Web3 Needs Better Words
It’s possible to explain crypto to newbies without scaring them away, but we need to try harder
Motortion Films/Shutterstock modified by Blockworks
|This is part one of our three part series on communication in cryptocurrency, touching on what Web3 does well — and what Web3 does not so well — in communicating its messages to the wider world.
You can find part two on communication crises here, and part three on crypto’s cultural foundations here.
Picture the scene: You go to a friend’s party and find yourself in the middle of a conversation among some people in finance. They’re talking EBITDA, asset amortization, and tax harvesting capital gains. Or doctors, talking lectin pathways and actin filaments. Or engineers, talking superheterodynes and adiabatic expansion.
How do you enter their world when they haven’t opened the door?
You nod along, excuse yourself to get a drink, and think about how quickly you can leave.
Language is a key tool we use to form connections. It builds community and fosters a sense of belonging. But language can also be exclusionary. It can make people feel left out.
And for topics like Web3, crypto, and blockchain, language is sabotaging success.
Where language goes wrong
For the Web3 party, what started as a small gathering is now spilling into the hallways. But the road to mass adoption is lined with challenges.
Today, many among the “mainstream” public look at Web3 and do not like what they see. According to a recent CNBC survey, 43% of Americans have a negative view of cryptocurrencies. A lowly 8% have a positive view.
Web3’s prevailing language to-date does little to overcome these doubts.
The industry is awash with technical jargon that hides Web3’s remarkable innovations and transformative powers. On the rare occasion Web3 is put into plain language, the story tends to be negative. “Fraud” is a word everyone knows. At our proverbial party, SBF drank too much of the punch. Rumor has it that Mr. Gensler next door is calling the police. The consequences of language are real.
Simply put, Web3 has a language crisis. Even the name itself creates barriers. Understanding “Web3” requires audiences to first know what we mean by Web1 and Web2. Audiences aren’t the problem though, we are. As Web3 believers, advocates, and communicators, we are failing to break through.
|WHAT YOU SAY
|WHAT THEY HEAR
|WHAT YOU MEAN
|Some new, hard-to-reach place of the internet
|The internet of value, where people are the owners and beneficiaries
|A complete scam causing people to lose millions
|Digital currencies that can be built and programmed to do more
|JPEG bubble that’s dramatically overvalued
|An untouchable record of authenticity and rightful ownership
|A public record anyone can access and no one can change
How we got here makes sense. These technologies are new. The language was shaped by developers and evangelists. The audience was like-minded individuals, and the language was their own.
But the Web3 world now must talk convincingly to new people. That means explaining, in the simplest terms, what the technology can do, and most critically, why people should care about it.
Okay, so what next?
Simpler, more inviting language is an urgent first step, but it’s not enough on its own. To be impactful, the words of Web3 must be genuine too. Less about our awesome tech, more about the user. Let’s show people we really care about solving their problems. Capturing curiosity is the key to welcoming the mainstream.
When we address newcomers, we must ask questions like, what would you change about the internet? They might talk about privacy — how Google knows everything about them, or how Facebook sells their data.
What would you change about banking? They might talk about how difficult and expensive it still is to transfer money between people and accounts, or that they worry about security.
What would you change about buying online? They might complain that they couldn’t get tickets to Beyoncé despite being a superfan, but there are already hundreds of re-sells up on StubHub for 5x the initial price.
We must learn where our audiences are coming from and what is significant to them. Put audiences at the center. Evaluate if Web3 is legitimately doing something to help make that person’s life better beyond just throwing jargon at them. Then, and only then, do we have a chance of breaking through.
In our Web3 writing — marketing, product descriptions, or other communications — let’s write with all this in mind. Rather than educating the uninformed or flaunting a technically impressive feat, we can do better by starting and ending with their needs, with Web3 connecting the dots in between. And if Web3 does not connect the dots, then we should ask ourselves some questions too…
This sounds simple, but it has proven very difficult to achieve. Just take a look at most Web3 content and see how we are doing as an industry at conversing with the broader public. The results are not good. For our newest Web3 party guests, we have not been gracious hosts.
Come one, come all
Web3 is moving incredibly quickly. We’re still learning what all these technologies can even do, let alone how to talk about them. As professional communicators who believe in the awesome powers of Web3, we can strive to be humble, be curious, be gracious. Web3 is a space for everyone.
The Web3 party is here to stay. It’s time we find better words that open the door and let everyone in.
Robert Ledniczky is a senior director at maslansky + partners, a leader in Language Strategy – the discipline of finding exactly the right words to make your audiences listen, care, and act – and part of the Omnicom Public Relations Group. He advises everyone from Fortune 100 executives to pre-seed startups on how to simplify the complex, stand out from the crowd, navigate the controversial, and ultimately, truly connect with the people they’re trying to reach.
Ethan Lyle is a director and head of strategy for the Americas at Wachsman, a global strategy, marketing, and communications firm for Web3 and disruptive technologies. Prior to joining the Wachsman team, he worked in the New York offices of two elite professional services firms – CEO advisory firm Teneo, and strategic & financial communications consultancy Kekst (now Kekst CNC). Ethan also worked at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and in the White House during the first term of the Obama Administration. In 2008, he served on the Obama for America presidential campaign.
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