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The PAS Copywriting Formula: It’s Especially Good for Social Media

Award-winning writer Kathy Widenhouse has helped hundreds of nonprofits and writers produce successful content and has gained 600K+ views for her writing tutorials. She is the author of 9 books. See more of Kathy’s content here.

The PAS copywriting formula, says millionaire-maker and business strategist Dan Kennedy, is  “the most reliable sales formula ever invented.”

PAS stands for Problem-Agitate-Solve or Problem-Agitate-Solution. 

The PAS Copywriting Formula with Word Wise at Nonprofit Copywriter #WritingTips #Copywriting #SocialMediaCopywriting

The PAS framework is straightforward. You start out by describing a problem. Then you point out what would happen if the problem persisted or got worse. Finally, you explain how your answer, product, or service solves the problem.

It’s so simple. Which is one reason that in the copywriting universe – more specifically, social media copywriting -- the PAS copywriting formula is a biggee.

But before digging into Problem-Agitate-Solve examples, you’ll want to be convinced you should try it. Why does the PAS copywriting formula work so reliably?

Pain: It’s at the Heart of the PAS Copywriting Formula 

At the core of any decision – even the quick ones that you make when you read a social media post – is the Pain-Pleasure principle. Sigmund Freud put the principle on paper way back in 1895. He explained that human beings are hardwired to seek pleasure and avoid pain. So much so that we will go to overwhelming effort in order to meet our need for gratification or avoid discomfort. 

Yet the push against pain and the tug towards pleasure are not equal. 

We have a greater aversion to pain than attraction to pleasure, according to psychologists Daniel Kahneman and Amon Tversky. Their Prospect Theory, first formed in 1979, demonstrated how people view gains and losses. People do so disproportionately. We immensely prefer avoiding losses to acquiring corresponding gains.

The reader’s “problem” takes center stage in the PAS formula.  When you set forth a problem in your writing, you uncover readers’ pain. Readers are not interested in staying in that zone of discomfort. Stir it up a bit – agitate –  and readers want out. They are ready to jump at your solution. 

That’s why the Problem-Agitate-Solve approach is so persuasive. You show readers why they’re uncomfortable and offer them an out. Or, you get a click, a Like, a comment, or a response.

Why PAS Works So Well in Social Media Copywriting 

The PAS copywriting formula is particularly useful in social media copywriting, where you don’t have lot of time or space. Readers are scrolling. You don’t want them thinking TLDR (Too Long, Didn’t Read). Instead, you’re trying to grab their attention. 

What better way that to bring up something that makes them cringe and then offer a way to avoid it? Distaste for discomfort runs deep.

The key to PAS success is not staying in the “problem” zone. You don’t want to leave readers in a dark spot. You want to lift them out of their abyss (or worry or disappointment) and move them to a better place. Solutions: that’s the whole reason you write, right? And solving the problem is the exclamation point on this copywriting formula.

That’s why the PAS copywriting formula is so useful in social media and other short-form content like email or a blog post intro. You can present the problem with a simple question, emphasize the issue a bit, and then give a quick solution with a link for more information. 

Problem-Agitate-Solve Examples

Here are a couple of Problem-Agitate-Solve examples to wet your writing whistle.

Content writer – or want to be one? [Problem] Yet you’re confused about getting started. [Agitate] Get 5 simple writing tips you can use right away no matter what your niche. Click here. [Solution] 

What to look for when you buy tomato plants [Problem]: dark green foliage. Pale green or yellow coloration indicates a nutrient deficiency. [Agitate] And check for two other telltale signs of healthy plants. Learn more. [Solution] 

Another Version of the PAS Copywriting Formula

Before-After-Bridge: it’s another copywriting formula used in social media copywriting and other content by plenty of experts, including those at the Buffer blog.  The formula is very similar to Problem-Agitate-Solve.

  • Before: “Here’s what your problem looks like”
  • After: “Here’s what your world looks like when your problem is solved”
  • Bridge: “Here’s how to get there”

The main difference between the two? The PAS copywriting formula stirs up the pot – “agitates” a bit more.  

So should you think of Problem-Agitate-Solve as a focus on the negative? No. You’re helping readers to face their problem and ultimately, solve it. 

That’s not negative. That’s one big positive. And that’s one reason Problem-Agitate-Solve (PAS) is the most reliable sales formula ever invented.

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