how to write CTAs

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How to Write Killer Call-To-Action Phrases with Examples for Social Media, Blogs, Emails & More

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Chapter 3

Writing Your Own Call-To-Action Phrases

Using the right words on social media is an art – however, anyone can do it once they learn how. Here are some things to keep in mind while you draft your own compelling call-to-action phrases.

Use Active Language

An effective call-to-action uses active language. That means using strong verbs and adverbs.

Don’t worry – you don’t have to be a grammar expert to draft a compelling social media call-to-action phrase. But here’s a quick review of the kinds of words you’re going to want in your CTA:

  • Verb – A verb is the part of a sentence that signals action, an occurrence, or a state of being. Whether mental, physical, or mechanical, verbs always express activity.
  • Adverb – An adverb describes the when, where, how, and how often of the verb. Here are some adverbs that a successful call-to-action might have:
  • Don’t forget to sprinkle some winning adjectives in your call-to-action phrases. Use adjectives that fit your tone and product; don’t overpower your CTA with them, or else your call-to- action will look overdone and desperate, like a spam email subject line. Use adjectives that fit your tone and product; don’t overpower your CTA with them, or else your call-to- action will look overdone and desperate, like a spam email subject line.

Be Specific

When asking your customers to act, be specific. Without specific instructions for the action, or a decided reason why they should be fulfilling that action, some customers won’t feel compelled (or even able) to act.

Robert Cialdini, Regents’ Professor Emeritus of Psychology and Marketing at Arizona State University, put the power of specificity to the test in his book, Influence, with an experiment done using an in-office copy machine. The experiment examined how different requests might affect people’s willingness to let someone who is in a hurry cut in line for the copy machine.

The participant who was to cut in line for the copy machine used three different lines to help them do so:

  • Excuse me, I have 5 pages. May I use the Xerox machine?
  • I have 5 pages. May I use the Xerox machine, because I am in a rush?
  • Excuse me, I have 5 pages. May I use the Xerox machine because I have to make copies?

In the first scenario, around 60% of people allowed him to cut in line and use the copy machine first. In the second, slightly more specific scenario, 94% of people allowed the participant to cut in line. And in the third scenario 93% of people let him go first.

So, why the huge jump in percentage between the first scenario and the last two?

As Cialdini says: “A well-known principle of human behavior says that when we ask someone to do us a favor we will be more successful if we provide a reason. People simply like to have reasons for what they do.” As the third scenario showed us, that’s true even if the reason doesn’t quite make sense!

Want an example of how social media call-to-action phrases can benefit from specificity? Look no further than your local police department. Take for example, this Facebook post from the Tallahassee Police Department:

tallahasee police department facebook post

This picture of a young woman is followed with specific information that is necessary to help viewers understand the importance of sharing this post. That information includes the fact that the teen is missing, when she was last seen, when, and how social media users can act. Although such specific detail is not necessary in most commercial posts, try to imagine this post without it. Were this post to contain only the image of the missing teen and the text “please share,” without any other specifics, the audience would have no idea why they should act, and might not even understand that this person was missing.

Here are some examples of how being specific can benefit a social media call-to-action:

Don't say:

Deals deals deals! Offer ending soon!

Please share.

Like us.

Do say:

Get 40% off power drills! Use code POWER40. Offer ends at midnight!

Dog Found! Border Collie/Beagle mix, black and white, female about 30 lbs. Please share and help us find her owners!

If you love our posts, then you’ll love our page! Like us!

Know Who You’re Calling To

Different people respond to different things. To write a good call-to-action, you have to remember who you are calling to. What is your company’s demographic? What age group are they? Are they predominantly male or female? What are their interests?

Entertainment companies such as MTV, Refinery29, and Buzzfeed know their demographic well, which is why they have a strong presence on Snapchat, a platform where the majority of users are females (women account for 70% of Snapchat users) in their teens or early twenties. Let’s peek at what that looks like:

snapchat discover tool

Notice how the words used in these call-to-action phrases appeal specifically to the target demographic. Using the vocabulary of your audience is essential to a functional CTA.

Here, you can see how the titles of these articles hardly even seem like call-to-action phrases; the action is not directly stated, yet the phrase still manages to incite action from their audience. This is a great tactic for drawing readers to entertainment articles and informal blog posts.

Don't:

Call upon your audience to act in a way that doesn’t resonate with who they are or what they want.

Use adjectives that don’t fit your demographic.

Do:

Make sure that the tone and word choice used in your call-to-action fit your brand and are relatable to your audience.

Make sure that your call-to-action phrase is something that your audience will actually want and be able to do.

Create Urgency

Urgency is a great way to get customers to act in the here and now. According to behavioral psychologists, urgent situations cause us to suspend deliberate thought and to act quickly. Urgency can help incentivize spur of the moment purchases, and erases some of the friction of buying.

Here’s an example of how CanvasBold uses urgency to encourage clicks:

canvasbold

The phrase “limited time only” puts pressure on the viewer to check out the sale now, rather than later, when it might be over. As Business Insider contributor, Rishon Roberts, writes: “The idea of FOMO, or fear of missing out, is often sardonically considered a part of life in the digital age; but to every marketer’s delight, FOMO rears its ugly head each time a potential customer is pushed to buy, knowing that the offer may no longer stand.”

Here are some social media call-to-action examples that harness the power of urgency:

  • “Quick, before it runs out.”
  • “Hurry! Offer valid until midnight.”
  • “Offer expires soon.”
  • “Act now!”
  • “Only a few left in stock!”
  • “Limited time only!”
  • “One-time offer!”
  • “Guarantee your spot!”

Show Off Exclusivity

If you’re the only one who has it, why not flaunt it? By showing off your exclusivity in your call-to-action, your customer will know that if they want your product, they’re going to have to get it from you.

Check out this social media call-to-action example where Hulu shows off its exclusive rights:

hulu twitter

Even if it’s not technically impossible for your customers to get a similar product somewhere else, you can still use exclusivity in your social media call-to-action to drive home a sale.

Here are some example CTA phrases that help you show off your exclusive products and deals:

  • “Only on…”
  • “Available exclusively at…”
  • “Exclusive access…”
  • “Members only…”
  • “Receive access by…”

Gratify Instantly

Is your product easy to get or sign up for? Can it be obtained immediately?

If so, your call-to-action is the perfect place to tell the world. After all, if the success of Netflix’s instant streaming, Amazon Prime’s 2-day shipping, and Uber’s immediate ride service have taught us anything, it’s that customers love instant gratification.

To see how companies use call-to-action phrases that promise instant gratification, check out this example below from UberEATS, Uber’s ever-expanding food delivery service:

ubereats twitter

Here, UberEATS does several things right. Their call-to-action reminds Twitter users of both the speed and the ease of the service, while invoking the craving that they offer to remedy.

Here are some call-to-action examples that you can use to show social media users that you have the quick, easy service that they crave.

  • “Download instantly…”
  • “Start streaming today…”
  • “Get it now…”
  • “Instant access…”

“Free” is one of the most powerful words that you can use to pique a customer’s interest in your product or service. The attraction to getting something for free is so strong, that customers will actually make different choices – even when those choices share the same intrinsic value – just to secure a freebie.

In his book, Predictably Irrational, Duke professor Dan Arley offers an explanation from the perspective of behavioral economics:

“We often pay too much when we pay nothing… Most transactions have an upside and a downside, but when something is FREE! we forget the downside. FREE! gives us such an emotional charge that we perceive what is being offered as immensely more valuable than it really is.”

And, Arley has research to back this up. To test the power of the word “free” in relation to its concrete value, Arley asked participants to choose between a one cent Hershey’s Kiss and a 15 cent Lindt truffle. The truffle, at about half its actual value (and generally considered to be a finer chocolate than the Kiss), seemed like a steal to participants, who preferred the truffle 73% of the time.

Then, Arley lowered the price by one more cent. Now, the truffle cost 14 cents, and the Hershey’s Kiss was free. This minor change was enough for participants to alter their choices drastically. This time, only 31% percent of people chose the truffle – a whopping 69% opted for the free Kiss instead.

While it isn’t a good business strategy to offer everything away for free, offering a free perk, bonus, or reward (or even sticking the word “FREE” on something that would have been free anyway) in your call- to-action is a great way to capture your audience’s attention on social media.

Here are some ways you might use the word “free” to spur your followers into action:

  • “Free download…”
  • “Start your free trial…”
  • “Get your free copy…”
  • “Join for free…”

Promote Novelty

When you have a new item in stock or a new service that you’re offering, your brand becomes more attractive to customers. That’s because customers enjoy new, innovative products and upgrades. Use your call-to-action to invite your customers to be the first to try something new.

Check out how Ben & Jerry’s successfully promoted their newest flavor:

ben and jerrys twitter

The ice cream company managed to call upon their customers to do several things in this Tweet. Not only did they promote their new flavor, they also used the word “FREE” to incentivize purchases, and advertised their product as something made instantly available for select privileged audiences.

Here are some power words that you can use to promote novelty in your social media call-to-action:

  • “New…”
  • “Introducing…”
  • “Our newest…”
  • “New and improved…”

Capitalize on Curiosity

One of the best way to inspire clicks and empower your audience is through knowledge… specifically, by making them thirst for knowledge they don’t already have. But why exactly is curiosity so motivating?

Scientists define curiosity as a cognitive process which leads to the behavior perceived as motivation; in other words, what we are curious about directly motivates us.

If you don’t spark your customers’ curiosity in your call-to-action, there might as well not be a call-to- action in the first place.

There are several ways to appeal directly to your customers’ curiosity. One is by using call-to-action phrases that promise your customer the answer to a question that you have posed. This is a great way to get your followers to watch videos, read articles, and more. Another way is by providing an interesting excerpt from your content, which subtly calls to your followers to click to learn more.

Organizations such as NPR, that post a lot of educational content, have mastered the art of capturing customer curiosity in just a few sentences:

NPR facebook

The great thing about capitalizing on curiosity in your social media CTA is that not only does it result in customers following up on an action – it also empowers your customers by teaching them more about your product (and any other fun facts you may have written about!

Here are some social media call-to-action examples that you can use when appealing to your customers’ thirst for knowledge.

  • “Learn more…”
  • “Find out…”
  • “Here’s why…”
  • “Guess what happens…”

Use Reverse Psychology

Sometimes the best call-to-action is a call-to-inaction. Although this probably won’t work for every company or every strategy, it is an interesting and oddly compelling way to call upon your customers.

Check out how the company Voodoo uses this social media call-to-action technique below:

voodoo instagram

The idea for using this is that when people are told they can’t have something, or that they shouldn’t do something, they want to have or do it even more. When people are told that something is off limits, they often feel resentment for the figure who is telling them no, and reassert their freedom by rebelling.

Call on Mobile

More and more, social media is being accessed from smartphones, rather than computers (some social media apps, such as Snapchat, aren’t even usable on desktop). When you are giving your customers a call-to-action, mix it up: what could they do from mobile? How can you call upon them to integrate you into their mobile lives?

One example of a company that does a great job of this is Resistbot. Resistbot encourages people to get involved politically via social media and text messenger. The idea is simple: text or message Resistbot and it help you get in touch with your elected officials. Check out how they use their social media call to mobile action below:

resistbot facebook

Be Straightforward

If you want something, you have to ask for it. That means being very direct about asking people to like, share, or comment on your content, instead of just hoping they’ll do it.

Award winning social media scientist, Dan Zarrella, performed a study where he compared 1.2 million posts from the top 10,000 most liked Facebook pages. What he found was that posts that used the words “like,” “comment,” or “share,” tended to gather more of the specific action they asked for compared to posts without those words.

Even though you might want it all, ask your followers for one action at a time. For example, if you call upon customers to like/comment/share your post, like your page, and join your emailing list, they are less likely to do any of those things than if you were to ask them to simply share it.

Relate Actions to Social Media Goals

It’s great to have an effective call-to-action that boosts engagement. Just don’t forget to make sure that your call-to-action relates to your ultimate goals.

When coming up with your own social media call-to-action phrases, examine your company goals. Ask yourself how your call-to-action could help your company meet those goals. Does your company want to promote a new product that’s being released? Does it want to expand its audience and tap into new markets? Does it want to create better processes for collecting feedback and implementing change?

Your call-to-action can help with all of the above, and more!

If you don’t have any pressing company goals, take a look at your social media goals. Rather than getting comfortable with vanity metrics (such as asking your followers to like your post), see if you can use your CTA to achieve your most valuable metrics and objectives.

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