Friday Five: Clichés to hate (with a passion)

Ah, clichés. They are the weeds in our communications garden, are they not? Weed one out and two more spring up in its place,and no amount of pulling seems to ever completely clear the thicket of trite, worn expressions from our patches.

cliche

Eventually, we wave our white flags of surrender to the mighty cliché and learn to strike an uneasy truce. Especially when, despite our best efforts to convince clients, supervisors and committees otherwise, those champions of the cliché force them into our copy, print and web designs, video projects and other efforts to clearly tell our institutions’ stories to the world. Sooner or later, we come to the realization that sometimes the fight just isn’t worth it.

Yes, clichés — verbal, visual and virtual — grow and spread faster than kudzu on a Mississippi roadside. And sometimes, trying to fight their presence in our marketing materials seems to be more trouble than it’s worth.

Yet, while we are so adamant about killing clichés in our institutions’ marketing materials, why do we allow them to flourish in our social media lives? (Today’s Friday Five is inspired by a fellow higher ed marketing person whose Twitter bio includes a phrase straight out of a fundraising brochure: “changing lives.”)

We may not have control over every word or image that appears in our campus marketing materials. But we do have control over how we portray ourselves in the social media sphere. Shouldn’t we be more vigilant in that regard? Shouldn’t we try to limited the number of clichés we foist upon our own petards in this realm?

I don’t mind the occasional familiar phrase. But in this world of blogging and social media, what was once a meme can quickly become trite. Here are five social media clichés that I’d love to see less often.

1. Blog posts with numbers in the headline. My Twitter stream and RSS feed runneth over with posts from marketing and tech blogs offering simple numerical solutions. Just in the past several hours, I saw “40 Dead Simple Ways to Get More Comments on Your Blog,” “4 Facebook E-Commerce Tips for Brands,” “5 Fresh Digital Media Trends to Watch,” etc. Sure, it’s easy to slap a number in your headline — and yes, sometimes numbers are effective at getting attention, especially if they’re connected to a simple solution to a perceived problem. But how many of those how-to by the numbers posts actually deliver on their promise? How about trying something a bit more creative for the headline? (My Friday Five posts are the exception to this cliché, of course.)

2. @ creep. Must we put the “@” in front of someone’s name in a blog comment, Facebook comment, or any other forum outside of Twitter? The @name convention belongs on Twitter and only on Twitter. But sometime back in 2008, someone apparently thought it would be cute to include the @ symbol before someone’s name in a blog comment. It isn’t cute. It’s annoying. Please stop.

3. #fail, #win, #winning. The only thing that could make these Twitter hashtags more annoying would be to preface them with the word epic.

4. Worst. Cliché. Ever. The “Best/Worst. [Insert Noun Here]. Ever.” meme jumped the shark with this year’s Super Bowl ads. Please. Stop. It.

5. The curmudgeon blogger. You know the type: Lewis Black wannabes who use their blogs as a forum to complain about trivial matters. They try to be clever snarks but consistently #fail. I’m glad I’m not like that. Worst. Bloggers. Ever.

* * *

What would you add to the list? Please comment below. (No @s though, please.)

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Author: andrewcareaga

Higher ed PR and marketing guy. Communications director for Missouri University of Science and Technology (Missouri S&T) in Rolla, Missouri, USA. Slow runner, mediocre guitarist, lover of music and puns, and an avid St. Louis Cardinals fan. I blog and Tweet about #highered, #music, #gocards and #random stuff.

9 thoughts on “Friday Five: Clichés to hate (with a passion)”

  1. Good list, Andrew. Re: the “number in the blog post title,” it has driven more traffic from search and more clicks from subscribers and Twitter links than any other practice. I think the bigger issue is lack of interesting or relevant content, which you hint at. If the article is useful or provocative, I don’t care what you put in the headline.

    Re: The @ sign before names, it’s worth noting that it’s how you connect a Facebook status update to an individual friend on Facebook, which can be useful.

  2. Andy – Good point about putting numbers in the headline. Yes, it’s true that headlines with numbers in them tend to drive more traffic to an entry or article, and posts like this one make a strong case for using them. But that doesn’t make it any less cliche, in my opinion.

    As for the @ sign, you are correct regarding Facebook status updates, but I was referring more to the trend of using them in comments on blogs (and comments in Facebook entries). I should have been more clear.

    Thanks for reading.

  3. One GOOD reason for using the @ sign in comment threads is to help navigate the discussion. If Jane, Colin, Bryan and Donna make comments, and I want to make clear my comment relates to Colin’s comment, I can write “@Colin: you suck.” and theoretically, Bryan, Donna, and Jane won’t take offence.

    This is particularly useful in situations where comment systems are linear (not threaded), but I find people often don’t get the sense of threaded comments. In conclusion:
    @andrew: you are wrong on one point (at least!)

  4. Oh yes, I am guilty. Can I add mumbo-jumbo to the subject matter? I read a blog (from PRSA, mind you) the other day that was so full of academic mumbo-jumbo, I had to read it twice before I gave up. Ugh. Academics need to be mindful that all of us are not professors. I think the same goes for business, though. I hope to be saved from the cliche–I am working on it.

  5. Bob, I would argue that I don’t need “@” to address my comment to you – and only you ;0)

    Now, Andrew, I would argue that, whether you like it or not, cliches might help with readability. They don’t require a lot of processing power from your readers either because they are so familiar.

    I’ve had to read an incredbile amount of social media blog posts as I was doing research for the class I’ll teach this summer. And, my main complain is the lack of depth in most blog posts revisiting over and over again the same topics. I don’t know if I’m guilty at collegewebeditor.com (hopefully readers don’t think so), but I always try to add a new angle.

    I see our little higher ed corner of the blogosphere as a whole – and if you’re writing on something, I’m not going to write a post on the same topic with the same angle. The fact that I compile the most interesting posts in my weekly newsletter has probably lead me to think I’m some kind of virtual editor for the higher ed web, communication and marketing blogosphere (I know I’m not, but try to act as if I were ;-)

  6. There is no doubt that cliches can be overused and often redundant. Too much repetition gets in the way of genuine creative expression and original thought. And yet, cliches continue to be popular because they communicate key ideas in a succinct and ‘easy to understand’ manner—not bad editorial attributes when you are limited to 140 characters. “Food for thought.”

  7. Bob – I agree with Karine that the @ symbol is not necessary to keep one-to-one discussions focused within broader forums.

    Chris – Yes, you may add mumbo-jumbo to the list. I would broaden it to include buzzwords in blog posts.

    Karine and John – Your points about the value of cliches to help us quickly communicate are valid. But at the end of the day, some cliches simply add no value.

    Todd — All I can say to your comment is epic #win.

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