Speaking in tongues: Drop the jargon, in social media and beyond

In Business Class, Connecting to Communicate on February 11, 2010 at 7:41 pm

If you hang out anywhere long enough, you’ll likely adopt bits of the local lingo.

It’s not a carved-in-stone rule, but it is a common phenomenon. Over time, Northerners who move south might catch themselves saying, “Y’all.” Midwesterners relocating north might hear themselves ordering a “soda” instead of a generic “coke.”

And people who spend too much time in the executive suite one day will stop noticing that they use “leverage” as a verb, that they say, “At the end of the day …” unself-consciously, and that they talk about “monetizing the upside potential” with a straight face.

That’s fine in the executive suite. But when you venture outside this holy of holies or some equally corporatized environment (the annual meeting, the management retreat, the Wall Street quarterly call, one of those ticker-running-across-the-bottom-of-the-screen TV shows, etc.), you need to turn it off – or keep your mouth shut.

Especially in the social media world.

A few years ago, much was made of the handful of executives who were blogging. And a few did launch readable, worthwhile and even entertaining blogs (Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, PR guru Richard Edelman, Pitney Bowes’ retired Chairman Mike Critelli, etc.). But many others produced blogs that seemed to be painfully ripped from the exec’s finger tips, written by someone the exec has never even spoken to, or excerpted from corporate memos.

Seth Godin considered this situation a few years ago in his Web-only book Who’s There? (http://tinyurl.com/ajffb) and offered some straightforward guidelines for execs who want to get  into the game. To write truly workable blogs (or Tweets, one might add today), Godin advises execs to embrace five key characteristics:

  • Candor. They must display authentic truth at all times.
  • Urgency. They must be fast-moving and quick to digest.
  • Timeliness. They must be updated regularly and focused on current issues.
  • Pithiness. They must be brief and to-the-point.
  • Controversy. They must tackle tough matters head-on.

The problem? None of those characteristics fit with typical executive communications. By the time executive pronouncements emerge from an organization, they usually have been massaged, tweaked and “lawyered” so much that they’re long-winded, complicated, jargon-filled and late.

So is the lesson here that executives shouldn’t blog? No. The message is that some executive shouldn’t blog, but those who are willing to embrace those five characteristics should.

The best part of all this? If the executive does learn to embrace these characteristics, maybe he or she will also learn to apply them to all forms of communications. Now that would be a beautiful thing – and, eventually, an essential thing. As social media continues to grow, audiences of all types will learn to expect candor, urgency, timeliness, pithiness and controversy in all communications.

And anyone who clings to lingo and jargon of the past likely will find themselves talking only to themselves.

  1. Love it. Not sure what execs you might be talking about, though…

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