Anyone who’s turned away from Twitter feeling depressed because of the toxicity of some of the conversations there knows full well that words on screen, even at a maximum length of 280 characters have real power to affect us.
To understand that we need to contemplate the fact that beyond their power to communicate meaning words also communicate status. The syntax, tone, intonation and choice of words acts to socially elevate one person while socially diminishing another.
Writing in the Handbook of Social Psychology (4h ed.), Vol. 2. (pp. 41-88) Robert M. Krauss and Chi-Yue Chiu note on the subject:
Just as language use pervades social life, the elements of social life constitute an intrinsic part of the way language is used. Linguists regard language as an abstract structure that exists independently of specific instances of usage (much as the calculus is a logico-mathematical structure that is independent of its application to concrete problems), but any communicative exchange is situated in a social context that constrains the linguistic forms participants use. How these participants define the social situation, their perceptions of what others know, think and believe, and the claims they make about their own and others' identities will affect the form and content of their acts of speaking. (PDF Link)
The idea is further explored in Raymond Hickey’s Language and Society where presenting the principles governing sociolinguistics the author denotes how social background, social experiences, education, perceived status and cultural factors are amongst the elements that directly affect how an individual uses language in different contexts.
The Practical Lessons For Marketers and Communicators
When it comes to search and the web Google, in the past, has rightly said that adverts also constitute content. Content is communication and communication works on several different levels of which one is social status. Because good communication requires a degree of sensitivity and understanding in order to connect with its audience the guidelines to keep in mind every time we create adverts, content, special offers and even social media posts are fairly obvious:
- Understand your audience.
- Establish a framework of shared values with it.
- Communicate sentiment with your audience not just information.
- Never underestimate your audience’s intelligence or overestimate your own.