Thursday, May 31, 2012

Simple Tools to Help Manage Your Small Business Social Media

In the post Use Social Network & Media Sites To Build a Strong Presence for Your Business I explained how a small business could use sites like Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn to build a strong online presence. As long as you are creating profiles on these sites purely to get better search results you can probably manage all the updates directly through each site. Later you will probably want to use these accounts more actively to engage with people and also to add fresh content that will boost search results.

Social media professionals rarely visit sites like and so on. They prefer instead to use tools that allow them to view and update several accounts at the same time. There are many of these tools but two of the most popular are Tweetdeck and Hootsuite. Tweetdeck is an application that you have to download to your computer; Hootsuite is a website so it is enough to create an account. Otherwise the two tools are quite similar.

First of all they allow you to view multiple social media accounts in vertical columns on the same screen, so you can see many accounts at the same time. This makes it much easier to see any incoming messages, comments or replies that might need action. They also allow you to post updates to your social media accounts individually or several at a time. This should be used with caution. In theory you could send the same text to Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn, but in practice this is not advisable because the three sites have very different styles. One certain way to annoy LinkedIn contacts, for example, is to flood their updates stream with twitter-style comments.

One of the most useful features, though, is that these multi-account tools allow you to schedule tweets and updates in advance. This is very convenient because it allows you to line up some routine updates in the morning and then concentrate on other things. During the day you can watch for replies or other interesting contacts and reply personally. Complete automation might seem like a good idea, but in practice it will cause you to be ignored; in social media being there to engage with people is essential.

There are many other tools and utilities you can use to help manage your social media. There are too many to list here but there is one general-purpose tool that can solve many different automation tasks: If This Then That. This simple tool allows you to automate actions such as tweeting a link when you post a new video to YouTube. New tools like this appear every other day, so if you have created some useful tool that maybe I haven't heard of yet you are welcome to add it in the comments or send me a mail.

In the next posts on small business social media I am going to look at the sites that link all of your profiles together in one place, then after that simple, free tools for monitoring results.

Related Posts

Simple Tools to Help Manage Your Small Business Social Media
Use Social Network & Media Sites To Build a Strong Presence for Your Business
Online Reputation: How to Deal With Five Difficult Cases
LinkedIn: Why Unanswered Messages Are Wasted Opportunities
Why You Need an Online Presence Even if You Think You Don't
Why You Need to Have a Social Media Policy Even if You Don't Use Social Media

Lectures, Workshops, Coaching, Writing

For lectures, workshops, coaching or writing on this topic visit, email or call 0033 6 79 61 42 81

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Lose the Extra Words: Communication Lessons from Aviation II

When I am diagnosing communication problems I see that the errors fall mostly into two categories. The first is saying the wrong thing; this is a problem of influencing and not trivial to fix. The other is simply having too many words, which is much easier to correct and much harder to excuse.

Using fewer words works on several levels. First of all busy people are more likely to read what you have written if it is concise. They are also more likely to read it accurately, since scanning wordy text at high speed may give the impression of having understood when you have really missed some critical word. Finally, when the writing is done artfully, a shorter text is much easier to process because your brain cannot handle more than 7 +/-2 "chunks" at a time, so the parsing of denser information is intrinsically less reliable.

Good writers have known this for decades, and "omit needless words" was one of the most important mantras in Strunk & White's legendary book "The Elements of Style". Everyone I have taught writing has been taught to follow this rule, too. The rule is very simple: take away all of the words that are not needed and what is left will be stronger. You can apply "omit needless words" and still leave a grammatically correct and even elegant piece of writing, but there are cases where you can go even further.

Once on a flight from Paris to Atlanta in the pre-9/11 days when visits to the flight deck were the norm, rather than being banned, I sat on the jumpseat of a 767 reading a fascinating book called the Quick Reference Handbook, or QRH. This handy volume is within reach of airline pilots at all times and lists the actions to be done in various scenarios where urgent, accurate action is needed. Tailstrike on takeoff? No problem, see page 5.2. Airspeed unreliable? See page 10.2. Engine falls off? Section 8.6.  Each page then lists in terse commands the exact sequence of actions to be taken, with a minimum of explanatory notes.

A QRH is not the place to learn something new but it a very useful aid for recalling things that have already been learnt, falling between the crew's "memory items" -- those actions that are so urgent that they need to be memorized -- and the stuff you can look up at your leisure. After studying an aircraft QRH I borrowed the technique for checklists I use in workshops and coaching sessions.

You can see an example in the post Seven and a Half Things to do When Someone Asks You to Deliver Their Presentation, a checklist originally prepared for a coaching client who had exactly this problem.  QRH-style lists are a very powerful technique for summarizing the correct steps to take in various situations, and not just for people flying airplanes or operating complex equipment. You can make a QRH-style checklist also for situations like a PR crisis, an employee performance appraisal, cold calls from advertising salespeople or any other recurring situation. Bound in a handy binder or stored in a simple app they can be on the desk or in the pocket of everyone who needs it, making them feel more confident and ensuring they follow the right process even in urgent situations. The few words on the checklist will be much more effective than a longform essay on the same topic-

Related posts

Seven and a Half Things to do When Someone Asks You to Deliver Their Presentation.
Communications Lessons from Aviation: When "Rogering" People is Good Business Practice

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Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Five Reasons You Need a PR Person With You When You Talk to Media

Most organizations have rules requiring that a PR staffer be present or listening on the call when someone does media interviews. This "minder" is actually there to help both the interviewee and the journalist to make the interview a success, rather than being just the PR police. Some people will not feel comfortable with having a minder but I have found that it helps if you explain why it is in their interest. There are, in fact, some very good reasons why they benefit from having a PR pro present during a interview. Here are the top five:

1. PRE-INTERVIEW BRIEFING. Before the interview starts your minder can quickly brief you about the journalist, their publication, stuff they have written in the past, things they are working on at the moment and the news headlines that the journalist might have seen and could ask about. This helps to avoid surprises and makes you look much smarter.

2. TAKING NOTES. During the interview the PR minder will be taking notes -- or at least they should -- of the points that have been covered, things that you promise to send later, questions that need to be referred to someone else and so on. This means that you just have to focus on the questions and have one less thing to worry about. These notes will also be valuable if there is later any problem about the coverage.

3. HANDLING THE FOLLOWUP. As a subject matter expert you probably have other things to do so it is helpful to have someone else take care of the followup, sending all the things you promised to send later, fielding further questions and so on. You will not have to worry about remembering this because it is their job to make sure you do.

4. WARN OF LEGAL DANGERS.  There are many things that you are probably not allowed to mention for legal reasons -- usually anything connected to the stock market, antitrust law, patent applications, litigation and so on. A good minder will save you from getting into trouble by intervening when a question leads into one of these areas. This will save you some trouble with your boss and the company legal department.

5. PROTECT YOU FROM SAYING TOO MUCH. Just having another person in the room or on the call makes it much less likely that you will tell the journalists things that perhaps you shouldn't. When there are just two people in a conversation there is a natural tendency to say much more, perhaps things that you intend to be off the record. When someone else is listening and taking notes this doesn't happen and the minder doesn't even need to say anything; the deterrent effect works just by being there.

People who work for their own business or a startup so small it doesn't have any media relations policy might not have any rules requiring that there be someone else present during interviews. But because of these five benefits I would recommend that everyone have at least another person in the room. If you don't have a  full-time PR person maybe you could have a freelance consultant sitting in on the interview. And if your budget doesn't allow that then at least have someone else from your team in the room. Just by sitting there they are still helping, but if they can also take notes then better still..


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Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Why Well-Crafted Rejection Letters are Cheap PR

Every time I talk to job seekers I hear about companies that don't reply to applicants they don't intend to hire. Perhaps they care little for good manners, but I believe that by doing this they are also going against the interests of their own company. 

Either they simply can't empathize with the applicants point of view or they are taking the very narrow view that since they don’t want a person it doesn’t matter if they hate the company. But this ignores the possibility that one day you might change your mind and want to hire them. More importantly it completely ignores the fact that this treatment creates a negative feeling that often translates into lost sales.

Since I am a consultant it’s been a few years since I went job hunting but I can remember the names of all the companies that failed to send a polite letter. I still avoid their products when possible. Another company sent a very polite rejection letter and I continue to prefer their brand. Failing to send a rejection letter to unsuccessful candidates is not just a matter of politeness, it is a waste of an opportunity to do some very cheap PR. Perhaps to the recruiting team these letters are just a burden, but from the company’s perspective they are a easy way to reinforce the good feeling towards the company the person must have had if they wanted to work there in the first place.

Just sending a letter isn’t enough; as usual it’s the details that count. First of all it should be a personalized letter rather than just a standard response or a form with tickboxes – easy to generate even automatically these days. It should also thank the person for their interest and maybe even encourage them to try again In future. But there is also one further technique based on research conducted a few years ago. Someone tested the impression given by many different rejection letters and discovered that the length is important. Two paragraphs seemed to be too brusque, four or more paragraphs seemed too wordy but three had the most impact. Exactly why this magic length works best I cannot say, but based on my own experience helping people with templates I believe that this is because it is hard to make three paragraphs without putting some effort into it, and this extra effort shows.

By leaving unsuccessful applicants to guess they are not wanted you turn them all against you; for the cost of a few letters you can give them all a positive feeling towards your company, which would have cost much more to obtain any other ways. Rejection letters are probably the cheapest, and most underrated of PR tools.  And if the HR budget doesn’t stretch far eough to pay for this maybe the PR department can step In to help; it is, after all, in their interest.

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Thursday, May 3, 2012

Use Social Network & Media Sites To Build a Strong Presence for Your Business

Like it or not, customers, suppliers, partners and even friends are going to Google the name of your business just to check up on who you are. If they see something reasonably solid they will feel reassured, but if they find nothing, very little or just irrelevant links they are going to be suspicious. Luckily most people are content to look at the first page of search results. Very few people look at page two and even fewer click on a link to read more, unless they see something that looks bad.  This means that to impress people all you need to do is make sure that the search results on the first page look good – the first ten links in the list.

You can’t actually control what appears in search results directly, but you can create pages that will appear on this page. Search engines like Google use secret algorithms to rank results, but basically they put the most important sites on top. If you could get an article on the front page of the New York Times, Le Monde, Il Corriere della Sera, The Guardian or The Australian that would be ranked very highly, but you are not likely to get that kind of coverage unless you have seriously bad news. Luckily there are many sites that allow you to create content on your own pages but at the same time the site itself is highly ranked: these are mostly social networking and social media sites.

You don’t need to much content to do this; it’s enough to open an account with the right name and to place a minimum viable profile there. There are hundreds of sites that you could use for this purpose, but here are ten solutions I recommend to build a strong search presence and what you should be doing with each of them.  You don’t need to do all ten -- if you do just half of them you will have a strong presence within days -- but if you try all ten you could even fill the first page results with relevant links, which looks very impressive to everyone who googles you.

1.       YOUR OWN WEB SITE.  Traditional websites are maybe old fashioned but I still recommend you have one because it looks more solid and respectable than a landing page on a social site. More importantly, it usually bears the Internet domain of your company. Make sure you register a domain for your company – it is very cheap – because this is always ranked highly by search engines and often comes at the top of searches. So if your company is named Qwertyuiop then by owning the domain you will be on top for anyone searching for “Qwertyuiop”. Anyone can make a good looking, simple website using online tools like Wix.

2.       YOUR OWN BLOG.  Blogging is also slightly retro but having a blog for your company gives you another high-ranking space on the web. Search engines often give priority to sites that change regularly so a blog will be highly ranked if it is hosted on a popular blogging platform. You don’t need to spend a lot of time on the blog – that’s for pro bloggers – and it is a useful channel for your news, view and other comments. If you have no idea how to create content for your blog try paying a freelance writer.

3.       FACEBOOK BUSINESS PAGE.  Facebook is so big you really can’t afford not to be there. A company page is free and simple enough to set up but will both appear in external searches and also internal Facebook searches. When you are just using it to build a search engine presence you don’t need much content, just to be there.

4.       LINKEDIN COMPANY PAGE:  Everyone should have a personal profile on LinkedIn but to get more visibility for your company you need to set up a company page, too. This is very easy and does not require much work for maintenance.

5.       GOOGLE+ BUSINESS PAGE:  While Google+ isn’t yet as popular as Facebook it certainly ranks highly in searches. Creating a simple page for your company doesn’t take long and you can cut and paste the same content you used for your Facebook page.

6.       PINTEREST BOARD.  If you don’t have an account on Pinterest now is the time to open one. This image-oriented online pinboard site is a major driver of traffic for retailers and is definitely a place to be if you have some product that is visually appealing – clothes, food, jewelry, garden designs, furnishings and so on. You can create a Pinterest account and boards for your company so that it shows up in searches for company names.

7.       TWITTER ACCOUNT. Everyone should have a Twitter account. Even if you don’t tweet very much it is still useful for search visibility, but you can also use it effectively to promote new posts on your blog, your Pinterest boards an other things.

8.       YOUTUBE ACCOUNT. YouTube is one of the most popular sites in the world so having a channel for your company guarantees a highly ranked entry in Google. You don’t need to have many videos on your page and to start with a single short clip is sufficient. This channel can be useful for promotional videos about your products and is also ideal for things like assembly instructions.

9.       QUORA BOARD. Quora is a social question and answer site that is still remarkably free of spam and popular enough to rank highly in searches. Companies are allowed to create Boards on Quora (see Can a Quora Board represent a company?) where they can post articles and links about a topic, encouraging engagement with other users.

10.   SOUNDCLOUD PAGE.  Soundcloud is a useful site for storing any kind of audio clip -- music, poetry, stories, sounds of nature or anything you want. How you use this space depends on the kind of business you have, but if you don’t have a product or service that makes an interesting noise you can consider just uploading a podcast or a short audio clip where you introduce yourself.

These are the ten sites I use the most for boosting visibility on search engines. You don’t need to use them all and you can pick the five or six you like the most to start with, You can easily find more sites that are specific to your business by searching for other companies in the same space and making a note of all the sites that appeared on the first page results and where you are allowed to create a space. Remember: if a site doesn't show in search results for other companies it probably won't help you, either.

When you are using these spaces primarily for search visibility you don’t need to worry about creating and maintaining much content, though you need to be careful to set privacy settings to allow search engines to see your pages. Later you will probably want to use some of these sites more actively, so you will also need to master the use of tools that allow you to manage multiple sites through a single interface, plus some tools that automate routine operations. That’s a topic I am going to address in a follow-up article one day. Meantime start by setting up some of the accounts in the list, add basic company information and wait for your search results to get visibly better.

Related posts on Reputation Management and Branding:

Online Reputation: How to Deal With Five Difficult Cases
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. 

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Why Global Brands, Technology Will Not Destroy Local Culture

"Will global brands and technology bring the end of cultural differences?". This is a question I have been asked many times in culture workshops over the years by people who have seen familiar logos and products wherever they go. The answer is definitely no; cultural differences will continue to persist as they have always done so and here are three reasons why.

1. CULTURE IS MUCH DEEPER THAN BRANDS  Just because Coca Cola, McDonalds, Kikkoman and other global brands are pretty much everywhere does not mean that the consumers have all adopted the same culture. Culture is much deeper than the superficial signs that you see around you and concerns much more the attitudes that people have to time, relationships, the world around them and so on. Culture at this level is not directly visible -- though you can sometimes see visible signs, like when someone bows to a superior -- and in some cases people are not even aware of their own culture. American fast food chains can  successfully export their products and their business model but they still operate within the context of a local culture. The "employee of the month", for example, is a management technique that works in the individualistic USA but is perceived in a very different way in other cultures. Local managers follow the company rule book and select the employee but are aware that this is seen as a negative incentive -- sometimes shameful or at best embarrassing to the employee singled out in this way.

2. YOU CAN ADOPT TECHNOLOGY WITHOUT CULTURE. People all over the world have adopted the world-wide web and many other technologies, but this does not mean that they also adopt the original cultural context. Try, for example, to build a wiki in an Asian company and you will find that their different attitudes to hierarchy make it hard to convince people to edit the pages created by others. You see it also in the different ways people use social media. This is hardly a new observation. In the seventies people across the globe adopted Japanese Walkman personal cassette player technology, but they did not adopt the original Japanese concept of using headphone to avoid disturbing other people; they used them to avoid others disturbing them. Many other technologies have been adopted globally in the past independently of the culture of the creators. Almost everyone adopted "Arabic" numerals during the middle ages, but they did not adopt the Hindu culture that created them. Later people adopted steam power, electricity, radio, TV and many other good ideas, always without the original cultural matrix. In earlier times the same happened presumably with stone tools, fire and iron working.

3. CULTURE IS A DYNAMIC, RESILIENT PHENOMENON. Regardless of brands and technologies, cultures tend to persist because they are much more resilient than people imagine. Today people grumble that the world-wide web undermines local cultures but to be fair they said exactly the same about radio, TV and Hollywood movies. In spite of a century of movies cultural differences are still going strong and many countries have evolved their own independent movie cultures. Try comparing also American and Indian dating websites to see how the same idea and the same technology can lead to radically different implementations. Yes, the whole world has embraced the idea of having dating sites but the way they work is very different. At the same time cultures can and do change. Some aspects of your culture will be lost in your own lifetime, but this is how culture works. The culture you have today is a mixture of innovations -- like mutations in the cultural DNA -- and borrowings from other cultures.. Many of the notions of western law come from the Romans, and many concepts of politics come from Greece.. Maybe today China imports The Simpsons but they have contributed many things to western culture over the years -- including such concepts as using written tests to choose the best person for a job. Some aspects of culture might align with a cultural import, but at the same time new subcultures emerge that are the seeds of new trends. I don't believe it is even possible to have a standard global culture. There have even been some deliberate attempts in history to forcibly standardize a culture, rarely with any success even when the most violent means are used.

So to answer the original question: no, neither global brands nor new technologies will ever create a uniform global culture. Maybe you see that there is a McDonalds wherever you go, but look more closely at how it fits into the local cultural context. When someone says "Meet you at McDo (that's what the French call it) at 4pm" do you expect they will be there at 16:00:00 or maybe 15 minutes later.  Do men and women who are not married to each other sit at the same table? Do people pay separately or does someone insist on paying for everyone?  Apart from the signs, you will find that almost everything else is actually different if you look carefully enough.

Related posts about intercultural topics:

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

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For lectures, workshops, personal coaching and writing on this and other communication topics visit, email or call 0033 6 79 61 42 81.