Last week, I came across an article on Facebook that I wanted to share with my followers. The 650–word piece was well-written and well-reported, except for three blatant typos – typos any good editor should have found, and that, in the end, kept me from disseminating the article to my 600 Facebook friends.
That wasn’t the first occurrence. There have been times when I planned to share a typo-filled article that contained useful or interesting information only to stop myself mid–keystroke. By sharing this piece of information, would I have been sending the message that I overlook – or worse, condone – this lax approach to written language?
It’s no secret that typos can cost money. In 2010, an extreme downward spike in the stock market was blamed on the word “million” being accidentally entered as “billion.” And in advertising, agencies and their clients must eat costs associated with correcting mistakes.
But how do typos affect the overall perception of a company and reception of the message?
I took an informal poll of my Facebook friends, and most shared my fear of being seen as careless by association. They also expressed that typos reflect a lack of concern on the part of the message source, leading to their own apathy toward that entity.
This belief falls in line with findings from Stanford University’s Web Credibility Project, part of the school’s Persuasive Technology Lab, which explores how computers and other devices change people’s beliefs and behaviors. Researchers with the project suggest that typographical errors on a website can be just as detrimental to a company as legal and financial woes.
In marketing, advertising and public relations, dollars and reputations ride on attention to detail. What if the article I thought about sharing was a Facebook ad or a blog entry on a company’s website? How would typos affect my desire to share the information? How would it affect my impression of the company? How likely would I be to do business with that company?
We’re all guilty of common typographical errors – “causal” instead of “casual,” “hear” when we mean “here,” leaving the “l” out of “public.” But with the Internet and the dawn of new media messaging, mistakes are easier to make because:
- The Internet propels people to prioritize quantity and quickness over quality.
- Spell check is still considered by many as the last line of defense. (It isn’t.)
- Internet language and the casual nature of the medium influence people to overlook mistakes in emails, texts and online conversations. Unfortunately, this spills over into professional communications.
On the bright side, if an error does go public, the interactive nature of digital media makes it likely someone will spot the error and it will be fixed with haste. At the same time, it’s easier than ever to avoid careless mistakes in the first place because:
- Answers are at your fingertips. Tripped up by “effect” and “affect”? Google it.
- You can share and edit documents with others through services like Google Docs.
I receive texts written in Internet slang and emails with disclaimers lamenting the size of the iPhone keypad. And I admit to playing fast and loose with the English language on GChat. But in the digital age – where memes are just one mistake away and clumsy ads become late–night fodder – there is even more at stake for those of us who manage messages for clients, as well as for businesses handling their own websites and social media. But where there is more at stake, there’s also more opportunity to succeed.
I challenge us all to rethink how we approach language, accuracy and accountability in digital messaging. Just like checking yourself in a mirror or tasting a pie before you serve it, the series of checks and balances that exist day to day should carry over to our written communication, whether to clients or co–workers or to cousins who send endless links to lolcats.com.
Read aloud everything you write, avoid Internet slang when you can and take a second glance before hitting send on your next email. Your work will be all the better for it. Keep the disclaimer if you must.