Did a Company Really Tweet That? Don’t Make Me Twiggle

August 8, 2011

Can you imagine wearing flip-flops and shorts around the office, or writing to colleagues, clients, or customers with “LOL” and “BRB?” A tad inappropriate and rather awkward…right? Maybe not, judging by much of the corporate writing seen on the Internet today. Many companies have turned to online mediums to engage their customers directly, bypassing traditional advertising for social media platforms. And when it comes to grammar, it’s like the old rules don’t apply. Abbreviations, slang terms, fragmented sentences and even made-up words are the bread and butter of today’s corporate online marketer.

Since first learning to string words together into a sentence, teachers and now college professors have steered me away from playing fast and loose with grammar. They’ve imprinted upon me the absolute necessity of suitable sentence structure and precise punctuation in achieving the correct (non-colloquial…) tone in writing. This, they would say dramatically, was to prepare me for the dreaded “real world.”

Coming to STARKMAN this summer reinforced what I learned about using formal language and maintaining the proper tone when communicating with clients. I’ve learned how to craft a memo and a press release into something unique and interesting while still using accepted business language.

However, a significant aspect of my internship here at STARKMAN has involved keeping up with the news on behalf of clients, which means spending quite a bit of time reading a broad range of publications. As a committed member of Generation Y, that means more than getting a little newspaper ink on my hands. I compliment traditional news mediums with online ones, such as blogs and Twitter. All of these sources play an integral role in my daily interactions with the outside world. Twitter has real time news updates that keep me current, and blogs are particularly poignant when searching for opposing opinions on a trending news story or seeing what major industry players are talking about on a given day.

Interestingly – and opposite my expectations – I found social media content from corporations to frequently disobey the golden rules of grammar, punctuation and style. And I’m not quite so sure that’s necessarily a good thing.

For example, consider a common blog and Twitter occurrence: the made-up word. Pronouncing a word wrong and creating a new one in error has happened to everyone – even Sarah Palin (see the completely fictional word ‘refudiate’), but the type of word to which I’m referring is when two words are forcibly smashed together and form a new, (supposedly) more accurate word (such as the word in this title – twiggle: a giggle caused by twitter). This used to be a common tactic of branding professionals to develop names for companies and products, but now it seems everyone is jumping on the bandwagon.

Let’s look at a few self-crafted words for reference:

While it is expected that conversations among friends and family will be peppered with informal words and incorrect usage, corporations used to adhere to some degree of formality in their communication with targeted audiences. But, not anymore. Why is that? An easy explanation may be that if it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck – it probably is a duck. Corporations are delegating the role of social media upkeep to Gen Y employees thus ensuring the authenticity of their communication to the target audience.

Without a doubt, however, it also reflects a desire, almost desperation to connect to the everyday reader or, as marketers like to say, “to engaaaaage” their audience. There is so much competition in a consumer-driven world that every entity trying to reach a consumer (or more specifically, their wallet) must differentiate themselves in order to be heard above the din. Corporate lingo and buzzwords don’t resonate well with the everyday consumer, as companies now increasingly recognize. And, as the list above illustrates, even professional journalists are throwing out their AP and MLA Stylebooks in favor of a more relaxed writing style.

So while the made-up word may be silly sounding or even a ridiculous substitute for a perfectly reasonable real word, it pays, literally, to be accessible to all the Gen Y-ers out there with massive consuming power. Because, while I might not know what a Spux is at first, with closer inspection, I realize that a tux made from spandex is equally as ludicrous as the word Spux. I’m able to appreciate the humor and relaxed tone the writer is trying to convey with this type of word.  However, my appreciation for this type of humor doesn’t necessarily extend to corporate-to-public communication. While I understand that print publications are fighting to regain the credibility they once had and connect with a new generation of readers, this may not be the route to take.

When readers look to a source for reliable, trustworthy information, they don’t want to feel like the subject of a marketing campaign. A reader wants to know that they are being passed correct information and being taken seriously, not as mere lemmings seeking entertainment value. So while the medium for connecting with readers might be changing, the language should not. A real word can easily take the place of a fictitious one and can create an appropriate tone for a publication or company pursuing a credible image.

Sadly, this means that although its summer for a while longer, leave your flip-flips and “LOLs” at home with your personal life and pull out your loafers. After all, a well-crafted message using strong key words can still make a reader twiggle.