You have a blog, a Twitter account and a Facebook page (the list could go on and on). So what? Doesn't everyone? As social media becomes more mainstream, so does the content. It is increasingly difficult to be heard in the noise. How do you stand out? Go beyond lazy content. Choose your words wisely.
Go Back to Basics
"Our civilization is decadent, and our language - so the argument runs - must inevitably share in the general collapse." - George Orwell, Politics and The English Language
Let's turn back time to April 1964 and the article, Politics and The English Language, written by George Orwell, published in Horizon. Orwell claims modern English is "full of bad habits which spread by imitation and which can be avoided if one is willing to take the necessary trouble."
A little extra effort will get your content noticed. Orwell finds two bad habits continuously exercised in modern English language are (1) staleness of imagery and (2) lack of precision. Fast forward to 2008 and we find the same bad habits exercised in social media content.
Become a Scrupulous Writer
"If you use ready-made phrases, you not only don't have to hunt about for words; you also don't have to bother with the rhythms of your sentences, since these phrases are generally so arranged as to be more or less euphonious." - George Orwell, Politics and The English Language
Orwell says a scrupulous writer asks him/herself these questions in every sentence:
- What am I trying to say?
- What words will express it?
- What image or idiom will make it clearer?
- Is this image fresh enough to have an effect?
- Could I put it more shortly?
- Have I said anything that is avoidably ugly?
Go beyond corporate speak, legalese and the 'party line'. Orwell found the pamphlets, leading articles, manifestos, White Papers and speeches of his time to be the same rhetoric rehashed. Is that not true if taken a sampling today? Think of all the Web 2.0 jargon being tossed about? Buzz words or is there something real behind the overused phrases? When examined, a lot of content is the result of the social media echo chamber.
Where is the original thought? I enjoyed the response of Bill Gates when asked during Davos 2007: The Impact of Web 2.0 panel, if the next wave interactive technology would be know as Web 3.0 and he said, if it was dubbed as such, it would demonstrate a severe lack of creativity.
Add Depth to Content
"When there is a gap between one's real and one's declared aims, one turns as it were instinctively to long words and exhausted idioms, like a cuttlefish squirting out ink." - George Orwell, Politics and The English Language
When JJ Abrams was preparing his TED talk, he asked the TED representative what he should talk about. The representative responded, "Don't worry about it, just be profound." This is the direction many receive when creating social media content. It is not that easy.
Profound content is original content. Originality takes imagination and as Orwell states, it is much easier to regurgitate content than to intelligently create. If you have not yet seen this TED talk, it is a must-see! Abrams discusses mystery as the catalyst for imagination. "A blank page is a magic box."
To fill that "blank page" Orwell suggests avoiding using words to describe an abstract thought until the meaning is first made clear through pictures or sensations. What are you doing to add depth and mystery to your content?
When Instinct Fails
"You see, he 'feels impelled' to write - feels, presumably, that he has something new to say - and yet his words, like calvary horses answering the bugle, group themselves automatically into the familiar dreary pattern. This invasion of one's mind by ready-made phrases (lay the foundations, achieve a radical transformation) can only be prevented one is constantly on guard against them, and every such phrase anesthetizes a portion of one's brain." - George Orwell, Politics and The English Language
Use Orwell's rules:
- Never use a metaphor, simile or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.
- Never use a long word where a short one will do.
- If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.
- Never use passive where you can use the active.
- Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word or jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.
- Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.
Don't Quibble Over Semantics
"One cannot change all this in a moment, but one can at least change one's own habits, and from time to time one can even, if one jeers loudly enough, send some worn-out and useless phrase - some jackboot, Achilles' heel, hotbed, melting pot, acid test, veritable inferno or other lump of verbal refuse - into the dustbin where it belongs." - George Orwell, Politics and The English Language
I can think of a couple examples of modern/social media verbal refuse. Begin a movement to send jargon to the virtual dustbin by examining your own content. Stop lazy content generation.
[image courtesy .....dotted.....]
Lauren Vargas, a public relations practitioner, is based in Dallas, Texas. She is a well known public relations blogger and speaker who has developed an expertise in integrating social media tools into marketing and business strategy. As a professional and university professor, she assists companies and second-career students engage with the communities they serve by fostering authentic relationships built on trust through conversations and participatory media.