Monday, March 26, 2012

Why Facebook Timeline Benefits Organizations With a Past

[ Updated 29 March 2012 to add the University of Cambridge's timeline going back to 1209 and the founding date of 1041 for Green Knowe at The Manor ]

When Facebook Timeline was first rolled out I thought it was a clever way for Facebook to leverage their competitive advantage. As I wrote in What Businesses Can Learn from Facebook Timeline, other people could launch a better social network, but Facebook was sitting on years of accumulated data. Creating Timeline allowed them to use this data and even convince people to voluntarily add more. I expected that this feature would be very popular among organizations that have a long history because they would have a chance to showcase their past.

One of the early adopters, the New York Times, has set a very high standard to beat with their richly populated Timeline page that goes all the way back to the founding of the newspaper, marked with a copy of the first issue in 1851.  The Swiss newspaper Neue Zürcher Zeitung goes even further back with a first issue published in January 1780 but this is less well known because it is in German.

There are also some tourism/leisure businesses that have recognized the value of Facebook Timeline. Green Knowe at The Manor, has a Timeline page that goes back to the founding of the estate in 1041, though the house itself is from 1130. Others have adopted the Timeline format but without adding the historical data, so the Facebook Timelime for Buckingham Palace -- built in 1705 -- starts on 28 December 2011 when the account was created.  Most other ancient organizations seem to have either ignored Timeline or don't even have a Facebook page. The University of Cambridge sets a very good example with a timeline founding date in December 1209, but many other universities with a similar or longer history have not yet started. The Alma Mater Studiorum or Università di Bologna in Italy, for example, was founded in 1088 yet all I can find is a Facebook interest page copied from Wikipedia.

I also expected a race to own the bragging rights to the oldest date on a timeline, but so far there have not been many claimants and few people answered an appeal for more on Quora, What is the earliest date on a Facebook Timeline?

Why are there so few historical timelines?  Perhaps some organizations are still working on their Timeline pages. The New York Times and Neue Zürcher Zeitung have the advantage of having a large staff of writers and editors to work on their historical content, so they could bring their content-rich pages to market very quickly. I can understand that to most leisure/tourism operators this is not a high priority and they do not normally have the knowhow in house, so they have to pay an  agency or freelancer to do the work. Even more difficult is the situation for ancient universities, where perhaps the organizational culture is rooted in the middle ages and social media are not even a low priority.

But I still think that this is a wasted opportunity. New tourist attractions, new universities and new newspapers can all challenge older competitors but they can never make a Timeline page that goes back hundreds of years, highlighting their history and providing a convenient way to present images of old documents and artifacts. Building the historical timeline is not very expensive compared to other communication projects and is also a one-time cost, unlike traditional websites that need to be updated continually. The first to grasp the importance of this new opportunity have an advantage over slower competitors and can use this opportunity to reinforce their historical reputation.

I am still curious to learn which is the oldest date on Facebook Timeline. If you know of any more good examples please post them in the comments or contact me through the details below.

Lectures, Workshops, Coaching, Writing
For lectures, workshops, coaching and writing about this topic visit, email me at or call 0033 6 79 61 42 81.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

LinkedIn: Why Unanswered Messages Are Wasted Opportunities

Talking with LinkedIn users I have found that one thing that really annoys people is an old friend who asks to connect but then ignores your messages. A typical scenario is that someone you worked with maybe 10 years ago and you lost track of suddenly invites you to connect. You accept the connection and followup with a message explaining what you have been doing since then but there is no reply, not even a polite "thank you".

In some cases I suspect that occasiolnal users might not see messages because they are not very visible in the current home page design of LinkedIn. In other cases most likely someone has simply auto-invited everyone in their email contacts or all former colleagues. Perhaps they were not even aware that they had done this and have no idea that there might be messages waiting for them.

Whatever the reason, this reaction makes many people want to disconnect you again. Even if you don't remember someone very well it would be polite to at least answer their message. After all it was you who started the exchange in the first place. But there is a much more important lesson here than simple gestures of politeness.

The whole point of professional networking is to build and maintain relationships. To start from zero and build a relationship of trust with a stranger takes some effort; reconnecting with an old friend is much easier so to throw away these opportunities is an appalling waste of network capital.

You can avoid this waste by following three simple tips:

1. LEARN HOW THE MESSAGE FEATURE WORKS.  Some functions of LinkedIn are optional but not the message inbox. Since you might receive messages from old friends, job offers and other critical messages through this space you have to learn how to read messages and to respond. Having a LinkedIn account and ignoring the messages is like buying a phone, calling people, leaving messages to call back and not knowing how to answer a call.

2. ANSWER REPLIES TO CONNECTION REQUESTS. When you have invited people to connect -- even in bulk -- if they send you a personal reply make sure that you acknowledge this reply or you risk losing the connection. See these messages as an opportunity to build very quickly a strong relationship and value them.

3. DON'T BE TOO QUICK TO DISCONNECT NON RESPONDERS.  If you have sent a message to an old friend through LinkedIn and they did not answer their message perhaps it is just because they are not familiar with the tool. Don't assume that it is a deliberate snub. You can usually tell inexperienced users because they have a minimal profile and no recent status updates. Since you are by then connected to them try looking on their profile for an email address and try sending a message that way.

Just by following these three tips you can very quickly repair a long-lost connection and bring an old friend into your active networking circle. You can do this much more quickly than finding completely new people so it is one of the most effective ways to assemble a strong network with minimal effort. Remember that next time you look at the unread messages in your LinkedIn Inbox.

Related Posts on Networking:

Linkedin May be Hackers Dream Tool but.Risks Easily Avoided
Recruiters not Only Check Social Media They Use Them to Find People
How to Separate Work and Private Networking
Involuntary Networking: Why First Street is Fascinating but Scary
LinkedIn Etiquette: How to Approach People You Don't Know
Selling Your Ideas: Influencing Your Way to Success
Professional Networking: Five Sites You Should be Using
How to Use Twitter for Professional Networking
Sign Up Now: Joining New Networking Sites Boosts Your Reputation
Zerply: Three Thumbs Up, Two Thumbs Sideways
Three Keys to Networking

Lectures, Workshops, Coaching, Writing about Networking

For information about lectures, workshops, coaching and writing on this topic visit, email me at or call 0033 6 79 61 42 81

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Framing Video Interviews: Five Tips for a Professional Look

In earlier posts I explained how to get a more professional look when making videos and how to look more professional yourself when you are in front of the camera. But another way to make video interviews look more professional is to frame the image the way the pros do. You can find out how they do this by watching TV news for a long time, or you can simply follow these five tips.

HAVE THE SUBJECT LOOK TO ONE SIDE.  Making the interview subject look at the side and not directly at the camera reinforces the illusion that we are watching a dialog between two people. Everyone assumes that the subject is looking at the interviewer but they could be just looking at any reference object. Even when you don't show the interviewer or even use the questions this style gives the speaker more credibility because it looks like we are watching them talk to someone else. People are more suspicious when they see someone talk to them directly.

LEAVE MORE SPACE ON SIDE THEY ARE LOOKING. If your subject is looking to the left then leave a bigger space on the left side of the frame. This space is called "looking room" and it balances the composition, making the whole image look better.

HAVE SUBJECT & INTERVIEWER LOOK AT EACH OTHER. If you are going to show an interviewer and cut between two shots then you should show one person looking left and the other looking right. If both people look the same way, even if they are never on screen at the same time, the illusion will not work because the viewer's brain will perceive the people as not facing each other.

MAKE SURE BOTH EYES ARE VISIBLE.  When the subject is turned even more to one side always make sure that you can still see both eyes. This "two-eye" profile looks much better than a full profile where only one eye is visible.

KEEP CAMERA AT SAME HEIGHT AS EYES. Finally, for a classic interview composition always have the camera lens at eye level. Placing it higher or lower will give an effect that might be appropriate in some circumstances but is not a normal conversational position. When you are talking to a friend normally your eyes are at the same level and anything else will give a different impression, perhaps suggesting dominance or submission.

Following these classical framing rules will make your interview look more like it was shot by a pro.  In some cases you might want to break one of these rules to give a video an edgy look, but let this be a deliberate creative choice, not an accident.

Related Posts on Video, Audio, Photos
Three Simple Ways to Make Your Videos More Professional
How to Look Better in Video: Eight Easy Tips
Three Simple Ways to Make Video Event Streaming More Effective
You Don't Like the Way You Look in Photos? Here Are Five Things to Try
I Hate the Way I Sound on Radio Practical Tips for Politicians, Entrepeneurs
Recording Audio Podcasts: Five Best Practices for Fast, Professional Results
So You Hate the Way You Look Sound in Video? Here's What You Can Do About it
Recording Video Interviews Three Non Obvious Practical Tips

Coaching, Lectures, Workshops
For personal coaching in speaking to a live audience or a camera and lectures/workshops on corporate video visit or email or call 0033 6 79 61 42 81

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Why You Need an Online Presence Even if You Think You Don't

In lectures, workshops and one-to-one coaching about online reputation management I explain how anyone can build a solid, professional-looking online reputation simply and cheaply. But from time to time I meet someone who asks why you need an online reputation. "I am a private person", they usually say, "and I don't want to be visible to everyone.".

Perhaps in an ideal world you would have this choice, but alas our world is not so perfect and there are two very good reasons why you need to have a controlled presence.

ABSENCE OF INFORMATION CREATES SUSPICION.  First of all, if someone googles you and finds nothing at all they might assume correctly that you are a very private person. Much more likely they will be suspicious, and assume that either you are not comfortable with technology or you have something to hide. At the very least the absence of online presence is not reassuring and leaves lingering doubts about you. Would you hire someone who doesn't appear to be able to fill in an online form, or has some awful secret they are hiding?

BAD CONTENT WILL FILL THE VACUUM.  Even more important is that if you con't post anything online then searches will return profiles about you that have been created without your knowledge or input by websites known as content scrapers, that take information from public sources and create a profile which is usually inaccurate. Some allow you to take control of these profiles and correct them but it is better not to rise to this bait. The only way to get rid of these profiles and other unwanted results is to push them down on the search results by creating higher quality content yourself.

Creating this higher quality content is surprisingly easy: all you have to do is create profiles on popular social networking and social media sites, a process described in Five Simple Steps to Improve Your Online Reputation.  There are some other techniques, too, that are described in the Related Posts below. Unless you have a very common name or a complicated past these guides will solve your problem in a week or so.

Today whether you like it or not you need to have an online reputation unless you are in some sort of witness protection program or on the run. But then someone not having an online reputation attracts suspicion these days.

Related posts on Branding and Reputation Management:

Choosing Pronounceable Brand Names: Lessons from the Cuil Saga 
Five Simple Steps to Improve Your Online Reputation 
Branding in the Age of Search Engines 
Why Having Accounts on Photo Sharing Sites Is Good for Your Image
Sign Up Now: Joining New Networking Sites Boosts Brand, Reputation 

Lectures, Workshops & Coaching

For one-to-one coaching, lectures and workshops on this topic -- especially if you have a tricky reputation problem that the basic guidelines don't solve -- visit or contact me at or by phone on 0033 6 79 61 42 81. 

Friday, March 16, 2012

What the Shortmail Tweetstorm Teaches About Social Media Crisis Monitoring

[ Updated 16 March 2012 13:30 CET to add response from 410 Labs ]

On 15 March 2012 actor Stephen Fry installed the Shortmail app on his iPhone. Unknown to him Shortmail tweeted to his four million followers "I just installed Shortmail on my iPhone 4S. Claim your account and join the Shortmail revolution."  This tweet is so obviously out of character that everyone assumed rightly that it was not something he really meant to say.

Soon after he discovered this tweet, deleted it and added a new one saying "Grrr! I hate apps that automatically send tweets without asking you. Am deleting Shortmail & want nothing more to do with it. Good night x". Many of his followers retweeted this and others like me commented on how tweeting in the name of other users is a risky design choice. In the tweetstorm that ensued "Shortmail" and "fail" appeared very often together.

You might have expected Shortmail to respond to this, but they did not. The most likely reason they did nothing is simply that they were asleep. Literally.  Mr Fry tweeted his critique of Shortmail just before going to bed but unhappily for Shortmail he is in New Zealand shooting the movie "The Hobbit; There and Back Again".  Many hours passed before they did tweet a reply. "@Stephenfry We would only be able to send a tweet on your behalf with three (!) separate confirmations.What is the link to the tweet?".  When Mr Fry woke up the next day he replied "@Shortmail. Well it was a most unfortunate accident then. I certainly didn't send the tweet."  Here is the whole sequence:

Mr Fry is no novice and he is keenly aware that when you have four million followers you need to be a little bit careful. I find it hard to believe that he didn't know what he was doing. And if the interface is designed in a way that even Stephen Fry can't see he has authorized a tweet then what chance do lesser users have. I suspect that the problem lies in the interface design. I have already written about a design issue of the Shortmail website when I first tried it in July 2011 in Errorproofing Web Site Design. At the time I also communicated my concern to the company but nothing ever came of it.

Startups everywhere should be learning lessons about interface design and also about the use of promotional tweets like this, but I hope that they also learn the value of social media crisis monitoring.

Many hours passed between Mr Fry's tweet and the response. This is almost certainly because of the time difference but this is no excuse in 2012 when a social media crisis like this can start anywhere in the world, even in New Zealand.

Every company needs to have some way of monitoring social media either by humans or by automated tools so that they can be alerted to a crisis situation and be ready to respond immediately, 24/7.  Even the smallest startup can arrange to have friends around the world to keep an eye on social media and alert the team if something needs immediate attention. Larger companies can either pay an agency or buy an automated monitoring tool that alerts them when it detects an anomaly that requires human attention.

If you don't have this in place today then I suggest you make a note to put that on your To Do list for Monday morning. Better prepare now because a social media crisis can strike anywhere, anytime.


Soon after this was posted I received the following reply from David Troy at 410 Labs which provides some facts not available from the Twitter record:

"Appreciate your comments, Andrew, but unfortunately you're not exactly correct.

We went to great trouble in our design to prevent ANY kind of "accidental" tweets of the kind which Mr. Fry claims to have sent. 1) We ask for use of the Twitter account (which is optional), 2) We require two additional clicks (Tweet, Send) in order to send a Tweet (which is optional).

That meant that Mr. Fry would have had to have clicked, in the affirmative, three times that he wanted to tweet. Additionally, he was given the opportunity to edit the text. So, the action was his and his alone – there's no ambiguity or bad design about it, I'm afraid.

We don't consider this a "crisis," and we feel we handled it professionally and courteously; we disagree with your assessment that we should react to this sooner, because many of our users (and Mr. Fry's followers) immediately pointed out the same things that we did to him. Unfortunately having a few million followers doesn't shield someone from just being wrong.

We all make mistakes, and we wish Mr. Fry the best. The best lesson here is likely to think things through and pause before speaking without all of the facts. That seems like something we all can learn in this fast-paced world of social media.

And in the end, being polite, careful, and courteous is what matters most."

Related Posts

Social Media Crisis Management: Odimax's Emergency Stop
One Click from Disaster: Errorproofing Website Design
Third of Two: Why Rich Trademark Owners Bully Small Businesses

Lectures, Workshops, Coaching, Writing
For lectures, workshops, coaching, writing and other consulting services on this topic visit, email or call 0033 6 79 61 42 81.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Saying Your Thank Yous: Underrated Influencing Tool

Many years ago I visited a graphic design studio. On a huge empty pinboard someone had pinned a tiny email saying just "Thank you for the brochure". When I asked why it was there one of the designers told me it was the first time anyone had ever sent one and they were immensely proud.

Since then I have always been careful to thank people whenever appropriate and also to teach people in communication and influencing workshops the value of a thank you note. Not everyone thinks of this so just by saying thank you to someone you will make an impact, and many people write mostly to complain, so a positive note has a disproportionately positive effect. How many times you have thanked your IT department for something that worked?  But if you ever tried it you would find that you are at the top of the list when anything needs fixing.

Thank you notes are one of the most underrated tools for influencing people and at the same time the habit of sending them makes for a more positive workplace culture, but it's not enough to just send a thank you, it has to follow the three rules:

SEND THANK YOUS PROMPTLY. Send your thank you note as quickly as you can though not so quickly it looks creepy. The next working day or later the same day looks good. Sending one from your phone as soon as you have left a person looks strange, and waiting for weeks greatly discounts the value of the note. If you are planning to send a crisp handwritten note on paper send also an email so that the thanks arrive quickly, even if you wanted to send a more solid letter that someone will be proud of.

BE SPECIFIC AND CONCRETE. Don't just say Thank You or send a pre-printed card. Always say why you are thanking the person and why you value what they did. This is extremely important because without that information it makes no sense for someone to pin it to a board or share it with their boss. Your message should be clear and complete enough to be understood by someone who does not know all the details of the topic.

THANK PUBLICLY, CRITICIZE PRIVATELY Where possible don't make people have to forward thank yous to their boss. As a general rule send complaints just to the person involved but copy more widely when you are praising someone. A timely, clear thank you message that is also copied to someone's boss is much more effective than a private thank you.. This is also another reason why email thank yous are usually more effective than paper ones. You should also consider using a more public forum like Facebook, Twitter or your company's internal social media platform.

Many people believe that influencing skills are complex psychological techniques. Some are, but many look remarkably like the sort of common sense your grandparents could have taught you, but since common sense is so rare in practice the few that can master these techniques have an advantage over everyone else.

Cultural Note: Be careful to make the necessary changes to your thank you policy when you are working with people from other cultures. Some thank more than others and some consider too many notes like this to be a waste of time.

Related Posts on Speaking and Influencing
How to Succeed in meetings: Three Essential Techniques

Selling Your Ideas Influencing Your Way To Success
Three Simple Ways to Overcome Your Fear of Speaking  
Writing and Speaking Lessons from a Primatologist 
Nine and a Half Tips for Presenting to C.Suite Executives 
Seven and a Half Things to do When Someone Asks You to Present Their Slides 

Lectures, Workshops, Coaching, Writing
For lectures, workshops and personal coaching in speaking and influencing techniques visit, email me at or call 0033 6 79 61 42 81

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

LinkedIn May be "Hacker's Dream Tool" But Attacks Easy to Foil

It's not very often that Anonymous and CNN agree on anything, but it did happen when CNN Money reported that professional networking site LinkedIn was a "Hacker's dream tool", the latest social media scare story. Sharing the link, the account @YourAnonNews tweeted "CNN is spot on with this article (a rarity we've found). LinkedIn is a hackers dream tool".

When you read the article, you discover that, as so often happens, they are not talking about any technical vulnerability. All they mean is that LinkedIn is a useful source of professional biographical information that is useful for the type of social engineering attack known as "spear phishing".  Social engineering refers to all the techniques based on getting people to do things they should not be doing, by tricking them in some way. This is, in fact, the way many famous hacks have been done. When Paris Hilton's smartphone was "hacked", for example, someone simply fooled a T-Mobile store employee into revealing the password for resetting the user password, then created a new one.

Spear phishing is a social engineering attack where someone uses detailed personal information to fool the victim into believing a message comes from a trusted source, tricking them into clicking on a link they would never touch in a mail from a stranger. It is called spear phishing because it is just like a normal phishing attack but much more precisely targeted, aiming at a single user rather than millions.

In reality LinkedIn is simply a useful source of professional information about people, second only to Google. This information is used to identify the names of colleagues that can be used in spoofed mails as the "sender" or it can be used in more complex ways. One way is to create a completely fake profile of a person who works at a company. Then this account sends out connection requests to all the other employees on LinkedIn and many of these will accept the request without ever asking themselves if the person exists. Once connected to real employees the persona then has access to employee-only groups and other information.

This does not mean that you should be alarmed, wonder if LinkedIn is safe or close your account. Quite the contrary. I have a profile on LinkedIn and I recommend all the people who attend my networking workshops to have one, too. All you need to do is be a little more careful. This means being suspicious when someone unexpectedly invites you to try some new software. Most important of all you should not accept invitation requests from people that you do not know or cannot verify.  There is a philosophy called "open networking" which does exactly that, but it is appropriate only for independent professionals who ae free to take whatever risks they feel are appropriate. If you are working for a large organization you should be more careful because your carelessness causes harm not only to you but also to your colleagues and your employer.

Lectures, Workshops, Coaching, Writing
For lectures, workshops, coaching and writing on networking and other topics visit, email or call 0033 6 79 61 42 81

Related Posts on Networking:

How to Separate Work and Private Networking
Involuntary Networking: Why First Street is Fascinating but Scary
LinkedIn Etiquette: How to Approach People You Don't Know
Selling Your Ideas: Influencing Your Way to Success
Professional Networking: Five Sites You Should be Using
How to Use Twitter for Professional Networking
Sign Up Now: Joining New Networking Sites Boosts Your Reputation
Zerply: Three Thumbs Up, Two Thumbs Sideways
Three Keys to Networking

The Third of Two: Why Rich Trademark Owners Have to Bully Small Businesses and How There is a Better Way

[ UPDATE 16 March 6:45pm. Since this was written SZC has now made an offer to resolve this dispute amicably, offering the pub a license for a nominal fee. Details in this article]

Nobody really believes that The Hobbit pub in Southampton, UK, does any harm to the bottom line of the Saul Zaentz Company, the owners of the movie and merchandising rights for Tolkein's book. Yet the company is taking legal action to stop the owners of this pub from using the name The Hobbit and the names of characters from the book for their cocktails. The story is detailed in a BBC Report.

From a strictly legal point of view they have a point. They own the rights and the rights appear to be infringed, at least in part. Dictionary divers have already found that the word "hobbit" is actually much older than Tolkein's book, but combine that with a drink called Gandalf and a picture of Elijah Wood on their loyalty card and it is clear which kind of hobbit they are thinking of.  But the legal action has caused a backlash, widely publicized in traditional media and in social media. Actor Stephen Fry even joined in the debate, siding with the pub even though he will appear in the movie The Hobbit: There and Back Again..

Reading the comments on the pub's Facebook page it is clear that most people assume that the Saul Zaentz Company is taking legal action simply because they are evil, stupid or both.  Perhaps this is the case, but it is more likely that they are doing this purely to protect their rights; they believe that they have to do it.  Most people are unaware that you have to take action against trademark infringers or you could lose your rights. This explains why the Virgin Group pursues anyone using "Virgin" even if it is their own name, why JK Rowling's lawyers are so quick to stop Harry Potter inspired activities even for worthy causes and why Johnson and Johnson took legal action against the American Red Cross over their use of the red cross logo.

Suppose that the Saul Zaentz Company knew about The Hobbit pub but took no action. Later I could launch a new product called The Hobbit and when they take me to court I could use the Southampton pub case as an example to show that the rights are not enforced. This might sound daft but it is the way trademark law works.

Traditional thinking gives people two choices: send in the lawyers or risk losing your property. Trademark owners invariably choose the former, spending a lot of money in the process and creating a wave of negative coverage in the media.  But when there are only two choices and both are bad I always recommend that people choose the third one and if there isn't a third option you have to create one.

In this case there are many "third of two" solutions. One could be for the Saul Zaentz Company to help rebrand the pub, providing both creative assistance and help with the expenses -- all of which probably costs a lot less than a legal fight. Alternatively they could license the brands for a token fee but for a limited time, up to the expected date of the next renovation. Another idea could be simply to buy the place and lease it back to the present owners. At the same time they should also learn how to explain better the trademark law issue to media and the owners of infringing businesses.

If there is a lesson in this story it is that there is always another solution. When you don't like any of the solutions on the table it's time to brainstorm a new one, to get out of the rut and use creativity to find a new way that makes everyone happy.

Lectures, Workshops, Coaching, Writing
For lectures, workshops, coaching or writing on communication topics like this visit, email or call 0033 6 79 61 42 81.

Monday, March 12, 2012

How to Make a Video Go Viral. Seems Like Some Things Never Change

"How do you make a video go viral" is a favorite question of PR students everywhere. There are a lot of things you can try -- like having 140-character tweet-bites, memorable hashtags and so on -- but there isn't actually any sure-fire recipe. If there were then nobody would spend any money on advertising since everyone would be cooking to that recipe.

Come to think of it, there are two ways to make a video or anything else go viral, but they don't have much to do with social media:  plain old fashioned influence and money.

Last week's viral sensation Kony2012 has quickly become the most talked about topic in the PR world because it has been so amazingly effective. Two weeks ago the campaign to stop Joseph Kony was almost unknown; today thanks to Jason Russell's brilliant campaign it is the cause that almost everyone either supports or criticizes. Very few people have never heard of it.

On the surface this looks like a victory for social media, and in a way it is, but when you look a little deeper it becomes clear that the real reason the campaign went viral is because Russell wisely targeted famous people. You can read all the details in the New York Times piece "How the Kony Video Went Viral".  

In theory a video could go viral just because one person posts a video, two people share it, four or their friends share it and so on.  This perhaps might have happened occasionally with funny cat videos, but in reality making a video viral is much more difficult than you think. Richard Fisher of New Scientist tried to deliberately create a viral video in 2009, describing his experiments in Atomic dogs: The making or an Internet sensation

After experimenting different methods he discovered that even if a video is good the only way to make it go viral is to get some help from a person who has real influence. One share by a "sneezer" like this can give a video the push it needs to start trending, triggering a self-sustaining chain reaction. In the New York Times article they reveal that what made Kony2012 reach 40 million views in just a few days were the tweets by people like Oprah Winfrey and Justin Bieber, who have millions of loyal followers. 

There is another way to make a video go viral. Many people remembers the legendary "Tipp-Ex A Hunter Shoots  A Bear" video on YouTube, viewed at least 20 million times. This was actually a very expensive ad, relying on a custom YouTube page, some clever application design work and quite a lot of work with a film crew, talent and a guy in a bear suit. 

So the answer to the question How can you make a video go viral is pretty much identical to what someone might have said about a PR campaign before the age of social media: you have to have either Big Money or Big Influence. There is no magic shortcut.

Lectures, Workshops. Coaching, Writing
For lectures, workshops, coaching or articles on this and other communication topics visit , email or call 0033 6 79 61 42 81.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

How to Succeed in Meetings: Three Essential Techniques

Have you ever come out of a meeting disappointed because it didn't go the way you wanted? Maybe you ended up with more work to do or maybe everyone decided to do things in a way you don't like. You can reduce the risk of this happening in future by mastering these three essential techniques for making meetings go the way you want.

1. MAKE SURE YOU HAVE A GOAL. If you are going to a meeting and you don't have a personal goal then you are probably just going to waste precious time. Remember that everyone, rich or poor, gets the same 1440 minutes in a day so don't waste them. You need to have thought of some sort of personal goal, whether it is to convince the boss to adopt your new proposal, to block something that would slow down your work or simply to escape without any extra work. For example, you might go to a meeting to define a new policy with the simple goal of keeping this policy as simple as possible, purely out of self interest.

2. COME TO THE MEETING PREPARED. Whatever your goal, you need to be prepared for the meeting. Think about what you might say, how you might counter opposition and so on. This puts you in a strong position because many people do not prepare at all, so you have the advantage.Just having a clear goal makes it easier for you, but you can go much further and come with a strawman proposal. Remember that the person who drafts a proposal can often get their own way in many details just because other people will never challenge everything so if your draft has 50 ideas maybe 25 are in at the end, while someone else struggles to get a a few of their ideas accepted.

3. LOBBY IN ADVANCE. Finally remember that if you are pitching a proposal you need to talk to other people to build support for your position before the meeting. People are more likely to accept something they have heard discussed before and by discussing your ideas in advance you can hear the objections and either rework the proposal to address them or prepare an effective rebuttal. Lobbying also has a powerful psychological effect, too, because the people you have "sold" the idea to before the meeting will be nodding as you talk, instead of looking doubtful or uncertain. This body language has a subtle impact on the decision makers.

Learning to be an effective influencer makes you much more useful and respected in an organization because you will get a reputation for someone who is able to get things done while maintaining good relationships with everyone -- friends and foe alike.  It also makes your work less tiresome and stressful because you won't spend hours in meetings that are wasting your time and you will feel more in control. Done well, effective influencing also protects you from office conflicts, preserving your health and motivation.

Related Posts on Speaking and Influencing
Selling Your Ideas Influencing Your Way To Success
Three Simple Ways to Overcome Your Fear of Speaking 
Writing and Speaking Lessons from a Primatologist 
Nine and a Half Tips for Presenting to C.Suite Executives 
Seven and a Half Things to do When Someone Asks You to Present Their Slides 

Lectures, Workshops, Coaching, Writing
For lectures, workshops and personal coaching in speaking and influencing techniques visit, email me at or call 0033 6 79 61 42 81

Doing Business in Sweden: Three Things You Have to Know

Perhaps you are on your way to Stockholm for the first time.  You know nothing about Swedish culture beyond what you learnt from the Muppet Show and you don't have time to read an in-depth cultural analysis or attend a culture workshop. Even if you have just a few minutes, though, you can learn enough to make a difference by focusing not so much on superficial details like handshakes and hugs, but more on the fundamental concepts underpinning Swedish culture. Master the top three of these and you will already be more effective and probably more confident, too. Here are these three essential concepts.

PUNCTUALITY. In Sweden things happen on time, or at least they are expected to do so. Swedish people assume that meetings will start on time, schedules will be respected and deadlines will be met without reminders. A 2pm meeting starts at 2pm and if you promised to deliver a document by Friday everyone will expect it then, not a few days later. Deadlines are entirely your responsibility so make a note in your calendar, set an alarm and don't expect any reminders to help you.  And if you are going to be late for a meeting -- even just five minutes -- you should always call.

DIRECTNESS. Swedish people are also among the world's most direct communicators, so people say what they mean and mean what they say. They do not say one thing to hint at another. This can cause problems when working with indirect speakers from Asia, southern Europe or England. The direct speech of Swedish people can be misinterpreted as rudeness and often direct statements are incorrectly understood as hints when no hint was intended. This also means that when you invite someone to dinner they might immediately say no because it is not possible, rather than giving a polite, enthusiastic yes and then regretfully declining later. Be careful to interpret everything in context and don't assume people are rude because they don't respond the way you would.

EQUALITY. Swedish culture also emphasizes equality between people, regardless of their gender or role in society. One of the worst gaffes you can make is to show any sort of patriarchal attitude and sexist jokes that might be tolerated at home will cause serious offence. Hierarchies are also very flat and to show signs of inequality is also considered inappropriate. People are informal in dress and the way they talk, they make strenuous efforts to reach decision by consensus and they have an ingrained dislike of servility. You will notice that self-service is much more common in cafes, employees will greet you just with a simple "Hej" --never "Good evening sir, how may I help you" -- and if you pay someone to do your housework you would keep it quiet. For much the same reason it is good policy to minimize your achievements when you introduce yourself.

Obviously there is more to Swedish culture than just this, but with just these three ideas clear in your mind you will be able to avoid some of the most difficult cultural misunderstandings. You will also be better prepared to observe the nuances. Remember also that people are not standardized. There are variations between regions and every individual has their own distinctive profile.

Related posts about intercultural issues:
How Building Team Culture Makes Global Teams More Effective
Culture and Technology. How Cultural Factors Impact Engineering Decisions
Why the Office Weasel Can Play a Useful Role in Hierarchical Organizations
Managing Across Cultures Three Non-obvious Issues to Watch For
Three Non-Obvious Ways Culture Affects Email 
Three Non-Obvious Issues in Multicultural Meetings  
Culture, Innovation and the Curious Case of Pandora Radio.  

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Monday, March 5, 2012

Three Mistakes to Avoid When Talking to Media

"The prime minister does not wear pyjamas on the back of a horse," a source from UK Prime Minister David Cameron's office told a reporter at The Guardian newspaper. Later in the same article we read the same source revealing also that "The prime minister does not have meetings on horses."  (See David Cameron Horse Saga Ridiculous but Symbolic, The Guardian, 2 March 2012).  Though I wasn't there when this happened I have watched enough interviews to know how this sort of bizarre statement comes about, and this reminded me that there are a few traps that it is easy for well-meaning, intelligent people to fall into. There are quite a few of these traps, especially when you are talking to a very experienced reporter, but here are three of the ones to really watch out for,

1. PRIME MINISTER WEARING PAJAMAS ON HORSE. In any interview situation you have to be careful what you say, staying on message and avoiding the temptation to respond the way you would in a normal conversation. To get someone to say strange things to quote all the journalist needs to do is to ask odd questions like "Was the prime minister wearing pyjamas at the time?".  Wiser, more experienced people might not rise to this bait, but everyone can have off days and if the questions are persistent enough you can easily get annoyed and let slip a snarky reply that no paper can resist printing. The lesson from this is simply to be on your guard and just respond "no" or give an on-message response. Playing back the entire question in this way is exactly what the reporter hoped.

2. BEFORE I GO THERE's ONE OTHER THING...  Even when questions are perfectly reasonable one of the oldest traps in the reporter's play book is the repeated question. Ask the same question often enough and sooner or later some people will forget the official answer and give a more candid answer. Watch for questions that come back, sometimes after many questions on other topics. Be especially careful after the interview is over. Once during an interview in a Rome hotel a local journalist repeated one question several times hoping to catch the subject off message, but he never fell for it. At the end, though, we accompanied the journalist to a waiting taxi. Just as he was closing the taxi door he asked the question one last time -- and still got the official response.

3. DEAR REPORTER, HOW SHOULD I DEAL WITH... Finally, there is a classic mistake that nobody should make but is distressingly common: taking an email enquiry from the media, trying to forward it to a colleague with a "What shall we do with this?" but then sending it back to the reporter by mistake. This is very easy to do; all you need to do is hit REPLY instead of FORWARD. Google made this mistake in Sweden recently and even the Vatican were caught out in a similar mistake, reported in the New York Times in Technology Attack on Vatican Web Site Offers View of Hacker Groups Tactics (see the eighth paragraph). This common mistake is easy to make because of the poor design of email clients, so the best way to avoid it is simply by establishing a strict process. One method is to ban the use of REPLY/FORWARD on mails from the media, using instead cut and paste to share content with colleagues. In addition it is a useful extra precaution to get into the habit of never ever writing anything that could cause damage if it were sent to the wrong person by mistake.

These are just three of the mistakes people can make, but if you can successfully avoid these three common traps you are less likely to get caught out. Better to learn these risks upfront and not wait to learn them the hard way.

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Sunday, March 4, 2012

Three Simple Ways to Make Your Videos More Professional

When you are making simple videos for your blog or website you probably have to make do with very basic equipment. Maybe you are using a consumer grade camcorder, a flip cam or even just a smartphone. Whatever you are using you can make the results look more professional just by following these three simple tips.

PUT THE CAMERA ON A TRIPOD. Shaky handheld videos work well if you are looking for a Paranormal Activity scary movie look, but otherwise wobbly pictures look amateurish.  Always put the camera on a tripod, and if your camera doesn't have a tripod mount improvise one with duct tape, elastic bands or whatever you have; once I made an improvised tripod adapter for a Blackberry using some Meccano parts from my son's toybox. You don't need a fancy video tripod with a pan and tilt head. Most of the time all you need is a compact lightweight tripod that lets you shoot fixed camera shots. Unless you are a video pro you are probably better sticking to simple fixed shots anyway.

USE AN EXTERNAL MICROPHONE. People will forgive grainy, blurry, wobbly video but they will not tolerate bad audio, always the hallmark of an amateur production. When you use a microphone built into a camera you pick up mostly the sounds near the camera -- background noise, echos and so on -- and very little of whatever you really wanted to hear.  A directional mike on the camera will help, but the best solution is to plug in an external microphone and place it as close as you can to the person you are recording. An inexpensive lapel microphone will pick up the voice of a speaker very clearly and minimize the background noises and room echo. This means that when you buy a camera you have to make sure there is a microphone input. If there isn't one don't buy it.

GET AS MUCH LIGHT AS YOU CAN. Modern cameras will work in very low light conditions but they do not work very well. As light levels go down the graininess of the picture goes up and the color saturation goes down.Get as much light as you can on the subject and the quality of the image will improve enormously. Unless you have some video lights you should shoot internal shots near a large window or under a skylight, or better still take someone outside to record an interview. That's why you often see people on TV being interviewed in the street in front of their office building. Without a professional lighting setup that is the easiest way to get the best possible quality. If you are shooting outdoors avoid direct sunlight. Cloudy sky or light in the shadow works best.

Get these three basics right and your videos will immediately start to look and sound more professional and about as good as you can get with basic equipment. Once you have that solid foundation you can successfully build on it to take your video production to higher levels, but that's a story for another post.

Related Posts on Video, Audio, Photos
Three Simple Ways to Make Video Event Streaming More Effective
You Don't Like the Way You Look in Photos? Here Are Five Things to Try
I Hate the Way I Sound on Radio Practical Tips for Politicians, Entrepeneurs
Recording Audio Podcasts: Five Best Practices for Fast, Professional Results
So You Hate the Way You Look Sound in Video? Here's What You Can Do About it
Recording Video Interviews Three Non Obvious Practical Tips

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