Don't worry, be snappy! The art of writing for mobile

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Sandblasting umlauts since the days of dial-up, Peter Hill is currently consulting for the UK government, British Film Institute and private clients in travel, gaming and events.

In this guest post for Sookio he tells us about the art of writing for mobile. How do you capture the attention of such a fidgety and flighty audience?

For years, I paid the rent by segueing from genocide to cystitis.

While commercial TV had its attractions (where else could you write the billing 'On today's show: Ladysmith Black Mambazo, Neil Diamond and two pet psychiatrists'?), its brutality wearied.

Since then I've written for mobile, starting with SMS, then MMS (so audacious: text AND pictures?), Wap (the 'C' is silent) and now tablets and Tweets.

The Big Rules – brevity and clarity – apply more than ever, and this is perhaps old media's best legacy. One aspect of the tabloid TV mindset - an economy and precision of language – is absolutely suited to mobile.

Journalese, used well, adds elegance and wit. It can amuse, perplex and convert. Wordplay can work.

 I wrote this for a client last week. It's in their house style (playful and professional) and helps add a point of difference in a crowded market.  

Mobile demands immediacy. No room for niceties, just like a tabloid headline.  When appropriate, I work to the principle of 'divert, then deliver', grabbing attention before disclosing the detail.

Another client, Chinwag, needed to make it clear an important closing date was pending. I came up with a headline which, gratifyingly, got a bit of traction:

 I've written thousands of commercial messages for UK operators. Good training. Single words can tip the balance. A festive message for O2 urged users to 'Festoon' their phone with a download. Terrible grammar, great click-through.   

Your readers need not 'collect' when they could 'pocket'; possess 'zeal' in place of 'enthusiasm'; or 'slam' rather then 'denounce'.

Let's be clear. I'm not championing the brutal, divisive side of tabloid journalism.

Six-inch screens and six-second tolerances: that's the reality of writing for mobile. Social media's limitations compound this, so a punchy, laconic style is a smart way to address most audiences.

It becomes infectious. I now run everything I read, from shop slogans to business cards, through the same filter. My pitiable career isn’t immune. Humbling to think 18 years can be condensed into one-sixth of a tweet: Jaded hack seeks jackpot.


Find out how you can get Peter to work his digital magic on your web or mobile project, take a look at PeterHill.com