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Manufacturing Indaba 2018

Why is there so much bad language on social media?

I don't mean four-letter words and the awful vitriol in's comment section. I mean the multitude of typos, spelling mistakes, grammatical errors and disregard for punctuation that pepper Facebook and Twitter.
In a recent two-part article, Caryn Gootkin explores how damaging bad copy can be to brands. She's taken the bold step of naming and shaming companies which are slapdash with their online copy, and we're not talking small businesses here.

While errors can be found on print ads, billboards, printed materials and websites, it's social media that seems to suffer the worst of it.

Why is this?
  • Social media is still not being taken seriously

    Although brands are becoming more switched on to the value of the social media mix, many are still not allocating proper attention and resources to it.

    You don't have to pay anything to set up a basic Facebook page or Twitter account - but it is not free. There are strategy, copywriting, design and development costs involved. It takes budget, people and expertise to run these properly.

    All too often, a company's social media presence seems to say 'we think we need to be on here, so we're here, but we're not really going to spend much time on this'. It's really obvious when this is the case.

    And palming the daily management off onto a junior (or, worse, an intern) does neither your intern nor your brand much good. Hire someone who knows what they're doing. Which brings me to...

  • Non-writers are writing social media copy

    Spotted a brand whose social media presence is riddled with language errors? I'd guess that the person assigned to the social media manager role would likely never call him- or herself a writer, and probably wouldn't know one end of a split infinitive from the other.

    What company does not want all public-facing copy to be error-free? If, as Gootkin says, you'd hire a copywriter for a billboard or print ad, and a PR to write your press releases, why are so many brands letting non-writer staff loose on their Facebook pages and Twitter accounts?

    Companies which use specialists to generate (read: write) their social media content don't get off scot-free here, unless they're also paying them to moderate, too.

    We at Peppermint Source have several clients that we prepare well-written Facebook wall posts for, but which manage responses and comments themselves, and that's where errors creep in. Most of the time, the social media managers are blissfully unaware of the mistakes they are making (often their bosses are, too), because they're not writers.
    The fact is that your brand is being judged constantly, and if you're not going to hire a writer, please invest in some basic copywriting training.

  • Social media management is being done via smartphone

    A frightening number of social media managers I've worked with use their phones to write tweets, update Facebook statuses and moderate comments. THEIR PHONES. On which there's no spellcheck or grammar corrector - and where inserting an apostrophe is a mission [certain smartphones do have both, but then you end up with the dreaded autocorrect/predictive text and may end up starring on or Fail Blog - managing ed].

    And touch screens don't make it any easier. They're not reading and checking what they've written before they post it because it's really hard to do this on a tiny screen.

    Also, when many of us are on our phones, we are in 'casual' mode, not 'work' mode. We're used to SMSing our friends or posting a quick status update for our buddies. It's easy to forget that - in a professional, brand context - although it's social media, it's not OK to be casual.
Should copy errors be overlooked on social media? Should non-writers be assigned customer-facing copy tasks? And are smartphones a writer's worst enemy? Weigh in with your opinions in the comments section below.

About Jo Duxbury

Jo Duxbury has been providing a platform for marketers to find thousands of industry freelancers since she launched in early 2006. January 2010 saw her launch Peppermint Source, which offers a full outsourced marketing strategy and management service to companies that don't have the time, skills or staff to handle their marketing themselves. Jo is also a fine art, travel and portrait photographer - view her work at or follow @JoDuxbury on Twitter.
Arthur Charles Van Wyk
As someone who take pride in my eloquence in English, I too make many mistakes when I type in the same language I speak so well. Mistakes are one of those things we should just call "life's little unavoidables".Yes it is important that we write properly, but even more important than that is the question: "Are we communicating?" - Our agency produce Youtube videos and on more than one occasion I have personally slept behind the camera and let the subject I'm filming slip from the frame. Big mistake, but because the person was still speaking and could be heard this did in now way take away from what was being taught or expounded on.My thinking is that we put way too much focus on the process and fail to ask whether we are attaining the set objectives. And despite the existence of courses by Quirk, Walter Pike et al there are no SAQA-accredited qualifications in social media marketing. Until there is this space will be filled with mavericks who run wild. Where there are no laws, none are being broken.
Posted on 20 Sep 2011 14:03
Kevin Minshaw
If you want to see bad, read a few articles on CNN or BBC. Apart from some of the worst spelling and grammar ever, it looks like many stories where just cut and pasted from other sources with no care for flow whatsoever.
Posted on 20 Sep 2011 16:42
Mark Widdicombe
The pointy-haired bosses simply do not understand that poor spelling, punctuation and grammar lose their companies business. This applies not only to less formal communication such as social media sites, but even to printed matter. I recently saw a notice posted in a well-known franchise outlet that promised a competition for women in bikini's, the prizes being flat-screen TV's; I've seen beautifully framed notices in corporate bathrooms urging users to "wash you're hands", and so on. Communications MUST be proofread by someone competent before the public gets to see them, or they will be judged harshly.
Posted on 28 Sep 2011 15:58