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Are modern communication habits harming our PR talent pool?

By Rachel Mitchell

I apply a rule to my Facebook feed. If a ‘friend’ makes spelling mistakes in three consecutive posts, I hide them so I no longer see all their updates. So irksome do I find sloppy spelling.

And the frequency of such mistakes terrifies me. Confusion between there, their and they’re. Your and you’re. And my pet hate: ‘should of’. Arrrrggghh!

Shoddy social media posts are one thing but the trouble is these mistakes are creeping into professional life. When recruiting, for example, we set candidates a writing test. Last time I was interviewing for an entry level position I had to call my colleagues in for a second opinion. I had rejected roughly 10 candidates, most due to poor writing tests. I was worried I was being too picky but the mistakes were so blatant and numerous that, as a colleague put it, “How could you ever trust them to email a client?”

I am quite sure that all these people learnt to spell in the first place. So I can only assume that they’ve forgotten how, perhaps due to reliance on autocorrect, spell check or over-use of text-speak.

And sadly, it’s not just spelling that’s going downhill. Even in this digital age, our job requires a lot of talking on the phone, to clients and to journalists. Email can only get you so far. I’ve noticed a trend over the past few years that new starters are sometimes reluctant to pick up the phone and actually talk to someone. They are so used to conversing via text, social media and email that the concept of speaking on the phone can seem alien and therefore frightening.

Now, of course I’m generalising. I’m surrounded by colleagues with exemplary communication skills. But I do believe they’re in the minority.

There is an ongoing debate over the extent to which texting, social media and autocorrect are affecting how we communicate. Some contest that text-speak is simply an example of our language evolving (though I’m not sure how some of our clients would feel about it filtering into our content!). And let’s not forget that blogging, which has grown alongside – and been fuelled by – social media, encourages people to write more. Somestudies have also suggested that text abbreviations actually improve children’s language. But unless your job demands it, a lot of people just don’t write anymore. My worry is that we’re on a slippery slope to a place where the written word is no longer valued and traditional communication skills are lost.