The Ethos, Pathos and Logos of Social Media Rhetoric



One of my all-time favorite posts on the Social Media Contractors blog is by one of our editors, Catherine: Me Talk Witty One Day: The Art of Social Media Rhetoric. First of all, I think it’s spot on, and second of all, I absolutely believe that rhetoric should be more of a buzzword in marketing and social media studies than it is today.

Catherine says that “Beyond the creative spontaneity needed to be truly witty, social media rhetoric also requires the ability to be flexible.” Now, Catherine and I both come from English backgrounds (which I will always think is one of the most effective foundations for working in marketing or copywriting) and part of the flexibility comes from understanding what is good writing and good rhetoric, but also how rhetorical strategies need to slide and adjust for different clients and different end goals.

To clarify, this is on my mind because I spent my morning teaching freshman college students a quick rhetorical overview: in other words, what is the context of a text, what is the rhetorical situation, and most importantly, why is this important? These are all questions that a freshman English teacher has to be good at explaining, otherwise droopy, tired college kids will fall asleep rather quickly if they don’t think what they’re working on has a purpose.

We talked about how marketers and writers and artists reach their audience: are they using ethos (credibility), pathos (emotional appeal), or logos (statistical facts or reasoning) to make a pitch or a claim? The answer, which always takes a freshman a while to wrap their minds around, is that a good argument and a good use of rhetoric makes an effective and carefully evaluated combination of all of the above.

That, in a nutshell, is why using stock social media templates or images or quotes is an absolutely useless venture. There must be a human behind the keyboard, one who is specifically aware of the rhetoric they are using to reach a specific audience. In this vast, vast world of Internet rhetoric, how do we establish credibility anymore? How do you, as John so eloquently put it, establish yourself as a thought leader? How do you tug at the heartstrings of your audience? What is the context you’re writing in? What statistics are you going to use to back this up? Sure, social media context changes with the platform or medium that you’re using, and that’s pretty well established everywhere today. However, maintaining your rhetoric as effectively as possible with social movements that are occurring and cultural contexts that you’re a part of is simply key. That’s why if Martin Luther King Jr. tweeted when he was alive, it would be entirely different than the voices we hear now in 2014 about some of those similar issues. We, as humans, are subconsciously part of a greater conversation and a greater rhetorical movement than we often even realize.

This is powerful. However, there is no social media expert or company or human that has somehow achieved perfect rhetorical effectiveness. Like our world, we are constantly adapting and changing to fit the mold of who and what we need to be– and that’s the fun part! As social media contractors and rhetoricians, our job is to enjoy the process of learning your brand and adjusting your marketing rhetoric to fit it.

Reprinted by permission.

Image Credit: Taqi®™ via photopin cc

About the author: Maggie Happe

Maggie Happe is a recent graduate of Creighton University and a contributor to Social Media Contractors.

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