Always On: Language in an Online and Mobile World – by Naomi Baron

 

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BOOK REVIEW

Baron’s book, Always On: Language in an Online and Mobile World, examines various computer mediated communication (CMC) platforms and the effects that use of those platforms are having on spoken and written language, as well as addresses the ways that those platforms are changing the way people communicate with and relate to one another. She cites three major social and cultural transformations brought about by CMC: volume control, effects of increasing writing volume, and the end of anticipation (Baron, 2008, p. 6-7). First, she discusses the idea of the receiver’s ability to “control the volume” of information received by determining when to sign on to electronic media and deciding who to respond to and when, as well as the ability of the sender and receiver to multi-task when communicating electronically. Next, she examines the massive amount of writing that is now being produced through emails, texts, blogs, and other electronic media, as well as the profound way language rules and conventions are being challenged and how long-established communication practices and culture are being changed as a result. Lastly, as CMC allows everyone to be kept up to date about all major and minor events and happenings, she discusses “end of anticipation” in relationships and how that concept is changing the way relationships are constructed.

From email to instant messaging, mobile phones to Facebook, Baron examines how CMC is affecting both language and society. Chapter three deals with strategies used to control the volume of communication, including checking messages when the receiver is ready and multitasking when engaging in CMC. Chapter four discusses instant messaging (IM) and, as in other chapters, breaks down sample messages, by gender, into smaller units and compares that communication to speech and the written word. (Interestingly gender does make a difference as males tend to IM in speech patterns while females tend to IM in written patterns.) Chapter five discusses Facebook and IM, and the importance of online face management in both media.

Chapter six moves from one-to-one synchronous communication to one-to-many asynchronous communication and the challenges it presents to both sender and receiver. It raises such questions as who will read the message, is the information accurate, and can the sources be trusted? Chapter seven discusses cell phones and the issues that arise when one can be reached by voice in any location at any time of the day or night. Chapter eight switches focus, moving from specific CMC platforms to a discussion of online language rules (hint – those rules were few and far between in 2008), and the ease in which traditional language rules and conventions are violated with CMC. In chapter nine, Baron discusses the move from a written culture based on carefully curated thoughts painstakingly written by hand, to a written culture where a plethora of text is written in record time without the traditional thought and care normally associated with more formal writing. Chapter ten provides a brief overview of the issues brought about by CMC including unintentional plagiarism, virtual customer service, communication exhaustion, and a sense of loneliness.

Though the book was published almost a decade ago, when many CMC platforms were still in their infancy, the issues Baron examines are still valid today. Her discussion of employing CMC for self-expression was prophetic as the world of blogging has exploded, YouTube is worth more than $70 billion (Gerber, 2015), and the comment section of many online news articles gets more attention than the articles themselves. CMC has leveled the playing field and now allows anyone with a computer and access to Wifi to broadcast their thoughts and opinions to the world. Baron’s research on talk radio is as relevant today as it was when the book was first published, as people still use that medium as “a form of entertainment, a medium for education, and a way to perpetuate the idea of free speech” (Baron, 2008, p. 103). Even ten years ago, Baron was emphasizing the importance of not believing everything that is read online without double-checking the legitimacy of the source and the validity of the information presented.

Baron’s observations on language and grammar use in CMC are still relevant as well. Because of the rapid pace and sheer volume of writing made possible by CMC, many times words and phrases are abbreviated, punctuation is ignored, spellcheck replaces an offline dictionary, and sentences are fragmented or poorly constructed. But, she cautions, CMC isn’t the only culprit. The relaxing of linguistic rules can be interpreted as “a natural reflection of changing educational policies, shifts in social agendas, a move in academia toward philosophical relativism, and a commitment to life on the clock” (Baron, 2008, p, 169). She theorizes that a more liberal “linguistic whateverism” (Baron, 2008, p. 169) attitude is also at fault.

Ten years have passed since Baron’s book was published – practically a century or more in technology time – rendering some of the research dated (at that time, Facebook had just made its way off college campuses and was being adopted by the general public (Baron, 2008, 84)), and rendering some of the references obsolete (folks referred to their Blackberrys as Crackberrys (Baron, 2008, p. 229) and the iPhone was not on anyone’s radar.) A revised edition would be welcome, including platforms such as Instagram and YouTube. Updated research would also be valuable as many younger CMC participants have used social media platforms for most of their lives, and most older participants now boast a decade or more experience online. But even though much of the hardware and software Baron refers to in the book is no longer in use, many of the issues she discusses are still of concern and being debated in 2017.

This book would be a welcomed read for older CMC participants who are concerned about what they perceive is a decline in language as a result of social media platforms. Baron offers a bit of consolation that society will acclimate and language will remain intact despite the challenges of online communication. The book is also recommended for younger CMC participants as it provides historical background for the online world they take for granted, as well as a thoughtful discussion of why the integrity of language is important. Most importantly, the book urges a reader to take a step back from the online world, and think about how society is allowing technology to change our world in ways both good and bad.

As Baron says, “technology has always been Janus-faced. Automobiles are convenient modes of transportation but consume vast quantities of fossil fuel and kill more than 43,000 people a year in the United States alone. Refrigeration eliminated the need to go to the market each day but also meant that the food we eat now is less fresh,” (Baron, 2008, p. 213), and her examples continue. Always On serves as a reminder that the viability of language, the integrity of the written word, and how we communicate with one another – both online and off – is the responsibility of each of us, individually and collectively.

References:

Baron, N. (2008). Always on: language in an online and mobile world. Oxford, New York. Oxford University Press.

Gelen, B. (2015, May 27). Here’s how much YouTube is worth. Fortune. Retrieved from http://fortune.com/2015/05/27/youtube-google-value/

Ten Ways to Communicate Your Brand

As a new business owner, you may view organizational branding as a task that can wait until the business becomes more established and sales start rolling in – but that could be a fatal mistake. A strong brand is necessary from the very beginning to help ensure business growth and development, as well as to create and sustain relationships with customers so they will return again and again. “People want a reason to love a brand; they want to know how it will fit into their story and belong in their world” (Manning, 2017).

With the proliferation of social media, consumers are demanding much more from a company than ever before. If you hope to gain their business and trust, then organizational branding is a must. “If your works and deeds are well matched . . . you will create in your customers a crucial, intrinsic and implicit emotional connection that will form the basis of a long-lasting relationship built on the predictability of the brand’s behavior” (Herskovitz and Crystal, 2010, p. 24).

While the thought of branding may seem overwhelming when considering all the other tasks that must be accomplished to get your business off the ground, proceeding methodically and carefully, you will find that the branding process will not only help you bring in customers, it will also enable you to learn more about yourself, your employees, and your business. “A company must align three essential, interdependent elements – call them strategic stars – to create a strong corporate brand: vision, culture and image” (Hatch and Schultz, 2001, p. 4).

There’s plenty of expert advice out there, so be sure and check out not only branding books and articles referenced here, but others as well, and check out the brands themselves to see what resonates with you. To give you a start, I’ve included my top ten suggestions – in no particular order. Feel free to try one or all of them. But remember, each business, like each person, is unique. You have your own story to tell, your own brand to create, and when all the pieces are in place and your business is up and running, the payoff will be well worth it.

Good luck and happy branding!

Top 10 Best Practices

1) Let Your Story Set You Apart

A good story – or brand – can help set you apart from the competition and assure your customers that they are getting the best product accompanied by the best experience possible. “Storytelling is essential to successful branding, since your brand is the sum of all your corporate behaviors and communications that inform your customer’s experiences with your product or company” (Herskovitz and Crystal, 2010, p. 21).

The Buffalo Jackson Trading Company’s story is as intriguing as its merchandise:

2) Encourage Your Customers to Share In Your Story

If a customer likes your product or service, an online comment can increase your sales dramatically. “As much as companies try to define how we feel about products through advertising and marketing, the real essence of a brand is decided by the customers and communities” (Jones, 2012, p. 11). Provide social media platforms for customer feedback and use that feedback to help improve your business and expand your story.

3) Practice What You Preach

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In today’s networked society, you can’t hide a shoddy product or shoddy service with fancy words or promises. If you make a promise to consumers, keep it. Or follow the example of Horton the Elephant who said “I meant what I said and I said what I meant. An elephant is faithful 100 percent” (Suess, D., 1954).

4) Encourage Community – Face to Face and Online

Strong branding brings people together, starts conversations, and helps consumers feel a part of something larger. A positive online community can be one of the greatest assets a business can have. “Brands are the conversations and moments we have together, whether we are a community, a movement, or a crowd trying to create positive change” (Hanlon, 2016).

Check out this sobering Nature Valley brand narrative:

5) Sell More Than a Product, Sell an Experience

Consumers expect to buy more than just a product; they expect an experience, and a positive one at that. Create your brand accordingly. “To connected customers, experience is everything. They don’t just buy products . . . They want experiences. It is what they buy. It is what they embrace. It is what they share” (Solis, 2013, p. 152)

6) Recognize and Appreciate the Impact of Social Identity

The Social Identity Theory states that consumers place themselves in different categories depending on the situation they find themselves in (Ashforth and Mael, 1989). Consumers may have multiple identities, and strong brands can assist them in forming an additional social identity they may not yet have. “Consumers have the opportunity to utilize brands as resources in construction of self” (Cooper, Schembri and Miller, 2010). A strong brand can help shape the consumer and convince him of the need of the service or product the brand represents.

Want to be like Taylor Swift? Drink Diet Coke!

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7) Choose Your Words Carefully and Make Them Sing

The attributes, or story, used in the description of a product can affect the brand’s desirability and position it above its rivals. Consider “Alpine Class” fill for a down jacket or “Studio Designed” to describe a compact disc player (Aaker, 2007, 11). Those adjectives conjure up positive, upscale images and make your product even more desirable.

8) Consider the Power of Community

The opinion of a customer’s community is an important consideration when the customer is deciding whether or not to buy your product. “When it comes to a purchase, the group you identify with at the time of the transaction is a very important factor in your decision: (Champniss, Wilson, & Macdonald, 2015).

What Makes Us, Us? The power of the Lexus community:

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9) Sweat the Small Stuff

As your company’s leader, your vision is necessarily large. But don’t lose site of the small details – it’s the little things that sometimes mean the most. “All the little things you do – or fail to do – for your customers in person will out-communicate the big things you may claim through mass media. Few advertising or marketing messages can ever be as impressive, distinctive, and memorable as a one-on-one brand experience that’s been designed down to the last detail and manages to appeal to most, if not all, of the five human senses” (Yohn, 2014, p. 126).

Apple sweats the details – down to the packaging!

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10) Make Your Brand Your Business

A strong brand is not only the face the business presents to the public, but also the road map, the measuring stick, the guide for the business itself. From vision to goals, products to services, CEO to employees, the brand is something to both live by and adhere to. Great companies “use their brands as management tools to fuel, align, and guide everyone in the organization. Great brands use the brand-as-business management approach to grow and succeed in tough economic climates regardless of the size of their marketing budget” (Yohn, 2014, p. 2). Live into your brand. Make it your business. You’ll be glad you did!

References – check them out!

Aaker, D. (2007). Innovation: brand it or lose it. California Management Review. 50(1), 8-24.

Ashforth, B.E. & Mael, F. (1989, January). Social identity theory and the organization. The Academy of Management Review, 14(1), 20-37.

Champniss, G., Wilson, H.N., & Macdonald, E. (2015, January, February). Why your customers’ social identities matter. Harvard Business Review. Retrieved from https://hbr.org/2015/01/why-your-customers-social-identities-matter

Cooper, H., Schembri, S. & Miller, D. (2010, June). Brand-self identity narratives in the james bond movies. Psychology & Marketing, 27(6), 557-567.

Hanlon, P. (2016, April 26). What is strategic brand narrative? Forbes. Retrieved from https://www.forbes.com/sites/patrickhanlon/2016/04/26/what-is-strategic-brand-narrative/#4f881e0b433d

Hatch, M.J. & Schultz, M. (2001, February). Are the strategic stars aligned for your corporate brand? Harvard Business Review. 2-8.

Herskovitz. S. & Crystal, M. (2010). The essential brand persona: storytelling and branding. Journal of Business Strategy, 31(3), 21-28.

Jones, S. (2012). Brand like a rock star. Austin, Texas: Greenleaf Book Press.

Manning, Del. (2015, June 30). Five tips on weaving a compelling brand narrative. The Guardian. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/media-network/2015/jun/30/five-tips-compelling-brand-narrative

Solis, B. (2013). What’s the future of business? Changing the way businesses create experiences. Hoboken, New Jersey: Wiley & Sons.

Suess, D. (1954). Horton Hears a Who. New York, New York, Random House.

Yohn, D. L. (2014). What great brands do: the seven brand-building principles that separate the best from the rest. San Francisco, California: Josey-Bass.