Monday, November 9, 2009

A Blogger's Dilemma: Language Clarity or Confusion

The English language is quirky. The same words often carry different meanings dependent upon the cultural background and geography of the reader.

Plus, colloquialisms and other homespun variations can recast what a blogger considers to be a well-articulated post into a confusing and misinterpreted mess.

I was reminded of this last week at a global communications summit organized by one of Strategic Communications Group’s (Strategic) clients. Joined by my colleague Chris Parente, we had the pleasure of brainstorming with public relations consultants located in California and the UK.

It was during a conversation with one of the UK-based PR representatives that Chris warned about incorporating industry jargon in our messaging. He referred to this as the “inside baseball” syndrome.

Chris’ comment was met by a moment of silence, a shrug and a comment from the UK rep that she had no idea what Chris meant. Ah…the business implications of baseball terminology have yet to cross the pond.

This experience inspired me to review the past few months of traffic on this blog. The numbers are encouraging with more than 10,000 unique visitors. However, as I suspected, nearly 43 percent of my readers hail from outside the United States.

Like many bloggers, I employ an informal writing style to convey personality. I will pepper paragraphs with conversational language and, in some instances, even clich├ęs with the goal of constructing a more entertaining post.

Yet, I now wonder if my efforts to create a more engaged reader are potentially confusing nearly half of them. Ironic, right?

The more pressing questions, of course, is whether I should subscribe to a more journalistically prudent approach. And what counsel should we provide to clients?

My initial take is these questions are best answered by assessing and prioritizing the bloggers' target audience. For me, I’m domestically focused so this more casual writing style is spot on.

For the US-based blogger with global aspirations the smart play is to remain conservative and proper, and, by all means, drop the inside baseball references.


Cheryl H said...

Excellent aritcle. It is relevant to more that just blogs. Recently in the office a client asked what I was up to, I responded that I had spent the morning "putting out fires", the client quickly responded with did you call the Fire Department. It did not occur to me that the term "putting out fires" meaning sovling the various issues that had come up, could be take literally. Thanks for the great blog!

Marc Hausman said...

You're right on about that, Cheryl. Clarity in language is important in all business settings.

However, "putting out fires" is one of those phrases that I assumed every worker in the US understands.

Guess I should never assume.