The English language is no longer just the domain of English scholars and lexicographers, thanks in part to texting, sexting and social media. In fact, our mother language is now being shaped by a mass audience of teens, tweens and other social media users. Visit the Oxford Dictionary online and you’ll now find ‘selfie stick’, ‘lolcat’, ‘YOLO’, ‘tweep’ and ‘nuff said’.

But while social media has given poetic licence to just about everyone, it doesn’t mean we, as brands, should cut corners when it comes to our own grammar, tone, spelling and messaging.

A 2015 survey by UK company Global Lingo, revealed that 59 per cent of people would be turned off by a company that had glaring grammatical and spelling mistakes on their website or marketing materials. In addition, 74 per cent of respondents said they pay close attention to the quality of writing on a company’s website. We’re going to say the same goes for social channels. Building credibility with your online audiences means keeping on top of social trends but also adopting a smart, error-free and considered approach to your social marketing language.

Here are a few key tips for how to do this.

Find your voice

First, find a voice that will appeal to your audience and practice using it. Your voice is your brand’s distinct personality or style and ensure it’s consistent across all communications. If you’re corporate, it might be formal, expert and authoritative. If you sell lollipops, it might be less formal and a little more fun. To find the voice that appeals, you might like to test it out on social media: run two ads with the same image/video and with two different voices. See which performs better. Tone is a sub-category of voice, it varies based on the content, medium and situation. When approaching tone, think about the mood of your audience (are they looking for entertainment? Are they looking for information? Are they upset about something?) then choose words that fit the mood. Your brand’s voice might be informal for example, but an individual post might be more straight-up or serious in tone.

Be a stickler

Your words may be the first exposure a customer has to your brand, so it pays to get it right. Avoid common grammar gaffes (‘your’ in place of ‘you’re’; ‘there’ instead of ‘they’re’) and use abbreviations sparingly – or very cleverly. Likewise, avoid using too many caps or exclamation marks, which can make you look like you’re clamouring for attention. Remember, real, honest and smart communication will build brand loyalty over time. Stick to your company’s style guidelines if you have them, or if you don’t, considering creating your own set (Mailchimp has a good example here). Style guides ensure language, style, punctuation and formatting are consistent across all of your brand’s communications, no matter who’s writing them. They’re also great as an on-hand grammar refresher if you can’t remember where the apostrophe goes!

Tailor your language for the medium

Do your research and understand the medium you’re writing for – then tailor it. Shorter is generally better on social. For example, Twitter requires you to get your message across within 140 characters, so think about how you can use the character limit to your advantage – be clever and cunning. Facebook, stick with one to two sentences – or if the content is video, use less words as a teaser. For LinkedIn, you might want to adopt a more professional tone for talking to your business peers. Or if it’s Instagram and you’ve got a great image, think about running with less words and throwing a couple of emojis into your post – they’re attention-grabbers and can help to communicate an emotion visually. Across all social platforms, ensure your language is clear, succinct and complementary to the imagery you’re using.

And finally, proofread.

Typos and spelling mistakes can derail even the best marketing efforts. Don’t let them. Re-read and revise, employ a second set of eyes, and be vigilant if using a spell-checker.

I like this line in a Harvard Business Review article that says: “Your words are a projection of you in your physical absence”. You don’t want to stifle your creativity and fun with too many rules, but at the same time you want to make a good impression with the words you choose.

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