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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.

There are a lot of executives in B2B companies who wouldn’t count themselves among early adopters of social media. Many have educated themselves on how to monitor or connect with their kids on Facebook, and they might post the occasional picture or micro-thought. Some have a Twitter account that goes largely ignored, and most have a LinkedIn account with a fair number of connections.

Are these executives deeply immersed in the realm of social media? No. But they aren’t newbies either. They have just enough personal experience to intuit that there is more they could be doing to promote their brand in the social media space, but business-to-business marketing seems to present a unique set of challenges. How and where to begin?

The most practical place to start going deeper is LinkedIn. If you are thinking to yourself, “I already have a profile,” then you are missing out on a whole world of opportunity. LinkedIn is more than just a place to post a bio and make some connections; it’s a place where you can demonstrate thought leadership to a very targeted audience of potential customers. The easiest way to get started is to join (or start) a LinkedIn group.

LinkedIn groups are forums where people of similar industries share information. If you are a newcomer to groups, your first inclination might be to join groups formed by those who do what you do. (I am a business-to-business marketer; therefore, I will join a business-to-business marketing group.)

A subtle shift in thinking is the key to opening the world of LinkedIn. I am a business-to-business marketer that does business with transportation clients; therefore, I will join transportation groups. I don’t want to blast them with sales information that will be ignored and diminish the value of the group. I want to provide keen insights on their industry with regular frequency so that they start to see me as a go-to resource for information. Providing content of value to selected groups and regular frequency is the best way to demonstrate thought leadership in these forums.

Beyond content and frequency, there is one additional factor that can mean the difference between a good LinkedIn group strategy and a great one: engagement. Imagine a LinkedIn group as a cocktail party. You wouldn’t walk in to a cocktail party and start shouting factoids at other guests. You would engage in conversation to find similar-minded connections. The same is true within groups. Sometimes, asking a thoughtful question says more about the depth of your industry knowledge than a bold statement ever could. The discussions (and connections) that arise from a carefully crafted question may surprise you.

If you suspect that making a foray into the realm of social media should be a part of your marketing strategy, then mastering the art of engagement within LinkedIn groups is a great place to start. Not only can it elevate your brand, but it can pave the road to success on other social media platforms.

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