How to Write Effective Business English
eBook - ePub

How to Write Effective Business English

Your Guide to Excellent Professional Communication

Fiona Talbot

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eBook - ePub

How to Write Effective Business English

Your Guide to Excellent Professional Communication

Fiona Talbot

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Do you need a confidence boost in your workplace communication? Whether you speak English as an additional language, or you're a native speaker looking to take your writing to the next level, How to Write Effective Business English provides easy to apply guidance on how to express yourself in writing clearly, concisely, and confidently. With case studies from companies such as Innocent and Virgin which demonstrate how English is used internationally in business, and ideas to help you get your communications right first time, this book is ideal for multinational companies where communication is a priority. For native English speakers, it may mean un-learning things you were taught at school and learning how to save time by getting to the point more quickly in emails; for intermediate English speakers, it focuses on the areas that are easy to get wrong.Author Fiona Talbot uses real international business scenarios to help you develop and apply your skills, and provide you with answers that even your boss might not know. You will learn a system to help you quickly and easily write emails, letters, social media content, CVs and more. Featuring sections on punctuation and grammar, checklists to help you assess your progress, updated content on instant messaging and gender-neutral pronouns, and now with a new chapter on writing for different colleagues and co-workers, this third edition of How to Write Effective Business English will help you get your message across with impact.

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Telling your story through social media

Social media has shaken ‘the rules’ of business writing

Just as the printing press revolutionized the way written communication could spread messages far and wide, so social media has turned the business world and traditional writing inside out.
I’ll talk you through how social media requires an integrated approach – and a distinctly conversational writing style that comes naturally to younger generations but often less so for more traditional writers. So in this chapter, there will be some line-by-line analysis, but we’ll also immerse ourselves in the fuller picture to see how the social media ‘storyline’ fits together.

Get into the social media mindset

From the simple sharing of a message to in-depth conversation, to following the latest news, to opening transactions and closing deals, social media is an intrinsic part of our world. Incidentally, I’m describing ‘social media’ as a collective singular here, in the sense of the activity on social media. Grammatically, it would also be correct to write that social media ‘are’ part of our world.
If you can write well, not only are you improving your career prospects generally, you can also deal with any social media, where the written word takes centre stage. What you need to write depends on your personal and company story, the points you want to make, the goals you need to achieve, and how you write to attract and maintain readers’ interaction with you, as the story evolves.
This chapter is about getting you involved in the social media mindset.

Get your business message to anyone, anywhere, anytime

It’s all about sharing information and collaborating online, bringing the facility to enable everyone to get in touch with anyone, anywhere, anytime. In business, although the biggest players have the biggest budget, they can’t get complacent. Even the smallest voice now has a megaphone to communicate globally, be part of the conversation – and go viral.
Responsive companies of all sizes know the importance of effective online presence on social media where written content is king. Even the very best visuals rarely work by themselves: it’s usually the captions and descriptions that ultimately sell the messages. Infographics can be immensely valuable, almost at a glance, via thought-through visuals aided by writing that imparts key information interestingly and concisely.
People constantly check their networks, so content needs to be updated: they want to be kept posted on things such as helpful information, breaking news, innovation, events, offers, etc.
Written content also needs to be suitable for mobile devices and smart watches. Users who are ‘on the go’, maybe waiting for a train or between meetings, need easily highlighted messages and to know at a glance where you’re leading. The original ‘click here’ has given way to the (hopefully) more enticing ‘read more’.
We see social media used alongside, sometimes in place of, traditional leaflets or mailing. Words even take centre stage in the fast-growing messaging via video. Every message has been (or should have been) finely crafted by that business. Being social offers the opportunity (and expectation) to talk not just about brand, products and services but also to introduce personalities: the people behind the brand. There’s more opportunity for storytelling that resonates and a huge demand for customized messages to elicit buy-in or positive reaction. The word power skills system shown in Chapter 2 is immensely valuable, as the challenge (and the exciting part) is how to get your words heard through the noise. How to adapt, to keep up with the trends – and even create them.
English has such an advantage, being used extensively across multiple platforms. But if English isn’t your company’s first language or that of your social media writers, remember points earlier in the book. Words that are right for your home market may not work abroad, even where English is the common language.
As an example, let’s look at this wording on sportswear brand Adidas’ global website:
Go get better, share your skills, compare yourself with the best and challenge your friends.
It uses very clear wording, easily understandable on first reading. Let’s contrast this with wording used on their Adidas India website:
Criticism and self-doubt can paralyze the most talented athletes. Only a rare breed converts the stones thrown at them into milestones

The language is rather more poetic and thought provoking. It requires a more sophisticated understanding of the English used.
Coca-Cola is one of the most recognized global brands and it too adapts the English it uses across the world. So although we see the social media hashtag #PerfectCoke globally, some countries won’t necessarily understand #SwelterStopper used for ice-cool Coke or #SarapNgFirst – ‘the first time taste of the #PerfectCoke experience’. This latter example purposefully features Tagalog English to resonate with their target youth market in the Philippines.
If you decide to outsource any of your social media (especially likely if you export), or if you simply collaborate with other partners, don’t forget you are ultimately accountable for the messages you put out. One charity found this out to their cost, despite their best intentions:

CASE STUDY Samaritans charity

Samaritans are a highly respected UK charity, offering support to anyone in emotional distress.
Looking for ways of helping vulnerable people online (especially those aged 18–35), they hired a digital agency to help them launch the #SamaritansRadar app. This sent an alert to users when people they followed posted messages that algorithms picked up to suggest depressed or suicidal thoughts.
The app was withdrawn almost immediately after attracting criticism that it didn’t work. It certainly failed on a semantic level, as one Twitter user showed. He added the #SamaritansRadar hashtag to his innocuous post: ‘Making a mixtape of smooth jazz classics. Maybe I should end it all with a bit of Alfonzo Blackwell. #SamaritansRadar.’
The algorithm had mistakenly picked up on the words ‘maybe I should end it all’ as alluding to suicide.

What are the key objectives?

These include: engage, be shared and convert – by being relevant, useful, knowledgeable, credible, consistently professional and personable. All your corporate communications need to reflect your values and your personality – and achieve your goals.
It’s not in the scope of this book to cover writing for websites or search engine optimization (SEO) in any detail. But it’s important to know that the algorithms of Google and other search engines look out for certain signals (that may change over time). Your focus always has to be about creating good-quality content and coherence between your website and your communication off that platform, including social media posts. How engaging both are affects your visibility and could impact on your SEO ranking. Google’s guidelines for SEO state that pages must be written primarily for users, not for search engines: ‘#1: Focus on the user and all else will follow’ and this rings true for social media generally.
Beyond that you will need:
  • a clear structure that’s easy to read;
  • useful links that add value to the text (that is, don’t link for the sake of it);
  • to engage social signals that are likely to improve your visibility.
Social signals mean the interaction your website and social media posts are gaining (visits, likes, shares, dialogue, etc). It’s about realizing that you’re no longer just broadcasting, you need to be part of a conversation – and a listener too. When everyone is an author, make sure you’re generating content that’s valued. Write things of interest, offer value, project a brand that engages, get involved – and show you’re interested too.
Look at this Facebook offer from Pizza Express (fast-food company).

CASE STUDY Create your new favourite pizza

Pizza Express posted a Facebook offer, inviting diners to join them in celebrating their new Spring menu. Their enticement was: ‘create your own pizza to feature on our Autumn menu.’
The winning pizza would join the favourites on their menu and ‘£10,000 AND a holiday for two to the Amalfi Coast could all be yours!’
Emblazoned at the side of the page was: ‘Free Dough Balls for every entry!’, ie every entrant is actually a winner.
The success of the offer is in the result and they were instantly eliciting positive interaction, such as: ‘Thanks/Cheers/BIG THANKS!!/A fairly amazing prize bundle, and a fun competition too! They’ve done a really nice job with that competition...’
Let’s analyse the components of their successful writing:
  1. There was a compelling headline that appealed to the individual reade...

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