Plain English fail

I wrote a post about jargon the other day, and in the comments someone asked me what I thought the worst bit of social media jargon was. I realised then that individual terms, even quite jargon-y ones, can be used in such a way that they can easily be understood because of the context. Equally, terms that by themselves don’t seem too bad can be brought together in a such a concoction that they immediately lose all meaning.

I discovered such an example today, via John Moore (via someone who Tweeted it). John blogs about the Dachis Group’s attempt to explain what they mean when they use the phrase “Social Business Design”. John said:

I tried explaining/defining the term to a friend the other day but did it poorly. (I think I know what it means, but I don’t.) It’s about using online applications (like ‘social media’ tools) to help businesses improve communication across all departments inside the company and communication across all vendor partners and customers outside the company to create a more efficient and more coordinated way of doing business.

At least that’s what I thought. After reading Dachis Group Managing Partner Peter Kim’s short explanation of what Social Business Design is, I’m totally lost.

And, at risk of basically reproducing John’s whole post (you totally have to go over and read the comments though, some of them are just fabulous), here’s Peter Kim’s definition:

Social Business Design is the intentional creation of dynamic and socially calibrated systems, process, and culture.

Its goal: helping organizations improve value exchange among constituents.

Social Business Design uses a framework of four mutually exclusive, collectively exhaustive archetypes: ecosystem, hivemind, dynamic signal, and metafilter. This model can be applied to improve customer participation, workforce collaboration, and business partner optimization. Doing so provides insight to help measure and manage business to produce improved and emergent outcomes.

Some of these words are perfectly fine all by themselves, but put together they are meaningless. “Collectively exhaustive archetypes”, anyone?

This is a perfect example of a company pulling together complex-sounding jargon and complex and hard to parse sentences to make themselves sound cleverer than they really are. It reminds me very much of one of my earliest consulting gigs. A company wanted me to help with their communications and one of the things I needed to do was get a good idea of what they did. We spent several hours in a meeting trying to come up with a way to describe their focus without using any jargon. It turned out that they just couldn’t find ways to talk about their work without resorting to neologisms that would have been utterly confusing to anyone outside of their industry.

They, like Dachis Group, suffered a total plain English fail. In my opinion, no business should use language which obscures meaning, but for a company like Dachis Group that is supposed to be encouraging communication and collaboration, it’s a double fail.

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