You’ve heard of QAnon – capitol stormings, anti-vaxxerism, pizza – it’s a movement with thousands of followers worldwide. Like most movements, there’s a figurehead, and that’s Q: the mysterious figure who posts anonymous ‘drops’ across the internet like breadcrumbs for their followers to snaffle.
So who is Q? That’s what my current favourite podcast, Finding Q, is all about.
In the series, the team try lots of different things to try to figure it out, like interviewing acolytes and tracking IP addresses. But as a writer, I found their linguistic detective work most interesting.
The investigation compares the writing style of suspects to that of Q
For context, there are two potential Qs on the table. Where the podcast uses their names, I’ll say Suspect A and Suspect B – I don’t want to spoil it for you!
‘Let’s look at the Q drops. Are there any clues in the writing? From the stuff he’s posted before, it’s clear that Suspect A writes like he talks: rambly, dreamlike, dense paragraphs filled with eccentric turns of phrase. By comparison, Suspect B sounds more [like Q]… ‘a storm is brewing’ – where have you heard that before?’
It even comes down to how the suspects punctuate their sentences. At one point, Suspect B tweets ‘this is the biggest court battle(s) in history’, and the host jumps on it:
‘I think this is a tell, adding that (s). It’s not super rare, but it’s not common either. And Q does it a lot… 366 times.’
It builds a compelling case: we all leave fingerprints across our writing
Even if we don’t intend to. Our words online – from our social media posts to online dating profiles – are full of little tells. They paint a picture of who we are as people; a picture so detailed, it can be used for this kind of online sleuthing.
And it’s the same for brands online as it is for us as people. As users, we start to paint a picture of what a business is like based on how it sounds on its website or in its emails.
Look at Apple. You know it’s them writing when you read cool, clipped wordplay (‘Apple Watch Series 7. Full sreen ahead.’).
Or take Oatly. They’re not even a ‘digital’ brand – their products exist very much in the 3D world – but when they write online, every word drips with the same cutesy vibe we’ve grown to know and love in their print ads and packaging: ‘this oat drink contains beta-glucens – that’s a big, scientific word for fiber.’
With both of these brands, you could take away the colours and logos, and you’d still know who was talking.
Are you making the most of this?
Your writing style online has the power to say a lot about your brand. But it can also easily turn to wallpaper.
I mention this because accessibility is big news at the moment in the world of digital writing: being as clear as possible to as many users as possible. And often, it seems like that’s the most important thing when you write. Some content folks say not to use metaphor in case people don’t understand it; others are even unsure about contractions.
But all of this loses sight of the online detective work your users are doing every day. They don’t just want to understand you, they want to know you. As well as being clear and accessible, your writing also needs to have playfulness and pace; wonder and wordplay.
After all, part of what makes Q’s writing memorable and distinctive is how they use metaphor (‘a storm is brewing’) – so much so, people are using it to uncover their identity. Your users and customers are building a suspect profile of your personality with every word you write, too.
So don’t lose sight of the spark.