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Writing for Social Media: Is AP Style Dead?

In Social & Digital Media by Natalie Kozma

The 2017 edition of The Associated Press Stylebook was recently released. The updates mirror the modern world we live in, from guidelines for labeling items as “fake news” to adding “avocado toast” to the Stylebook menu (both feel necessary, right?).

I was curious to learn the latest because, when you work at a PR firm, it is almost in your DNA to write in AP Style.

I struggle to keep up with all the changes, but thankfully the Stylebook has digital tools to salve the wounds of constant adaptation. Gone are the days where you have to flip through an outdated paperback copy. Now you can just subscribe to the online style book! You can even install AP StyleGuard on Word, which our office is currently testing out.

But AP Style hasn’t fully integrated into one of PR’s fastest-growing tactics: social media.

THE DILEMMA: DOES YOUR BRAND NEED TO TWEET IN AP STYLE?

My work week varies, but my day-to-day tasks consistently deal with writing copy for social media for several clients including I Vaccinate, Fix MI State and Michigan’s “Newspaper of the Year” Bridge Magazine (a must-subscribe if you haven’t already). I grapple with this dilemma, questioning if abandoning AP Style will discredit the account I’m writing copy for – especially a journalistic publication.

When writing an op-ed or press release, the expectations are clear. The rules change on social media, where emoji’s and Oxford commas run rampant. This is especially true on Twitter, thanks to tight character counts that necessitate using ampersands for “and” or “5” instead of “five”. And to quote Vampire Weekend, “Who gives a **** about an Oxford comma?”

So does it really matter if your brand or organization uses AP style on social media?

In general, I argue “no.” Social media copy is intentionally colloquial. When you match the tone of the average Facebook user, they are more likely to engage with your message. You don’t have to scroll far on your newsfeed to notice this approach, sometimes even from news organizations.

Check out how BuzzFeed News shared this article on Facebook:

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The Detroit Free Press also strikes a casual tone on social media to engage its audience:

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WHY AP STYLE DOESN’T NEED TO BE SOCIAL

Social media is an excellent medium to send your message and engage your audience. Here is the key distinction: It is not a surrogate for your entire message.

How could it be? 140 characters doesn’t tell the whole story, but it can pique interest in a topic, giving users the keys to drive to the source to learn more. Yes, it is OK to break the rules, but you still have to be tactful with your message and tone.

At Martin Waymire, we understand that social media should have a purpose. The strategy is unique for each client. That knowledge is why Martin Waymire earlier this year won five first-place “Pinnacle Awards” in the Public Relations Society of America Central Michigan Chapter’s 2017 PACE Awards competition, including Best in Show for the entry, “Growing Bridge Magazine readership through social media marketing.”

Here’s what our knowledge and experience tell us: Yes, you need to know that persnickety AP Style – but don’t let it cramp how you approach your audience when you’re crafting just the right social media post.