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Monday, May 13, 2013

Out of Context

by Stina Lindenblatt @StinaLL

 ©Stina Lindenblatt

Two weeks ago, I wrote a post that resulted in a level of interest and comment that I never expected.  One of the individuals in question pointed out that her conversation on Twitter was taken out of context, which is one of the unfortunate problems of social media. But the situation led me to think about the issue, one that we all face at one time or another. The question is: how do you make the most of it?

As readers, we see things taken out of context all the time when it comes to books. You might pick up a book in which a major reviewer has stated on the cover, “The imagery is a glorious treat for all the senses.” Wow, pretty impressive, and if you love great imagery, you might buy the book. What the author cleverly avoided was to include the rest of the five hundred word review in which the reviewer trashed the book. We see it all the time. As readers, this is where we become victims of things taken out of context. But as authors, those snippets can be a great tool for promoting your book.

In my past life, I was a drug rep (not to be confused with a drug dealer, thank you).  Pharmaceutical companies (like many other industries) are notorious for taking things out of context. In Canada, there are rules against highlighting passages in medical reprints and showing quotes out of context, but that hasn’t stopped reps from still pointing them out. And do you think they point out the conclusion that shows all the drugs in the study had the same efficacy and safety profile? No, they point out some tiny quote that makes their drug look superior.

Now, I worked for a company that took a different approach. They preferred we travelled the rockier high road. So instead, we donned our fire-fighter suits and tried to stomp out the fires. Unfortunately, the competition hired more reps than we had for a given drug, so we were never successful in stamping all the fires out, and the devastation was never pretty.  I learned it’s a waste of time trying to do this. You’re better off letting things slide and focus on your own brilliance. People move on and what was taken out of context will soon be forgotten, unless you make a big deal of it. Take the opportunity to show your strengths instead of fighting back. Focus on the good, not the negative.

While no one wants to be quoted out of context, there’s not much you can do about it if it happens. Just remember, the odds are greater that it will happen if you say something on social media. This is especially true with Twitter. We’re supposed to be writing our books. We’re not supposed to be spending hours upon hours reading every single tweet to make sure we understand the entire conversation. Often we don’t see the entire conversation because the tweet wasn’t linked to the rest of it, and thousands of other tweets were published between the two.

The best thing you can do is watch what you say, and remember your intended meaning might be lost if your wording means something different to the other individual, based on their own personal experiences. Again, this is a weakness of social media. You might be having a conversation with one person, but that person isn’t the only one reading the tweet. Not everyone is going to get what you’re saying, and it could end up being taken the wrong way.

Have you ever had to deal with something you said being taken out of context? What did you do about it?

Stina Lindenblatt @StinaLL writes young adult and new adult novels. In her spare time, she’s a photographer and blogging addict, and can be found hanging out on her blog.  


Suzanne Lilly said...

That's excellent advice to focus on your strengths and the positives, Stina. The winds of discontent will blow over you and onto another person in a short while. That's one of the good things about the transience of social media. But I still read my posts carefully before sending them out into the world in the hopes of minimizing the risk of being taken out of context.

Martha Ramirez said...

This is such great advice! And very true. Thank you so much, Stina.

Margo Berendsen said...

This is such a good point. One that I need to print and post on my wall. Out-of-context is inevitable, but I love the solution of focusing on strengths instead of putting out fires!