Snarky Doesn’t Sell

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the push for mass adoption of business blogging, and how the generally snarky tone that pervades the blogosphere would work out in conjunction. I started to write an article explaining why snarky will kill sales materials, and how it may not even be a good idea for a conversational business blogging voice (even if you’re naturally sarcastic and cynical).

I then started to think about what really bothered me about the whole snark thing. And it boils down to this: some people are trying to be “blog snarky” when it’s not really who they are offline.

They’re not naturally sarcastic and cynical, they’re just pretending to be. So they end up saying things online they would never say to a person’s face, thereby dragging down the level of discourse just a bit more.

And then I remembered something four guys said seven years ago about conversations being natural, open, and honest. And some other stuff about unmistakably genuine voices.

And this is what I ended up with:

The Stop Snark Manifesto

Looking forward to some civil conversation.

UPDATE: I thought this was clear, but maybe not. This has nothing to do with your journal or entertainment blogging style. If you are snarky in real life and therefore want to be snarky online for fun, great. This is about whether snarkiness makes for good business communication, and a comment on those that are striking a snarky pose in the arena of business blogging.

UPDATE 2: Offline, I have been, for the majority of my life, a sarcastic terror. I wrote the SSM primarily as a reminder to myself. For those of you watching my every word for a hint of snarkiness… I WILL fall off the wagon. :)

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  1. As a card-carrying cerebral hipster myself, I feel personally attacked by this manifesto. Were you targeting me specifically with these unkind words? How did you *find out* I was a poseur? Have you been going through my trash again? I feel so exposed, so violated! What if my clients read this? I’ll be ruiined! Oh well. My real problem is not *knowing* who I am offline. Or online for that matter. Perhaps I’d think I’m a really nice person if I got to know me…

  2. Ahhh… I can now die a happy man. And yes people, that is *the* Chris Locke, one of the original Cluetrain authors and an all around great guy who’s put up with me sporadically emailing him for about 6 years.

    This is his way of saying “leave me alone now.”

  3. 1) I wonder if snark has become to online communication, what business-speak and academese are to the corporate and academic worlds, respectively? Maybe it works like jargon, signaling that the writer is an insider (or would like to be taken as one). Maybe it’s a tribal thing . . .

    2) I agree with you that snarkiness is a conversation killer. Vibrant conversations feature open questions more often than snappy answers.

    3) I wonder how much snarkiness comes from the fact that online conversations are all in writing, when in real-life conversations, the words spoken are only the tip of the communications iceberg? All the context we derive from tone of voice, microexpressions, what is NOT being said, etc, is stripped out of online exchanges with strangers. Communicating online is a learned art, and people sometimes take offense where none was intended. Maybe snarkiness is a form of armor.


  4. Excellent points, Anna. Thanks for participating.

  5. lolz youse guys r0x3r thkx for writting this list now i knows wht nt to do on the interwebs :)

  6. Thanks to all these folks for joining in.

    I’m not talking about selling advertising though, and Gawker got an express pass. Make sure to read carefully, now.

    And Boogeyman nailed it!

  7. Major Elvis Newton :

    You need to understand Snark is the reaction to the all the BS management-speak, faux concern, team-building, carrying, sharing nanny-state bilgefest that has erupted like a poisonous boil on the rump of society.

    Normal people say no way, get f**ked, f**k off!.

    They don’t say tell me how you feel. I’m there for you. Please share your emotions.

    F**k Off

  8. You completely missed the point. This obviously doesn’t pertain to you. I’m not talking to people who want to blow off steam “on the interwebs” after 8 hours in a cubicle. I’m talking to people doing business online.

    Somehow, I don’t *feel* that’s you. Am I wrong?

  9. People are replacing direct with arrogant, funny with cruel, and shocking with plain ol’ bad taste.

    And some are infecting “freedom of expression” with “value judgements”.

    Now doesn’t THAT suck?

  10. Please re-read this one:

    “This isn’t about censorship or political correctness – it’s about honesty. You can be a crotchety Hell’s Angel with a Charlie Manson mouth for all we care… as long as you’re real.”

    Your freedom of expression is just fine.

  11. I always enjoy it when, on my site, readers make my point for me in the comments. There’s irony in them there interwebs.

  12. True, True… I probably should just give up… it’s a losing battle when reading comprehension isn’t a part of the conversation. :)

  13. More discussion over here:

  14. Don’t worry too much about people misinterpreting what you wrote. My training and former career was in survey research, where one cannot get away with snark (or even weak irony) in any way, shape or form, if you want decent data.

    In order to create a reliable survey, you have to put the questionnaire through extensive pilot-testing. What a fabulous education it gave me in how ambiguous the English language can be . . . and how what I thought I said wasn’t always what others read into what I thought I said, even though I thought I said it very clearly. 😉

    Posts resemble conversations far more than they do research questionnaires. (Thank God.) Therefore, people reply like they do in real, unrehearsed conversations, except without the social lubricants of tortilla chips, salsa and beer.

    Am thoroughly enjoying your blog, by the way. Am working up the courage to attempt to be persuasive, in writing. Will tell you if I make any money, or spark any social change as a result.

  15. The big idea I see in Brian’s post is “don’t be snarky just because it seems like that’s how you should be in the blogosphere”, just be who you are, not everyone is a sarcastic pain-in-the-neck.

    The other big idea is that this is about business use of a blog. Sarcasm and snarkiness is ofter misinterpreted, and that’s never good for your marketing message.

  16. I think the “misunderstandings” people are having with the post stem from little explanation of what “business blogging” or “communication” is. I am not really sure what that encompasses and many times giving a personal flavor to a business makes it attractive, unique. I sometimes get annoyed with “communication” and “feedback,” even a bit of it on here, that stays so generalized, so common denominator-seeking, very little actually gets said. In terms of information exchange, a little snarky questioning offers more to the discussion than, “oh, wow, this is great. I like it. I will do this,” even if it is less feel-good.