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May 12, 2014

Don’t Bother Tweeting if You Can’t Fact-Check or Spell-Check, Experts Say

Social media is often considered the holy grail of online marketing. Why? Because it’s inconspicuous. Your “fans” or “followers” have chosen to receive your status updates, promotions, and words of wisdom. That’s why advertising on social media is unlike any type of advertising that has come before it. You not only have a captive audience, but you have one that’s there voluntarily. That’s a privilege that businesses should not take lightly.

Unfortunately, a recent study of 1,003 U.K. social media consumers conducted by Disruptive Communications shows that certain social media mistakes might be fouling up your game. Out of those surveyed, 42.5 percent pointed to the rampant butchering of the English language as their top complaint about businesses who use social media. Another 24.9 percent of participants admitted to being annoyed when a business’s updates were too “salesy,” tried too hard to be funny, or surprisingly, weren’t posting often enough. Go figure.

Grammar Goofs to Avoid

Since grammatical errors accounted for almost half of the complaints, let’s talk about exactly what that means. Information Week recently covered some of the grammar gaffes that tend to drive people up the wall. Included were the improper use of “its and it’s,” “your” and “you’re,” and “to,” “too,” and “two.” And let’s not forget about “there,” “they’re,” and “their.” The misuse of those words probably deserves a blog post of its own.

Copyblogger also has a hilarious infographic that pointed to a few other grammar errors that are tragic in their own right. Included in the list were words like “complement” and “compliment,” “less” and “fewer,” and “principle” and “principal.” Regardless of your grammar prowess, there’s a lesson to be learned here: When in doubt, look it up.

Don’t Be Counterproductive

But there’s more at stake here than just annoying your customers. Recent research shows that improper grammar can actually lower your search engine rankings and make it harder for your customers to find you. For example, popular search engine Bing admits that its search engine algorithms penalize sites with poor grammar, typos and poor use of the English language. The bottom line: If you’re going to utilize social media for the purpose of your business, take the time edit your content for accuracy and proper spelling. Otherwise you’re truly working against yourself and your own goals. And who wants to do that?

Some businesses may have to learn that lesson the hard way. For example, the proofreading software service Grammarly recently analyzed the grammar of some of the biggest companies around these days: Pepsi, Coke, Facebook, Google, GM and Ford. The results? Pepsi’s errors outnumbered Coke’s by a rate of more than 3:1, Facebook made almost 400 percent more errors than Google, and GM made almost twice as many errors as Ford. The analysis didn’t draw any particular conclusion from the study, except to say that “the care that a company takes with its communications is often indicative of its overall attention to detail.” Ouch.

When Misinformation Attacks

When attempting to use social media for your benefit, it’s just as important to fact-check as it is to check for proper grammar. This point was proven by the millions of tweets containing false information that infiltrated the social media landscape in the minutes, hours and days that followed Boston Marathon bombing in 2013. The University of Washington conducted extensive research of the tweets that began shortly after the bombing and the subsequent manhunt, focusing on those with hashtags such as #boston, #prayforboston, #mit and #manhunt. What they found was that it was incredibly difficult to correct false information, since false tweets spread like wildfire compared to the tweets that were trying to correct them.

“We could see very clearly the negative impacts of misinformation in this event,” said Kate Starbird, a U.W. assistant professor who participated in the study. “Every crisis event is very different in so many ways, but I imagine some of the dynamics we’re seeing around misinformation and organization of information apply to many different contexts,” she said.
Starbird’s team examined more than 10.6 million tweets about the event to separate those with misinformation and rumors from those with corrections. They hope to someday create a software program that can detect questionable tweets, or at least let users know when a tweet is being questioned by another tweet. Right now, it’s too early to tell.

On the other hand, the twitterstorm that took place shortly after the Boston Marathon bombings proves one thing for sure. Social media has the ability to spread false information at lightning speed, whether it originates from an individual, group or a business. To avoid being part of the problem, verify your social media updates for accuracy as well as grammar. Because, while the improper use of grammar might offend your customers, spreading false information will make them angry.


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Holly Johnson writes about personal finance, education and social media. She is a contributor to several websites, including MBAPrograms.org.

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