Is internet speak hijacking our business language?

Here, Gavin Hammar discusses how modern ways of communicating have affected the world of business, and how you can adapt.

People are becoming less concerned with grammar, spelling and sentence structure, and more about getting their message across. This results in efficient, more streamlined communication; however, it has impacted on our use of the English (and indeed other) languages. To get a message across using Twitter for example, it must be concise and must conform to the tone used there, which includes abbreviations, acronyms and emoticons. Unfortunately the lines between internet communication and business communication are being blurred, with millennials finding it difficult to switch between the two styles and identifying which one is appropriate and when.

Mobile devices: conveniences or mistakes waiting to happen?

With mobile taking an ever-increasing role as the place we consume our content and handle our social postings, it is only natural that they are influenced by it and respond in the same way. Reading short bursts of poorly-constructed content from a young age impacts on the learning experience and filters into our everyday lives. To get a message across in 140 characters or less, who has time to worry about the English language? To communicate in the Twitter-sphere, you need to be accepted there, which means learning the specific rules of engagement.

The use of visual imagery saves characters, but the question is, does a picture really paint a thousand words? For business, this can be helpful when on the run, but cannot be relied on as formal communications channels for clients or important communications.

Long-term effect of shorthand? 

With the consumption of so much short-form content, attention spans are naturally shortened. With that, long-form content becomes harder to digest. It will become less of a priority to educate younger generations in strict grammar usage, since the world will no longer expect it. People will struggle to express themselves in the boardroom where a formal tone is usually the standard. It’s still now difficult to imagine senior executives using LOL and ROFL when signing a deal. It however, has its place. It helps when boarding a plane, a train, a pre-bed answer, or for simply-portrayed communication.

Should changing online language matter? 

It matters more for millennials or younger generations entering the business who have not been exposed to more formal styles of business. There are times when it will be required to express that more business-like style and the concern is that the communication may not be taken as seriously. But the answer is not about one being better than the other. It’s key to have a good mix of both styles, and knowing when to employ either style. In an age where networking is more diverse, through more channels, internet-age language speak has in effect bridged the gap between interpersonal rapport building and having a really good chat to someone at a networking event. It’s not a bad thing, but it’s allowed online written communication to expand its potential.

Tried-and-tested rules for good communication

Know your audience. Understanding who is receiving your message is very important. Develop the skills to be able to adapt your message to different audiences, and be aware of when specific tones are acceptable, and more importantly, when they are not. Some Android email automated responses clearly state it’s being sent from a device ‘on the run’ and may contain errors or typos.  This may just be a valuable backup for workers constantly on the move who might only gain a chance to review their communications at the end of the day.

In a business environment you can use shorthand to a certain degree to give your company personality and to be ‘warm’ to customers. Just use it wisely.  

Pitch perfect

Remember, it’s always hard to read tone, intention and feeling behind communication, therefore it’s always good to start off formally, not using emoticons or manually typed smiley faces to begin with. If you’re in a service industry, allow your client to begin with emoticons, smilies or even ‘LOL’. You cannot guarantee that your client, like the prime minister, will always understand even basic internet speak. It’s better to start off matching client’s foray to informal internet speak for this very reason. You will never know the degree to which all the popular acronyms will be known and you wouldn’t want to make them feel uncomfortable by racing ahead. Once the rapport is built, boundaries and limitations are established and the communication can take its own course.

We can’t stem the influence, both good and bad, of internet speak on our business dealings, but we can be more conscious about the process.

Gavin Hammar is the founder of Sendible.

Further reading on staff communication

Ben Lobel

Ben Lobel

Ben Lobel was the editor of from 2010 to 2018. He specialises in writing for start-up and scale-up companies in the areas of finance, marketing and HR.

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