Do you speak “social?” There is a lot of writing out there about the effects of social media on business, marketing, branding and customer services. But what about how social media communications is impacting our written communications, or even our oral communications?
Anyone remember when email was going to destroy letter writing, and even the art of writing altogether? Well, it did destroy letter writing, but did it really destroy the art of writing, or just change it?
The Impact of “Social Speak” on the Written Word
I’d argue that email, SMS and social media communications tools have made irreversible impacts on the way we write, but that is not to say we should write in that “social” manner. Sure, I’m tempted to use “l8r” and countless other SMS abbreviations to save time and space. Those of us who are well-versed in the “old ways” of communicating will likely switch back and forth, as appropriate. I’m wondering, however, about those who have come of age in the era of SMS and the social web.
The social web has changed the written word in a couple of key ways:
1. Writing is more concise. When we first heard of Twitter and its 140 character limit, most of us wondered how in the world we could convey something meaningful in 25 to 30 words. Now we realize that Twitter pushes us to get to the essence of what we are trying to say. Who says you must have full sentences or paragraphs of text to make an impact or to drive people to action?
2. Use of different spelling and abbreviations. My husband came to me last night asking for help “translating” a text from his teenage daughter. “What does ‘TTYL’ stand for?” he asked. “Talk To You Later,” I replied. The strange thing was that I didn’t sense my own brain processing the translation. Instead, I immediately knew the answer in the same way I know that “casa” means “house” without having to do the mental computing to get from a foreign word to familiar one. People who are communicating via SMS or social networks aren’t necessarily spelling things incorrectly. They are effectively speaking a new language entirely — so who is to say if it is “right” or “wrong”?
I think that one of the real impacts of social media communications on our general communications is that many of us tend to be much more revealing in business and personal communications than ever before. Somehow, telling the world personal things and then exploring them on our blogs, on Facebook and on Twitter has become socially acceptable in many circles. Not everyone has caught the TMI (too much information) bug, but I’d venture to guess that many of us are much less shocked by someone getting more personally revealing even in a business setting because, well, we read it first on their blog anyway.
“Social” as “Anti-Social”
In social settings or face-to-face interactions, there is a distressing attention deficit problem. Recently, I invited some female bloggers to a small gathering for a wine tasting, and to get to know one another better. In the old days, if you were shy, you might sit to the side of the crowd and smile politely, hoping someone would include you. These days, those with social timidity will bury their noses in their mobile devices. I saw photographs of my gathering after the fact showing that a very prominent social media “guru” spent the entire time texting. Not on the periphery of the group, or in the hallway, but smack dab in the middle of the entire group. Granted, this person could have been tweeting about the event, but the first impression I have is one of being anti-social.
I also have mixed feelings about the impact of social communications in the realm of public speaking. As an attendee at conferences I love tweeting quotes I hear from speakers, to share their wisdoms with my followers. But as a speaker myself, I have yet to experience the dreaded “Tops of Heads Syndrome.” There are a lot of public speakers who have been sent into tailspins trying to adjust to speaking to an audience whose faces are obstructed by their laptops or who are so busy on their phones that the speaker can only see the tops of their heads, instead of their eyes and face. How disconcerting that must be.
There is no single right or wrong way to assimilate “social speak” into our lives and work — it all depends upon your own time and tolerance, your setting, your colleagues, and even the image you want to project. For better or for worse, though, we are all in a new world of communications — and most of us will have to learn the new language.
How do you feel social media is affecting our oral and written communications?
stock.xchng images by harrykeely and tecknare respectively
Related GigaOM Pro content (sub. req.): Social Media in the Enterprise