Social media shapes offline language

You probably didn’t need proof that social media and its distinct grammatical form had firmly embedded itself in our culture – let’s face it, everyone, even my 80-year-old mother, is using it.

However, an analysis of a children’s short story writing competition’s syntax has shown that hashtag is the ‘word of the year’.

Hashtags started off life as a way for content on Twitter to be filtered, so that users could follow particular streams of consciousness, or topics of interest. Their use quickly infiltrated all the social media channels, with users leading the way by using them as part of the conversation, and the channels quickly catching on and updating their coding to enable the associated functionality.

It is only a relatively recent phenomena that has seen the use of hashtag extend to verbal communication and then into written word, outside of the digital context. It’s commonplace for younger people to use it to add comment or witty angle to a statement or fact.

So, how do we know it’s the word of the year? The Oxford University Press analysed more than 120,000 children’s entries into BBC Radio 2’s short story competition and found that it was used with high frequency within the submissions.

Maybe it was the relatively limited word count that made the entrants use phrases more familiar with the succinct requirements of social media, or, in my opinion, it is more likely, that social media is shaping how the younger generation is communicating off line as well as online.

So, why’s this relevant to marketing? As a marketer it’s vital that you know your target market, your audience and how to convey your brands’ messaging in a relevant and meaningful way. I’m not for a second considering an advertising campaign littered with irrelevant hashtags and emoticons just for the sake of it. But, as language continues to evolve and be influenced by social media it’s essential that our marketing campaigns take note, and consider new approaches.

The children of today are the future target consumers of our clients. Just as new technologies have infiltrated the marketing mix in the last few years so will new language formats and we need to embrace these to stay relevant and create brand differentiation for our clients.