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Not long ago, the word world spun into a frenzy when someone discovered that several dictionaries had added a second definition for the word “literally.” Now, instead of meaning “actually,” it also means “Just kidding, not really.” For the better part of a week, those who love grammar—and those who just love a good debate—declared that this was the nail in the coffin. We have literally killed the English language.
Or maybe not. Communication is pretty safe despite a few dictionary glitches and evolving usage. But a few times a year, for better or worse, grammar makes the news—and that’s a good thing. Words and images are the heroes of the media world, whether they’re in newspapers, across billboards, or on screens. Those commas, em dashes, and even semi-colons are the silent army that often saves the day, guiding your readers down the path you intended and making sure your words mean what you want them to mean. The truth is, if you don’t notice them, they’re doing their jobs.
But every once in a while, we do notice them, and hopefully we learn something. In the past year alone, we’ve seen Mitt Romney’s “Amercia” campaign app, Rob Lowe’s “grammer” hashtag, and President Obama’s questionable “Forward.” punctuation. And then there’s the ever-growing list of memes: “Let’s eat grandma” vs. “Let’s eat, grandma,” “Stop clubbing, baby seals” vs. “Stop clubbing baby seals,” and the imaginary “Alot.” We jump on the mistake, declare the end of English as we know it, and laugh at pictures of baby seals on a dance floor. We mock, but we’re paying attention, aren’t we?
Disruptive Communications, a content marketing and digital PR agency, recently asked 1,000 consumers what was most likely to damage their opinion of a brand on social media. Nearly half (43%) listed poor spelling and grammar. The runner-up (“salesy” posts) didn’t even come close at just under 25%. Instead, it’s the little mistakes, unchecked facts, and misspellings that stick with consumers. And it shows in the bottom line. When Grammarly, a proofreading and software service, counted up the typos in competing brands’ LinkedIn posts, they found that brands with fewer grammar gaffes (Coke, Google and Ford) consistently topped their rivals (Pepsi, Facebook and GM) in market share, revenue, and sales.
That’s a big deal. It means consumers are paying attention.
And it’s not just heads of households and big-purchase decision-makers. Turns out, consumers of all ages also notice the grammar of musicians. Grammarly counted up the Twitter typos of the 100 most-followed performers. With few exceptions (notably, Justin Bieber), the fewer errors musicians made, the higher their earnings. Beyonce and Coldplay topped the list with only 2-3 typos for every 100 words and combined 2012 earnings of $117 million. At the bottom? DJ Pauly D and Snoop Dogg (Or is that Snoop Lion?), with 35-55 mistakes and $19.5 million. To be fair, the higher-paid musicians may just know the value of a good social-media team with a proofreader on standby. And when you’re bringing in tens of millions, maybe you’re okay sparing a few commas and a few zeroes.
But whether you’re a small-town business, a multimillion-dollar corporation, or the reigning Queen of Pop, it all comes back to the clarity and accuracy of the words you’ve chosen to share with your audience.
If you put out quality, you get quality in return.