Clever content trumps trolls

Clear, straightforward, factually accurate and truthful writing has always been the single best way to inspire, engage and communicate with fellow humans.

At a time when an alarming number of minds are influenced by unverified material they read on social and digital media, this is more relevant than ever.

There are several good aspects to social media, but there is one significantly bad one: that people can attack others, without mercy or fear of retribution.

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“You cannot hope to bribe or twist, thank God, the British journalist.” *

At a recent ‘Media meets Business’ event, a leading industrialist asked the editor of one of our grandest and most respected newspapers why his newspaper contained so many factual, grammatical and spelling errors.

“Because we no longer have the time to check these things,” he replied. He could have added that his organ, in common with most newspapers and magazines, no longer employs trained and immensely knowledgeable sub-editors to do this all-important job.

The industrialist concerned, who told me the story, confesses himself to be nonplussed.

“Imagine if we told our customers that we had no time to check that all the bolts were tight before we delivered new cars,” he commented. “We would swiftly have been out of business, and rightly so.”

Car company customer service departments are staffed by people who, whatever their personal beliefs, tend to make Zen Buddhists look hyper-active. Hour after hour, day after day, they politely listen to people who complain about real and imagined product failures to demand either a refund, or compensation, often both.

Now what, I wonder, would happen if newspapers and magazines were faced with the same rigorous customer scrutiny? In fact, why are they not?

Perhaps their products are too cheap and thus regarded as having little value beyond entertainment? Or perhaps readers subliminally get that they largely contain paid-for editorial and PR fluff?

In other words, it simply doesn’t matter that much to us. Public scrutiny delivered via social media, we hope, will eventually deliver the truth or at least a close enough approximation of it. But knowing what is, and is not, independent editorial remains a difficulty.

Private Eye (No.1414 18-31 March) illustrates the point.

Will this alleged lack of distinction between advertising and medium have any affect on What Car’s or VW’s credibility and sales? Almost certainly not.

In every commercial sphere, consumers prefer transparency in the communication they receive from brands and the people who work for them. Comment on social media – and as always in the Eye – is increasingly intolerant about unverifiable content, whether indirectly from brand leaders or directly from their customer service teams.

Is ‘blow smoke up our backsides and we’ll go elsewhere’ the new zeitgeist? Maybe sometime soon but not, I suspect, just yet.

*Humbert Wolfe 1885-1940

What do you mean?

When communication matters – really matters – it has to be crystal clear on two levels: meaning and intent.

Recent legislation banning ‘Legal Highs’, Psychoactive Substances Act 2016 is so all-embracing that caffeine, alcohol and tobacco had to be specifically excluded.

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Five steps to clarity

Are you looking to create a high standard of communication? Follow these five steps:

  1. Identify your audience. Are they internal or external? This will inform step 2.
  1. Cater your communication to your audience. When communicating internally it’s safe to assume that technical terms or acronyms will be understood. An external audience on the other hand is looking for jargon-free language.
  1. Think about how your audience will see your communication. Short paragraphs allow an online reader to scan quickly. An email might be read on a phone, in which case too much text will be overwhelming.
  1. Short words and phrases convey information clearly and concisely.
  1. Grammar and spelling matter. Check everything (‘not’ and ‘now’ will always pass the spell check and can render very different meanings). Verify dates. Spell names correctly.

For more advice, get in touch.

Cartoon illustrating no. 5 of our five steps for good communication - spelling matters