This is going to be the BEST blog piece EVER!!!!! Did that make you want to read on? My guess is probably not, or perhaps only those who know me and would be wondering why I seemed so desperate. This is exactly the point I wish to make. Capital letters and exclamation marks are not compelling. There are better ways to draw attention to your point.
Why do communicators use superlatives?
The frenzy and excitement (or stress) of Christmas is now far behind us and everyone is settling into a new routine. Some people start the year feeling a little lacklustre due to shorter days, cold, wet weather and January being such a slog. Unbridled fake shouty enthusiasm could be irritating and this is just as much a challenge in our written content. But it can be done, there’s just a right and wrong way to do it.
I’ll admit being a little too liberal with the use of an exclamation mark now and again – it’s an easy trap to fall into, especially for those of us with endless positivity coursing through our veins. However, overusing dramatic punctuation means that you won’t get the right message across and this is particularly a challenge for those of us working in marketing and comms. Adding an exclamation mark, some over-the-top adjectives or dropping in some superlatives won’t magically make what you’re saying compelling or important.
Before you start shouting about your brand and what you’re doing, here are five questions you should ask yourself first:
1. Is it important or exciting, really?
The exclamation mark has become the general signal of importance and we all dread that little red exclamation point next to an incoming email. But does it actually need your attention? Just as many people will simply ignore that email, so your clients, customers or prospects will do exactly the same with your content if you’re trying to make something more important than it is.
The same applies to trying to generate excitement. As Scott Fitzgerald once said, “An exclamation point is like laughing at your own jokes.” You may think you’re great but no one else will. Instead, you’ll put them off. If something really is exciting or important, you don’t need punctuation to convey that, words should suffice.
2. Is it the right time?
When approaching a serious issue, distributing your latest company financials or putting out a formal company statement breaking some bad news, you should refrain from using any sort of unnecessary punctuation, especially exclamation marks. This would undermine the power of what you’re showing or saying, and no one will take you seriously.
Also, bear in mind who’s speaking. Is this a statement from your company CEO to your stakeholders and customers, or a blog from an employee about a great company day out? Punctuation can completely change the voice and tone of a piece, and exclamation marks do not equal serious and credible. Not to name any names but a certain US President is quite a fan of the exclamation mark and I’ll let you make your own decisions about the extent of his credibility…
3. Is it the right place?
Social media is a punctuation minefield – and when it comes to an exclamation mark, be wary. You don’t want to accidentally start a potential debate when you’re talking about something great you’ve done. If you’re replying and engaging with customers or prospects online, you also don’t want them to get the wrong impression.
For LinkedIn, an exclamation point is generally seen as unprofessional but on Twitter and Instagram they can have their place. An exclamation mark here or there can inject a little bit of emotion and help your brand seem more human. Still, take heed. Does an exclamation mark generally match the style and tone of the rest of the feed? And what are you saying around that exclamation mark? Going back to my first point, you need to come across as genuine, conveying real shock or excitement. And remember, one exclamation mark is enough, overuse them and you’ll seem insincere.
As for capitals on social media – don’t even think about it. Proper nouns and beginnings of sentences only please. Nobody likes a shouter, especially when you’re shouting about yourself.
4. Are you being honest?
We’ve all seen numerous news announcements and press releases claiming to be ‘world-first’ or ‘most innovative’. But being honest, is this really the case? Do your research and digging before making a bold claim. These phrases are a huge turn off for the media, and even more so, if not wholly true.
It also won’t sit well with your customers. If everyone claims to be the first to do something then in the end no one will be believed. It’s a little bit like the boy who cried wolf.
If you aren’t the first, though, don’t worry, you can still talk about how you’re doing it better.
5. Are you saying anything at all?
Adjectives, as we are taught at primary school, are describing words, and they can really help build up a picture, but not always. Too much can dilute rather than strengthen what you’re trying to convey. Reflect on whether you do need multiple adjectives, if any at all. Moreover, while social media is no longer so restrictive with word limits, unnecessary words take up precious space. Better to stick to the point and keep it punchy.
Most importantly, with all that additional punctuation and superfluous content, you’re likely not giving away any of the information or details your customers or audience actually need. Take the beginning of this very blog – did you have any idea what it would be about? Absolutely not. Always have in mind what you’re actually trying to say.
Of course, if your answer is yes to the above then please do go ahead, add in that punctuation mark, multiple adjectives and superlatives (maybe even capitals) but hopefully this will help make you think before you write.