Getting the language right

This wonderful world of the web is littered with jargon and buzzphrases. Terms like internet, world wide web, online, new media, digital, virtual, social media, web2.0, semantic web, collaborative web, conversational web etc etc get used – often interchangeably – to the point at which it can all become thoroughly confusing even to those who think they know what they are talking about.

I’m a marketer by background, and I love the challenge of playing with words to try and demystify something. Of course the opposite is what normally happens in that you just end up in creating new jargon to confuse people more.

The other side is to get all ‘expert’ in an attempt to educate people about the true meaning of the terms, but that’s often not much use either (just get a few drinks down me for a pedant’s explanation of the difference between the web and the internet… guaranteed sleep inducer).

None of this confusion helps.

All this is particularly pertinent for me right now. I’m having more and more conversations about the potentially transformative nature of the web, and helping non-web colleagues to identify how the tools and opportunities can help them do their jobs better.

One project is working with my press office. A project they called the ‘New media Working Group’. My immediate response was to blanch at the title. But that is really missing the point (because the actual project is great).

You can gauge a lot about the level of knowledge of a person or a group by their use of terminology.

Knowing which terms have resonance and currency with those you seek to influence or work with is a real boon, rather than demonstrating your own ‘superior’ knowledge.

Whilst it’s tempting to educate others, it’s only worth it where its important. Its equally important not to patronise or appear to be pedantic.

But even talking ‘tech’ can confuse the matter – it’s much better to talk in terms that your audience understands. For me that revolves around problems and finding solutions rather than talking blogs or wikis.

  1. Absolutely. I think I have four different job titles depending on which org chart you look at, comprising a combination of ‘social media’, ‘new media’ and ‘channels’.

    I think there’s some benefit in trying to standardise within the organisation though, and I’ve been using ‘social media’ to describe the work of my team. It’s a phrase which gets away from technology and towards conversations, it has a whiff of the cutting edge, and it’s a ready made talking point. Helpfully, it avoids the perception that we make DVDs or just post stuff on the corporate website.

    As one minister described it when I took them through the strategy, ‘it’s the media formerly known as new’

    • Mark
    • July 1st, 2008

    Ah, deja vu. The conversation we in IT have been having for yonks; “talk in terms of outcomes not systems, describe inputs and outputs in the users’ language”.

    And you can see how good we’ve got at doing it! 🙂

    Hmm, “New media working group” …

    of course – WebbyWebbyWorkWork.

  2. Sounds like he exact theme I explored in my BarCamp Sydney and BarCamp Canberra talk this year.

  3. Hey Stephen. Thanks for the link. That is really helpful.

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