When I travelled to India a few years ago, it sensitized me to an assumption that writers and speakers too often make: that everyone understands what you mean to say.
Test yourself – what do the following three words mean? Flyover, Subway, and Removalist.
If you are in India, a Flyover is a local bridge that “flies over local traffic”; elsewhere, it has something to do with airplanes. In much of the world, a Subway is a road or pedestrian path that goes underneath another road; in Toronto a Subway refers to the Metro. In Australia, a Removalist is someone who transports your possessions when you move houses; elsewhere this person is called a house mover.
When the mother tongue of the audience isn’t English, the problem intensifies further.
Avoid making bad assumptions: before delivering a critical presentation or posting a widely read blog or Twitter post, answer the following questions about your audience:
- What is their English comprehension level? Do you need to do part of your presentation in their language? Or at least open with a local phrase?
- Which English do they know? (American, British, Canadian, Indian, Australian, Hong Kong, etc) Does it make sense to test your content with a smaller group first?
- Can you use local examples to help the listener or reader better relate? Or is it better to keep with universal principles – lowest common denominator – to avoid making an embarrassing mistake.
One of the most important reasons for a Social Media strategy is that it helps define your target audiences, and lets you focus the version of your language squarely on this target. Without a strategy, it will become increasingly difficult to use the “right” language to have an impact.
This week’s action plan: Whether you have a strategy or not, spend a few minutes defining who the primary audience is for your Social Media initiative – then review your last few status updates, blog posts, or videos to see if they are using the “right” language to make an impact.
This post has been written by 108’s Senior Advisor and former CEO Randall Craig.
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