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Why you should never use acronyms or initialisms in business

BNI ed slot

Why you should never use acronyms or initialisms in business

A few weeks ago I gave a talk at a business networking event on why you shouldn’t use acronyms or initialisms within business. The video of the talk is below, if you’d like to watch it, but the essence of the talk was that just because you know what something means, it doesn’t mean that the person you’re talking to knows what it means.

Additionally, most people will be afraid to ask because they don’t want to appear ignorant, especially if it’s in public as they’ll assume other people in the room do know and they’re the odd one out.

They don’t want to feel stupid, even though there’s most likely several people thinking the same thing. Therefore, if I were start talking about SEO, PPC and ROI without explaining them I’d be wasting my time.

Don’t worry, though, I’m not about to start doing that. I’m just here to talk about using plain English.

This concept can go further. It’s not just about using acronyms or initialisms that are commonplace in your industry, but not known to the general public. It’s also about the use of language, phrases and even whole concepts that can go right over people’s heads.

How many websites have you looked at that offer ‘business solutions services’ and yet somehow completely fail to explain what they do? I know I’ve seen hundreds of them.

When talking about your business in a networking event, in a meeting, a pitch, in your website’s text or in any capacity you need to ensure people understand what you’re saying. Using technical jargon that may be an everyday occurrence within your business could be completely alien to someone else. If they don’t understand what you’re selling, they’ll never buy from you.

With regards to content on your website, you should consider what your potential customers and clients will be searching for to find you, rather than what you want to say in order to position yourself. For example, if someone has a problem with their computer they’re not necessarily going to search for someone offering ‘IT services in [location]’ – they’re more likely to search Google for the problem they’re having. Structure your content for your client and customer’s needs, for the problem they have that you solve, not for what you do as a service.

Finally, and this perhaps more important than anything I’ve mentioned so far, there are a lot of acronyms or initialisms that mean something within one particular industry, but mean something completely different within another. Therefore you could be talking about something and believing everything’s going well, only to find the person you’re talking with is thinking of something completely different.

What do I mean by this?

For example, in online marketing the initialism PR stands for Google’s PageRank, but it also means Public Relations to most other people. The acronym SD means, when used in relation to SD Cards, ‘secure digital’. However it also means ‘standard definition’ when used in relation to picture quality. The acronym IP could mean ‘intellectual property’ or it could mean ‘internet protocol’, as in IP Address.

There are many examples of where acronyms and initialisms mean more than one thing, so if you use them believing you’re saving time and that everyone else understands what you’re saying, you could be faced with blank stares or find someone completely misunderstands what you’re talking about.

Darren Jamieson

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