Words and Phrases to Ban from Your Social Media Vocabulary

By Dara Fontein


Have you ever been scrolling through your social media feed and stopped to cringe at a post from a brand or business? Chances are, there was a word or phrase that made you take a moment to question the organization’s choice of vocabulary.

Language is a powerful thing which obviously has huge impact on the sentiment your content expresses. Nobody—not even a social media marketer—is perfect, so it’s understandable that a company’s social media feed may have the occasional language choice misstep. To help you steer clear of wince-worthy words, we’ve collected some commonly seen and heard terms and phrases that can safely be banned from your social vocabulary. If we’ve missed any that drive you crazy, let us know below!

Broken “hip”

You know that feeling when your dad asks about the “hippity hop” you’re listening to? That’s the same feeling caused by brands who are obviously trying way too hard and who simply have no chill. While there are of course exceptions to this, using overly trendy lingo is a risky move for most professional organizations. As our own Ashley Jane Brookes’ explains in more depth here, “Audiences decide what’s cool, not brands. When brands try to co-opt what’s cool and exciting (especially to millennials) and miss the mark, they risk distancing themselves from their audiences.”

Some examples of words and phrases that you might want to swipe left on if hoping to avoid making your audience cringe in embarrassment for you:

  • Bae: Time Magazine defines bae as “a term of endearment, often referring to your boyfriend or girlfriend, or a prospect who might one day hold such a lofty position.” Basically, ‘bae’ is used to refer to anything with endearment. If a definition is something you need before using a word in your social media content, it might be a good idea to reconsider using it. The use of ‘bae’ by brands has become so ubiquitous that there’s a Twitter account specifically dedicated to ironically bringing attention to corporations who have used the term in their social media content.

  • Fleek: Even though this phrase, usually preceded by the word “on,” was recently added to Dictionary.com  there are better ways to say something is “perfect or flawless.”

  • Lit/Turnt: Both meaning essentially the same thing–to be intoxicated and hyped up on an event or situation—it’s probably a good idea to leave out of your professional social media lexicon.

  • I can’t even: Yes you can. Used when the speaker wants to express that they have become so overcome with emotion that they can’t form words, the phrase “I can’t even” was a piece of adolescent slang that got picked up so quickly by brands that it became rapidly uncool. While a company like Taco Bell has a brand voice that allowed for the application of “I can’t even” at its peak, they have worked hard at establishing and maintaining this very specific tone.

What do you mean?

A key principle of good communication is to make sure your message is clear and easy to understand. Unfortunately, the use of marketing jargon, buzzwords, or ambiguous terms by businesses on social media is a common practice. This does a great disservice to the brand’s messaging efforts as it alienates audience members who don’t immediately understand what the content means. As Jennifer Chatman, management professor at the University of California-Berkeley’s Haas School of Business explained when speaking to Forbes,  “Jargon masks real meaning. People use it as a substitute for thinking hard and clearly about their goals and the direction that they want to give others.” With the overuse of such vocabulary, your words and therefore your content ceases to convey any actual information. It’s also pretty safe to say that content full of this type of word choice is just plain boring—not something you want when your goal is to engage your audience.

Some popular examples of overused jargon to avoid either in your social media content, or when discussing your strategy, include:

  • Viral: While this refers to the very real phenomenon where online content organically receives an extremely large amount of engagement across social media networks, social media managers and marketers have begun using the term “viral” to describe their content goals. Instead of saying that your goal is for your post to go “viral,” it’s better (and easier!) to establish measurable goals. For help with this, we’ve outlined a guide to measuring your social media campaigns

  • Synergy: Simply referring to the interaction between two things that creates a better   result, “synergy” is a term that can often leave your audience scratching their head. It’s one of those terms that gets thrown around so often that it’s meaning has been obscured, and can definitely be replaced with simpler wording. With the word “synergy” such a source of pain for many audience members, Mashable crowned it “the buzzword you can never escape.”

  • Optimize: This just means to make something as efficient as it can be through constant reworking, but the word ‘optimize’ has now become a catch-all for simply creating good content. You’ll often hear that “the post has been optimized,”  when usually the perpetrator just means that the post was edited or reposted at a more highly trafficked time of day. This is another case where it’s better to just say what you mean, rather than throwing in a word that makes you feel smarter.

  • Millennial: Used so commonly by marketers to “describe people born between the early 1980s and the early 2000s,” the term “millennial” has become meaningless. While it may be helpful when your brand is trying to connect with a more mature audience who are trying to understand a younger generation, no millennial will self-identify as such. Just like the term “hipster” has become so cringeworthy—especially amongst those who particularly fit the description of the term—“millennial” is a word that those in the specified age bracket will run from. Being stereotyped in general is off-putting, and as described in our post all about the term, “there are countless competing views within that age bracket as to what is popular and what isn’t.” When marketers use the word “millennial” as an all-encompassing descriptor, they are missing the mark when it comes to authentically targeting their social media content.

You won’t believe what happens next!

If this heading seems familiar, it might be because the majority of clickbait-type articles shared online have some form of sensational, overly dramatic title meant specifically to draw in readers. Due to the popularity of these types of headlines, they are almost immediately recognized by many online users as being a type of Internet-style tabloid. As The Guardian’s Charlie Brooker explains, “We’re trying to fit in because exaggeration is the official language of the Internet, a talking shop so hopelessly overcrowded that only the most strident statements have any impact.” All of this intense expression, all of the time, is unsustainable for any person or brand and comes off as inauthentic. If you want your brand’s authority and clout to remain intact, using hyperboles or overly exaggerated words in your social media content is something you want to avoid.

While I’m definitely guilty of, and understand the temptation behind using sweeping generalizations and overstatements, I recognize that these kinds of descriptions do more harm to my content than good. While a helpful tip is to ask yourself whether the claim you’re making is really true, some common terms to stay away from include:

  • Top/Best: Before referring to something as the “Top _____” follow the tip above and think about whether this is accurate. Is it possible that there are better things than what you are talking about? Don’t give your audience an opportunity to question or challenge what you are saying through your word choice.

  • Worst: While used in the same way as the above-mentioned “best,” saying “worst” has become a kind of way amongst young social media users to just describe something that’s bad. For example, if someone posts a photo on Instagram of a burrito that didn’t come with the extra guacamole that was paid for, their friend might comment “WORST.” Because this has become a trendy and overly dramatic term to use on social media, using it may not be in your brand’s best interest.

  • Need: Again, ask yourself if this is the best word to use in your social media content. Does somebody “absolutely need to see this,” when “this” is a video of yourself acting out a Shakespearean scene with your ferrets? Definitely debatable on a personal level, but when you deem everything you post on social media a “need to see” or a “must-read,” it becomes a kind of “boy who cried wolf” situation, and your audience members will catch on quickly.

  • Only: While it’s tempting to declare your post is the “only guide to _____ you need,” the truth is that there are probably other posts of the same type and with similar information out there. When you use this kind of language, you again give your audience a chance to challenge your claims, which ultimately discredits your work.

What do you do again?

The final term to consider cutting from your social media culture vocabulary is actually a group of them that are increasingly being used to describe jobs in the marketing and social media sphere. Some of these that I have come across include:

  • Social Media Ninja

  • Marketing Rock Star

  • Content Maven

These kinds of nicknames, while seemingly innocent and fun, can actually have detrimental effects on your professional experience. When Jeff Barrett asked his Twitter community what they thought of these self-made job titles, he found that 9 out of 10 people felt that they devalue the person and cause others to take them less seriously. As Christa Freeland, marketing specialist for Powershift Group in Austin, Texas, explains to Entrepreneur, “When someone works to showcase themselves as an expert, and then resorts to a self-declared tacky title, there’s something weird. A lot of the time I see the marketing and social media types using this terminology, and it doesn’t help their case.” You’ve worked hard for your position, so don’t undermine it by resorting to a vague and nonsensical job title. The immense power of language means that careful consideration of the words and phrases you’re using in your social media and content strategies is key.

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