≡ Menu

Understanding “Social” Language

When  business leaders initially begin to learn about all things social many don’t understand the language. While they believe they understand marketing, advertising and PR they seem lost when it come to discussing social media. Why?

It could be that all things social represent a different language and of course unless you understand the language you cannot comprehend the meaning of the subject being discussed.

Language is power. Language isn’t only what we use to communicate; it also determines how we think. In a post-social media world, we must learn to articulate a new, elevated vocabulary, and concepts that the C-suite can appreciate while giving the concept of “social media” the respect it deserves. Otherwise unless we understand the language of both parties neither will gain any new understanding.

Elevating the Vocabulary

Language is transitory and always evolving. New words, emerge on an ongoing basis to better explain emerging concepts. There are, in fact, nearly 1,000 new words added daily to the Urban Dictionary. Many are slang terms with limited life spans. Others take root and become part of our broader vocabulary.

In 1999, when The Cluetrain Manifesto was released, we struggled to understand the term “markets are conversations” and then a new language emerged to explain the new paradigm that was emerging that required new ways of thinking. The term “social media” first began to emerge around 2003 to describe the impact of two way markets of conversations through the emergence of  social technology. Then the term took off and subsequently took on numerous meanings. When a term has numerous meaning the vocabulary used to describe it becomes confusing and takes on a language of its own.

It Depends on What the  Meaning of the Word “Is” Is

Bill Clinton’s phrase “It depends on what the meaning of the word ‘is’ is..” became famous as he dodged questions concerning his affair with Monica Lewinsky. The same is true when you ask the C-Suite questions relevant to what is social media and what is its value? The answers are akin to it depends on what the meaning of “is” is. Well kind of the same thing. The fact is that few in the C-Suite consider the disruptive nature of social media gone wild until it goes wild on them. Bill Clinton avoided the truth about his affair. The C-Suite avoids admitting what they don’t understand about social media.

To understand something thoroughly you must listen to the language. To not gain an understanding of social media  means you cannot hear that which you don’t understand.

The language of all things social carries new meaning to old familiar issues. Social media is  pragmatic to some but not to others. Pragmatic is defined as relating to matters of fact or practical affairs often to the exclusion of intellectual or artistic matters : practical as opposed to idealistic.  Pragmatic leaders with power have had no time or inclination to deal with…social media. Now that social media is enabling people to gain more power, pragmatic leaders will have to find the time to learn and understand social media and its language.

While many business leaders consider themselves pragmatic they do not understand pragmatics and they should if they want to understand social media. Pragmatics studies the ways in which context contributes to meaning. Pragmatics encompasses talk in interaction and other approaches to language behavior in philosophy, sociology, and linguistics. It studies how the transmission of meaning depends not only on the linguistic knowledge (e.g. grammar, lexicon etc.) of the speaker and listener, but also on the context of the utterance, knowledge about the status of those involved, the inferred intent of the speaker, and so on.

The ability to understand “markets of conversations” intended meaning is called pragmatic competence.  Pragmatic awareness is regarded as one of the most challenging aspects of language learning, and comes only through experience. However, without context to meaning experience doesn’t insure understanding.

Just because you use social media doesn’t mean you really know why others do.  How pragmatic is that?

Comments on this entry are closed.