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How Social Media Is Changing the English Language (and Why It Matters to Marketers)

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Technology is changing the way we communicate. From 140-character Twitter limits to an ever-expanding list of text messaging acronyms, technology is clearly having an impact on language and the words we use to relate to one another.

For more than 200 years, Collins Dictionary has been one of the world's most respected dictionaries and a gatekeeper of the English language. Recently, we at Collins opened up CollinsDictionary.com to crowdsourcing, inviting English speakers from around the globe to suggest words they believe should be included in the lexicon.

As a result of our crowdsourcing initiative, we're discovering that social media is playing an important role not only in introducing new terms into the dictionary but also in accelerating the rate at which new terms reach critical mass in the culture. More important, we're learning that social media and crowdsourcing are helping us do a better job in achieving the objectives at the heart of our publishing.

Crowdsourcing the English Language

Staying current with the pace at which the English language is evolving is difficult. Online technology is a driving force in the rapid creation and proliferation of new words. These days, people are just as likely to turn to a dictionary to look up terms they encounter online as they are to search for words they have encountered at school or work.


By crowdsourcing suggestions for new words, Collins Dictionary is able to match the pace of the culture, creating opportunities to record new words as they arise. Because each word suggestion is subject to a rigorous vetting process, crowdsourcing allows us to stay credible and current at the same time.

Many of the suggestions we're seeing are directly related to social media ("tweeps," "cyberstalking," "twitlit") or they have achieved widespread recognition thanks to the social media activities of pop culture influencers ("Tebowing," "photobombing," "YOLO").

But social media also plays a part in encouraging participation by celebrities, bloggers, and the public, making the selection process even more complete by ensuring the widest possible range of entries. Online networking sites such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Google+ fuel discussions around suggested words, increasing the likelihood of the term's inclusion in the dictionary and accelerating the adoption of the word by popular culture.

Why It Matters to Marketers

How social media is transforming the English language offers insights for businesses and marketers. With the right strategy, marketers can use those insights to achieve social media wins in their organizations.

  • Reach. Crowdsourcing has broadened Collins's base, allowing us to capture a much wider range of new word suggestions than would have been possible via traditional channels. Social media and crowdsourcing offer businesses in other industries similar opportunities, allowing them to gather customer feedback, new product recommendations, and other types of input from a broad base of consumers.

    Social media and crowdsourcing also extend the organization's reach and influence and increase the quantity of information that businesses are able to capture from their customers.
  • Speed. At Collins Dictionary, the speed of social media is essential in helping us keep up with the evolution of language. For marketers, social media may present the best option for keeping up with the pace of change in the marketplace. Social media dialogues and monitoring can go a long way toward equipping marketers with the tools they need to compete in today's fast-paced business environment.
  • Engagement. The use of social media as a vehicle for soliciting new word ideas and accelerating the adoption process has engaged a new generation of speakers in the growth and evolution of the English language. With social media skyrocketing in popularity, marketers across a range of fields and industries can devise strategies to achieve comparable levels of engagement using social media for their own purposes.

We expect social media to remain a driving force in the transformation of language and the expansion of our lexicon, dramatically reducing the amount of time it takes for new terms to achieve widespread adoption in the culture. But just as important, we expect social media to be a critical tool in crowdsourcing information back to our organization and other businesses that place a high value on customer engagement.


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Alex Brown is the head of digital at Collins Dictionary.

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Comments

  • by Theresa Letman Wed Sep 12, 2012 via web

    Alex - thanks for sharing a perspective of how you're embracing social media vs. fearing it. You mention the benefits above, but I'm certain the crowdsourcing may have also provided some unexpected opportunities or challenges? I'd love to hear about the challenges, too.

  • by Pete Goodrum Mon Jun 16, 2014 via web

    How Social Media is changing the English Language................a clue is in the title. 'Media' is a plural, which means that this title should be 'How Social Media are changing the English language'................

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