The Secret to Digital: Being Human
How a 180+ year-old dictionary is schooling us all on the Internet.
Merriam-Webster’s Twitter account has risen in prominence over the past year, becoming known for
iconic drags and throwing shade (yes, the slang term was added to the dictionary this year). Recently, Hothouse hosted Lauren Naturale, the funny, charming social media manager behind that famous Twitter account, at Manuel’s Tavern, where she shared the secrets to making a 200-year-old reference book relevant in a modern digital space.
The short answer? People.
The thing that makes Merriam-Webster unique from Google or Dictionary.com is people. “The reason you should come to us is that we have humans writing our definitions,” Lauren said. They’re one of the only dictionaries with a full staff dedicated to maintaining the dictionary and updating it as word usage changes.
And as marketers, we have a lot to learn about the importance of retaining that human touch—especially in our social media campaigns. Merriam-Webster’s owes much if its social success to their distinctly human element that comes through with each Tweet. “Our voice comes out of our history, and out of our existing body of work,” she said.
Lauren has a fair amount of autonomy, but knows what the vision is. If she has an idea that might be controversial or slightly off brand, she might run it by her boss. But it doesn’t have to go through five levels of approvals with sign-off from the CMO. “You can’t Tweet by committee, because Twitter is fast,” she says. She admits that she can’t make everyone happy all the time, but staying in tune with the brand voice and having clear parameters makes it easier to do her job.
Merriam-Webster stays nerdy, quirky and fun by adhering to a few simple principles:
- They highlight the people who make them great. They honestly love what they do, and that comes out in every social communication. “Being smart doesn’t mean you have to be boring,” Lauren said. “The people I work with are FUN.”
- They keep lines of communication open between editorial and social media staff. This connection has resulted in the dictionary actually being changed in the next edition—did you know you can now spell earthling with a lowercase “e” or capital “E”?
- They actively engage with the writing, journalism and word-nerd community. Of course these influencers reply and retweet, but Merriam-Webster also gives people a place to have conversations about language, and to have fun. “Putting up one funny tweet a few times a week isn’t going to cut it—you have to be engaged 24/7,” she said.
Their Twitter account is an extension of their culture, the personalities that make it, and their love of language. So next time you’re scheduling your social calendar, ask what Lauren Naturale would do. She would definitely not leave it automated.