Your website’s readers pose a real problem for you. Even though you might know their needs and interests well, even though you may have done loads of market research and analytics, the fact remains you cannot see them. And that means you cannot judge their response to what you are saying in your blog posts and articles.
New research from Amsterdam suggests this could have important implications for the style of writing you adopt online. It seems that when we are face-to-face with someone who is smiling we use more descriptive and interpretive language. When we are talking to someone with more negative facial expressions we become factual and rather boring. Furthermore, the language we choose seems to be based entirely on the facial expressions of our audience – it is not affected by our own mood.
What we also know is that stories and more descriptive language is more “connective”; people engage more with this kind of language and story tellers can be inspiring leaders. Online, though, we cannot see the reaction of our readers. Hence you will find that much material on web pages is factual – and frankly – boring.
That’s probably because our lack of non-verbal feedback from our audience makes us assume they are straight-faced, with no real facial expression one way or the other. In turn, this probably means our language becomes less expressive and rather straight itself. Indeed, it is a common problem with all business communication.
For some unknown reason, business language is stilted and factual, rather than descriptive and expressive. When you peek inside many boardrooms, you find lots of people not smiling, but rather expression-less, fearing that any show of emotion would be some indication of weakness. Of course, look at successful business people, like Richard Branson or Theo Paphitis and you find them smiling all the time. And when people smile, we tend to smile back. The result is the language of these business leaders is not business-like – both of them use expressive, descriptive language. And that’s partly because their audiences are smiling back at them, this new research suggests.
If your website is full of factual, straight and non-descriptive language you will not be behaving like these successful individuals. Your website will be just like all the rest – trying to be business-like and failing to connect as a result.
To really connect with your audience you need description, stories and expressive, emotive language. And this new Dutch study points to the fact that you only do that when the people you are talking to are smiling. Because you can’t see your online audience, there is only one way out of this – assume your readers are smiling.
Indeed, the best advice I was ever given when starting my writing career, was “get a picture of one individual in your mind and write for that single person”. If you do that you can see them smiling and in turn your language will boost your website. When I wrote this for you, I knew you were smiling all the way through. Thanks.
Graham Jones is an Internet Psychologist who studies the way people use the online world, in particular how people engage with businesses. He uses this knowledge to help companies improve their online connections to their customers and potential customers and offers consultancy, workshops, masterclasses and webinars. He also speaks regularly at conferences and business events. Graham is an award-winning writer and the author of 32 books, several of which are about various aspects of the Internet. For more information connect with me on Google+