Inclusive Messaging by Billy Kluttz

By at October 11, 2012 | 4:59 pm | Print

Inclusive Messaging by Billy Kluttz

The success of a political campaign’s social media strategy depends on short and effective messaging. Although messaging garners considerable discussion during campaigns, too often the conversation ignores the importance of inclusive language. Incorporating inclusive language into your campaign’s larger social media protocol builds influential messaging that reaches a broader audience and avoids, often unintentional, alienation of key voting blocs.

Slurs of any kind are generally recognized as inappropriate for social media. Although campaigns normally avoid obviously harmful language, they often send more subtle messages by using dominant group generics in social media content. Although subtle, these messages can have a major impact on key voters and voting demographics.

Social media content that uses dominant group generics narrows its potential audience and risks offending would-be supporters. Dominant group generics include any word that uses a dominant group (white, men, able-bodied) term to refer to everyone (i.e. those that do not belong to the privileged group); for example, using “man” or “men” as a generic to refer to people of all genders. Although exclusive language often employs gender-based generics, class, race, and able-bodied generics are also commonly used without notice.

Social media is most effective when it reaches its target audience unencumbered by exclusive language. Instituting inclusive language policies helps political campaigns serve and represent all people and promotes a more egalitarian society. All press, public relations, and social media campaign staff (in addition to the candidate) should be trained in recognizing exclusionary language and practice proofreading campaign content for word choice. In time, inclusive language will become second-nature to you and your staff. In the same way, exclusionary terms will sound jarring when used by other campaigns to appeal to all voters.

Below I have listed common exclusive or marginalizing terms frequently used in social media campaigns and offered helpful substitutions.

Common exclusive language employed by political/governmental social media campaigns (and helpful substitutions):

Gender-based-
Men, man, mankind — in reference to the general population, not individual men (try using “people” or “everyone” instead)
“You guys” (try using simply “you” or “everyone” instead)
Chairman/chairwoman (use “chair” instead)
“Man” the booth/table/campaign (use “staff” instead)
“Freshman” (use “first-year” instead)
“Man up” (avoid using in general)

Ability-based-
Often, campaigns use terms that assume physical ability and ignores the reality of people of disabilities, such as “step up,” “take a stand” or “give a hand”
Always avoid using “retarded” in social media content
Avoid “handicapped” and “disabled people,” employ “people with disabilities” instead

Class-based-
Practice precaution around usage of demeaning terms such as “slums” and “ghetto”
“Working poor” is a powerful alternative to terms such as “the (government) dependent class(es)” or “the poor” in general

Race-based-
Avoid “non-white” and use “people of color” instead

Sexually/Gender Identity-based-
Avoid “homosexual” and use “LGBT” or “gay/lesbian/bisexual/transgender” (as appropriate)
Avoid references to “family” that might exclude some families (specifically LGBT families and other families that have adopted/non-biological children)

Billy Kluttz is a current Masters of Public Administration student at Syracuse University’s Maxwell School. As campaign manager and external communications director, Billy has overseen social media campaigns for local political campaigns and statewide non-profit organizations.

Contact: billykluttz@gmail.com | @bekluttz (twitter)

Communications

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