Social Media Street Cred: Does Grammar Have a Place in the Colloquial Conversation of Online Communities?


Yesterday, I bought a classic book that my high school English teacher always made a point to recommended in red pen on any paper our class turned in that contained grammar errors: Elements of Style by William Strunk Jr. and EB White. In preparing myself to fully enter the PR profession, I am re-reading and studying this book to improve my writing. But I wondered, as I flipped through the familiar pages of writing do’s and don’ts, what Strunk and White would say about writing on the Web.

Marketing on the web means joining an online conversation in an authentic way; giving real human voice to a colossal, often faceless brick-and-mortar brand. The language we use as marketers to help clients engage publics in peer-to-peer communities has to be colloquial, has to make sense and fit with the way user speak in whatever platform we’re working with. What would Strunk and White say about throwing down a few comma splices, slang or misplaced modifiers in an attempt to gain social media street cred? Grammar on the web gets lost in the flow of natural conversation and as we upload photos, video, friend networks… do we, as Web users, have time to think about how proper our posts are? If I have 140 characters to post a Tweet or Jaiku, do I really have the space to fix all of my faulty parallelism or improper punctuation?

As digital brand ambassadors, should we pay attention to being proper or just speak in the colloquial language of the communities we engage?


3 Responses to “Social Media Street Cred: Does Grammar Have a Place in the Colloquial Conversation of Online Communities?”

  1. 1 Rax Lakhani

    Hi Amanda

    Good points raised here. Personally, nothing cheeses me off more than sloppy spelling and grammar. However, I blame the SMS culture that we have over here in the UK. 60 characters is not a lot of space to cram in a message, so today’s kids are forced to invent a whole new textual language based on abbreviated words and coded phrases (lmao, lol, ttfn…). This smiley culture has translated to emails, blogs and now other forms of social media.

    If we stop to think about it, the whole idea of authentic conversations equating to bad grammar/spelling is a fairly recent notion. This is probably because we’ve allowed ourselves to get lazy.

    You’re right – social media is about human conversation, but that doesn’t mean selling out on the beautifully creative and expressive languages that we have been taught to communicate in.

    Typing fast sometimes brings about keystroke faults – which are different to deliberate spelling mistakes and bastardised syntax…

    Finally, on the question of whether you would have time to update your Twitter / Jaiku posts with correct syntax / grammar – think of the post as being a written representation of who you are. If it’s sloppily written, ridden with faults, then that’s how you’ll be perceived.

    Rant over!


    Smilies aren’t all that bad!

    Rax Lakhani

    (good luck with the move back to fulltime PR!)

  2. I’ve recently purchased English Grammar For Dummies as an attempt to approve my writing as well. I have yet to read the first page, but I plan on doing so soon. I’m not sure about the grammar aspect but, if folks can understand the message that someone is trying to portray, I suppose everything is ok, right?

  3. It’s funny. Every girl I have ever talked to has commented on how perfect my MSN grammar was, even if I didn’t think so. What I mean is, taking the effort to capitalize and punctuate every bit of text does make an impression. I think it portrays tidiness rather than sloppiness. I’ve received similar, but far less complimentary comments from my male friends.

    Proper grammar is the way to go!

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