November 16, 2011

pushing buttons

Oh, Hemingway, you bag of brains you.

So, let me share my momentarily blip of madness. I had a long tube ride today. The story behind this is somewhat embarrassing so I won’t divulge too much information, but it did involve stalking the cast of Made in Chelsea (I’ll save it for a rainy day).

Anyway, there I was, wedged between someone with their headphones turned up too loud (but they were playing Adele so I shall let them off), and the other, was painstaking drafting a text message. I’m sure we are all guilty of doing this, but when on the train, looking at a stranger’s inbox is way more interesting than looking at your own. So I was strategically leaning and am getting increasingly skilled at making full use of my peripheral vision.

So, being stealth and highly nosy, I was watching this poor soul draft a message, to, I’m guessing a boy (or a girl, let’s be PC). First was the introductory greeting: is it ‘Hiii’? Too hyper. “Hiya”? Too try-hard. “Howdy?” Absolutely never. She deleted all three options and settled with a solid “Hey”; laid-back and friendly. Fair enough. Then what – do you ask a question? Or do you wait until the end to ask a question because other wise they might forget to answer it? And then of course we have to battle with the issue of how many xx’s to put. Too keen, not keen enough? Blunt? Clingy? She attempted a casual opening joke but then deleted the whole thing. She then inserted emoticons of all shapes and sizes but erased them all quickly and covered her phone. We were on the tube for a good half an hour and when I had glanced back, she was just there staring at a blank screen, writing ‘Hey’ again. JUST SEND IT ALREADY.

This is when I had a thought: I draft things and redraft daily in my job. Maybe the way to treat copy-writing and communicating messages to large audiences is just like the way you want to send that first text: making it perfect.

I used to be rather flippant when it came to emailing/texting etc, firing them off left right and centre and sending half-arsed replies and writing ‘Z’ instead of ‘x’ at the end. But making errors defeats the object of anything you write. We’ve all seen the book “Eat Shoots and Leaves”. And we’ve all chuckled at instances of 8 year olds who forget to put in commas (E.G – We have eaten, Grandpa/ We have eaten Grandpa). If you put a question mark instead of an exclamation mark it gives a whole other meaning to message. If you want to write a heartfelt message but write “I miss you?” instead, it doesn’t really have the same effect. And I haven’t even mentioned the dilemmas of bloody auto-correct yet.

So yes, proof-reading is an ingrained part of life, before we send most things a little part of our brain reminds us to check ‘is this what I really mean?‘ This natural thought process can be applied to community management and journalism and published writing in general.

Another aspect of course, is timing. Timing is crucial and we take this into consideration all the time. Obviously we want to send it at it’s optimum time to maximise a response. Sending a message to a friend when you know they’ve finished work, or not sending something too late to a colleague, they’ll think you’re drunk. And, I guess we can learn from Cornetto’s social media crisis last week when they managed to post at 11am during Remembrance Day, that timing has NEVER been so important.

Instead of following the advice of impatient and gossipy pals who are shouting ‘SEND IT’, ‘DO it’, ‘Bloody press the button already’, or my favourite, ‘BETTER OUT THAN IN’!!! I believe that if you are ever about to publish something online, in particular to a social media channel for brands, or submitting a storyline to the press, treat that writing as though you were sending that multi-drafted, hand-crafted first text to someone you fancy. Cos if you get it wrong – you’ve blown it.

AND, N.B, The golden rule still applies to both: never include a sticky-out-tongue emotion. It’ll only make people wince : P

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