It's no secret that marketing, as an industry, loves its acronyms. For better or worse (often worse), we'll try to shorten just about any common phrase over a single syllable.
Over-acronyming (totally a word) can cause confusion when the same acronyms come to mean several things or are incorrectly applied. But there's also another danger: acronyms that are so commonly used that we either forget or never knew what they actually stand for. Sure, we might know enough about their usage to get by in conversation. But not knowing the underlying components of an acronym (or, an initialism, if you want to be a grammar nazi about it) can water down your true understanding of a concept and, worse, leave you open to embarrassment should you fail to recognize the complete phrase when used.
Below is a list of acronyms that, on more than one occasion, I've found to be incompletely understood by the people throwing them around. A simple understanding of the words behind the acronym would have gone a long way in our conversations. What would you add to the list?
Wrong: Cuddly Antelope Necks, Suspiciously Positioned Against Morlocks
Right: Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography And Marketing
Let's start with one that everyone is forgiven for perhaps not knowing. CAN-SPAM, as in The CAN-SPAM Act of 2003, changed email marketing forever with its restrictions on when, how, and to whom companies send email. While most marketers at some point have wondered aloud if their tactics are "CAN-SPAM compliant," few recall the massive acronym behind what is now generally regarded as an annoying yet necessary set of restrictions.
But it's worth remembering: More than a decade ago, "pornography" and "marketing" were legislatively lumped together as pervasive societal evils.
Wrong: Consistently Purple Microwave
Right: Cost Per Mille (thousand)
This one makes it onto a lot of lists of confusing acronyms, and rightfully so. Mille? WTF is a mille? Well, Latin strikes again. Mille means a thousand. And many marketers know that a CPM is, in fact, the cost per thousand, even if they don't know or care what a mille is. But in an industry where CP-whatevers abound, it's good to know the backstory on this one.
HTML and XML
Wrong: Handy Tapeworm Martyr Laments and eXamines My Life
Right: HyperText Markup Language and eXtensible Markup Language
Look, I'm not going to contend that marketers need to understand the nuance behind every internet-interworkings acronym. There are a lot, and they don't -- and don't need to -- mean much to the layman.
But when it comes to HTML and XML, it's worth having a basic understanding here, especially if you ever talk to developers. Yes, HTML and XML are both markup languages, but they're quite different from one another. When you think HTML, think visual. It's a way to tag information so it displays in a certain way. On the other hand, XML codes information in a way that's meant to be read by both humans AND machines. It indicates what a piece of information is, rather than just how it should look. In fact, RSS feeds are made possible by XML, which leads us to...
Wrong: Ridiculously Shitty Spaceship
Right: Rich Site Summary, originally RDF Site Summary, and now, most commonly, Really Simple Syndication
Yep, this is another one we get a pass on. Three different possibilities? One that includes its own acronym (RDF being "resource description framework")? Sheesh. It's no surprise that the one we use most now is "really simple syndication," since that actually seems to mean something based in reality, while the other two are more technical descriptions.
In short, RSS feeds enable publishers to easily syndicate content. Use of a standard XML file format enables wide compatibility so readers (listeners, etc.) can get updates in their software (or app) of choice, without manually checking sites.
Wrong: Frail Penguin Operation
Right: For Position Only
Even if you didn't know that FPO represented "for position only," you might have known that the acronym serves as a sort of placeholder. These three letters are commonly seen when working with designers, either when an image or block of text is still missing or not in its final form.
Seems pretty straightforward, I know. But the danger comes in when people start throwing "FPO" around as though it's the same as "TBD" (i.e., to be determined). Sometimes it works: "That blank image there is still FPO/TBD." But sometimes it doesn't. Believe it or not, I once had a colleague who started indicating campaign elements such as run dates and target audiences as being "FPO." Nope. He meant TBD. Not interchangeable, dude.
Wrong: Kitten Paw Infection (awww)
Right: Key Performance Indicator
Some people hear "KPI" and think "goal," and that can cause problems. "Are we hitting our KPIs?" That's not really what you mean to ask, and that's when understanding that KPI stands for "key performance indicator" is valuable. A KPI is a metric, not an end result. So yes, establish KPIs. But then set goals alongside those KPIs.
Wrong: Always Plan Indecency
Right: Application Programming Interface
An API is a set of protocols for building software applications. For example, the Graph API from Facebook is the primary way for apps of all kinds to read and write to the Facebook social graph.
APIs are building blocks for programmers, with varied manifestations and uses, and you don't necessarily have to understand much more than that from a technical standpoint as a marketer. But what you should understand is that APIs are neither lofty concepts to feared, nor technicalities to be ignored. If you work with developers in any capacity, you'll hear plenty about API calls, and you might not understand much of it. So don't throw around the term "API" loosely and without understanding. If in doubt, just ask a lot of questions.
Wrong: Clumsy Mouse Spatula
Right: Content Management System
First off, I've seen some folks use CMS to mean "customer (or client) management system," instead of a CRM (customer relationship management) system. So let's knock that off. You're confusing us all. These days, a CMS is a content management system, and it's just a fancy term for the interface you use to update or publish information on websites (or elsewhere). It's not white magic or witchcraft. In most cases, it's a lot less technical than you might think. If it's easier for you, just think "WordPress." But then understand that there are a lot more CMS options out there than WordPress.
Wrong: Itchy Anus Burn
Right: Interactive Advertising Bureau
As with a few others on this list, like CMS, I feel the need to put IAB on this list just to eliminate some potentially awkward or confusing conversations down the line. Or embarrassment among younger marketers. The IAB -- the nonprofit organization that develops standards and provides support for the online advertising industry -- is almost always called "the IAB," so some might fail to recall that there's anything more to the name than that. On the rare occasion you hear someone actually call it the Interactive Advertising Bureau, please make the connection. If you can't fathom the need for this clarification, I'm glad. But experience dictates its inclusion here, I'm afraid.
Drew Hubbard is a social media and content marketing specialist.
"woman talking letters in head coming out of open mouth" image via iStock.