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Participation in social media networking requires that we write words. It might be a blog post, the words on your website, a Facebook status update or a 140 character micro-blog on Twitter. All of these require some level of writing capability. None of these require you to be highly skilled as a writer.
Romantic is any notion that by getting people to communicate in this way, it will lead to improving people’s writing skills. Even primary school age users know what spell-check is and the average teenager, thanks in large to the advent of SMS as communication, uses l33t-speak or text-talk as their default language.
We use social media to save time with communications; business uses it to promote their brand. So how important is it to spell correctly when using these electronic methods?
Let’s look at two real-life examples of situations where the relevance of spelling was highlighted:
At a local high school the English teacher delivered to her students an assignment, written on the white board for students to copy down and complete as homework. As her students were doing this she verbally added the following additional criteria to the assignment:
"Students are not to use SMS style texting talk to write their assignments. Students will be marked down on any use of abbreviations in their written work."
On a famous and well recognised brand’s Facebook Fan Page recently, they thanked a celebrity who had promoted their brand and in doing so they spelt the name of this celebrity incorrectly.
It’s fair to say spelling was of importance in both these examples. It’s also fair to assume in both instances that there was the time and the tools available to ensure the spelling was accurate. Why would you risk losing easy marks, or losing a major client, over poor-spelling?
Then there are the situations where spelling becomes a matter of etiquette. On Twitter for example, you may read a Tweet that you consider worth Re Tweeting, and yet you notice a word, or three, that are spelt wrong. If it’s a personal Tweet, many would say “who cares”?! However, if it relates to a promotion for a business, or a community service announcement from a public service group – then isn’t it important to get it right? Understandably there is a time and place for abbreviations when you have a 140 character limit, however we can generally tell the difference between an abbreviation and a spelling mistake.
Another degree of difficulty comes when things get lost in translation. You don’t need to be fluent in another language in order to speak it online thanks to the dozens of translators available now. However, as a native English speaker, I know I can often easily tell when English has been translated due to gaps in syntax.
The English language alone comes in 3 major styles, US English, UK English and arguably Australian! (Aussies have their own Dictionary, complete with common colloquialisms). No one wants to deliberately insult another by getting their appetisers or appetizers confused and their nappies and diapers in a knot!
Then there’s everyone’s favourite way of ruining a perfectly good sentence (or occasionally making it funnier) when using Predictive Text. This method is so heavily relied upon for mobile SMS and email that the ‘gaffes’ now have their own website!
Socially, spelling mistakes are forgivable and at worst funny. In business terms unless you’re lucky enough for the spelling error to lead to a massive surge in free publicity right at a time when you desire it, it could also render your brand as B-grade and leave you labelled as unprofessional. Social media gives you time to think, compose and edit before hitting the Enter button – so there really is no excuse.