Glib Death Posts Kill Potentially Good Intentions

By Jason Menard

Tweet with the reaper and don’t be surprised if your intent gets corrupted.

Death is nothing to be taken lightly. Just ask Huffington Post writer Tricia Fox or Microsoft who have recently faced criticism over their desire to tie in content to the death of singer Amy Winehouse. 

Fox penned a piece for the online publication that suggested small business owners should learn the importance of taking care of one’s product to promote business success, with Winehouse’s lifestyle serving as the cautionary tale of what can go wrong if you neglect your brand’s health.

Microsoft was even more blatant by encouraging people to remember the late singer by downloading her ‘Back to Black’ album from its Zune service.

While there are spelling and grammar checkers out there that can monitor how you write, there’s no filter that can warn you about the consequences of what you write. And for all the great things that social networking has brought about, it’s still limited in that it’s an electronic medium.

From emails to Web copy to Tweets and posts, electronic media has yet to find a way to properly convey nuance. Let’s assume that in both of the aforementioned examples the parties were truly well intentioned. Fox’s comment is fair – singers are a brand and their business is to distribute their product. If you let that brand get sullied, it can have an impact on the bottom line. And maybe Microsoft was sincere in its desire to encourage its users to remember the positives of Winehouse’s life – her music – as opposed to the tabloid sensationalism that dominated the latter part of her life.

But both ran the risk of being perceived as opportunistic, at best, and mind-numbingly callous, at worst.

The great failing of social media is that you’re often at the mercy of what someone thinks you’re saying. And when you try to write to convey a feeling, a sentiment, or an emotion, you run the risk of misinterpretation.

Does that mean that businesses, writers, and the like should simply avoid any sort of potentially inflammatory commentary in their work? Absolutely not! In fact, those sites that are willing to address potentially contentious issues are the ones that often have the most value.

As a business writer or reader, you support those people who avoid clichés, shun traditional business speech, and show a desire to be creative. But understand up front that you may encounter some potholes when you travel that less-bland road. If you and the rest of your passengers – the movers and shakers in your business – are willing to deal with the fall out that will inevitably come, then more power to you!

That doesn’t absolve us as writers, though. We still have to be responsible. We still have to follow the basic principles of journalism. Most importantly, we have to consider everything we write and make sure that we’ve done our best to represent and justify what we’re trying to say.

It’s easy to be flippant in a Facebook post or in a Tweet, but being edgy doesn’t have to equal being irresponsible. And despite the fact that it’s called social media, we’re still behind a screen and on a keyboard – nuance, sarcasm, or genuine concern just doesn’t translate electronically.

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