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Using Lingo in Business Communications

Imagine you have just walked in on a conversation-in-progress between long-time friends when one references an inside joke that prompts rolls of laughter. You might smile politely, if not a little uncomfortably, and wait for one of them to explain the “you had to be there” moment. Although the story won’t prove to be all that funny (because you really did have to be there) there is no expectation that you should get the location joke without a point of reference. You are an outsider.

Inside corporate jargon is a lot like a location joke, and if you are the outsider who doesn’t get it, you could be missing (or misunderstanding) critical information.  Conversely, if you are the offending party using undecipherable business-speak, you could be unwittingly alienating the people with whom you are trying to communicate.

So what is proper business etiquette surrounding business-speak? Is it incumbent upon the outsider to get up to speed, or should the acronym-happy insider have more consideration for his audience? As with all social mores, it depends entirely on the situation.

Effective communication is about creating clarity and understanding.  If you are a new employee, then you had better dive in and learn the company lingo.  If you are a potential customer, then you should expect thoughtful communication that you can clearly understand without the need to interrupt to ask for definitions.  When creating marketing collateral, corporate jargon that refers to internal structures or product nomenclature (that is not a registered trademark) can easily confuse your audience and should be avoided entirely.

Rules of etiquette are created to ensure that everyone feels comfortable and knows how to behave in specific situations.  If your spouse or your grandparent wouldn’t understand corporate-speak, don’t use it when addressing them or anyone who isn’t part of your field. And above all, don’t assume your clients or customers understand your vernacular; you need to use theirs. It’s polite, and it will help your business.

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We had a great client meeting today about a new product they wanted our help to launch. And during the discussion, the client casually mentioned another company who had produced a video last year that was “supposed to go viral.” But, of course it didn’t; the client, and we, both recognized you can’t just prescribe for a video to “go viral.”

Coincidentally, when I got back to my desk after the meeting, I had an email from my brother with a link to a YouTube video for TNT in Europe. I clicked on the link because I trust my brother’s taste. I clicked the play button. I laughed. I covered my mouth in horror. I watched the whole thing. I immediately tweeted to 1,000+ followers that they had to watch it.

The video was posted yesterday. As of 2:30 today, it has 4.5 MILLION views. Now that’s what I’d call viral.

Why did one video “go viral,” and another not? Of course, it’s impossible to predict exactly what will work and what won’t. But in comparing the 2 videos, a few things become obvious.

DON’T:

  • Make your viral video 6 minutes long.
  • Introduce it with large corporate logos.
  • Introduce it (after the logos) with a lecturer and definitions.
  • Make it hard to understand (both the plot and the audio).
  • Use a fake setting that looks almost real, but is obviously low budget.
  • Host it on your own servers. (While the video was also on YouTube, the company hosted it on their website in their own player.)
  • Use the same topic and approach as several other videos. (One similar video on YouTube had 40,000 views, but was obviously done in a tongue-in-cheek, cheesy, humorous style — and was easily understandable.)

DO:

  • Make your video brief.
  • Use a dramatic opening.
  • Use good pacing.
  • Use suspense.
  • Use real human emotion.
  • Use humor and pathos.
  • Throw in some unexpected plot twists.
  • You might also add guns, a girl in a bikini, and a football player or two for good measure.

In short, it’s just like telling a story. People like to pass on good stories. And in order for a video to go viral, it needs to have that same kind of emotional tug.

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