Maintaining a Professional Image With Your Writing
I think I’m going to continue writing a bit regarding image and brand strength, as it’s something I feel very strongly about. I also have been keeping it pretty pent up over the past year or two, and I feel I need to get it out. This post will be following up on my previous posts regarding “image and style” (here’s part 1, and part 2). Whereas my previous posts covered more photography-centric aspects such as watermarks and portfolio design, this will be a bit more broad in its target. It’s something that is often overlooked these days, but it’s absolutely crucial to being taken seriously in business. And first up…
How You Write Online Is Actually Important
Technology now is accessible to everyone. Not just the nerds, professionals, and uppity educated folks that used to make up the bulk of users. Thanks to Facebook, iPhone and Android smartphones among others, a huge percentage of everyday people are now content publishers of some sort. Some create content, some curate content created by others. And many, many people run “PR” for something in their life. Most of my creative friends have Facebook pages for their various endeavors. Small businesses are often marketed directly by the owners, or someone in the core group of the business. And almost none of these have any sort of marketing or PR background. They just type and type and type in their goal of selling their wares/services.
Unfortunately, a lot of these people don’t understand the importance of communicating to their fans, customers, and prospective clients in a clean, professional manner. Just as the above technological advancements gave us all this easy access, those–along with texting–make it seem like it’s just like talking as you would on a personal level. Texting is actually a HUGE influence on how people communicate via words these days. People get lazy, develop habits; almost all of them bad, and shouldn’t be used in business communications.
What am I talking about? Texts like this:
HEY WAT R U UP TO MAN??? I WAS HOPING I COULD GET YOU 2 COME OUT GET SOME FOODD WITH ME,,,
I’m glad to say that I don’t get too many texts or FB messages like this personally, but when I do, it irks me on a few different levels. Fine, yeah, I know it’s a text, and it’s not being seen by the public. So that’s okay, right? Yeah. However, if you communicate the same way with people you conduct business with, well… It just looks immature. I was under the impression that we all learned a long time ago that all caps is akin to SHOUTING AT PEOPLE (or as the internet joke goes, “Caps Lock = CRUISE CONTROL FOR COOL!”). Guess not. Well, if you weren’t aware of this convention, now you are. And yes, that cruise control joke is just that–a joke. Don’t take it seriously.
Other offenses that typically are accompanied by capslock are textspeak (abbreviating words when it’s really not necessary), obvious misspellings, leaving words out (or just typing in a way that generally makes no sense at all), and probably the most lame of them all: the use of a comma in place of a period. I don’t get what in the hell causes people to do this, but it’s pretty common. My experience says it’s mostly iPhone users. I think this is because when you hit caps lock, it shifts the period to a comma. Either way, it looks childish and unskilled in my book.
There’s really no excuse, in my opinion, for texting like this. And especially typing like this on a full keyboard. It should just not be done, especially in the business environment. You’d be surprised at the amount of people who don’t necessarily think about this though. Business/public communications should always be well written, grammar in shape, punctuation not obliterated. It’s not that hard, we all learned it in school, and looking around the rest of Facebook and/or the internets will usually give you a pretty good idea of what it should look like. It definitely goes a long way to improve your online presence–whether via email, or when posting on your Facebook page.
Your Writing “Style” Makes A Big Impression
Now that we’ve covered the more rigid aspects of textual communication (grammar, punctuation, etc), let’s move on to something a bit less tangible, but just as important: Writing style.
I suppose you could argue that the above text example could be construed as a “writing style”. But no. Let’s just not. It’s an abortion of “style”. So, moving on.
Writing style is the “content” that fits within grammatical rules. Everyone has a different writing style, and sometimes it’s readily apparent. On the internet, most people write very casually–like you’re just talking to someone on the street, or talking to an acquaintance. I write this way, to a point. My writing style is a mix of casual conversation and stream of thought with a little bit of formality. That’s how I blog, that’s how I update my photography Facebook page. That’s how I’ve always written going back to high school. Unless it definitely has to be, I’m not so much of a “just the facts” writer, but this is what works for me. It gets my personality across to the reader in the best way I can, as well as usually making it the easiest to transfer thoughts in my head to words on the screen.
My personal page/Twitter/etc are much more relaxed, and I use a lot of internets talk there. But it’s appropriate on my personal page. I’m pretty ridiculous at times on my personal Facebook page, but I keep it there (and other similar online presences).
Some people are even more conversational/casual in their blogging/FB updates. Joe McNally is an excellent example of this. Everything he writes, you’re reading just as if he were standing in front of you talking. Read his blog? Watch a video? Read his Facebook? Read interviews? See him in person (I got to at the FlashBus Tour last year, he was great!)? It’s all the same. David Hobby is pretty much the same, albeit a bit more reserved than “numnuts” McNally, but not by much. It makes reading their content very easy to digest and relate to.
Terminology and word choice are other parts of writing style. I’m pretty casual with how I write with certain terms. These days, we mention “Facebook” so often, unless it’s absolutely crucial, I usually just say “FB”. People know what I mean. Some people like to be very precise, others don’t care. Eh, as long as you’re communicating clearly (and it’s not falling into the realm of something like, oh, technical writing), I think that this sort of abbreviation is acceptable. Mostly.
Another issue that people don’t give a lot of thought to is profanity. Yeah, a lot of people just avoid it altogether because it’s “bad”. Well… Fuck that. Eh?? See what I did there? Here’s my perspective: If it’s part of your personality, you keep it within reason, use it for emphasis, or just accept the fact that you may make some of your content “NSFW” depending on how sensitive people are, I say use it. Not every chance you get, mind you. But if you notice, I used “hell” above. I’ve used “fuck” twice in this post (once in a graphic–and it’s a HILARIOUS one, so I’ll allow it). I personally use the word “shit” a lot as in a substitute for the word “stuff” in my personal life and communications. I try not to in situations like my photo blog posts, photo FB page posts, etc. I have no qualms with vulgarity on my personal page, though. And I don’t necessarily care who sees that, either. Fact is, I curse. It’s part of how I speak. I’m no sailor, but I do. McNally and Hobby do as well. Usually it’s much more subdued though (especially for Hobby; McNally’s got a mouth on him), using the time-honored “f*#@” or the like.
Honestly, I don’t suggest including vulgarity or indecent phrases in your blogging, FB posting, etc. Obviously. Especially if you’re a more traditional business/service. If your art genre is “fine art”, I highly doubt you’ll drop the ol’ f-bomb anywhere in your writing. If you’re a metal band, indie record label, tattoo shop, skate shop, weed magazine, etc, I can see how it could work for your image with your target demographic as making you more easily related to. I myself spend a huge amount of time in the rock and metal music scenes as a music photographer. Saying shit like the word “fuck” in those circles usually isn’t a big deal. Again, do you see what I did there? 😀
Other Somewhat Related Tidbits
There’s other things that can impact how you come across in your writing. Do you want to write conversationally? Or perhaps a more distant, factual, “professional” manner? Maybe your FB posts are the digital equivalent of a carnival barker, spouting out calls to action succinctly instead of a more organic writing style. That’s fine, depending on your business. I’d suggest staying away from it on your blog, however. The blog should be much more verbose and detailed, creating a more dedicated information channel for your business to connect to your customers.
What about emoticons? Do you include the good ol’ smiley faces in your blog/FB posts? It’s becoming more and more accepted in blog posts, however I still try to stay away from it unless absolutely necessary. If it’s the best way to communicate an intent or meaning where words would just make it feel awkward, go for it. I did that above after I cussed. Takes the seriousness away from the previous two sentences in my opinion. But if you’re going for a corporate vibe, I’d bet that having a little 😉 stuck in your post wouldn’t go over too well.
There’s really a lot that goes into writing. I’m definitely not the best writer; there’s a reason why I’m not a writer outside of blog posts and FB. A lot takes practice to refine and locate your style. A lot takes nothing more than common sense and a little bit of high school education. Point being, hopefully you have a good grasp on your niche, your demographic, and how you want to come across to your customers. The important part is that you nail the best communication patterns to go along with your goals and target audience, and that you’re authentic while doing so.
There. I hope I didn’t miss anything I meant to touch on. I ramble a lot when writing; as I said, not a professional writer, right? 😀