Learn a Community's Language
How? Immerse yourself.
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Back in high school, I was a terrible French student. Probably the worst in the class. So I always thought I was bad at languages. It turns out I'm not.
Everybody knows that to learn a language quickly, you should immerse yourself in a country. Go move to France and get a job in Paris or something. It turns out you can do the same thing online.
When you immerse yourself in an online community, you learn its language. I work in crypto full-time and learned 99% of what I know online. I did this by spending an exorbitant amount of time on crypto-Twitter and having convos where I frequently tell people to "explain this to me like I'm a 5-year-old".
Every community has their own lexicon full of words that sound ridiculously weird to outsiders. When I started smoking weed in high school, I remember being very confused by my friends' vocabulary. They'd drop words like bud, nugs, and dank. It would take me a little while to catch on, but then I picked up the vernacular.
When I first joined crypto-Twitter, I remember a similar feeling of confusion. Decentralized exchanges? Rugs? Soulbound tokens? Attempting to learn crypto-speak is like getting dropped in a foreign country.
Whether it's weed or crypto, you don't learn the meaning of all these words in one day. And you certainly don't learn them using notecards and vocab quizzes. After a conversation with my friend Brian last summer, I tweeted this:
a friend getting his PhD in physics at Duke said this to me two days ago:
"The most important part of learning science is learning the lingo. What I do may sound crazy, but it really isn't once you understand the language."
— Jason Levin (@iamjasonlevin)
Aug 17, 2021
I've always been terrible at science classes — I could never keep all the vocab straight. So when Brian told me this, I was pretty mindblown. Even when I dated a girl who was completing a PhD in nanotech, I couldn't really fathom what the fuck nanotech was.
Now I'm thinking maybe I was just terrible at IRL-style learning, and if I wanted to, I could learn about science via immersing myself in an online community. Perhaps if I was immersed in an online science community and chatting with scientists all day rather than crypto founders, I'd know what nanotech meant (I still don't).
What I do know is that language is crucial for marketing — and marketing is crucial for winning the great online game. And that's why we're reading this, right?
Languaging for Brands
Languaging — the act of creating a language — is essential for brands. We don't search for things, we Google them. We don't get in strangers' cars, we Uber. We don't send pics, we Snap them.
@rafathebuilder, a prolific writer focused on internet storytelling and lore, released a framework focused on DAOs and web3 communities. If you're not in web3, it's still super helpful for creators and brands. Let's zoom in on the Lexicon category below.
I agree with Rafa's suggestion that a community's lexicon isn't just words. It's how we speak to each other. It's some weird fluid combination of words, tone, memes, symbols, meaning, and more.
If you're building a brand or community, you are building a language. You're building ideas in people's heads. You're building mental real estate. But, like real estate, you need a good foundation.
For a brand or creator to build a language, you must first learn the language of your community.
If you're building the Zipcar of ice cream trucks, you should probably go invest some time in learning details about ice cream trucks. Even billionaire pothead Adam Neumann learned about real estate as he was building WeWork. In the words of Pablo Picasso, you must “learn the rules like a pro, so you can break them like an artist.”
This dedication and time investment is the difference between Adidas's über-successful NFTs and Macy's giving away NFTs for their Christmas parades. If you skip the learning and immersion, you will look like Macy's: cringe and completely out of touch.
To win the great online game, you must learn the language of the players. To learn the language, you must play the game.