Proper Grammar and Common Mistakes

Being in the middle of the information age, computers and software are getting very good at catching and/or correcting our mistakes when it comes to language. Google especially is famous for “Did you mean…” or “Showing results for…”, because we often misspell or misuse words so much that Google is getting to know us better than we know ourselves.

Unfortunately, for every mistake that our softwares catch, many make it through the cracks. This often isn’t because of typos or misspellings; the words that we’re typing are correct, but are being used in the wrong context.

This is extremely important for several reasons…

  • It’s good to take pride in your craft, whatever that may be. How we write about it shows that we put care and attention into our communications with the outside world.
  • Using proper grammar and language gives credibility to your brand.
  • With the overuse of “internet abbreviations”, proper writing helps people and brands stick out online.

I see common and easily avoidable mistakes every day, in every medium available; radio shows, news reports, newspaper articles, signage, and even important corporate memos ALL have grammar, spelling, and diction errors every single day.

man-hands-reading-boy

The following is not a comprehensive list of do’s and don’t’s of grammar. These are the little, easily fixable things that I read or hear every day and make my skin crawl.


is / was • are / were

This is the most common grammatical issue that I hear or read in every spoken or printed medium. Not only personal conversation with people who couldn’t care less, but even professionals who should know and care about the difference.

I don’t think I need to explain what these words mean, but just point out how most people are using them wrong. Put simply, if the subject or object of a sentence is plural, you use “are” instead of “is”.

Example:
“There is a lot of things…”
    “There are a lot of things…”
“Was there any people…”    “Were there any people…”

there • they’re • their

There is used to reference something specific.
Ex: I’ll meet you there.

They’re is a contraction meaning “they are” and is also plural.
Ex: They’re always traveling.

Their conveys ownership or possession and is also plural.
Ex: Their car is new.

its • it’s / whose • who’s

I’ll admit that these two are actually a little complicated, but not impossibly so.

For years in school we were told that apostrophe-s (or ‘s) shows ownership. In the case of It and Who, it’s the opposite. When these words are followed by ‘s, it’s a contraction of “it is” or “who is”, whereas the words that show ownership are actually “its” and “whose”.

Example:
“Whose book is this?”
“It’s Michael’s book.”
“Its pages are torn.”
“Who’s responsible?”

every day • everyday

This is one that particularly annoys me, simply because these words are used incorrectly on a decorative sign that I see in my kitchen every day.

Every (day) is a determiner that proceeds a singular noun and refers to all without exception. Everyday, while having a similar meaning, is an adjective.

Example:
“I go to the gym every day.”
“Going to the gym is an everyday thing for me.”

who • whom

For anyone who is not aware, a sentence includes three elements; a subject, a verb, and an object. The subject does the verb action, which somehow affects the object.

Simple, right? (Just FYI, anything without those three elements is a phrase.)

Words like who and whom are used to make it very clear what is the subject (who) and what is the object (whom).

Example:
“Who is coming tonight?” Here, who is the subject that is completing the action.
“John is giving that to whom?” Here, whom is the object that is reacting to the action.

literally • figuratively

I’m sure that at one time or another you have said, or heard someone say, the word literally without truly meaning what was said (such as “I am literally going to kill you”). Did you know that this word is not supposed to be used for emphasis in this way?

A few years ago I was watching a TV show called The Newsroom, wherein a character mentions that the definition of the word has been expanded to include the way it’s commonly used.

 

 

I honestly couldn’t believe my ears, and had to research it immediately. Turns out that it was true, and I was heartbroken.

New words are invented and added to the dictionary every day, but that is not what happened here. I am of the firm belief that a dictionary should not cow-tow to society’s misuse of a common word. Let’s hold ourselves to a higher standard.

less • fewer

Back in 2009 I came across the following image. I forget the source, but I liked it so I kept it. It perfectly sums up the difference between these two words:

DA00C56C-48BD-4C78-90CE-A26E6C4DE722

good • well

Similar to the previous example, these two words are not interchangeable. “Good” is an adjective (meaning that it describes a noun) and “well” is an adverb (meaning that it described a verb). If you’re describing that something was/is favourable, you use the former, but if an action turned out favourably, you use the latter.

Example:
“The event went really well. I’m glad the food was good.”


Social media and SEO experts are constantly asked “How do I stand out on the internet?” The answer can sometimes be complicated, there’s a lot of noise out there, but the answer can also be simple:

Do something that other people aren’t doing.

Every single day I hear and see so many people making simple, common grammatical mistakes. Set yourself out from the crowd by speaking or writing correctly. Anything that you post online on behalf of your business should undergo a lot of scrutiny.

Perhaps writing isn’t your strong suit. That’s okay, we all have our strengths and weaknesses. You can of course call us to help, but at the very least have a friend or partner review any content you’re about to release.

Furthermore, I implore you to please use words properly. Doing so will give you more credibility, increase the value of your content, and make you smarter. I promise.

Social Media Etiquette & Best Practices

On the internet, as in life, there are certain protocols and practices that are generally accepted as “good practice”. While a lot of people are forgiving of common grammatical mistakes and blunders (especially when confined to 140 characters) there are certain practices that everyone should try to adhere to. Even if not followed to the letter, avoid doing the following in excess…

Overusing Favourite & Like

Did you ever notice how Facebook has a Like button, but Twitter has the option to Favourite tweets? I think the lines between these two buttons is becoming blurred, and it’s at the expense of clarity and specificity.

A lot of people tend to use Twitter’s Favourite feature as if it’s a Like button. They use it to acknowledge seeing a tweet,

Me? I personally reserve these buttons for the updates that really resonate with me, make me stop and think, or make me laugh. Every Tom, Dick and Harry don’t deserve a Favourite from me, because I want to limit my Favourite list for the things that I really care about and will want to peruse later.

Picking Long Usernames

In a world where our personal and business identities are becoming known by just a few characters, it’s reasonable that people will put a lot of thought into theirs before committing to something for their social media profile. But are you thinking about the right things? Consider…

You want it to be short:
• You want people to @reply you on Twitter and still have characters left to say what they want.
• You want your social media profile’s website address to be a reasonable length.

You want it to be sweet:
• You want to maintain your brand

You want it to be simple:
• A lot of new web services are playing fast and loose with the English language; using ‘V’ in place of ‘U’, misspelling words on purpose, etc.

Taking Unnecessary Selfies

The “selfie” craze that has been developing over the past couple of years is difficult to ignore. It’s why we now have front-facing cameras on cell phones. It’s why those cameras are now just as good as the back-facing cameras. It’s one way that people are dying from more than being killed by sharks.

I think that everyone would agree that there are a certain number of different types of selfies, and that some are more constructive than others. In lieu of selfies at the gym, or in a bathroom mirror, or in the car as you’re “Ugh, driving to work” I’d recommend posts with a bit more substance… shots that tell a story or share an anecdote. Selfies with a friend you haven’t seen in a long time, or in front a place you’re visiting, or just to share a great day with your dog at the park.

Take from this video what you will…

 

 

Rocking the Boat

I know that it can be tempting to jump on the hot-button of the issue of the day, whatever that may be, but you want to be careful with what you publish online. Personal opinions, regardless of how they are intended to be received, are not received the same by everyone, and you should be cognizant of that when you craft your messages.

A lot of people in the public eye, such as journalists and government employees, often have a disclaimer in their social media biographies to the effect of “My views and opinions do not reflect those of my employer”. This does not protect you like a suit of armour on the internet. I would recommend instead that you be safe and be as diplomatic as possible.

Jon Acuff, author of Do Over: Rescue Monday, Reinvent Your Work, and Never Get Stuck, succinctly said “Don’t be an idiot online … The digital bridges you burn, you burn forever.”

Additionally, you should follow Wil Wheaton’s advice and just “Don’t be a dick.”

black-and-white-people-bar-men

Overdoing It

The ease with which social media allows you to reach an enormous number of people at one time, it may be tempting to use that power to spread you message immediately and relentlessly, whatever message that may be. You may have a new product available, a new blog post, an event coming up, or just an opinion that you want to share, and you want to ensure that everyone knows about it. Since the chances of everyone who follows you seeing all of your messages is slim, it may seem like a good idea to send it several times, in an effort to maximize its reach. Careful, though. You don’t want to overdo it and have people resent you for cluttering their feeds with the same information over and over again.

There are several tools available that are able to determine the best time of day for you to share your message for maximum coverage. I would suggest using such a tool to get your messages out there.

Repeating Yourself

In addition to tools that help you determine the best time to post updates, there are tools that help you schedule and plan updates in advance. Some people take this tool and use it for evil, in that they repeat the same updates over and over (and over, and over…). Every Friday, a thank-you message to followers. Every other day, a #twittertips tweet with the exact same advice.

There is nothing wrong with updating every day. In fact, it’s encouraged. Make it original, though, and provide value to your customers/clients/friends/family/strangers who might be listening to you.

Sure, thank your followers for sticking with you, but space them out a bit and craft a unique message every time.
Yes, share tips, advice, or promotions in your industry, but do it with a focus on giving new value to those listening.

Repeating Yourself

In addition to tools that help you determine the best time to post updates, there are tools that help you schedule and plan updates in advance. Some people take this tool and use it for evil, in that they repeat the same updates over and over (and over, and over…). Every Friday, a thank-you message to followers. Every other day, a #twittertips tweet with the exact same advice.

There is nothing wrong with updating every day. In fact, it’s encouraged. Make it original, though, and provide value to your customers/clients/friends/family/strangers who might be listening to you.

Sure, thank your followers for sticking with you, but space them out a bit and craft a unique message every time.
Yes, share tips, advice, or promotions in your industry, but do it with a focus on giving new value to those listening.

See how annoying that is?

The realm of digital etiquette and best practices is constantly developing, but at the end of the day I think it’s important to remember that just because the world of social is virtual doesn’t mean it isn’t real. Those are real people you’re interacting with and sending messages to, they have strong feelings and opinions. They may not always remember that, but you always should. That’s how you keep loyal followers.

The Great Debate : Social Media vs. Website

With each new advancement in communication technology, so too has communication between businesses and their (potential) customers. We’ve seen the evolution of marketing develop from newspaper, to radio, to television, and now onto the internet. Each stage of this evolution comes with new challenges and tools, and that’s especially true today. The question is, with so many tools, which do you choose and why?

Should I use Twitter / Facebook, or a website to promote my business?

My answer is both. The simple answer is because any channel through which you can connect with your potential customers is worth using. That being said, there are some more specific reasons as well…

Information

Most websites are static, which means that they usually display the same information to all visitors. Similar to handing out a printed brochure to customers or clients, a static website will generally provide consistent, standard information for an extended period of time. Although the website owner may make updates periodically, most pages present pre-defined, static information to the user. This may include information about a company and its products and services through text, photos, animations, audio/video, and navigation menus.

While this form of information delivery is acceptable, it can also be very limiting in its ability to deliver current information and maintain communication with a business’ customers. Websites do commonly have comment forms or contact pages that customers can use to contact the website’s owner, but they are most often only used for one-way communication; delivering information from the business owner to the consumer.

Social media is much more dynamic, ever-changing, up-to-date, and available immediately in consumers’ social feeds. When information needs to be communicated from the business owner to the consumer, the fastest, easiest, and most convenient method to do so is via social media. This is especially helpful is cases such as:

  • Short-notice closures
  • Surprise sales
  • Contests
  • PR nightmares
  • Customer feedback

In addition, a fundamental component of a business’ marketing is getting feedback. The cornerstone of any social media platform is two-way communication. Any celebrity, company, or civilian on Facebook or Twitter can instantly communicate with the people that matter most to them; their fans, customers, or friends.

Outreach

Today, with advancements in targeted advertisements and search engine optimization (SEO), it is getting easier for websites to track down your potential customers online. That said, in most cases, those customers need to know what they’re looking for and search online for your type of business in order to come across your website.

Social media does a very good job of tracking down those consumers for you. There are social media advertisements that can target specific people if you’d like to pay for it, but even the free functionality of Likes, Retweets, and Favourites are extremely helpful in getting your business noticed online.

On sites like Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest, the things that your friends Like, Share, Retweet, and comment on show up in your social feeds. This means that if someone on Facebook Likes your business page, or Retweets a status update, their friends are notified of it, and then their friends are given the opportunity to do the same. This is a new form of word-of-mouth recommendations.

At the end of the day, websites are fantastic for storing and presenting information that people want to know and care about. A website holds down the fort and informs new visitors to your site. However, a social media account has a kind of reach and level of connection that a website simply cannot achieve.

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Gary Vaynerchuk is a serial entrepreneur and investor who has been quoted as saying

“Which tool should I use?” All of them. Your user base and the people that care about you, you need to connect to them any way you can, everywhere you can, as often as you can. That is essential.

How you use them is important, but that you use them is even more important.