Try not to be unintelligible
That’s unintelligible. Not unintelligent. Here’s why.
This year, Stanford University has taken on Facebook with a new, super-secure social networking app, called Omlet. (Not to be confused with the UK website for keepers of chickens – really, it exists.) Stanford University’s registrar Tom Black says the university needed a secure, privacy-protected way to connect their more than sixteen thousand students, staff and alumni. So they developed Omlet, a new product by mobile social platform startup MobiSocial, that uses the University’s directory to connect, share files, discuss projects, even flirt. Omlet now has the “world’s most advanced privacy protection technology”. According to Stanford Professor Monica Lam, also the co-founder and CEO of MobiSocial, the company that technically owns Omlet, MobiSocial promises never to monetize users’ data in any way. The company stores users’ data only for two weeks on Omlet’s servers to handle disconnected devices.
Though the tech market is waiting with bated breath to see what impact – if any – this will have on other social media networks, the point is that the Worm Has Turned. Users no longer want to put up with being (mis)used. So, Omlet is tailor-made for today’s users, users concerned with integrity and quality of data, users who don’t want their photos leaked, their likes and unlikes re-used, and their buying habits shared with all and sundry. And then get these weird limitations on their Google searches. These are smart users. And interestingly, they don’t like bad grammar either, for two good reasons: 1) it’s unsexy; 2) it’s hard enough to communicate good content in standard accepted English – doing it in Twitter-speak or texting acronyms is almost impossible and just, well, beside the point.
You might say, digital flirting is not relevant to business communications, but it is. It is critically important to the people who are communicating, it is sensitive, it needs to be succinct, it is really difficult, since you may not have met the person in whom you are interested, and it can have disastrous results if done badly. So is business communications – the topics just differ.
Bad grammar is unsexy
The findings were:
Women don’t like:
1. Funky or very informal spelling (73 percent disapproval rating)
2. Lack of punctuation and grammar (59 percent disapprove)
3. Excessive slang (54 percent disapprove)
4. Messages during sleeping hours (51 percent disapprove)
5. All lowercase words (50 percent disapprove)
Men don’t like:
1. Funky or very informal spelling (58 percent disapproval rating)
2. Multiple exclamation points in chat messages (47 percent disapprove)
3. Lack of punctuation and grammar (46 percent disapprove)
4. All lowercase words (41 percent disapprove)
5. Excessive slang — LOL, BRB, WTF (40 percent disapprove)
To conduct this survey, Omlet surveyed a sample representative of 1,000 adults and young people. One thing that both genders agreed on that they like are emoticons and emojis, I suppose because they communicate emotion when the writer cannot describe how they feel in words. Not everyone is a poet.
Why these results? Well, it just makes sense doesn’t it?
Adults rate other adults by how much education they have had, how well they communicate, and not only by how they dress and what brand they have, or how many Facebook “friends” they have, but what’s in their heads. How they think. It stands to reason then, if you communicate in poor English – or any other language – you come across as stupid, uneducated, child-like. Say “like” every second word, and you come across as naive, self-doubting and, let’s face it, underage. Use a word wrongly and someone who knows better will smirkingly correct it in their head and think, “doofus”. Say the F-word every second word, and other people have no doubt you have a shortage of vocabulary and a lot of pent-up rage. So if you are issuing business communications, even on Twitter, the rules are plain:
- Spell properly. (Don’t give anyone an excuse to put a (sic) after your words when they quote you.)
- Stop with the exclamation marks. (If something isn’t intrinsically exciting, adding exclamation marks won’t make it so – women’s gossip mags beware.)
- Quit with the slang, business or otherwise. (You and yours might know to what you are referring, but don’t drive your readers to Google to search for the meanings of your acronyms.)
- Use proper punctuation. (Don’t let people wonder which phrase describes what. That’s what commas are for. Full-stops help in reading – they are like virtual deep breaths.)
- Stick to business or waking hours with your send-outs. (If you are tweeting at half past one in the morning, I will know for sure you do not have work-life balance, you sad person.)
- Don’t let your Language Ego get you. (Think you are just Practically Perfect in Every Way? Go do a TOEFL or IELTS test. The results will probably be eye-opening. I did and had a serious wake-up call.)
Bad grammar makes communication unintelligible
Another reason why using good English is necessary is that brands spend a great deal of time and money on great content when they remove the intermediary by building a private, in-app social experience. If you are going to go to the expense and trouble to build direct communications with your users, then the first requirement is to make sure they read and understand what you have to say. That’s the most basic requirement.
In a world where many people do not live and work in the place they were born, and multiple languages proliferate in the workplace, a lingua franca is essential. It’s funny how English mother tongue speakers seem to blithely assume all other English speakers around them communicate exactly the way they do, and understand things the same. The English of second or foreign language users may look like English, even sound like English, but a lot gets lost in translation. And then there’s the matter of interlanguage fossilization…
To prevent communication errors, and make sure your message is understood and your great content is appreciated, you need to Write Things Out Properly. Messing with the standard usage by reverting to jargon is just plain short-sighted and ultimately unproductive.
Weird Al Jankovic gets it
If Weird Al gets it, don’t you think it’s time the guys in your Marketing Department got it too?