Thursday, April 26, 2012

Read Before Tweeting: Lessons from the Bakerloo Line "Colllapse"

Early on the morning of 26 April 2012 BBC London Newsroom tweeted breaking news that a tunnel had collapsed on the Bakerloo line of the London Underground. Less than an hour later they posted a correction withdrawing that report when it turned out that a train had just struck the side of a tunnel, bulging after heavy rain.

Initially there were fears that people might be hurt or worse, so the news spread very quickly through Twitter. But even after the original source had tweeted a correction just 46 minutes later many people were still retweeting and forwarding the news several hours later. Old, inaccurate and out-of-date information often spreads in this way because it takes time for news to filter through a chain of people, so some Twitter users are seeing a retweet, a modified tweet or a paraphrase of the content long after the original tweet. They perhaps don't realize that the news is by Twitter standards very old and retweet or share it without thinking.

In traditional face-to-face conversation and in Internet forums etiquette books always advise you to listen before you speak, and for good reason. By listening before you open your mouth you can understand better what everyone is talking about and avoid looking foolish when you make an inappropriate comment or repeat something that has just been said.

Twitter users would be well advised to do the same thing when they see something labelled "breaking news". Perhaps the news is no longer breaking and there are significant updates or, as in the Bakerloo case, the report turns out to be false.  A good practice would be to first do a twitter search either for a key word in the story -- "bakerloo" in this case -- or whatever hashtag has been used. This way you can see the latest comments on the story.  Another useful technique is to go back to the original source by clicking on their Twittername and see if they have posted an update, a confirmation or a clarificatiol. Finally, news organizations responsible for mishaps like this should perhaps make greater efforts to slow down the retweets and shares by more actively spreading corrections.

Watching a search stream for "bakerloo" tweets this morning I also realized that it could be useful to have a Twitter client that can automate or at least mechanize the process, showing the latest on a given topic. Has someone already done this? Are there some artificial intelligence researchers who are working on the problem?  If you know of any tools remotely like this let me know -- through @andrewhennigan -- because I would like to test them.

Related Posts About Twitter

Why You Need to Have a Social Media Policy Even if You Don't Use Social Media
Three Reasons Why Allowing Employees Access to Social Media Benefits an Organization
Communicating Social Media Restrictions: Lessons from the London Olympics Case
Olympic Ban Highlights Polarized Attitude to Social Media
How to Obtain Inactive Twitter Names
When Bot Talks to Bot Why Too Much.Twitter Automation is Pointless
How to Use Twitter for Professional Networking
Twitter Best Practices: Lessons for Website Owners
Twitter Account Automation: Five Best Practices
Rogue Tweets: Where They Come From; How to Stop Them
10 Things That Companies Do With Their Twitter Accounts That They Shouldn't
Seven Reasons Why Your Company Needs a Well-Managed Twitter Account

Lectures, Workshops, Coaching, Writing

For lectures, workshops, one-to-oen coaching and writing on this topic visit, email me at or call 0033 6 79 61 42 81

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Doing Business in Italy: Three Key Concepts You Need to Know

Maybe you are already on your way to a business meeting in Italy. You don't have time to read a book but if you have just a few minutes on the trip you can still learn enough to make a difference.  The secret is to forget surface details like handshakes -- you can work these out by watching and asking -- and focus instead on three basic concepts that underlie Italian business culture: relationships, flexibility and hierarchy.

1. RELATIONSHIPS ARE IMPORTANT. In Italy personal relationships are very important so you need to get to know people at least a little before you can start talking about business. This has many practical consequences. You need to allow time for some small talk when you meet someone -- perhaps talking about your trip, your family, your hobbies. You should also try to eat lunch or dinner with your Italian contacts or at least go with them for a coffee. Don't worry if you don't like coffee, go anyway and drink something else or even nothing --- it is not about the coffee anyway. This emphasis on personal relationships means that it is also more effective to talk to someone on the phone than to send an email, though the best plan is to do both; the call makes sure your mail goes to the top of the pile. Another consequence of relationships is that it is always better to approach people through a shared connection when you contact them for the first time. This changes your status from stranger to someone who is trusted. The focus on relationships also means that your Italian business friends often prioritize relationships over schedules and rules, leading to the second key culture factor: flexibility.

2. ALLOW FOR FLEXIBILITY. In Italy relationships come first, so that if someone has to choose between talking to an old friend they just met in the corridor or get to a meeting on time they will usually choose the former and you would be considered rude not to do the same. This partly explains the different attitude to punctuality. They are not trying to be punctual and failing; they just have other priorities. You see the same flexibility in their attitude to planning, where changes are commonplace and just accepted as part of the process. Because of this flexibility in plans it is usual to send reminders closer to an appointment. This can be difficult for people used to rigid planning but is very effective in fast-changing situations where adaptability is useful. Deadlines, too, are usually not rigid and when someone gives you a deadline they often exaggerate the urgency assuming you will be late; when a deadline is absolute it is best to be clear about this. There is a similar flexibility in the way rules are applied, so that circumstances are usually taken into account and it would be considered wrong and unfair to apply a rule without any exceptions.

3. UNDERSTAND THE HIERARCHY. If you are coming from North Europe, the United States or Australia you will probably find that Italian business organizations are more hierarchical than you are used to. This can be very difficult to  deal with at first but it is very important to understand how it works. You should contact people at the right level and also to make sure that you put remember to copy people's bosses in emails -- failing to do so can cause offense. You should also discuss problems in informal private meetings, not in front of others in an open meeting.  Take special care when correcting people who are above you in the hierarchy. Never do this in front of others and never do it directly. If you are not sure how to handle a situation like this it is usually better to discuss with an Italian colleague, who will know an effective way that doesn't cause anyone to lose face.

Italian business culture is obviously more complex than this, but with just these three basic concepts you will be able to make more sense of what is happening and to avoid many cultural misunderstandings. Remember always that, like everywhere else, every individual is different and that there are some regional differences.  One thing that all Italians have in common is that it is easy to start a conversation, so if you want to know more about their culture just ask. That way you get the answers you need but at the same time you break the ice and start building relationships with people.  If you have any other questions or comments you are welcome to add them in comments section or through Twitter ,  Facebook ,  LinkedIn  or  Google+

Related posts about intercultural issues:

Cultural Stereotypes in Cartoons: Do Germans Really Wear Monocles
Doing Business in Sweden Three Things You Need to Know
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.  

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

Monday, April 23, 2012

Online Reputation: How to Deal With Five Difficult Cases

In October 2011 I wrote Five Simple Steps to Improve Your Online Reputation, a simple method where you use popular social network and media sites to build a strong online presence quickly and easily. This method works for most people but sometimes there are complications and you need to take some additional steps. Here are the five most common cases and what you can do about them:

1.YOU HAVE A COMMON NAME. If you have a very common name like John Smith or Marco Rossi a simple name search will return mostly pages about other people so you can be hard to find. There are many ways to address this. One way to avoid this problem is just to be quick to register your name in new spaces when they become available: if you had registered the domain or the Twitter account @johnsmith were available you would have been nearer the top of searches. Don't miss the next big thing. Another solution is to associate your name either with a location or with a professional label. When people look for you they might try to restrict the search by adding a city or profession. Make sure these are in your profiles. You can also adopt  professional "brand" that you apply consistently, like "johnsmithconsultant". And if you have one or more middle names consider also choosing to use additional names in your "personal brand".

2. YOU HAVE THREE NAMES. Let's suppose that the name on your passport is "John Balfour Smith" and you have always used simple "John Smith". You could consider using the full name or Balfour Smith in your professional profiles. Check first that there isn't a conflict with the new choice and then be consistent in adopting the new "brand" in all profiles. This is best done at the start of the career or perhaps when you are changing jobs. Make sure you register an appropriate domain name and that you always request on social sites a username that is your real name brand. Nearly all social sites give you the option of choosing a "vanity URL" like

3. YOU OFTEN USE A NICKNAME/DIMINUTIVE.  For many years I used the short form of my first name "Andy" following a common practice in the UK and the USA. Moving from Italy to France I started to use the full name when meeting new people primarily for cultural reasons -- diminutives are not used in business in France. This saved me a lot of trouble later because I created most accounts with the full name and use this consistently. This means that I registered the domain "" though for brand protection I also registered "". If you are using a short version of your name this will complicate your online reputation management. You can address this by either always using the full name or by always using the short name. But if you always use the short name potential employers, customers and other people who only have the full name might not find you.

4.  YOUR NAME CONFLICTS WITH SOMETHING FAMOUS. This is one of the most difficult cases. If your name is really Michael Jackson, Richard Nixon or Marilyn Monroe then you have a serious problem since you will never be able to overcome their domination of search results. The solutions in this case are either to choose an entirely different branding strategy -- if you have a business you can use the business name -- to modify your name or to make sure you are at least findable on major social sites. Famous movie stars tend to rank highly on Google searches but they rarely have a LinkedIn profile. It can also help to have landing pages on sites like and

5. YOU HAVE A PAST BEST FORGOTTEN. Suppose that when you Google yourself you find something from your past that you do not want people to see now. This is not necessarily anything bad, but perhaps something that you used to do -- like being a movie star as a child -- that perhaps conflicts with what you are doing now, or is maybe just irrelevant. I assume that you have already removed all of the content that you control and all that is left is on sites that you cannot change, such as newspapers and fan sites. There are two ways to approach this case: the first is simply to adopt a new "brand", so if you were famous as a child as Balfour Smith then you could revert to john Balfour Smith or plain John Smith as an adult. A third solution could be to just accept that if you were a child star people are going to ask about it and just live with it.

If you have a problem that is not included in these five cases or in the original Five Steps article you are welcome to post questions in the comments section below, through Twitter (@andrewhennigan). And remember to Google yourself regularly because web content and search algorithms are always changing, so problems sometimes come and go by themselves.

Related posts on Reputation Management and Branding:

Why You Need an Online Presence Even if You Think You Don't
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 directly at or by phone on 0033 6 79 61 42 81. 

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

How to Make Photos for Professional Profiles and CVs

Before the age of social media some people attached a physical photo to their CVs, but it was usually optional.  With the emergence of professional social networks the practice of having a photo on every profile and every CV has become almost universal. Now people rarely ask if they should have a photo; they ask instead how the photo should be.

Here are some answers to the question, based on techniques borrowed from professional photographers I have worked with over the years and my own impressions after studying hundreds of profile photos.

1. THE WORST PHOTO IS NO PHOTO. I have read many discussions about the correctness of having a photo at all, based on the idea that people should not choose employees on the basis of looks. If nobody had a photo, the argument goes, then they would choose the best candidate, not the most attractive. In reality this is rarely the case; serious companies do not just hire pretty people or they would go out of business.  Most people today have a photo so if your profile has no photo this creates a feeling of unease. People wonder if it is a fake profile, or they wonder if your computer skills are so limited you are not able to upload one. Photos also have a very practical function of helping people to pick you out from a list of profiles having the same name, and they are useful just to recognize people when you are going to meet them.

2. CHOOSE THE APPROPRIATE FORMALITY. A few people use informal Facebook-style photos on their professional profiles but more people err in the opposite direction, having a photo that is perhaps too formal. But there is no absolute standard for the appropriate level of formality because it depends on the business, the company, the department and even the individual manager. The best plan is to look at LinkedIn profiles of people who already do the work you want to do and see how they are dressed. Some companies expect formal business attire but others would be repelled by that. In the same way even within one company there are different expectations for managers, computer experts and graphic designers.

3. GET THE BEST TECHNICAL QUALITY YOU CAN. No matter how good looking you are you can still create a bad impression just by having a photo that is technically poor.  Most of the people in the world will never meet you and your image in their minds is defined by your photo so it is worth making an effort to get it right. Never use the automatic machines at the station and never use the webcam in your computer unless you have no choice. By far the best solution is to have your photo taken by a professional photographer or have a friend take the picture with a DSLR. If this is not possible then at least use a good compact camera.

4. USE PRO PHOTO TECHNIQUES TO LOOK BETTER. Whatever the camera, you can also get better results by using some techniques borrowed from professional photographers. Most important of these is that you will get a better photo by having a soft, diffuse light. You can get this in the studio using window lights but you can get the same soft light from a cloudy sky or reflected from white walls and ceilings. It also helps if you avoid standing too close to the background and shine some light on the background so that you stand out better. The camera lens should also be at about eye level and you will get a more natural looking photo if you move the camera a little further away and zoom in or use a longer lens. This makes your face seem flatter and more natural. Finally, remember that you are not going to get a perfect photo with one shot. Try again and again with different expressions and other small changes. Try, for example, to rotate the body slightly to one side but turn your head to face the camera. Try also leaning forward a little. Leave plenty of space around you when you frame the image so that you can adjust the framing later with a photo editor. Don't try to frame it exactly in the camera.

5. AVOID FILTERS AND CLUTTERED BACKGROUNDS. The primary function of a profile photo is just to show people what you look like. A very creative photo will often fail in this function so you should be very careful with unusual poses, complicated backgrounds and image filters. Instagram photos might look cool on your Facebook page but they can be harder for people to process when they just want to recognize you. A plain background might look boring but it might be the best choice if you can't find an appropriate background, but better still is to keep one eye always looking for good settings for taking photographs. Perhaps there is a lobby in a building you have access to where the light is good and the background interesting but not excessively so. Perhaps a fiend has a home office with very good light and less mess than most others. Make a mental note of these places so that you know where to go when you need to take a photo.

Most people choose a fairly conservative photo where they have a neutral expression, a blank background and formal business clothes.  This will work well in a typical business situation where companies are looking for someone who is a good "fit" and conforms to the usual standards. But in some businesses and some companies this can have the opposite effect and perhaps give the impression that you lack creativity and leadership qualities.  Sometimes a picture in an unusual setting could have a positive effect if it demonstrates some quality that the organization values. For example, a photo where you are climbing a vertical cliff could highlight your qualities in a very effective way, but you still have to make sure that you are recognizable. A picture taken from far way and where your face is not visible -- even if you are standing on the peak of Everest -- will not be very effective because it fails in the primary purpose of the photo: to show what you look like.

Profile photos are much more interesting and complex than anyone imagines so to give a complete guide in five bullet points is impossible. If there is some other aspect you'd like to know more about, or you have a question about a specific problem use the comment space below or tweet to @andrewhennigan

Related Posts on Video, Audio, Photos

How to Make Photos for Professional Profiles and CVs
Framing Video Interviews: Five Tips for a Professional Look
Three Simple Ways to Make Your Videos Look More Professional
How to Look Better When You Are On Video
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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For more information about coaching, lectures, workshops and writing on this topic visit or email or call 0033 6 79 61 42 81

Friday, April 13, 2012

Cultural Stereotypes in Cartoons; Do Germans Really Wear Monocles?

A few years ago in  National Stereotypes and Chuggington's Frostini I wrote about the cultural stereotypes in children's cartoons. Perhaps, I argued, that this was understandable in the 1940s but out of place in a computer-generated animation introduced in 2008. Chuggington executive producer Dick Rothkopf was gracious enough to concede the point and added that they would work on this issue.

Perhaps they have, but the use of dubious stereotypes is still thriving elsewhere. Disney/Pixar's Cars 2 released in 2011 seems to be entirely written around cultural stereotypes. Most of them are based at least partly on genuine cultural differences, but one character stands out from all the others: Professor Zündapp.

Professor Zündapp is one of the leading villains of the movie and is represented as a Zundapp Janus microcar. The professor is clearly meant to be German, having a German accent, a German name and, of course, a monocle.

Many times I have visited Germany and I have met many German people, but I have never seen one wearing a monocle.  Why, I wondered, did the creators of Cars 2 get this idea that Germans wear monocles? Must be they are thinking of Otto von Bismarck, said a friend who has lived in Germany. Actually he didn't -- at least not when he was being photographed -- but some WW2 German generals did wear monocles.  It is hardly likely, though, that writers working in the noughties are familiar with long-dead German generals. It is much more probable that they were inspired by another "German" -- Colonel Klink of Hogan's Heroes, a TV comedy series from the 1960s set in a WW2 prison camp in Germany. Any writer growing up in the seventies or eighties must have seen re-runs of this show on TV and learnt to associate monocles with Germany.

I can understand why comedy writers fall back on cultural stereotypes. It must be much easier to build on established conventions than to create a character from scratch. Some stereotypes actually make sense, like when the British characters are more reserved than the Italian ones. Others, like the monocle, are not so easy to defend. The target audience of the movie is unlikely to have seen Hogan's Heroes so they just don't "get" the monocle. The monocle in this case doesn't really add anything to the character. A Professor Zündapp with no monocle would be just as German and his role as a villain would be no less clear.

Perhaps one day comedy writers will learn that maybe it is ok to use some tired old stereotypes to save time, but that they can also be more careful to drop the more pointless ones. Whatever they do, I will be watching carefully to see what happens and I am sure that I will come back to this topic, either here in this blog or in lectures.

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.  
National Stereotypes, Chuggington's Frostini and Why We Still Have a Long Way to Go

Lectures, Workshops, Coaching, Writing
For information about lectures, workshops, coaching and writing on communication topics visit, email me at or call 0033 6 79 61 42 81

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Why Networking is About Building Relationships (and why quick pitching is inefficient)

Attend a networking lecture or workshop and you will probably be told that networking is all about building relationships, it takes time and you mustn't expect to get a job, an internship or business immediately. Every so often someone asks "Why does it have to be so slow? Why can't I just make my pitch and get some quick results?  This is often not explained because it is taken for granted, but there is a good reason.

Probably everyone reading this has bought a computer at some time, so we are all potential customers for a computer vendor. But it is also most likely that right now you are not looking to buy a computer. Imagine then that you are at an event and you meet someone who provides an interesting service where they can source you a new computer, migrate all of your stuff and then provide fast help with problems for the first few months. Professional users would probably find this service appealing but on any given day most people are simply not looking for a computer.

If you attend an event and pitch your new service to everyone you are very unlikely to meet someone planning to buy right now, so if your goal was to find business you will not achieve it. But if you can get to know some new people and they know that you provide this service then you have some more people who will always keep you in mind. Next time they meet someone who complains that they need a new computer but dread the transition they will suggest to contact you.  Yes, this takes time, but it means that when you have met ten new people you are actually connected to maybe hundreds of people in their networks, which is much more valuable than getting their business.

That's why when you attend an event or simply just meet people your goal should not be to look for customers, but to connect with people, even if they will never buy anything from you. You need to know what they do so that you can help them when the opportunity arises and you need to make sure that they know what you do.

Sometimes the most unlikely people actually turn out to be the most useful people in your network. A consultant, for example, might be disheartened to attend an event and find mostly other consultants and few client-side people. Yet very often business for consultants like me comes though other consultants. It happens regularly that clients ask me if I know a consultant who could do something, and if you are in my network I will pass on these requests. Sometimes referrals, jobs and internships come though people who themselves are not directly involved but just happen to hear about them through their network.

Related Posts on Networking:

Why Networking is About Building Relationships (and why "quick pitching" is inefficient)
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