hurting (depending on which corner you favor) their argument and providing a great case study in persuasive writing.
And the three posts I’ve linked to provide an excellent set of examples to help us think through writing more persuasive posts.
5 Characteristics of Persuasive Blog Posts
There are countless books and papers on how to write more persuasively, but let me share the top 5 things I think (based on 20 years of persuading folks during my advertising career) make a blog post (or any written communication) more persuasive.
- Logic Based — Far too often we allow our emotions to color our style. Passion is great, especially in verbal presentations, but in written communications, passion often clouds, hides or simply (in the worse cases) replaces fact. Strip your posts of emotional language and pleas.
- Data Driven — Unfortunately we often fall back on emotion because we don’t have the data to support our point, either because it doesn’t exist or more often than not because we’re too lazy to do the work to find it. It’s hard to argue with data, so find it and include it in your posts.
- Prove Don’t Tell — There is a great scene in A Few Good Men where Tom Cruise’s character tell’s Demi Moore’s character, “It doesn’t matter what I think, only what I can prove.” Never have truer words been spoken. When you’re trying to persuade “the other side” to come around to your point of view, build your case using logic, facts and proof served up like breadcrumbs. If the reader follows the breadcrumbs down the logic trail, a reasonably intelligent, logical person should arrive at your desired conclusion before you even type it.
- Short Sells — we live in an ADD world. Your clients, prospects and fellow employees don’t have time to wade through War and Peace. Make your point, make it well and then move on. Don’t feel the need to use every fact or argument. As soon as you feel like you’ve crafted something pretty bullet proof, stop writing and hit publish.
- Don’t Draw Lines In The Sand — in pretty much every written document or blog post designed to persuade you will at some point have to include opinions or thoughts without factual data to support — they’re called opinions or recommendations. Often times these opinions are woven together to create a logic trail that if followed by your reader will lead them to the desired point of view. There’s nothing wrong with doing this, but there is a wrong way to do it. And when it’s done incorrectly, you force the reader to make a black and white decision versus giving them an opportunity to engage with your thinking. More on that later….
A Case Study In Persuasive Blog Post Writing
Now let’s look at the blog posts around this subject — How old should your social media manager be? — and use them as a case study to talk about why one post may be more persuasive than another based on the style of writing.
Emotional Verus Logical Writing Style
The biggest difference between the GenX and Millennial blog posts is the emotional tone.
If you look at the GenX piece in Inc Magazine, you’ll see a very straightforward, fact and logic based writing style. You don’t find a lot of colorful or emotionally driven words and arguments. The piece sets up the writer’s point-of-view and even acknowledges that article is a generalization and not necessarily indicative or ALL 23 year olds.
The Ragan’s PR piece is fairly even keeled, balanced and follows a “here is my point and here are my support points” format, which is ideal. The NextGen article on the other hand attacks from the outset and is written like a personal plea full of I’s and We’s.
Interestingly, it was the NextGen article that sparked this whole dust up in the first place. Could the emotional vs logical argument style have played a part in that fact?
Data Driven Arguments
Data driven arguments work, just make sure you use the right data points and that you’ve properly analyzed your data. This was the SINGLE BIGGEST MISTAKE that both of the Millennial blogs made. In both the NextGen and Ragan’s PR posts, the authors make the argument (one that many Millennials make) that they “grew up with social media and thus know it better than older generations.”
The unstated fact here is that “more of us use these channels” or “all of us/major percentage of us use these channels” so we’re more familiar with them. It’s not a new or unique argument and one commonly tossed about by Millennials.
The problem is, they don’t do the math.
That’s probably because the math is hard. There really is no definitive start and end date to define any generation. To make matters worse, different data collectors may choose to report their data using different date ranges. Thus, to try and pull together the necessary data to actually understand if the point can be made, much less proven, would take someone a few hours. Because you’re talking about Twitter penetration against each generation vs just generational make-up of Twitter, it gets complicated fast.
But if you want the skeptical reader to support you, you’re going to have to do the math.
Stating Opinions As Fact
Look back at the Ragan’s piece one more time. Let’s look at the five reasons given for why you should hire someone under 25 for your social media.
- Millennials are creative
- Social Media isn’t new to us
- We are trustworthy
- Our age doesn’t necessarily reflect our maturity
- Our individualism is good for your business
Not a fact amongst them. All opinions but all stated as black and white facts. The NextGen piece was even worse, so I’m not even going to review the key points of that piece here.
Compare that to the Inc piece.
- They’re not mature enough
- They may be focused on their own social-media activity
- They may not have the same etiquette–or experience
- You can’t control their friends
- No class can replace on-the-job training
- They may not understand your business
- Communications skills are critical
- Humor is tricky business
- Social-media savvy is not the same as technical savvy
- Social-media management can become crisis management
- You need to keep the keys
Items 1, 4, 5, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11 are presented as facts — declarative statements presented as this is right with no wiggle room to allow for consideration that the fact may actually be opinion.
If you revisit them you see that item #1 is truly an opinion but notice the author provides a research report to give you a reason to agree with the point.
Item 4 is clearly a fact, indisputable based on logic. Item 5 could be considered an opinion but I’d argue and I bet the author would too, that 99 out of 100 people polled would agree with the statement, making it a de facto fact. I’d argue the same can be said for items 7-11. All are facts of logic and make perfect sense to the reader. Thus, in the science of persuasion they function more as facts than opinions.
Notice that items 2, 3, 6, are all clearly opinions of the writer. But more importantly, notice HOW the writer shares those opinions. This is a key point.
There is one little word. One word that changes the persuasive nature of the opinions.
The word is May.
In each of these opinions, the author doesn’t draw a line in the sand. They are acknowledging up front that they may not be right, that there may be exceptions to the rule and that they are generalizing.
If you want to persuade people with your opinions, NEVER draw a line in the sand. When you do that you create a situation where your reader must agree or disagree. You give your reader no wiggle room. No opportunity to consider your point-of-view and agree, disagree or suggest (to themselves or to you) an alternative point-of-view.
When you provide your opinion with the stated acknowledgement that it may not be 100% fact, you invite your reader to engage with your thinking — the first step you’ll need them to take if you’re trying to change their mind.
A Template For Writing Persuasive Blog Posts
Now that we’ve discussed what did or did not make those blog post more persuasive (in my opinion), let’s finish up with a template you can use to quickly and effeciently create persuasive blog posts.
First, start with the end. In the very first paragraph, summarize what you’re going to tell the reader. If this paragraph is written correctly, it is effectively the only paragraph the reader needs to read to be persuaded (if they’re already inclined to agree with you.)
Then in a single line or short paragraph state your case. Tell them what you want them to believe.
Use the next three paragraphs to make your arguments. The first sentence of each paragraph should be a persuasive argument and the remaining 2-4 sentences should be relevant support points or data that you can link to or reiterate. Try to include more than one support point for each argument as there is strength in numbers.
If you have more than three key arguments, that’s fine… you can include them but ask yourself if you really need to do so to win the reader over to your point-of-view. As they say in sales, once you’ve made the sale, shut up.
Use your final paragraph to summarize your point-of-view and if you’re trying to entice the reader to action, give them a simple next step or action to take. Otherwise, invite them to tell you if they agree or disagree with your points via your comments.
And that’s it. A simple five or six paragraph format for quickly and easily crafting your next persuasive blog post. And this works great for business letters, memos and other communications too.
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