27 Formulas That Can Drive Clicks and Engagement on Social Media
You’ve heard it said that storytelling is an essential element to drawing the reader into your content and driving more engagement.
So how can you add this element to the blogposts you write?
Can you fit a captivating story into a social media update, even one that’s 140 characters long?
Here’s the great news: There’s a formula for that. Many storytellers and copywriters have tested out the best intros and segues to draw readers to a piece of content. Their copywriting formulas just plain work--in blogpost intros, in social updates, in emails, and anywhere else you might happen to write online.
Here are 27 of the best ones I’ve heard. Give them a try and see how they might make storytelling a breeze for you.
27 Copywriting Formulas That Grab Readers’ Attention
Why might you trot out a copywriting formula each time you need compelling copy?
I think one of my favorite perspectives on it, from someone who knows copywriting better than anyone, comes from Copyblogger’s Demian Farnworth.His take: Copywriting is the most productive way to get your writing done.
This is what it means to be an efficient writer: keeping your tools handy. You don’t have to recreate the wheel every time.
Finding a great formula that works for you--whether it’s a storytelling formula, a headline formula, or any other--can be a big-time productivity boost.
Take a few of these for a spin and see how they might improve your social media posts and content.
1. Before - After - Bridge
Before - Here’s your world ...
After - Imagine what it’d be like, having Problem A solved ...
Bridge - Here’s how to get there.
This is our current go-to formula for the Buffer blog. Describe a problem, describe a world where that problem doesn’t exist, then explain how to get there. It’s a super simple setup, and it can work for blogpost intros, social media updates, email, and anywhere else that you write (or speak, for that matter).
2. Problem - Agitate - Solve
Identify a problem
Agitate the problem
Solve the problem
You’re looking at one of the most popular copywriting formulas out there. Copyblogger calls this formula the key to dominating social media. It’s ever-present in copywriting lists and tips.
Compared to the first copywriting formula in our list, it’s nearly an identical match with only one difference: Instead of describing a life without the problem (the “After” part), PAS describes life if the problem were to persist (the “Agitate” part).
3. Features - Advantages - Benefits (FAB)
Features - What you or your product can do
Advantages - Why this is helpful
Benefits - What it means for the person reading
This copywriting formula highlights one of my favorite bits of advice on writing: Focus on benefits, not features. We’ve even taken this advice to the extreme of avoiding the word “features” when launching new Buffer tools.
I also like the way that copywriter Joe Vitale phrases this one:
You get this...and the product does this...so that you get this....
4. The 4 C’s
Here’s one of my favorite formulas because it reminds me to stay focused on the goals of the copy and the benefits to the reader. Keep the writing clear, keep it concise, find a compelling angle to write from, and write with credibility that what you’re promising can be trusted to happen.
5. The 4 U’s
Useful - Be useful to the reader
Urgent - Provide a sense of urgency
Unique - Convey the idea that the main benefit is somehow unique
Ultra-specific - Be ultra-specific with all of the above
Looking for a way to write a great Twitter headline? Start here. The 4 U’s formula seems ready-made for social media. The elements of urgency and specificity fit well with the fast pace of social and the small amount of text. If you can master this one, you can expect to see great results for your social media marketing.
6. Attention - Interest - Desire - Action (AIDA)
Attention - Get the reader’s attention
Interest - Interesting and fresh information that appeals to the reader
Desire - Benefits of your product/service/idea and proof that it does what you say
Action - Ask for a response
AIDA is one of the most standard copywriting formulas for most any type of marketing copy. It’s been used for direct mail, television and radio, sales pages, landing pages, and so much more. Many of the below ideas will play off the elements included here.
My favorite part of AIDA: attention. With blogposts and social media, this can amount to writing an amazing headline.
7. A FOREST
A - Alliteration
F - Facts
O - Opinions
R - Repetition
E - Examples
S - Statistics
T - Threes (Repeat something three times to make it memorable.)
Phew! This is a big one. You’d be hard-pressed to fit this one into a social media update. But a blogpost? A landing page? Sure thing.
And for those times when you’re pinched for copy on social media, you can pull elements out of A FOREST. Post with alliteration or facts or threes. Pick one, and see how it works.
8. The 5 basic objections
1. I don’t have enough time.
2. I don’t have enough money.
3. It won’t work for me.
4. I don’t believe you.
5. I don’t need it.
Chances are that a reader can easily come up with reasons not to read or click or share. Those reasons will likely fall into one of these five basic buckets. Keep these in mind as you’re writing. If you can solve all of them, wonderful. If you can solve even one, great.
9. Picture - Promise - Prove - Push (PPPP)
Picture - Paint a picture that gets attention and creates desire
Promise - Describe how your product/service/idea will deliver
Prove - Provide support for your promise
Push - Ask your reader to commit
Many of these formulas involve showing someone a picture of a desirable outcome. What a great opportunity to deliver happiness to potential readers and customers! The PPPP follows up this dream with specific ways that the product/service/idea can help, along with proof that it actually does. The final step--call to action--is crucial, and it can be as simple as a short URL if you’re trying to fit this formula into a tweet.
10. The psychological pull of Open Loops
Create a cliffhanger with your content
Open loops are rooted in psychology. We need closure in our lives, and when we don’t get this closure, we feel anxiety, which spurs us to get closure, to find out more, to keep reading.
Felicia Spahr described this phenomena in a post at KISSmetrics, pointing out the prevalence of open loops in Hollywood filmmaking and TV.
Open Loops in TV shows are the equivalent of that cliffhanger that keeps you up at night, consuming your mind with thinking about what’s going to happen the next week, or that story line that was never quite explained. Those aren’t just “blips” in a script. They are put there so that it’s harder for people to get up off the couch than it is to stay and watch “just one more episode.”
11. The Reader’s Digest blueprint
According to famed copywriter John Caples, you can take great inspiration from studying the way that Reader’s Digest articles are composed.
They are fact-packed
They are telegraphic
They are specific
There are few adjectives
They arouse curiosity
Copyblogger’s Demian Farnworth and Jerod Morris put this formula to good usein the way they open blogposts. Here’s what they’ve learned:
- Your opening sentence should be short -- even as short as one word
- The wrong quote can repel readers
- A great story begins in the chaotic middle
- You borrow liberally from your swipe file
On social media, the Reader’s Digest blueprint might look like this:
12. Sonia Simone’s 5 Pieces Every Great Marketing Story Needs
1. You need a hero
2. You need a goal
3. You need conflict
4. You need a mentor
5. You need a moral
You might pick up on some familiar threads in Copyblogger cofounder Sonia Simone’s formula. “Conflict” fits with Problem-Agitate-Solve. “Mentor” fits with the new-world vision of Before-After-Bridge. All five elements together make for great storytelling--for a blogpost, a landing page, and many more spots that support a start-to-end story.
13. Write to one person
Good advertising is written from one person to another.
The above is a quote from Fairfax Cone, one of the leading voices in copywriting. His tip reads more like advice than a formula, but the takeaway is just as good. Who is your ideal reader? Find out (perhaps using marketing personas), then write to them and them alone.
14. The 3 Reasons Why
Why are you the best?
Why should I believe you?
Why should I buy right now?
This trio of ideas is an expansion on a tried-and-true question that all copywriters strive to answer: “Why?” Copyblogger’s Brian Clark has a neat way of summing all these questions up into one big ask:
Why should I buy from you at all when I understand your competition better than you do, and there’s no difference?
15. Star - Story - Solution
Star - The main character of your story
Story - The story itself
Solution - An explanation of how the star wins in the end
This formula doesn’t necessarily need to be linear. You might tell your story and introduce your star at the same time. And the star can be anything--your product/service/idea or even the reader.
16. Star - Chain - Hook
Star - Your product/service/idea
Chain - A series of facts, sources, benefits, and reasons
Hook - The call to action
The key element of this formula is the chain. It is intended to take a reader from interested to attentive. The right facts, sources, benefits, and reasons can help get them there.
17. Awareness - Comprehension - Conviction - Action (ACCA)
Awareness - Present the situation or problem
Comprehension - Help your reader understand how it affects them. Explain that you have the solution.
Conviction - Create a desire and conviction in your reader to use your solution.
Action - Call to action
Another variation from the above formulas, you might sample this one for its focus on comprehension. Whereas other formulas describe the situation and tell stories, this one acts more as a diagnosis: This is what’s happening, and this is how it affects you. When done right, the comprehension step should lead straight to conviction then action.
18. The 1 - 2 - 3 - 4 Formula for Persuasive Copy
1. What I’ve got for you
2. What it’s going to do for you
3. Who am I?
4. What you need to do next
Another Copyblogger gem, this four-question formula has some great ties to the storytelling opener of previous formulas, with a useful twist. After telling the story and explaining the benefits, you then get to sell the reader on your authority. Who are you and why should someone listen to you? Explain that part well enough, and you can breeze to the call-to-action in the final step.
19. So what?
Every time you state something, ask yourself, “So what?”
Helen Nesterenko, writing at the Eloqua blog, has a great way of spinning this one from a features vs. benefits perspective.
Our knives have the sharpest blades!
So you can chop ingredients quickly and efficiently, just like the pros!
One way that I’ve looked at this with my Buffer writing is to ask “so what” in order to test whether a tweet or paragraph or section adds any value to the reader. Why should someone care about this particular thing I’ve written? Typically, it’ll all come back to benefits.
20. AICPBSAWN (phew!)
Attention - Biggest benefit, biggest problem you can solve, USP
Interest - Reason why they should be interested in what you have to say
Credibility - Reason why they should believe you
Prove - Prove what you are claiming is true
Benefits - List them all (use bullets)
Scarcity - Create scarcity
Action - Tell them precisely what to do
Warn - What will happen if they don’t take action
Now - Motivate them to take action now
I’m not sure this one was meant to be an acronym or not. It’s long! Nevertheless, there’re several good nuggets in here, starting with the first. A unique selling proposition could probably be a copywriting post all to its own. It’s a big idea, and finding the unique angle to pitch your product/service/idea is key.
Like the A FOREST formula, you can grab bits and pieces of this one when sharing in the confined spaces of social media.
21. String of Pearls
String together a series of persuasive stories
What does this formula conjure for you? Listicles. List posts have their roots in this copywriting formula. If listicles don’t fit your marketing strategy, you can go in a different direction by stringing together testimonials or benefits or any stand-alone elements that, when combined, make for an overwhelmingly persuasive pitch.
22. The Fan Dancer
Be specific without actually explaining anything
It took me a bit to wrap my head around this one. What is a “fan dancer”? Well, it’s nothing really. But it did pique my interest! And that’s the point. The Fan Dancer formula uses specific details to create curiosity, all the while never revealing any actual information about what that tantalizing something is. To find out, someone will need to click or keep reading.
23. The Approach Formula
Arrive at the problem
Propose a solution
Persuade the listener why your solution will work
Reassure that you and your solution can be trusted
Orchestrate an opportune opportunity to sell
Ask for the order (or response)
You might recognize parts of this formula if you’ve ever had a call from a telemarketer or a visit from a door-to-door salesman. It’s a soft sell. The formula takes its time to get around to the “Ask” part, building trust along the way and looking for the best time to make the final step toward the sale. Slow pitches like these might involve a couple steps through the marketing funnel or perhaps a piece of long-form content with a variety of ways for the reader to act.
24. Bob Stone’s Gem
Begin with your strongest benefit
Expand on the most important benefit
Tell exactly and in detail what they are going to get, including all the features and benefits
Back up your statements with support copy
Tell them what they’ll lose if they don’t act
Sum up the most important benefits
Make your call to action. Tell them to “reply now” and give a good, logical reason why they should.
Steve Slaunwhite shared this useful formula in his book The Everything Guide to Writing Copy. You could probably have guessed that the originator of this formula is Bob Stone. The successful ad man came up with this formula for sales letters and direct response ads, but it’s been used in a number of different ways since.
25. The 6+1 model
4. The gap
6. Call to action
From Danny Iny of Smashing Magazine, the first six items in this copywriting formula follow a similar path to the Before-After-Bridge formula, giving the reader a sense of what life might be like with your product/service/idea. The key element that Danny has added: credibility.
You can do all of the above and you’ll be well on your way to a sale, but you still won’t get it without one more ingredient, added along the way. That ingredient is credibility.
26. UPWORDS Formula
Universal Picture Words Or Relatable, Descriptive Sentences
This is a neat one from Michel Fortin. He’s found that using common words that conjure imagery or examples in the minds of readers will help a marketing message have meaning.
27. OATH Formula
The four stages of your market’s awareness of your product/service/idea.
This formula can help guide your copy because it helps you focus on the reader and his or her needs. What stage are they at in their awareness of your product? The spectrum runs from the completely unaware (“oblivious”) to those in desperate need of a solution (“hurting”). Knowing where your audience stands can help determine how you frame your writing.
Bonus: Literary Devices
I’ve mentioned Demian Farnworth many times in this article. He and the Copyblogger team are just so good at explaining the concepts of writing well. And here’s another great one from Demian: literary devices.
These are the styles and formats of the way we write compelling copy. Many of them are likely done subconsciously. It’s kind of neat to know there’s a name and history behind them.
Demian lists 12 at his blog. Here are my five favorites:
1. Polysyndeton -- Using Extra Conjunctions
“If there be cords or knives or poison or fire or suffocating streams, I’ll not endure it”
- Shakespeare, Othello
2. Chiasmus -- Reversal of Structure
“Mankind must put an end to war or war will put an end to mankind.”
- John F. Kennedy
3. Epizeuxis -- Simple Repetion of Words and Phrases
“Never give in -- never, never, never, never, in nothing great or small, large or petty, never give in except to convictions of honour and good sense.”
- Winston Churchill
4. Anaphora -- Repetition at the Beginning
“Mad world! Mad kings! Mad composition!”
- William Shakespeare, King John
5. Epistrophe -- Repetition at the End
“What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny compared to what lies within us.”
- Ralph Waldo Emerson
The best copywriting formula: Yours!
There’s this great quote from David Ogilvy that I think sums up the matter of copywriting formulas.
Repeat your winners. Scores of great advertisements have been pulled before they’ve begun to payoff. Readership can actually increase with repetition -- up to five repetitions.
His advice is for advertisement specifically, yet it rings true for the way that we write for the web, for blogs, and for social media. Find a formula that works for you and your audience, and continue to go back to it as often as you can.
Which formulas do you use in your writing? Did you have a favorite one from this list? Which ones did I leave out?