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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
Id 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, Im 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. Im 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
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 didnt 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 arent
necessarily spelling things incorrectly. They are effectively speaking a new language entirely
so who is to say if it is right or wrong?
Social Spoken Here
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 Id 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?
Its easy to assume that new forms of technology have dumbed down the English language.
Text messaging has reduced phrases to letters (CU L8r) and tweets have so many abbreviations
and hashtags theyre barely legible.
Less obvious, though, are the ways in which social media is strengthening the English language.
A South by Southwest panel, Slap My Words Up: Language in the Digital World, addressed
this topic on Sunday. Panelists were Fast Companys Neal Ungerleider, McKinneys Gail Marie;
Digitarias Kristina Eastham; and Sean Carton, director for digital communication commerce
and culture at the University of Baltimore.
Here are five ways that social media is having a positive effect on writing and the English
Increases awareness of mistakes, helps prevent them
Instead of looking at social media sites as platforms for making mistakes, the panelists said,
look at them as platforms for catching mistakes. Ungerleider said that when Fast Company
readers see errors, they often point them out via social media.

Twitter has become the arbiter of language for us, he said. If we have a misspelling, people
will let us know.
Having an audience, particularly a vocal one, helps. Knowing your tweet, Facebook post or
Instagram caption is potentially going to reach thousands of people can be a good incentive to
proofread your social media posts. The fact that tweets can spread so quickly (even if youve
deleted them) is another good reason to proofread them.
Differentiates writers
If your audience writes sloppily on social media sites, thats not an excuse to start doing the
same. Instead, think of it as an opportunity to differentiate yourself by writing well.
You can also differentiate yourself by advancing the conversation on social networks. I was
reminded of this when the panelists shared a quote by Peter Lunenfeld, a digital media critic
and theorist.
The growth of blogs, Twitter and Facebook considered in tandem with Tumblr and other
social softwares that enable posting and tagging accounts creates an environment of
continuous partial production.
Journalists can turn that partial production (strings of tweets, Facebook posts, etc.) into a full
production a story, a project, an interactive that offers the analysis and context you cant
find in a 140-character tweet.
Spotlights short writing
Social media shows us the value of short storytelling. With Vine videos, we have just six
seconds to get a message across. Similarly, Twitters 140-character limit forces us to make
every word count. The site is a constant reminder that writing short and well isnt easy.
Shorter is better if you can do it well, Marie told the SXSW crowd. It takes some level of
skill. Audience member Claire Willett responded thats a biiiiiiiig if.
There are some journalists who do an especially good job writing short on Twitter including
Xeni Jardin (@Xeni), Frank Bruni (@FrankBruni) and Joanna Smith (@SmithJoanna).
Reminds us that change is constant
The panelists said peoples concerns about digital media reflect concerns from the past. Is
technology taking us back to the future? Marie asked. She shared a quote from new media
research developer Paulien Dresscher:
Just as Socrates was concerned that the invention of writing would make people forgetful,
people today are worried about the degree to which we are permanently shaped by digital
Language is always evolving, and technology is a healthy part of that evolution. In some ways,
technology has taken us full circle.
When we first began to write things and moved away from oral culture, it changed the way
things worked, Carton said. Now were moving to a post-printed era. If you look at the
characteristics of social media its much more like oral culture than written culture because
its so conversational.

Creates new words, meanings

Sites such as Wordnik and Urban Dictionary have entries for misspelled wordslike
dunno, l8r and aight. Wordnik founder and lexicographer Erin McKean has told me: If a
word is persuasive enough, and if your usage is provocative enough and feels real enough, you
can make a word mean what you want it to mean. The panelists alluded to this when
sharing a breakdown of the definitions of heyyyyy.
Many recent neologisms have originated through social media.
Id say that the big keystone of success is if you can work a word into the English language
based on your brand or based on your technology. Case in point: googled, friended,
liked, tweeted, instagrammed and storified.
The word friending, Marie said, has actually been a transitive word since the 13th century.
We just tend to use the word befriend instead.
Its interesting to look at how the word friending is changing the word friend, Carton said.
On Facebook, theyre not your friends in the traditional sense; theyre your acquaintances.
He noted that hes still waiting for someone to come up with a shorter version of www.
Eastham wants someone to create a word to describe a person youre introduced to via email.
For now, shes come up with her own word: Equaintance.
Technology-enabled communication channels have changed the English language as well as
how, when and why we communicate. A lot.
The biggest factor (result?) may be the ever increasing velocity of communication. You can
communicate quickly efficiently, effectively because written exchanges have condensed.
Written online communication in various social media outlets truncates and speeds up
what we say in at least four ways.
1. Texting makes available only as many characters as you can type while at a stoplight.
(Funny, or maybe not).
2. Twitter only offers you 140 characters. You gotta be brief!
3. The use of acronyms LOL, TTYL, IMHO, TMI, OMG alleviates the need to type long
phrases, and reduces space. Acronyms arise every day, and have even moved from
personal communications into business language. (It is another question as to whether it is
appropriate to write ROTFLMAO in a text to your boss). Here are the top 50 acronyms; see
if you know all of these.
4. Emoticons summarize how you are feeling or what you think about what you are saying. If
a picture is worth 1000 words, then an emoticon is worth at least 10.

Thank Social Media for That

Social media has spawned new words, and morphed old ones. If you say 'Facebook me' I know
how to get ahold of you. If I call you a 'tweep', you know I am referring to you as a frequent
user of Twitter. If you say 'I pinned it', I know to find your content on Pinterest.
Social media has changed not only the form of our language, but how we interact. People now
relate to each other in communicative bursts. I don't actually talk to my friends anymore. It's
weird when they call me (is something WRONG??). My friends (all 30-something moms) joke
about how we talk to each other only in texts. We don't have time for much else, and most of
our interactions involve carpooling to sports and questions about school events.
This is not pathetic, it's efficient. It's easier and quicker to set up a girls' night via text than by
calling each of your friends. Is it good enough? Are our relationships the same? I feel that I am
talking with my friends more often and I know what is going on in their lives. I check Facebook
if I feel out of touch or I send a text. (In fact, please don't call me. I have had my ringer off for 3
weeks. Just text me.)

Texting as 'Fingered Speech'?

A professor of linguistics at Columbia U named John McWhorter argues persuasively that
texting and talking are actually the same. He wrote an intriguing blog describing how texting
can be described as 'fingered speech'. It is not a written language at all. He also discusses how
some think that is indicative of language in decline, but he and I agree that this is not the case.
Texting (and by extension tweeting and facebooking) is a new method of communication with
its own rules, structure and purpose. (Think of the communication purpose and style
differences between speech writing / formal speeches, newspaper and magazine articles,
blogs, emails and now tweets). Technology and social media have expanded our ability to
communicate, not shrunk it. But no, it certainly isn't grammatically correct high-quality prose,
and we need to get over it.

We All Have to Adapt

The language of social media is evolving daily and seeping into the mainstream. The velocity of
change will not abate any time soon. Language is alive, vital, highly mutable: we all have to
adapt. Even you grandma, especially if you want to talk with your pre-teen grandkids. OK, and
with me too.
I can extrapolate from the effect on the English language that social media has affected all
languages in which social media is the social commerce. How has social media changed your
native language? For the better or for the worse? Share below.

For the article that inspired this blog and for a discussion of how social media affects
marketing, go to this interesting article on the Yahoo Small Business site.
Technology has done a great deal to change what we came to rely upon. The tools available
are incredible but it has also changes communication. Social media has had a tremendous
effect on the English language and how we communicate.
The many voices of social media
Technology has a great deal to say about how we communicate with each other online. Twitter
only allows tweets of 140 characters or less. The use of acronyms has gone through the roof.
Acronyms are not only used in personal communications but are also used in online business
interactions. The way in which people relate to each other has changed dramatically. Social
media plays a significant role in how we communicate as well as the new words that are being
introduced on a very regular basis. This emerging manner of communicating affects many
different people and marketers are among those most affected because of how essential their
communications skills are. For adults, it is easy enough to learn new terms. For younger
people, the influence that online language has on them can be sensitive.
The importance of language to marketers
It is important for marketers to learn from the language evolution and glean information that
will help them to advance from a business perspective. There is a strategy to be had and if
marketers can recognize how to leverage it, a great deal can be gained from taking advantage
of the new communication. Marketers can use the knowledge that they gain to increase
Reaching out and testing new waters
Marketers can start to communicate with new terminology that is quickly becoming a part of
everyones vocabulary. With social media interactions, it is very important to stay on the
cutting edge as much as possible. It is important to eventually achieve a position of influence
and you will want people to regard you as such.
The ever-evolving language
When it comes to social media, so much is changing on a regular basis. That includes
technology and means of communications. Not only is everything evolving but it is evolving at
a very rapid pace. Having dialogues through social media can really give marketers an edge
that they wouldnt have otherwise. Just like all business people, marketers need to keep up.
Staying engaged
Using social media to bring about new ideas and new means of communication is a very
effective approach for marketers to take. A lot of people who drive business are young and the
evolving language is a large part of their everyday practice. If marketers are going to gain the
edge, they need to speak the same language.

Social media will be around for a very long time. It is important to realize that you have to
adapt to the evolution and keep up with all of the new technologies and language that are
being offered. If you dont, it will be like the Tower of Babel. Everyone will be speaking but
nobody will be speaking a common language. Language is alive and keeping an open mind
about letting new concepts and new words in to be a part of it is generally an intelligent thing
to do.
Theres no denying that social media has transformed the way we interact with each other.
From sharing our thoughts and photos to planning a night out, most people tend to organise
their social lives, or at least have it significantly influence them, through some form of
technology-based engagement. But, has this shift away from more physical interaction actually
affected the way we speak and write English?
Speed freaks: the increasing rate of communication
What social media has done is enable us to communicate with a much larger number of people
on a global scale in a way that we only really used to be able to do on a local level. This is great
when it means were keeping friendships alive over great distances, but its also increasing the
demands placed on an individual to keep a much larger number of relationships going
simultaneously. For example, the average number of friends a person has on Facebook in the
UK is around 300 even if youre only actually really friends with, say, 10% of that number
thats still 30 friendships to be maintaining.
The result? An ever-increasing speed of communication. Facebook lets you communicate
quickly, effectively and, most importantly, efficiently because written exchanges are concise
and shared between all the friends you are connected with, meaning you only need to write
them once. On Twitter theres a 140 character limit, so even if youre not against the clock you
are quite literally forced to make the statement brief.
The use of acronyms (an abbreviation formed from the initial letters of other words and
pronounced as a word) are now commonplace substitutes to whole sentences; LOL (laugh out
loud), OMG (Oh my God), TTYL (talk to you later) are just a few that demonstrate how social
media speeds things up by lessening the need to write longer phrases and reduces space.
or ;)
Emoticons (a representation of a facial expression such as a smile or frown, formed by various
combinations of keyboard characters) and used to convey what the user is feeling or to
express the intended tone without actually having to write it. You could argue that this is a lazy
form of writing, but social media isnt a process of creative writing (at least not in the
traditional sense), its a fast and convenient way of interacting with an audience.
The impact of this on speech in the real world
Language is an evolving thing. Its naive to think that the language of social media isnt having
an effect on the way we use English in day-to-day life. Its more appropriate to consider just
how much of an effect its having on the way we communicate.
A whole host of words originating from social media and the wider Internet have become so
commonplace that theyve now slipped into popular usage, and we dont even realize it. Just a
few interesting words that have their origins in technology are blogosphere (the collective
word for personal websites called blogs), troll (someone who creates conflict online by starting
arguments or upsetting people) and buzzword (a word or phrase that is fashionable at a

particular time or in a particular context). Even some acronyms have made the transition into
everyday speech as words, lol for example.
Another curious phenomenon weve seen in recent years is the reappropriation of existing
words and words based on brands to refer primarily to their social media context.
Reappropriation is the cultural process by which a group claims words that were previously
used in a certain way and gives them a new meaning. In this way the people who engage with
social media are quite literally creating new words and giving new meanings to existing words.
Friended and unfriended are two examples of words that have been given a new meaning
due to their usage online. The word friend and befriend is from Old English originating in the
13th Century, but it has been given an entirely new meaning thanks to Facebook (the process
of adding or removing someone from your circle of friends). Like and viral are other popular
examples of words that have had their meaning reappropriated by social media.
There are even instances of online brands becoming so powerful that words have crept into
the English language based on them. Google is the worlds leading search engine and it has
become so universal in its usage that the phrase Google it has virtually replaced the phrase
search for it in common speech. There are examples of this lifted directly from social media
too; tweet it refers to writing a message using Twitter, but has essentially come to mean
share it.
So, has social media changed the way we speak and write English? Yes, undeniably.
Just think, ten years ago, if someone youd just met asked you to be their friend or
Instagram a photo of their lunch youd have scratched your head and wondered if in fact
they were feeling alright.