Don’t Worry, They’re Just Words: Part II

In my last post, I pointed out that the words that we choose to use can influence the way that people interpret what we are trying to say.

At times, the ideas that we are trying to convey to others might not be properly communicated because the intended recipients don’t understand the meanings of the words that we use. (In some cases, the words that we use might actually have different meanings among people with different cultural backgrounds.)

In other words, what we are trying to say might get lost in translation even if the people who we are trying to reach speak the same language.

Furthermore, even when the ideas that we are trying to communicate to others are properly received, there might be a more succinct or influential way of wording what we are trying to say.

A Real-World Example of the Power of Words

Not long after I posted the blog post, the point that I was making was illustrated perfectly in an article that was published by the Huffington Post.

However, in this case, it wasn’t an incorrect choice of words that caused the problem; it was the omission of the word “acquisition” that created the confusion.

According to a tweet by Peter Shankman, when the Huffington Post first published their article, it said, “Facebook has said it expects the Instagram to close sometime this year.” (Or, something similar to that—I didn’t see the actual post before the change was made. I am relying on Mr. Shankman as a trusted source.)

This led him to post this tweet with a link to the article:

However, the mistake was spotted and the article was updated. Fortunately, Mr. Shankman found out about it and tweeted this:

However, Mr. Shankman’s original tweet was still out there and not everyone saw his tweet about the typo. Therefore, misinformation continued to spread on Twitter the next day.

For example, his tweet was retweeted by Britton Edwards, and it looks like that is how Emily Binder found out about it. This led her to tweet:

This is how I found out about the post and the typo.

Now, as you can see, the omission of the word “acquision” changed the meaning of the sentence in the article and rumors of Instagram closing started to spread on Twitter. In fact, they continued to spread even after the article was fixed and Mr. Shankman tweeted about the correction.

I’m guessing that a lot of people had the same reaction that Mr. Shankman and Ms. Binder did. Just think about how many other people tweeted this.

Final Thoughts

The example that I gave in this post illustrates the fact that one word can make a huge difference in how people interpret what you are trying to say. (It also illustrates how rumors can easily be started by an innocent mistake.)

Therefore, it makes sense to not only pay attention to what you say, but also how you say it.

This is true when you are writing traditional advertisements and when you are writing blog posts as part of your content marketing efforts.

If you are interested in reading about this further, I’d check out Peter Shankman’s blog in the next few days, as it sounds like he might have a thing or two to say about it. (I will update this post with a link if he does write a post about this in the near future.)

Furthermore, you also might want to check out Emily Binder’s lastest post. She doesn’t address the typo, but she does give her opinion about Instagram and the Facebook Camera app.

Chad Thiele

Marketing analyst and strategist, content curator, applied sociologist, proud UW-Madison alumnus, and an Auburn-trained mobile marketer. My goal is to help businesses identify trends that will help them achieve their marketing objectives and business goals. I'm currently looking for my next career challenge. Please feel free to contact me anytime at: chadjthiele@gmail.com.

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  • http://www.emilybinder.com Emily Binder

    Yes, words (and punctuation) are fundamental. I try my best not to post incendiary or rumor-driven tweets. The Huffington Post’s omission of the critical word “acquisition” caused inaccurate conclusions by at least several people.

    In the past, when I’ve tweeted something then found out it was inaccurate in some way, I posted a follow-up correction tweet, just like Mr. Shankman did. I didn’t delete the original tweet because a conversation had formed around it and I wanted to keep the tweet up for the sake of others who might try and view the whole stream. But maybe we should delete tweets that we learn are inaccurate. Then again, in lots of third party apps like Hootsuite, a deleted tweet can still show up in one’s stream; only if you click to view the tweet on Twitter.com would you see the error message that the tweet was deleted.

    We should be able to read articles from reliable news sources and assume they are accurate. I’ve noticed careless errors on reputable sites like Huffington Post, Mashable, and Tech Crunch. If it’s just a spelling error, I may tweet the article and post script make fun of them for not using spell check. But if it’s a misused or omitted word that alters the entire meaning, how will readers know before it’s too late?

    • http://1911mainstreet.com Chad Thiele

      Emily,

      I know that both you and Mr. Shankman weren’t trying to spread rumors. In fact, given that both of you are knowledgeable about social media marketing, I think that both of you think about what you are tweeting before you tweet it more than the average person. That’s what makes this case even more noteworthy. That is, this type of thing can happen even when people are very careful about what they post.

      This goes to show that you can’t always trust the information that you get when you hear about it on social networking sites, even if you hear about it from a trusted source, because you might not be getting all the information.

      Also, I think that your process is perfect. Deleting the post is not going to fix the problem. As you mentioned, the tweets might not be deleted in third party apps. Also, if people don’t use the retweet button when they retweet, deleting the original post won’t make a difference. And, having it there will help others retrace your steps on Twitter to find the correct information, if they are that curious. However, I doubt that the average person would go to that much trouble.

      I also agree with your point that we should be able to assume that the information posted on The Huffington Post, Mashable, Tech Crunch, and similar websites is accurate. I think that most of the time the information that they post is accurate. However, in an effort to be the first to report the news, errors do happen. It is interesting to note that according to the people who commented on Mr. Shankman’s posts, it was the AP that made the error this time.

      Also, we do need to keep in mind that major news sources have had to issue retractions for as long as the news has been reported. However, now that it is online, the changes can be done instantly without calling too much attention to it. This is part of the problem, as many people might not see the retraction. It might help if they make a note about the change when they do make a change.

      Furthermore, when any trusted news source posts inaccurate information, I would hope that their readers would continue to point out the inaccuracies. The good thing about social media is that people have a voice to let others know about an error by commenting, tweeting, or posting a comment on any other social networking site.

      I think there are several posts that can be written about these topics.

      Thank you for the comment. And, thanks for the note on your blog. I enjoy reading it.

      Regards,

      Chad Thiele

      • Branch

        The fact that Shankman’s corrected post predates Binder’s retweet suggests that Binder did not actually read the then-corrected linked article herself before regurgitating misinformation. They’re just words…

        • http://1911mainstreet.com Chad Thiele

          Branch,

          I’m not sure if Ms. Binder read the article or not. That is something that only she could tell you.

          What I can tell you is that she found out about Mr. Shankman’s tweet through Britton Edwards (@brittont13). (You can tell this because of the way that she retweeted the post and if you click on the link that she posted, it states that it was originally shared by Britton Edwards.)

          However, it doesn’t look like Ms. Edwards retweeted Mr. Shankman’s tweet about the fix. Therefore, Ms. Binder might not have seen Mr. Shankman’s second tweet at all. This is an inherent problem with information received via social networking sites (i.e., you might not be getting all the information.)

          Also, the point of the post was not to single out Ms. Binder specifically, but to point out the power of a single word. I guessing a lot of people did the same thing that she did.

          In fact, given that the original tweet was sent from Peter Shankman, I’m guessing a lot of people thought it was true, as he is a trusted source for information. (He is often interviewed by major national and international news channels, including Fox News, CNN, and MSNBC [http://shankman.com/about/].)

          If you look at the bigger picture, the post points out one of the problems with obtaining information via social networking sites and the power of words and how important they are in a brand’s marketing efforts, or in this case, a news article.

          As I pointed out in the previous post, the words that we choose to use can make or break a marketing campaign. And, as shown in this post, forgetting one word can change the meaning of a sentence and cause a lot of confusion.

          So, yes, they are just words… but, that doesn’t mean that they are not important.

          Thank you for the comment.

          Regards,

          Chad Thiele

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