Social media has made a huge impact on our everyday lives, from the speed at which we communicate to the spread of information. Whether you use it in a personal or professional capacity, social networks like Twitter, Instagram, Facebook (and Facebook Messenger), TikTok, LinkedIn, and YouTube have become a part of people’s lives.
One of the single most important effects has to be how it has changed language. From introducing new words such as “photobomb,” and acronyms like FOMO (fear of missing out), social media has changed the way we write and speak. Of course, there’s one question we need to ask: Is social media wreaking havoc on the way we write or actually helping us do it better?
The English language is evolving faster than ever
A huge amount of the written language we encounter is on our computers, smartphones, and tablets. We use Twitter, Facebook, and WhatsApp to connect with people and catch up on news. We use Instagram and Snapchat for photo-sharing and to consume visual updates. We use YouTube for video-sharing and watching. We use LinkedIn to share professional updates and find new jobs. So it’s no surprise that the evolution of language is happening through our interactions with technology.
Words and phrases have been coined on social media and have since passed into general usage, and even our dictionaries. “Selfie,” for example, was named word of the year by the Oxford English Dictionary in 2013. Two years later, their “word” of the year was the “tears of joy emoji,” which is further proof of how language is evolving thanks to social media platforms.
ICYWW, here’s what’s changed
Acronyms enter our language every day. (Oh, and if that last one had you scratching your head, it’s short for “in case you were wondering.”) But not all stick around long enough to make an impact. LOL and OMG have stood the test of time, but early texting hits like GR8 and M8 have almost completely lapsed into obscurity. Photobomb, that relatively new compound noun we mentioned earlier, seems to be finding a permanent home in the English vernacular.
Social media hasn’t just invented new words. It’s also transformed the meaning of existing ones. “Friend” is no longer just a noun that means companion. Thanks to the Internet, it’s now a verb meaning “to friend someone on Facebook.” At the same time, when we talk about tweeting, we’re rarely referring to birds — unless they’re the blue Twitter kind. Likewise, if someone mentions a troll, they’re far more likely to be referring to someone harassing people under an Instagram post or online than an odd creature living under a bridge.
With the rise of TikTok (which has around one billion monthly active users), lip-syncs have also become popular. Whether that’s to the latest episode of a popular TV show or a song that’s popularized by a TikTok influencer who creates a new dance. This adds to the ever-changing landscape of language that’s used across different social media platforms. Social media platforms provide space for their audiences to get creative and explore new ways to use and engage with language.
It helps us communicate more effectively
Much of social speak has developed from a desire to text and communicate quickly on our phones, or to stay within Twitter’s 140-character limit. Purists might shake their head at the younger generation’s ability to invent and propagate new words, but it’s no real cause for concern.
That’s because English is a living language that’s constantly evolving. You won’t find many people bemoaning the fact that “doth” has slipped out of usage, or that “find” has replaced the less archaic “findeth.” The language of social media is likewise evolving daily and seeping into the mainstream, sometimes to replace outdated predecessors.
Plus, let’s not forget that many of the words that entered the English language a mere 20 years ago are pretty mainstream now. These include shopaholic, voicemail, foodie, and Google. One day, we might feel the same way about IMHO (in my honest opinion), TL;DR (too long; didn’t read), and NSFW (not safe for work).
We’re getting better at communicating
Social speak is now the mainstay of quick, informal communication — like you’ll find in Instagram posts, tweets, emails, and texts. And while more formal writing still has its place in business communications and academic writing, you can’t ignore the way that language is evolving. A better solution is to adopt it selectively to demonstrate that you’re evolving too.
So while professional communicators shouldn’t jump on every trendy new word, phrase, or abbreviation, sprinkling in a few here and there can’t hurt. After all, there’s no evidence that social media is ruining the way we write. On the contrary, depending on how you look at it, it might even be making our language and writing all the richer and more interesting.
Brands using social speak
There’s no doubt that social speak also influences social media marketing. Companies have always tried to use social media to their advantage. Ranging from advertising e-commerce products, responding to customer queries, or creating a community-based following of loyal brand advocates. And this means creating content in the same language as social media users.
Take this Ruffles social media marketing campaign:
It combines three elements of social media speak: memes, acronyms, and emojis. Let’s break down what it all means and why it’s successful at connecting with a social media audience:
- Meme: Popular on social networks like Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook, memes capture humorous current phenomenons or themes that are then spread across the internet taking on user-generated variations. Ruffles created a funny variation of this popular meme to suggest their chips are desirable. By using a meme their audience finds entertaining, Ruffles is demonstrating that they understand their customers and want to engage with them in a fun way.
- Acronym: This campaign uses the acronym BAE (before anyone else) which often refers to a girlfriend, boyfriend, or best friend. This is a classic example of how brands use their social media marketing strategy to connect with their audience. Talking in the language of active users helps brands to create relationships with their prospects and customers, while at the same time being memorable.
- Emoji: Using the fire emoji (🔥) allows Ruffles to limit the number of words they’re using while enhancing the meaning of their message. The emoji both references their “flaming hot” chip flavor and taps into the social media usage of the emoji to symbolize something as cool and exciting. It also helps grab the user’s attention by helping to break up the text.
Social media marketing meets brand audiences where they socialize and scroll. So that means researching the social media platforms that your target audience uses. Lots of companies choose to advertise on Facebook as it has almost three billion monthly active users. But if you’re trying to catch the attention of a young audience, you might want to prioritize platforms like TikTok and Instagram, or if you’re selling a B2B solution, LinkedIn is your best chance of reaching your prospects and customers.
Whatever your target audience, social media presents lots of opportunities for you to demonstrate your brand personality, reveal insights into your brand (through behind-the-scenes posts), and drive conversions. But you can really take social speak to the next level when you combine it with a brand tone of voice.
Social speak + tone of voice = a perfect match
Any company looking to connect with customers and prospects through social media needs to harness the power of social speak. But — how you use social speak should be guided by your brand tone of voice. Are you laid back and chatty, or direct and punchy? The way you express yourself as a brand can have a big impact on the customers you attract and help drive meaningful connections with those customers.
The problem is that a lot of brands don’t really know what their tone of voice is, let alone have defined it and in use across the company. But the good news is that we’re here to help you! Our Tone of Voice Workbook gives you the tools you need to create and define a tone of voice that matches your brand personality. With helpful examples, worksheets, and exercises, you’ll have your brand tone of voice defined in no time. Download it today, or if you’re interested in learning how Acrolinx can help your brand create impactful content, let’s talk.