The nineties and early noughties saw a mass parental-panic about text talk amongst teenagers, but have we now created a monster far more powerful and influential? Social media continues to grow and within this world of sharing and online communication festers a casual attitude to spelling and grammar.

The poor spelling and grammar scattered around the blogosphere and social media today are a result of continuous mistakes and a widespread acceptance of these mistakes. George Orwell summed up the problem –and perhaps the solution – in a 1946 essay:

“A man may take to drink because he feels himself to be a failure, and then fail all the more completely because he drinks. It is rather the same thing that is happening to the English language. It becomes ugly and inaccurate because our thoughts are foolish, but the slovenliness of our language makes it easier for us to have foolish thoughts. The point is that the process is reversible. Modern English, especially written English, is full of bad habits which spread by imitation and which can be avoided if one is willing to take the necessary trouble.” (George Orwell, 1946, Politics and the English Language)

Though outdated (understatement of the year), this theory resonates in the information age. Bad habits are easy to pick up, but how easily can this one be broken? And what effect is it really having on the big picture?

Perhaps for an individual the odd typo is forgivable but a study last summer unveiled some surprising results regarding brand websites: Disruptive Communications asked 1,003 people what was most likely to damage there opinion of a brand (see what I did their?) and 42.5% responded with “poor spelling or grammar”. Whilst online requires completely different treatment to traditional mediums, this statistic shows that correct English should remain a top priority.

Is the freedom of the web to blame?

This casual attitude is perhaps encouraged by the ease of posting and the freedom of the Internet. However, with the potential reach of each post and the ability to essentially share your words with the world, the importance of language is surely heightened within the realms of social media. The Internet allows your mistakes to be immortalised.

Most Common Mistakes

  • Overuse/ misuse of capitalization
  • There, their, they’re/ you’re, your/ it’s, its
  • The apostrophe (the girl’s cat/ the girls’ cat)
  • Affect/ effect – shrouded in confusion, this mistake is common not only in social media, but pretty much anywhere. Check out OxfordWords blog for a comprehensive explanation

Top Tips for Avoiding these Mistakes

  • Proofread multiple times before posting and, if possible, ask others to read over each post – fresh eyes are more likely to spot subtle blunders
  • If in doubt, leave it out. This common tip resides in the ‘apostrophe’ section of the English teacher’s bible
  • If you are still unsure, try out the online grammar check offered by Grammarly with a seven-day free trial.

The intention of this post was not to generate fear, but rather to share an important aspect of the digital world that appears to be somewhat overlooked. You may be thinking, “Does it really matter if we say ‘you’re’ instead of ‘your’? Will people even notice?” The simple answer is yes, they will, but don’t take my word for it:

  • A study by Real Business shows 59% of UK residents would not use a company that has obvious grammatical errors or spelling mistakes in its marketing material
  • Grammarly looked into the LinkedIn accounts of several competing companies: Coke vs. Pepsi, Facebook vs. Google, Ford vs. GM. They found that, for example, Coke makes four times fewer mistakes than Pepsi and stated: “the care that a company takes with its communications is often indicative of its overall attention to detail.”
  • Charles Duncombe says misspellings “put off customers who could have concerns about a website’s credibility”, read more on Hubspot
  • Shrouded in mystery is the effect of bad grammar on your rankings. Bing have admitted that their algorithms prevent websites containing bad grammar from reaching their optimum visibility, whilst Google claim poor grammar in comments makes no difference to rankings.

So don’t follow in the ways of the McDonald’s ‘anus burger’ or Obama’s banner ad that reads ‘we’ve come along way’ (as opposed to ‘a long way’) or Tesco and their ‘most tastiest’ juice, write as if people are scrutinising every word; they probably are.

How much of a consideration is spelling and grammar when you’re viewing a brand website or social media?

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