Get Small to Get Big Word of Mouth

elephant and mouse_post1Wouldn’t it be great if your blog posts spread like wildfire through the social networks?

How do you get word-of-mouth like that?

Or, let’s say you’ve written a great guest post on a high-volume site, or you’re interviewed on radio. Overnight, thousands of new people discover your site.

Would you be ready? Would these new visitors be able to quickly determine if your site is relevant enough to them to subscribe, bookmark, or return?

They’d better be able to – and fast.

Because we now live in a bite-sized world: a world where people communicate in truncated words and phrases by typing rapidly with their thumbs on tiny devices.

But this is not a post about Twitter.

This is a post about how to communicate and be heard in the new era of chaotic message traffic and information overload.

If you want to get word-of-mouth, or even get noticed at all, you’re going to have to get small.


Short Attention Span Theater

Information overload may be new to the world, but sensory overload and complexity are not. And the human brain has evolved with a built-in solution.


And the solution may surprise you: When complexity reigns, the brain simplifies.

As Bill Schley points out in his great e-book, Survival of the Simplest – The Micro-Script Rules (available as a free download on ChangeThis):

Behavioral scientists tell us that, in moments of crisis, we shift to an unconscious intelligence that is remarkably fast and accurate . . . (these built-in rules) make us discard information, not collect more of it, to get smarter. When things get scary and complicated, our mental rules of thumb direct us to a much smaller set of more vital data. They tell us that simpler makes us smarter.

This is what your future customers are doing: They are simplifying. Right now.

In the face of complexity and overload, they are discarding information by:

•       Being more selective about which emails they even open, let alone read

•       Cutting down the amount of time they spend considering or reading any one item

•       And expecting fewer, easier steps in the shopping and buying process in general.

It’s not that long-form content is going anywhere. (Whew!) More than ever, people need good source material. In fact, The New York Times found that people shared longer, more in-depth articles more often than they did short ones.

Our question is: What caused these busy people to pause in the midst of their busy day to stop, read, and then share those long articles with others? What led those readers to that NYT article in the first place? In order to lead someone to your long-form content, you’ve got to get their attention first, and point out why they should care. And today, we have to help people make that decision in micro-seconds.

Beyond the Elevator Pitch and the USP

We know we need a short, memorable sentence or two to describe what we do when first meeting a potential client.

And then there’s the classic Unique Selling Proposition, the sentence that’s supposed to make customers stop in their tracks and notice you.

It’s not that the elevator pitch or the USP have been replaced.

It’s just that online, the amount of time we have to get our message across is shrinking in direct proportion to the amount of information available.

We now get to share our message in bite-sized, memorable chunks — one pithy phrase at a time.

So how do we accomplish this?

Short-change your emails

We prefer long-form posts, sent out weekly as full emails. It’s not the model we use on all our sites, but we feel it fits our vibe here.

We know our readers are busy, and not everyone on our list reads every one of our posts.

While our intention is to make every post as valuable as possible, our primary task is to provide a subject line that is a sort of “headline” for the post and email. That single line must quickly tell you, the reader, if this post is worthy of your valuable time. If my subject line doesn’t do this in a pithy, memorable way, I’ve lost your attention.

The idea here is to accept that your audience is busy and filtering, and write subject lines that help them filter successfully.  It’s not about writing such compelling subject lines that you trick them into reading an email they won’t ultimately find relevant. That is a sure way to lose your readers’ trust.

Go “meta” and get found online

Yes, your post titles are important – that’s how people scanning your site choose what to read – but when it comes to the search engines, it turns out the name of your post may not be nearly as important as your “meta tags.”

If you’re using WordPress with a great theme like Genesis, then as you create each post or page, you’ll see convenient little boxes in which you’ll enter short sentences called the meta title and the meta description. These carefully chosen words tell the search engines how to refer to your post or page in their database.

It’s how people will (or won’t) find you.

Very much like the subject line of an email, this short tag should be the perfectly tantalizing summation of what’s inside, and is often your first and last opportunity to bring new readers – and customers — to your site. Get it right, and each page becomes a valuable traffic asset that builds exponentially over time.

Get it wrong, and no one clicks through to your valuable content.

We can’t say enough about Scribe SEO, a simple piece of software that’s turning ordinary writers into SEO geniuses. Scribe helps you focus on creating content and meta-descriptions focused on how you want to be found online.

The software – easily added as a plug-in to your WordPress blog or used on the Scribe website — scans your content and gives you a score, literally telling you how likely you are to be found in the search engines for the keywords you most want to be found by.

Honey, I Shrunk The Site


Most of all, your site must be able to survive the new rules of small.

Google has been rolling out their Instant Preview feature all over the web, and they’re changing the search game, again.

Now, your potential readers can simply mouse over a little symbol next to your Google listing, and a small thumbnail view of your site pops up. Where a site owner used to have three seconds to get and keep someone’s attention once they arrived at their site, with the Instant Preview, our opportunity to get attention has been bite-sized.

Not only must you have great, clean design to catch the eye, but your bite-sized headlines had better be compelling, too.

And the screens are getting smaller too: your customers will increasingly find your site and want to interact with it while scrolling through content on smaller screens, on the subway, or while walking down the street. How does your site look on an iPhone?

How to shrink your message: create your “Micro-Scripts”

One of my favorite marketing books of the last year is by the same author of the e-book I mentioned above: Bill Schley’s The Micro-Script Rules.

Mr. Schley argues that the world is indeed more complex than ever, and those who will win attention – and sales – are those who know how to tell their story in “about one line or less.” In his ChangeThis e-book he lays out his philosophy:

The new hyper-connected, democratic technologies that allow every human being to become an instant mass media outlet have created a lot of message traffic—roughly 500 billion whizzing by per second. Your chances of getting a word in edgewise—just by “joining the conversation” as they cavalierly say—is an irrational hope. Unless you do three things.

And what are Mr. Schley’s three things?

  • Concentrate on more message, not just more medium—so you have something you want to say that switches on their imagination once you’ve got their attention.
  • Package your idea in the natural way the brain loves to receive—in fact, can’t resist. And…
  • Understand that in our hyper-connected world, it’s not what people hear that really matters; it’s what they repeat.

The Micro-Script Rules is a game-changer because Mr. Schley makes a critical distinction: An effective micro-script isn’t just a great tagline, subject line, or headline. A micro-script is something people want to repeat, tweet, and share.

And this word of mouth is the holy grail of marketing in the age of the short-attention span. His subtitle says it all: “It’s not what people hear. It’s what they repeat.”

That’s a great micro-script right there.

And of course, we can’t forget the twit …

And we come full circle: social media. There are plenty of software tools that instantly distribute your brilliant words out to all of the social media sites, in small, pithy chunks of bite-sized wisdom.

It’s in the social networks, increasingly in the future, your customers will find you.

Will your amazing (and small) self be ready?

Print Friendly


  1. Mark says

    Valuable resource, thank you! I just read the ebook you recommended “Survival of the Simplest,” and it’s outstanding. I’ve ordered the full book.
    You’ve given us a lot to think about with our marketing: “Getting small” is the hardest work of all, but you’ve convinced me it’s worth it.
    We look forward to reading more.

    • says

      Hi Mark,
      Thanks for commenting, and you’re right: distilling our points of difference into 8 words is some of the hardest work we do — but well worth it.

  2. says

    What I have found, but still don’t do effectively, is the more consistent I write the better. I only want to post the ideas that I think are really creative or brilliant. But, doing that sporadically isn’t as effective as consistent posts that are good.

    So the challenge for me is to not get too hung up on the perfect short phrase or title and get it out there. Besides, I have been surprised many times. What I think is okay, others love. What I think is brilliant, others miss.

    Do you think the perfect metadata is more important, or are you assuming we are all consistent and then short, brilliant is next?

    Thanks Keith.

    • says

      Hi Sue,
      Well, you certainly pack a lot into a short, pithy comment!
      I say yes to consistency and no to perfection — although I struggle with the exact same thing, to be honest — and i think most creative people who value clarity do.
      The truth is; for every pair of eyes who reads our posts there is another version of “perfect.”
      And that is what I LOVE about blogging: people like you, Sue, ask a question that points out to me the eight ways my post was imperfect — and in the process giving me eight new post ideas (thanks!)
      As to your question: Your hyper-responders, those who love and know you and really “grok” you, will read you no matter what the subject line or headline is.
      For your current readers, imperfect is great, it spurs the conversation. Churn consistency, be your perfectly imperfect self.
      BTW, this is also part of the process of generating great “micro-scripts:” In his book, Bill Schley talks about the process: You first write a full page, and then pull nuggets from that page–long form is first.)
      I’m talking about your future audience, your “next wave.”
      I’m working on a guest post for a big blog, and I’ve been sweating the headline for days. That’s when this is important: when we want to draw someone to us, we’ve got to open the door, and the more micro the script, the bigger the doorway.
      Hope that helps!
      Thanks as always for the great comment.

  3. says

    I have had the same experience as Sue. The more I write, the easier it becomes.

    Over the last few weeks, I have started writing every day. Although, as you know, I’ve always written consistently, I’ve never written this MUCH. Writing every day is daunting, but it’s working out better than I could have expected.

    Along with posting tons of new stuff to our own sites, I’m also writing guest posts for other great blogs and generating conversations. As you say, these posts spur on more posts. In fact, other people have even riffed off my posts for their blogs too. It’s pretty cool 😉

    • says

      Hi Susan,
      When others start “riffing” your posts, you know you’ve written something that matters, or at least is interesting. Keep going!

  4. iala says

    Thought-provoking piece, as always.
    I agree with Mark: The book Micro-Script Rules is a valuable resource, indeed! I just read the kindle version, and I am thinking now about my marketing differently.
    In the book he talks about first finding your ‘Dominant Selling Idea,’ which is his replacement for USP.
    You’ve spoken about this in different ways on your site.
    Do you have any thoughts on how an independent professional would go about finding their DSI? I understand the author’s series of DSI questions for companies, but my online “platform” is not a “company.” Thank you again for this thought-provoking piece.

    • says

      Hi Iala,
      Glad you liked the book. We’re using it all the time lately–with companies as well as individuals.
      Tough question to answer in a comment, this is the core of what we help people do, and if it were easy (especially for service professionals), we’d have a lot less to do!
      That said, I would think the process begins with blending your passions/expertise with a ready and willing market/audience and then narrowing your niche until it’s something you can “own.” Answer Mr. Schley’s DSI questions from that perspective. Also, check out this post:
      I think it might be helpful.
      Thanks for reading, Iala.

  5. Mark says

    Like Iala, I too just finished the book. It is superb, and really has my wheels spinning for our web properties–and, it’s a lot to consider.
    Not sure what workshops you are planning, but I’m with Iala–I would enjoy a workshop focusing on finding the niche and/or “DSI.”
    Thanks again for the resource,
    Mark Christian

    • says

      You and Iala and several others have inspired us to move up the completion of our niche-development workshop for service professionals.
      Thanks for your thoughts, and we’ll keep posted . . .

  6. Iala says

    Mark, what a great idea! Keith, if we could vote, I prefer a workshop over the phone, I only travel to the United States once or twice a year (and rarely during the winter months :-)
    Thank you for your articles and words of wisdom, I am learning very much every week.

    • says

      You’re on! We do one workshop per year live (in a very warm, sunny location!)
      Most of our workshops these days are done via teleseminar, a combination of phone and online “whiteboard.”
      We’re putting together the niching workshop now.
      Also look for our “Blogging Bootcamp” teleseminar, launching very soon.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *