Four Tips for Social Media Writing

Recently, I wrote a post called “Does Spelling Still Matter?” Here and there I received comments about it. What has blown me away is the continued conversation at LinkedIn’s Copy Editors and Proofreaders group. For the most part, commenters believe that spelling still matters. As these are mostly editors and writers, this shouldn’t be surprising. But a few comments bring in varied spellings and abbreviations in text and social media messages: platforms such as Twitter and texting that limit the number of characters per message.

“As the mother of a person in the generation growing up with texting, I wouldn’t call ‘text speak’ lazy. In some situations, one can text only a limited number of characters,” wrote Anne Winthrop. “A person can know different spelling conventions and use them appropriately, just as many educated people speak in social situations differently from how they write in formal situations.”

“There have always been different standards of grammar and, to a lesser extent, spelling, depending on the context of the communication,” responded Cathy Martindale. “That is all fine, but it’s the context that is increasingly being ignored. IMHO, it’s OK 2 text ur BFF, but when writing an e-mail, normal punctuation and capitalization should apply. And in formal writing–a job application letter, for example–spelling and grammar count a lot!”

Texting Isn’t the End of the World

In Always On, Naomi Baron discusses how and why she thinks texting language–the abbreviations, etc.–aren’t detrimental to language as we know it:

We also tend to blow out of proportion the scope of IM or texting language at issue. In reality, there are relatively few linguistic novelties specific to electronically-mediated language that seem to have staying power. (175)

We get so caught up in what’s “right” and “wrong” in language that we forget language’s true purpose: to communicate what’s going on in our heads. Language is an imperfect translation system for thoughts, feelings, ideas. What is correct in British English is not in American English or Canadian English or Spanglish or Chinglish or…you get the idea. What’s acceptable in casual conversation is not in a formal business document. The style and tone you use for your soon-to-be bestseller chick lit novel are not the same as for the pitch about your soon-to-be bestseller chick lit novel that convinces a literary agent to take on your masterpiece.

And yet, for the most part, we flitter back and forth between different writing styles like hummingbirds between flowers. Why should social media language be any different? What’s “right” is what allows you to successfully communicate what’s in your head to the person you want to communicate it to. Let’s remember, too, that spelling has only been solidified since the 18th century–300 years after the invention of moveable type.

What, then, are some acceptable style rules for social media, be it Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, what have you?

Four Tips for Social Media Writing

  • Know what your audience will expect and what they will accept from you, then deliver it. How you talk to the C-suite is different from how you talk to sci fi fans, even in informal settings.
  • It’s OK to be casual and informal, but not too much so. “Netspeak,” according to David Crystal, author of Language and the Internet, “has far more properties linking it to writing than to speech…Netspeak is better seen as written language which has been written down.” (47)
  • Make sure your text is readable; if it’s inscrutable, what’s the point of writing it? Webopedia offers a list of Twitter abbreviations and IM abbreviations. Better yet, use this as an exercise for concise writing and try to use only standard abbreviations (unless your audience demands otherwise).
  • Ensure your message fits in the space you have. Twitter gives you just 140 characters; other platforms hold to similar limits. They aren’t the places for your grand thesis. Link to a place to have that conversation with your audience.

I can’t emphasize enough that social media is meant to connect people and for conversation snippets, not dissertations. We’ll talk another time about specific uses for social media, but know this: you should be leading people to another space where the conversation grows, such as your Web site, a blog, or a forum.

This is the approach I take for my social media communications. They are quick comments, announcements, and invitations to join me somewhere else, to engage more deeply.

Agree? Disagree? The blog is the place to have the conversation. Let me know in the comments below!

About Erin Brenner

With a BA and an MA in English, Erin has been an editing professional for 15 years, working on a variety of media, especially online. Her niche is business/marketing and online. In addition, she has experience teaching editing to non-editors and coaching writers. In 2008, Erin was bitten by the social media bug...hard. Follow her on Twitter, @ebrenner, and get a daily vocabulary word, a link to the article of the day, and much more. You can also find her on Facebook and LinkedIn.
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