Social Media 'Clevers Up' Business Writing

For years, pedants and purists have complained that social media is destroying language, and that Millennials are the worst culprits. Heck, even actor Ralph Fiennes put his two cents in


Whereas Fiennes accuses Twitter of "dumbing down" language, I see it as clevering up. That’s because it forces people to follow two of the most important principles of good business writing: get to the point quickly. And keep it short. 

Many linguists agree that the internet is actually making writing more effective. And, as this Stanford study proves, Millennials are better communicators for having grown up with it.

A Baby Boomer client of mine believes it’s not just because these Millennials have been emailing since they could reach their keyboards. They’ve also been schooled in what actually works by seeing what gets retweeted, liked, and commented on.

Indeed, some of the biggest success stories in social media in recent years have been Millennials’ doing. When Telefónica brand O2 turned a potential PR disaster into a viral sensation, it was thanks to an intern on Twitter duty that day. The same goes for Oreo’s now legendary Superbowl tweet. 

But why stop there?

Think in social media, whatever the medium

Most businesses are recognizing the benefits of social media as a marketing channel. But too many are still treating it as this exotic place where their brand goes on vacation. Where it can relax a bit. Let its hair down. Be more human. But in more traditional media, it’s back to work: suit and tie, serious face, corporatespeak.

I’ve worked with many clients who have a brand voice, and want help adapting it for social media. “We can’t sound the same on Facebook and Twitter as we do in our corporate brochure” is something I hear often.

Thing is, your “social media brand” is probably the one your customers relate to more. Not just that; it’s probably the one they like more. 

As such, social media can actually be a good way to draw out your one voice that should apply to everything you write. Because it’s where you actually have a dialogue with your customers, and write in language they can understand.

So instead of asking how your voice should change to be relevant in social media, ask what you can learn from social media – and how you can apply that to all of your communications, whatever the medium.

I’m not saying you should pepper your annual report with emojis and exclamation points (and, for the record, I don’t condone those things in social media either). But the basic principles of good social media writing are just as relevant to good business writing, whether it’s an in-store poster, a white paper, or a letter to a customer. 

  • Make it clear and concise. 
  • Make it natural and conversational. 
  • Don’t be afraid to show some personality. 
  • Keep it authentic to your brand.

Or just hire a Millennial to write it.

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