Those who know me at all well know that I love words. I delight in a beautiful turn of phrase. I am amused by oxymoronic combinations (“Live Chickens Fresh Killed” remains a favorite storefront sign from my days in Somerville, Mass.) And I can get agitated when words are misused, and worse, abused for the sake of drama.
It was amid that agitation last week that I began a post challenging bloggers to avoid ill-advised use of language.
An excerpt from the offending post:
AlwaysOn conference payola: only $1,000 a minute! 1/3rd the cost of DEMO’s payola!
The DEMO conference isn’t the only payola game in town…. looks like Tony Perkins is trying to get a $1,000 a minute from startup companies to present at his conference. Now, that’s like $2,000 less than DEMO charges per minute, so I guess it’s a deal!
Here’s how they get you… first they send you a “congratulations!” email (just like a spammer), then they break the news of the fee to you.
Let’s ignore for the moment the ridiculous calculus and focus instead on what I have to believe is the misuse of the word “payola.” It sounds good. It’s even kind of fun to say. Payola. It kind of rolls around in your mouth. But it is exactly the wrong word to describe a business model as transparent as that of DEMO or AlwaysOn. Both companies do ask their clients to “pay” for the services rendered to them. But there is a tremendous difference between “pay” and “payola.”
pay 1 (p)v. paid (pd), pay·ing, pays
v.tr.1. To give money to in return for goods or services rendered: pay the cashier.
Giving money in return for goods or services is a common business practice. Good businesses work to ensure that they deliver value to their customers in equal or greater measure than the price paid. Business has worked this way for millennia.
pay·o·la (p–l)1. Bribery of an influential person in exchange for the promotion of a product or service, such that of disc jockeys for the promotion of records.2. A bribe or a number of bribes given to an influential person in exchange for a promotion of a product or service: “I do not mean to imply that most Wall Street analysts typically receive payola for touting particular stocks” Burton G. Malkiel.n.
bribe (brb)n.1. Something, such as money or a favor, offered or given to a person in a position of trust to influence that person’s views or conduct.2. Something serving to influence or persuade.
Certainly, it’s true that this particular malapropism is apt to perturb me. After all, a business and brand that is practically pseudonymous with my career and good name is being painted with a poisonous brush. But it’s just not DEMO or AlwaysOn or me or Tony Perkins that is affected by careless language.
Anyone -and there are tens of thousands of us – using social media to be taken seriously as thinkers, writers, and analysts are affected when small numbers of bloggers mangle the language and the blogosphere’s credibility with it. These days, words are tossed about carelessly. A blogger engages in outrageous language to make his writing more entertaining. Entertaining posts attract more readers. More readers embolden the blogger to amp the crowd-pleasing hyperbole and so the cycle continues. And thus, the blogosphere – a platform that could as well support and encourage civil discourse and intelligent debate – has devolved in too many instances into a circus of words tossed about to amuse the masses.
We can do better than that. We must do better than that if blogs are going to be taken seriously by the mainstream masses.