Exploiting social media for your company demands writing that’s relaxed, concise and engaging. Yet the usual style of business writing in many UK firms is formal, long-winded and boring.
It was when I saw this Facebook post – from BBC News of all people – that I realised that the argument had finally been won: New media demands new language.
When I was a young BBC journalist, learning my craft in a pre-digital age, I’d have been taught three things about writing a story like this: be comprehensive; be very straight and serious; avoid venturing an opinion.
This post did the opposite on all three counts – and it was quite right to do so.
So the 94-year-old BBC has been adapted its written language to the needs of new platforms. How are younger organisations doing?
In my view, there’s a long way to go
People in business certainly do plenty of worrying about social media. Have we got the expertise? Have we got the systems? Have we got the speed of response?
But as they fret, there’s that one question they often forget to put on their worry list. Have we got the language?
In many cases, they haven’t – yet. They try to cut and paste their corporate words (and too many of them) on to Facebook or Twitter. It can end up making them look ridiculous.
Unlike the BBC in that post about the robbery, they try to be comprehensive, to be sober and to steer clear of feelings and opinions.
Some of the people toiling to make social media work for their firms tell me of a tussle with the high-ups. “Can you get this out on social media,” they’re asked. And then presented with corporate phraseology that’s not fit for its social purpose.
How Did We Get Here?
Once upon a time firms used to get away with using old school language when they wrote things to their customers.
They regretted to inform and they referred to their previous correspondence. It was stiff, formal and often difficult to understand.
Then two things happened. First was the death of the deferential consumer. We started expecting things to be a bit more peer-to-peer. If we were going to give our money to an organisation, the least we demanded was for them to communicate with us in a normal voice. Then, the relationship moved online. Stuff we used to buy face-to-face or over the phone was now shopped for on a screen. It meant that the written word became much more important in the mix. We might hand over our money without ever speaking to another human being. So we expected the words on screen to be written in a human tone of voice.
Then just as business we battling with that challenge – with varying degrees of success – they realised it was only the start. They needed to go several more miles and start writing in the even more human, companionable tone that’s needed on social media. That’s where we are now.
Bigger firms are often doing it better than smaller ones. They’re more likely to have the confidence and the social media expertise.
But the suits in some places labour under a misapprehension: that whatever they say, wherever they say it, needs to be in corporate language to have “credibility.”
That’s proved to be wrong – and nowhere more wrong than on social media.
So join me at the Digital Marketing Summit at the Southampton Novotel on October 27th. We’ll talk more about loosening up your language – and getting more credibility, not less, by doing just that.
Digital Marketing Summit Southampton 2016
Chris van Schaick helps people in media and other business write with impact. He was a BBC journalist and editor and is now an associate of the BBC’s training academy. This summer he worked in Rio as deputy director of the tv Olympic News Channel, supervising scripts on the worldwide output. He trains people in banks and utility companies, regulators and law firms how to increase the power of everything they write in business.
Make sure you don’t miss Brilliant writing for Social Media: Writing for Social Media boot camp and Content and style – writing to engage, whatever the platform key-note presentation. Chris van Schaick, Writing Skills Coach, will give you practical tips to take away about making your words work best for their platform.
Digital Marketing Summit 2016 taking place at Novotel, Southampton less than 7 days to go. Make sure you grab your tickets here, before they run out!