5 tips to avoid hashtag stew

At work, I was recently asked whether a web banner bearing an advertising message should include a hashtag in front of the call to action.

The call to action did not require the audience to tweet a response or upload an image to Instagram.

So what was the point?

Hashtags are everywhere, even on Facebook. So when should we smash them out or trash them?

The (current) rules of engagement

  1. Hashtags live on Twitter and Instagram. Participants in these networks are using hashtags effectively to categorise information, connect, engage and expand their reach. Hashtags die on Facebook.
  2. Keep to one or two hashtags on Twitter and about eleven on Instagram. They’re the magic numbers according to an excellent article by Kevan Lee. Unless you intend to engage with hundreds of random subgroups, use more and you’re a spammer. Yes you.
  3. Don’t make up random hashtags unless they’re likely to fly. If a category has been defined and has a substantial audience; use it.
  4. Avoid hashtags that can be misconstrued or used for something entirely different. Susan Boyle’s album party hashtag is a good example – #susanalbumparty – eek.
  5. Scrap the hashtag if you don’t intend for your audience to take action in the social realm.

The key to hashtags and social media in general is to keep up-to-date. Communication and what’s considered best practice is evolving quickly. What’s right today could be wrong tomorrow, so watch trends and do your own research to see what works and what’s an #epicfail.

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And, so what? Conjunctions rule

I love starting a sentence with ‘And’, ‘So’ and the occasional ‘But’.

And I get irritated when I do this and someone scrubs my ‘And’, ‘So’,  or ‘But’, reasoning that it’s not grammatical to start a sentence this way.

Let’s clear up a long held misconception. There is no rule of grammar which states that you should not start a sentence with ‘And’, ‘So’, ‘But’ or any other conjunction that takes your fancy.

For as long as I’ve been alive (37 years and 360 days) starting a sentence with a conjunction has been widely considered a big no no by everyone but professional writers.

I won’t go into my frustration about the accountants, salespeople and administrators out there who think they’re writing experts.

But as business, industry and government start to accept, if not embrace, a more conversational written communication style, better understood by people from all walks of life, why the heck would you not start a sentence with a conjunction?

Avoiding conjunctions at the beginning of a sentence is a stylistic preference, and preferences are hard things to change. If you’re gay and prefer boys, you’re not going to bed only to wake up and find you prefer girls the next day (or ever).

So, what now?

Pick your battles carefully. If I’m honest, I loathe sentences that end with certain prepositions. But there’s no rule of grammar which states that you should not end a sentence with ‘for’, ‘to’ or ‘with’. It’s just my preference not to. Whoops.

Pleonasm pandemic: a plague of extra words

Copywriters write short and sweet. We say it like it is. We know you don’t have time to spend reading words that don’t need to be there.

This is a rant about one of my pet hates – pleonasms. Sounds like a disease and it could be, because pleonasms have long been a pandemic in writing. Pleonasms are extra, unnecessary words.

Let’s explore some common blighters.

  • “He had to milk the cow in order to get the milk”.
    How about, “He had to milk the cow to get the milk.”
  • “It was a very large banana.”
    Or perhaps it was just a large banana. Or an enormous banana. Very … should it even be a word?
  • “It was absolutely necessary to remove the cancer before it spread.”
    If we ditch absolutely, it’s still necessary to remove the cancer – that’s an absolute.
  • “He was both attracted and repelled by her.”
    Remove ‘both’ and she remains attractive and repellant at the same time. Maybe she’s just a train wreck?

Surely the most used word in the English language deserves a rest whenever possible. Check out my first para – I could have written, “We know you don’t have the time to spend reading words that don’t need to be there.” But I didn’t.

Review your writing and delete extra words that don’t add value, or replace multiple words with a single word that communicates the right meaning. Help end the pleonasm pandemic.

The only two reasons you need to delete those exclamation marks

The exclamation mark is the drama queen of the keyboard, used to convey excitement, shock and awe.

Every other day I review copy written by professional communicators containing at least one of these extroverts.

I draw my pen and strike a deep red gash through its skinny bod. Okay, now I’m being dramatic. I usually just hit the delete key.

You cry, “But why?!!!”

Because the exclamation mark is an enemy of good copy.

Terrible accusation, but I’ll explain. Positioning an exclamation mark at the end of a dull sentence seems like an easy fix to convey a missing sense of excitement, outrage or horror.

Don’t kid yourself, this could go two ways.

  1. Your exclamation mark goes unnoticed because your copy is boring and your audience tuned out before they reached it.
  2. Your audience arrived and took note. Whatever you are peddling is akin to snake oil.

“So I can never use an exclamation mark again?”

Ideally, no.

Don’t get me wrong. Celebrate the exclamation mark in exuberant text messages to friends and in personal Facebook posts – like when someone gets engaged and you want them to know how goddamn excited you are for them. But if you really cared, you’d give them a call, right?