Eating Salad With Your Fingers

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Scott Flood is the owner of Scott Flood Writing. Scott Flood is the owner of Scott Flood Writing.

"I’m just posting it on social media, so the usual rules don’t apply, right?" He was making a major announcement about his company and assumed he didn’t have to be concerned with grammar and style.

I told him he didn’t have to worry about those things, unless he wanted to be taken seriously.

It’s an increasingly common question, as more of our messages and conversations find their way to social media and newer platforms. Language is becoming more relaxed, and even people who are sticklers for grammar and syntax find abbreviations and emojis sneaking their way into their texts and emails.

But personal conversations and connections are one thing. When you’re trying to introduce, promote, or advance your business (or your own career), taking too casual a path can be counterproductive.

The simple fact is that in an era of tweets and LOLs, impressions still matter. And just as wise job candidates continue to dress up for interviews, marketing and communications materials work best when we keep them on the more formal side. Once we’ve developed a relationship with a stakeholder, customer, or other company, it’s okay to become more relaxed, but when you’re in the early stages of trying to make an impression -- such as making a big announcement about the future of your business -- it pays to be more serious.

Matters such as grammar, style, and proper formats are a lot like dining etiquette. Even when you take an important client or prospect to a casual restaurant instead of a place with white tablecloths and a lengthy wine list, you’re still going to be focused on making the right impression. Dig into your salad with your fingers or wipe the ranch dressing off on your sleeve, and no matter how relaxed your guest may be, they’re going to assume you’re either a slob or an idiot. You’re not going to make the right kind of impression.

Things like grammar may not be a big deal to you, but that’s not the issue here. The key thing to remember is what’s important isn’t whether it matters to you -- it’s whether it matters to your audience. When it comes to etiquette, you don’t behave the way you want to behave. You act in the manner that’s acceptable for the group and the setting.

Your marketing and communications materials stand in for you when you can’t be there. They actually take your place. When you send an email to a prospect, it’s as if you’re walking into their office. When you run an ad in a trade magazine, it’s as though one of your sales reps was sitting across from a prospect. When you post an update on social media, it’s like having a conversation with one of your followers. If you were making those personal contacts, you’d take steps to be sure you were making the right impression. Your materials should do no less.

That standard also applies to personal communications. For example, I’m surprised at the number of typos and misspellings I see in LinkedIn profiles. In particular, I’m stunned at how often I see profiles where the individual has misspelled the name of the college they attended. I get it -- typos happen -- but when you make a mistake like that and fail to notice it, any of the status your alma mater’s name should give you disappears. And while LinkedIn may be a social media site, it serves the same purpose as a business gathering, so the same standards apply.

I have a role in which I interview and hire candidates for jobs that pay quite well. When I see those kinds of mistakes on resumes, cover letters, and LinkedIn pages, I choose not to interview those individuals. If you can’t take the time to represent yourself well to me, how can I trust you to publicly represent my organization?

So no, you don’t have to follow established and accepted standards when you communicate with others. But if your approach means your messages fall short of their intended goals or create the wrong kinds of impressions among those you’re trying to reach, you’ll have nobody to blame but yourself.

Scott Flood is the owner of Scott Flood Writing

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