These words are jargon – used by people who often have no idea what they mean, but who want to sound smart in front of others. Their widespread over-use leads to them being widely ridiculed. I see the same thing happening with social media terms. We throw them around as if everyone knows what they mean, and in doing so we alienate people who don’t. It’s time for us to cut the jargon out of our writing and nerd it down a little. See? I’ve fallen into the trap already. “Social media.” What percentage of people outside the Internet bubble do you think knows what “social media” means?
Ok, I’m going to assume you do know. I mean, you’re reading this article, right?
Let’s be honest, the vast majority of people out there have no idea what “social bookmarking,” “RSS” or “microblogging” mean. The Internet-savvy crowd, while growing, still isn’t that big.
Low barriers to entry are a big selling point of social media. There’s no specialized equipment to buy, little expensive software and the tools are usually easy to use. So why are we throwing up a giant barrier to entry by constantly using jargon and complicating things when we write?
Of course, this all depends on who you’re writing for. If you’re writing for newcomers to social media then this is a no-brainer- you need to explain everything. On the other hand, if your site is targeted at social media experts then perhaps some technical terms may be appropriate. Still, wouldn’t you like more people to read what you’re writing?
Social media is all about people. Critically, it needs people to make it work. There’s a big network effect where each additional user adds value to the other members of the network. It’s in our interest to encourage other people to use social media tools.
What if I were to tell you that you don’t need to dumb down your writing to simplify it? That’s right – you can still write about advanced topics without using confusing words. It’s just a matter of finding words that people can relate to instead of taking the easy route and using jargon. You’re not dumbing-down, you’re opening-up.
Why is clear writing important? A 2003 U.S. government [survey](http://nces.ed.gov/NAAL/PDF/2006470.PDF), a third of America’s adults had only basic or below basic literacy skills. That rose to over half when it came to using numbers. It’s similar in Canada – according to a 2003 Canadian government [survey](http://www.statcan.ca/Daily/English/050511/d050511b.htm), four in ten Canadians suffered from low-level literacy skills. We have to remember that we’re not just writing for ourselves.
This is even more important for public servants like me. We have to communicate with all of the government’s citizens, not just those fortunate enough to have a university education.
I wrote about this on my site recently, and asked readers what terms they wanted to eliminate. I’ve mellowed a bit on some of the suggestions I came up with originally, but I received some great suggestions, including:
– “[Link baiting](http://davefleet.com/2008/02/im-done-with-social-media/#comment-223)” – why not write about what it is, i.e. content that others will want to link to
– “[Vlog](http://davefleet.com/2008/02/im-done-with-social-media/#comment-226)” how about video blog?
– Anything with “[2.0](http://davefleet.com/2008/02/im-done-with-social-media/#comment-227)” in it
– “[Conversation](http://davefleet.com/2008/02/im-done-with-social-media/#comment-234)” – an increasingly overused word
– “[The X space](http://davefleet.com/2008/02/im-done-with-social-media/#comment-242)” (replace X with whatever you like)
– “[Users](http://davefleet.com/2008/02/im-done-with-social-media/#comment-268)” – as the commenter said, why use a word that suggests you’re pimping them drugs?
Here are a few of my pet peeves:
– “RSS” – really simple? I think not. Try throwing this into a conversation with your Grandparents and see if they understand.
– “URL” – why not just “web address?” What’s with the acronyms?
– “Unconference” – writing news releases for PodCamp Toronto recently, I had to throw a line into almost every release to explain what an unconference was. Is the distinction important? Sure. Is the name important? No.
Do you have words or phrases that bug you? Words that you don’t understand, or that you just wish people would stop using?
*[Dave Fleet](http://davefleet.com) is a communications professional with a passion for social media, based in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. Dave has worked in marketing and communications for major corporations including Hitachi Europe and Lloyds TSB but nowadays works in the public sector, for Ontario’s provincial government.*