While I certainly have plenty of strong opinions about writing (specifically) and communicating (in general), I am also bursting with questions. Let's call this the first in a continuing series.
I am ncmptnt at FB abrv8shuns!
See? As a language purist, all these LMAOs and OMGs and IMHOs and TTYLs really don't seem to fit in the world I know and understand. (How funny is this: I just had to look those up by Googling "Twitter Abbreviations"!) However, I am also a big believer in accepting and even embracing those things I cannot change or influence. And these things are here to stay.
So, as Jules says in Pulp Fiction "I'm tryin', Ringo. I'm tryin' real hard." I love the functional benefits that come with Facebook and Twitter and LinkedIn, etc., so fluency in social media abbreviations will happen. It's sort of like going to live in a foreign country; eventually you become fluent in the new language.
But so far, this has all been about choices that I make in my personal life. This question also impacts business. For marketers and advertisers, a presence on Facebook and Twitter is practically required in order to be seen as relevant. And the competent marketer must tailor the message to the media and the audience, so repurposing the message that went up on a billboard or a print ad is simply not good enough.
You have to be timely to the point of being immediate. But most important, you only have 140 characters.
Intuitively, a posting filled with abbreviations contains several bad connotations to me. First, it sounds like jargon that is specific to a narrowly defined group, and that means it has to exclude people who are not members of the group. Perhaps this is true, and the "group" consists of really cool people who consider themselves ahead of the curve culturally and technologically. If this is the case, then a good marketer can tailor the message to appeal to the "group" and that would seem to include an occasional Gr8 or TY.
I think what I'm struggling with is that it also comes across as a little sloppy or lazy to me. However, fessed up to being a "language purist" at the beginning of this post, so that may be something I am in the process of overcoming as I get used to this new environment.
So, I put the question to you, esteemed reader: Is there a place for social media abbreviations in marketing and advertising?
For most business clients, thoroughness is a virtue. It's part of the attention to detail that enabled them to become successful in the first place, a reflection of their dedication and discipline. Often, though, these instincts can bog down the client's marketing message. And it takes some artful persuading sometimes to get the client to buy in to the less-is-more concept.
Think about the process that takes place when you're working with the client. It starts with you coming to an understanding of the client's business needs. Once you've written your copy, you present it to the client for review. This is followed by revisions based on client feedback until finally you get an approval. And all this takes place solely between you and your client(s).
So, who is missing from this dynamic? How about the reader, the person we actually want a response from?
Most clients are excited about their work, and they are experts at what they do. And because they have egos, their natural impulse is to communicate the benefits of their business in a way that they would respond to, which is very thoroughly and in great detail. It's your job to keep the reader in mind at all times. It's your job as the writer to make sure that only the content that serves the purpose of meeting the client's business needs gets through. A big part of your role is to make sure that the reader is represented in the back-and-forth that takes place between you and your client.
One of my favorite examples of copy that is too thorough comes from the hospitality industry. Thankfully, this is becoming less and less common, but ten years ago, it was easy to find an ad or brochure for a hotel that would list among its amenities "Color cable TV," usually as one of a long list of bullets. The last time color cable TV was a considered a "nice" hotel amenity was some time in the 1980s but this bullet point persisted until recent years, even though the most vile, bedbug infested hotels in the worst neighborhoods had color cable TVs in each room. But every time I tried to take it out, the marketer always wanted to put it back in. And I challenge anyone to persuade me that a color cable TV resulted in even a single additional room booking after 1983.
It may take some skilled negotiating to convince your client that their instincts to be thorough and detail oriented is a disservice to their marketing message, but as the writer, you have to do your best to make your case.
This advice actually came from book on writing fiction, but I think it works for most kinds of writing. During editing, see if you can get rid of as many adjectives and adverbs as possible. You will have to further revise to maintain the meaning you intended. However, by communicating the same information with as few modifiers as possible, you can't help but to write stronger copy.
Here's why. Adjectives and adverbs are shortcuts. Think of the phrase "We came across an old farmhouse." If a thousand people read that phrase, the writer is intending for the word "old" to mean the same thing to all thousand readers. By any definition, that makes it a cliche. If you remove the modifier, though, you are forced to describe the details of what makes the farmhouse "old" in order to convey the same meaning. It's more work on the writer's part, but the end result is worth the effort.
"We came across a farmhouse overgrown by thistle and black chokeberry bush. The wood panels were gray and the grain had split open on many of the panels, leaving deep grooves running lengthwise along the boards."
Most writers can relate to the feeling that clients don't always see the value of their service. It's true that some potential clients consider "competent" writing – writing that follows the rules of grammar and spelling correctly – sufficient for their business needs. So how does a professional writer help the client understand the value of writing that takes that technical competence and uses it to target specific business objectives.
The key, I think, is to understand the discussion from the potential client's point of view. Strive to understand what's important to the client, and communicate in a way that is meaningful to them. Too often, writers deliver the "I am a strong writer" message, relying too much on work samples, awards or experience as the primary message. This is mostly meaningful to you, the writer, and your writer's ego.
Potential clients only want to spend money to meet their business needs (and can you blame them, really?), so you have to show how your way with words meets those needs. You must communicate how your service leads to results that they (not you) will be happy with. Focus on understanding their business and meeting their needs and your message will be much more persuasive.
Marta Kagan's "Bonafide Marketing Genius" Blog
Andre Sanders' "Running Without Condition" Blog
Jessica Sneeringer's "Mal-Diction" Blog