You may have heard people throwing around the term “word cloud” here and there in blogs and newsletters lately. If for whatever reason that’s as far as you’ve gotten, here is a quick cheat sheet to get you started with this fun and powerful new tool.

What Are Word Clouds?
Also called tag clouds or weighted lists, word clouds are a way to visually represent the content of a block of text. This text can be pulled from websites, blogs, social media profiles, even the Magna Carta if one were so inclined. A word cloud teases out the most common words found in that text and shows them in a way the lets the viewer know what words are used in a text and with what kind of frequency.

The word cloud at the top of this post was created with Wordle, and represents all of the content found on the Pagemodo blog.

Why Should I Make a Word Cloud?
Beyond the obvious – satisfying your curiosity – word clouds have several useful applications for social media and marketing. Here are a few reasons to make your own:

  1. Get to know your customers and how they view you. Try asking your fans or followers to post words that they think describe your brand. Paste all the answers into a word cloud generator to understand what the most common impressions of your brand really are.
  2. Get to know yourself and how you portray your brand. Submit your blog, website, or social media profile for a very honest look at the themes that are occurring most regularly in your content. Are they in line with your intended messaging?
  3. Get to know your competitors. Identify a brand whose online presence is popular with the customers you want to reach. Create a word cloud from their content, and you’ll get a pretty clear picture of what words and themes hook your target market.

Where Can I Create One?
As word clouds gain popularity, more and more tools for creating them will emerge. Smashing Apps recently compiled a good list of free creation sites, which you can find here. One of the most popular is Wordle, which takes either a blog of pasted text or a URL with an RSS feed to create your word cloud. You can then customize the font, layout, color, etc. to meet your needs. Below is a screenshot of the creation of a word cloud using the text of this blog entry:

Try it out for yourself and let us know what you think!

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