January 2nd, 2014

Do Writing Mistakes Affect the Likeability of Your Brand’s Online Presence?

Disrupt!ve Communications infographic

photo courtesy of disrupt!ve communications

So, it’s a new year – time for making resolutions and turning over a new leaf. In 2014, you’ll hit the gym five times a week, read two books a month, devote more time to your hobbies. But what about goals for your social media accounts? Maybe you’re doing inventory of your Facebook friends list or vowing to keep your Buffer topped off. Or maybe your goals for the new year are in the details – for instance, the spelling and grammar of your social media content.

You’ve dusted off your AP Stylebook and added The Elements of Style to your Amazon wishlist. But do spelling and grammar mistakes really impact your social media efforts? How many people notice those kinds of inconsistencies? According to one study, more than 40 percent of your audience could be noticing your grammatical errors. And they’re not impressed.

Does grammar matter? To your social media followers, it might.

To learn which social media faux pas are most damaging to the opinion of a brand’s online audience, a London-based digital communications agency surveyed 1,003 U.K. web users last July. The agency found that close to half of the overall respondents – 42.5 percent – would be most influenced by spelling or grammar blunders.

The firm published its findings in an infographic that further breaks down the numbers by the age (18-to-24-year-olds care far less about proper spelling and grammar) and gender of the respondents. Other social media offenses from the study included:

  • Updates sound too “salesy” (24.9 percent)
  • Posts update too often (12.8 percent)
  • Updates try too hard to be funny (12.5 percent)
  • Posts update too infrequently (7.2 percent)

Taking a red pen to social timelines

Grammarly, a company that offers online automated proofreading services, published the results of its own study about the effects of grammar in social media. In a post on their blog last August, the folks at Grammarly shared a study of recent LinkedIn posts for six different brands – three sets of two rivalry companies.

After sifting through roughly 400 words per brand, Grammarly’s team identified three “clear winners” that had more successfully applied the rules of spelling, grammar and punctuation to their updates. In the battle of the grammatically correct brands, Grammarly crowned three language champions:

  • Coca-cola (over Pepsi)
  • Google (over Facebook)
  • Ford (over General Motors)

In its analysis, Grammarly sometimes mentioned which company was more successful in terms of revenue and market shares but offered little additional information, leaving me to wonder what the numbers really mean.

Does grammar impact likeability?

For the sake of data, I did a little supplement study of the brands Grammarly examined by collecting a few numbers in late-December about the six brands’ recent likes, followers and recommendations. Sure, correlation does not imply causation. Plenty of additional factors play into a company’s social presence. But, in two of the three rivalries, the better the brand did in the Grammarly test, the more social clout it had on LinkedIn.

Coca-Cola vs. Pepsi:

Coke – which, according to Grammarly, makes four times fewer writing mistakes on LinkedIn than Pepsi – had received more than twice as many likes as its competitor in a comparison of their last 10 posts. However, Pepsi had 72,345 more followers and 100 more product recommendations.

Facebook vs. Google:

Google had more than twice as many followers as its competitor (1,931,800 compared to Facebook’s 542,236) and more than three times as many likes on its last 10 posts (7,826 vs. 2,354). By comparison, these numbers make Google’s win in product recommendations seem like a narrow victory, with Google receiving just 36 more than Facebook.

Ford vs. General Motors:

In followers and likes, these Motor City rivals came pretty close to one another. Ford had just 15,520 more followers and just 633 more likes. In the number of reviews on its products and services, however, GM received five times as many as its competitor.

When content is key – so is context

Ultimately, social media are ways to communicate a message and accomplish a goal, so specifics will depend on who’s receiving your message and what purpose it serves. Mignon Fogarty – probably better-known by her “Grammar Girl” nom de plume – paints a pretty unforgettable picture to illustrate that the importance of grammar often comes down to context:

“Let’s say you see a man in a Speedo. Are you at the beach? Let’s hope so. … You don’t wear a Speedo or other super-abbreviated forms of pants on the bus. Likewise, you don’t use really abbreviated language where it doesn’t belong.”

Fogarty’s point here is that the amount of care you should take in your spelling and grammar, largely depends on what’s appropriate for the audience and medium of your message. If you’re drafting a client proposal, sure, you’ll want to double and triple check that you haven’t mixed up they’re, their and there. But, if you’re sending a tweet to promote the sweet party your firm’s planning, a little txtspk is probably OK 4 u 2 do.

Grammar’s link to liking and sharing probably varies among each social site, too. On Twitter, where the number of characters is limited, using abbreviations when necessary makes sense. But on LinkedIn, where professional networking is the goal, individuals and companies should take care to ensure their messages are clear and free of overt errors.

A writing mistake isn’t going to make or break a brand’s online presence

The biggest goal for grammar and spelling in social media should be consistency. If a company has a guide to style that contains rules about the spelling and capitalization of brand-specific terms, there’s no reason for its social media team not to have a copy. By keeping posts as consistent as resources will allow, brands can encourage trust and credibility with their followers.

Countless factors other than spelling and grammar contribute to your social media presence. Whatever resolutions you make for the new year, grammar-related or otherwise, remember this: Try not. Do, or – well, you know the rest.

What do you think? How have misspellings or poor punctuation impacted the way you react to brands online? Let us know in the comments.

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