Monday, November 12, 2012

Being polite and formal enough in the social media age

Of the many varied jobs I've done in my life, quite a few of them have allowed me to exercise my "stickler-for-correct-grammar" gene. I've proofread academic journals, and I've taught English as a second language. I have emailed committee chair people to complain about a document that uses "it's" when it should be "its". Yes, it can be said, I like things to be correct, at least most of the time*.

Spotted in a bookshop, apparently! Eeekk!
With the advent of character limitations for text messages and for sites like Twitter, there is a kind of excuse out there for being lazy or slack about grammar rules, correct spelling and the like. And of course there are all those companies who use "R" in their name to represent "are". Would an extra two letters really have killed you? But despite these excuses, I think that a good 95% of the time there is no reason not to use good English when you write something - especially if that something is going to be published online for all the world to see for eternity.

It's not just about grammar and spelling, either. You have to use the level of formality and politeness that the situation demands. Call me a boring old Generation X-er but there is nothing wrong with being polite and friendly at the same time.

My rant: Replies to an advertisement

And I have some examples. Every year or so, I have to advertise to find a new tenant for a small apartment I own in Perth. Every year or so, I complain for days on end to anyone who'll listen about the quality of the replies I get.

Just a few examples, with names changed to protect the not-so-innocent (oh, hang on ... most of them didn't even include their names!) ... and note that the snippets below aren't extracts, they are the entire email messages these people sent to me (yes, emails, with no limit on how many characters they could use).
is this place still available?
Hello, Interested in this Rental. Would be able to rent ASAP. please contact me as I would like to view this property. 
 Hi there. Curious about this apartment As me and my partner are looking for somewhere to live. It seems perfect for the both of us. Willing to pay rent every week as we both work fulltime. Please get back to me. [This is better than others, but I love the fact that they are willing to pay the rent every week! Fantastic!]
The first thing that strikes me is this - if "ur" too lazy to use a few extra keystrokes, are you going to be too lazy to keep my unit clean? Or to pay the rent on time? And if they don't feel introducing themselves is necessary, what's that all about? I should add that there's a massive demand for rentals in Perth at the moment so they really should be thinking about a better approach. Honestly - I just delete all of these ones and focus on the people who bother to introduce themselves.

What's this got to do with social media?

So what about if you're posting on Facebook or Twitter, or writing a blog post? It's the same: get it right! Use correct spelling, check your grammar. Don't use dumb abbreviations unless absolutely necessary (even on Twitter, I generally just rewrite an important tweet to avoid using "u" or "r" to stand in as words).

A lot of people confuse the idea of writing in a casual style with not caring about writing correctly. I can't emphasise enough that they are totally different things. Even if a proportion of your readers don't notice your spelling mistakes or aren't annoyed by your abbreviations, I promise you that plenty of them will be annoyed by it. In a well-known example, online shoe store Zappos paid people to correct grammar and spelling errors in customer reviews and this increased their revenue - people place more faith in something they read when it's accurate.

This may mean you need to get a friend to proofread your work ... this may mean you need to get back to basics and brush up on grammar. I think it'd be worth it. The way I see it, the way what you write is perceived on social media is a vital part of the perception that people have of you and your business - and you definitely want that perception to be good, don't you?

*And I hope to goodness that there are no such errors in this blog post!

Image credit: via Flickr/CC


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