Earlier this year I put together some new patio furniture. There were no extra parts, everything lined up as it should. This is not always the case with products noting “some assembly required.”
Anyone who’s purchased items from IKEA or put together toys during the holidays can relate to the feeling when things don’t quite match up.
This experience relates to word choice. During my business to business days, the phrase “aviation tolerance” brought to mind exacting accuracy and surgical precision. Then I visited an aerospace manufacturing facility to see a plane built and I realized my definition was inaccurate.
Close, But Not Close Enough
While aviation tolerance does equate to a high standard of quality and safety, it doesn’t mean that every plane always fits together perfectly. Sometimes more rivets are needed than planned and shims are commonly used when edges don’t meet exactly as they should. The phrase still holds its meaning. Any safety specs comparing flying to driving prove this point. But my definition wasn’t as accurate as the real thing.
In a world of acronyms, buzzwords, text messaging shorthand and slang, the challenge to say what you mean increases. And the opportunity to unintentionally mislead or misinform your audience increases exponentially. Usually if your word choice isn’t lining up with the intended meaning, it simply becomes noise. But if the content takes root and gets attention? A social snowball can increase in size and speed as your message is shared, liked and syndicated across networks.
Social Media – Too Broadly Defined?
We want to avoid either scenario. Judy Shapiro writes about her first SXSW speaking engagement to show what can happen when the snowball hurtles downhill.
“As the session progressed and the conversation heated up, I realized that much of the "tussling" was simply because there was no consistent understanding of what "social media" was. >SNIP< In the middle of this "exuberant" discussion, my frustration with the term "social media" reached a tipping point. I had come to hate the term because it has become so undefined and unusable resulting in much confusion. In short, for me, the term had outlived its usefulness.”
My Own Influenza
That’s where I’m at with the word influence. The topic is important. But the word is misunderstood and misdefined. At SXSW, my panel discussion experienced the same issue as Shapiro. If we’d simply defined terms up front we could have focused more on the topic (and gotten through more content). Panel discussions that require a glossary are a bad sign. But defining terms immediately ensures everyone makes assertions based on the same definition.
More to come about influence. In the meantime, this is another reminder on the importance of clear, concise writing. We risk creating ineffective content -- or worse.