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Showing posts from 2014

Three Reasons to Avoid Sending Angry Emails

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In an earlier post Three Tips for Responding to Angry Emails I outlined some practical methods for responding to angry emails effectively. This solves part of the problem but it would be far better if angry emails were never sent in the first place.

There are some people who regularly resort to sending angry emails -- every organization seems to have at least one employee who is part troll -- but even otherwise calm and measured people can slip into this mistake occasionally. And this is a mistake. Sending angry emails can have negative effects that go beyond the obvious.

ANGRY EMAILS ARE NOT EFFECTIVE. A polite and respectful email is much more likely to achieve results than one that is angry and perhaps disrespectful, both in the short term and long term. Other people are always more co-operative with someone who treats them well and they will feel a stronger commitment to your goal when you ask nicely. Remember that at the end of the year when your results are being evaluated and r…

Three Ways to Ensure Journalists Will Contact You Again

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Recently I wrote some guidelines about How to Make Sure Journalists Quote You Correctly. Since then several people have asked about a related question: how you make sure that journalists will ask you for comments again in the future.

As a freelance journalist I have asked many other people for comments and in my role as consultant I have also been on the other side, so I have learned why some people get contacted just once while others are asked again and again. There are actually just three simple yet important rules to follow.

RESPOND QUICKLY. When you are asked if you are interested in commenting on some topic you should respond as quickly as possible. The journalist is almost certainly working to deadline and needs to talk to a number of sources. Knowing who is interested and who isn't is very important. If you don't respond they don't know if you plan to respond later and maybe have to choose someone else instead. At this stage it is enough to state that you are inter…

Why Influencing is Better than Convincing

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When people find out that I teach influencing workshops one of the first questions is sometimes "How do I convince someone to..." as though there is some magic formula to persuade people to do things that they don't want to do. There are, in fact, some manipulative techniques that let you do exactly that, but only for a short time. In the mid and long term the only way to get people to do the things that you want them to do is to influence them, which is very different.

One of the principles of effective influencing is that you should not create an idea in a vacuum then try to convince people to accept it. Instead you should let the people around you help shape the idea until it is in a form that works for you and works for them, then it is accepted willingly. 

This is effective because people are naturally reluctant to accept something unfamiliar. You might be familiar with this from the common dislike of new things which are later accepted. Every time there is a new vers…

Brand Protection Lessons from the Ello Social Network

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Ten years ago when social media was far from mainstream it was not rare for usernames like "cocacola" and "apple" to be registered by users unconnected with these companies. Sometimes the names were registered by squatters, hoping to sell their name to the owner of the brand. In other cases the name was registered by either fans or adversaries of the brand, deliberately taking advantage of the confusion. Occasionally they were registered by private users who just liked the name and had no other intentions.

Fast forward to today and you might expect that everyone in digital communication has learnt the lesson. Registering your company and brand names on new social media channels has become just a routine part of brand protection activity. Doing this when a new social site or app is created means that you are more likely to get there before someone else. This blocks potential squatters, but more importantly it avoids confusion when someone else is posting apparently…

Three Best Practices for Video Presentations at Conferences

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Many conferences increase their pool of available speakers by using live video presentations from people who are unable to attend in person. With web-based video conferencing tools this is simple and essentially free, allowing anyone with a laptop or even a smartphone to speak at a conference on the other side of the world.

There are many techniques that speakers can use so that they look their best in these video connections. Some of these were presented in Ten ways to impress people in skype interviews and in How to look better in video, but there are also some best practices that are specially important for speakers at conferences. Here are three that I have found the most useful:

BRING THE CAMERA TO EYE LEVEL. One of the basic rules for framing video interview shots is to have the camera at the level of the speaker's eyes. Many people use the camera in their computer and when it is resting on a table the camera is too low, giving the typical Skype call look where you appear to…

Revenue-Sharing Social Network Tsu Has Appeal, Clever Ideas and Risks

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One of the strongest critiques leveled against social networks like Facebook is that the users provide the content but the owners keep all the profit. To counter this social networking companies usually argue that they provide the service free of charge, so why should they share the revenue.

But the revenue sharing idea still has appeal for many social networking users, especially the power users who contribute much of the content. This idea has driven Google to share revenues from YouTube videos and also to the creation of several blogging and networking sites that do share revenue. Back in 2012 Bubblews tried this approach with mixed results and others have followed with even less certain success. No revenue-sharing social network comes even remotely close to Facebook. Yet.

Now a new social network called Tsu is trying to execute this concept and they have some interesting new ideas that make it more promising than other rivals. Tsu looks more or less like a typical social network.…

Ten Ways to Impress People in Skype Interviews

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When you are looking for a job, an internship, a place in a business school or whatever you are likely to be interviewed through Skype, Google Hangouts, Facetime or other Internet video call apps.

Skype interviews save you the time and trouble of travelling. They also broaden the range of opportunities because you can do more interviews with people you couldn't meet face to face. They also have a downside, because most people do not come across so well in a Skype interview as they do face to face.

But the good news is that someone who is well prepared can easily outshine their rivals who just sat down at the computer and hoped for the best. Theoretically an interviewer could make allowance for shortcomings in the way you use Skype, but subconsciously they are influenced by the image you project. They might also draw some conclusions about your abilities from the simple observation that you had not prepared for a call. This, they will reason, might mean you are equally careless ab…

Three Questions for Conspire, the Email Traffic Analysis Networking Site

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Conspire is a very interesting new networking tool that uses email traffic analysis to determine how strong are the connections between two people. Using this information it can determine the strongest connection path between a user and anyone else.

This approach addresses a well-known weakness of the market leader in professional networking, LinkedIn. Though one of your connections might be connected to someone interesting it sometimes happens that they do not really know each other. Some people are careful to only connect with people they know -- I do this myself -- but there are many others who send and accept random connections. Conspire does not rely on self-declared connections, determining from the frequency of contacts, if and how fast the person responds and other factors to measure the strength of a connection.

When you sign up for Conspire it asks for access to your Gmail account and analyzes this data using only message headers, so it does not store your message content. O…

Talko Is Useful for Workgroups But Won't Replace Plain Old Telephone Service

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Of all the new iPhone apps I have tried in the last year Talko is probably the one that impressed me the most -- a good idea, well executed, easy to use and actually real-world useful.

Talko is the latest brainchild of Ray Ozzie, the person who gave the world Lotus Notes, the de facto standard for collaboration in pre-web days. What the app does is to reinvent the telephone using all the possibilities modern smartphone technology brings that Alexander Graham Bell could never have dreamed of.  You can have one-to-one voice conversations, you can have group calls and you can send spoken recordings to people. You can also switch seamlessly from recording to live and vice-versa. Better still, you can also illustrate your calls by tapping the camera icon as you talk, sharing an image of what you are seeing, and you can tag parts of a call and send them to others.

Where Talko will be most useful will be in enhancing the communications of project teams. You just can't beat spoken commun…

How to Make Sure Journalists Quote You Correctly

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People who have been interviewed by journalists are often disappointed by the results. Sometimes they are misquoted or quoted out of context but this is not always the fault of the journalist. The person who is being interviewed can also minimize the risk of being misquoted by making it easier for the journalist to capture their ideas accurately. 
Since I have been both a freelance journalist interviewing other people and also an expert being interviewed by journalists I have seen this problem from both sides. I have learned that there are some simple best practices to follow to get the best results. These work with both face to face and telephone interviews.
Prepare before the interview. Never go into an interview unprepared. Think about the messages you would like to give, make a list of points and check the facts that you plan to use. If it is a phone interview you can have your notes in front of you; if it is a face-to-face interview check your notes just before you go in. Some peop…

Why Email Isn't Dead or Dying Anytime Soon

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Five years ago the Wall Street Journal declared the end of the reign of email in the article Why Email No Longer Rules...  They were not the only people to announce the death of email. At the time everyone thought that email was finished and that soon the stuffy old timers who persisted in using it would see the light and move to new tools. Some said that we would all be using new communication tools like GoogleWave, launched with great fanfare in 2010 as the future of mail but then shut down three years later. Others said that we would all use Facebook, Twitter or other social sites. They were all wrong.

Now more than forty years after it was introduced email shows no signs of going away and indeed there is no credible alternative on the horizon. You could, people argue, use Facebook messenger instead, except that not everybody has Facebook messenger. You could, others say, use WhatsApp, except that not everyone has WhatsApp. You could use instant messaging, a few argue, but there a…

Practical PR Tips: Ghost Writing for High-Level People

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When you work in communications you will probably have to ghost write a quote for a press release, a blog post, a social media comment, an article or maybe a speech for a top-level manager in your organization. Often it must be approved by the manager you are ghosting but you have limited access to them; you might also be uncomfortable trying to be the voice of someone you don't normally interact with.

Luckily there are some simple techniques you can learn to make this task easier and faster, minimizing the stress and optimizing the results.

LEARN THEIR STYLE. Before you attempt to write something in the style of someone else you need to learn how they talk and write. Prepare by reading things that you think they wrote themselves and watch them speak to get a feel for the style and tone they use. You don't have to identify all the style markers because your brain can automatically learn to recognize someone's style.

IMAGINE THEM SAYING THE WORDS. When you have written somet…

Using the Source: When it's Important to Use Source Documents, Talk to Authors

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Though every person with Internet access has the possibility to check facts without a trip to the library I still see old myths being repeated in articles, lectures, workshops, videos and TV shows. Hardly a day goes by without me seeing someone saying that we use only 10% of our brains, or how only 7% of communication is in the words, or the old myth about Henry Ford and the "faster horse". Two years ago I wrote about this problem in The Creation of Levi's: Why Writers and Speakers Should Always Check Facts. In this piece I recommended that everyone should at least run a quick Google check before repeating these myths. In search results the popular mythbusting sites are always on the first page. Wikipedia articles usually debunk common myths, too.

But there is another technique careful writers and speakers can apply to avoid repeating or even creating myths and misinterpretations: go to the source. I was given this advice as a student. Some professor whose name I have l…

Unintended Consequences: Why Plain Packaging for Cigarettes Didn't Work

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Plain packaging for cigarettes is widely seen as a way to reduce the number of people smoking, but the notion that selling cigarettes in uniform, logo-free dull-green packages covered in health warnings will deter smokers fails to take into account both human nature and the way brands work. I wrote about this two years ago in Why Plain Packaging for Cigarettes is Unlikely to Work but in a way I was wrong. Not only did it not deter smokers it actually had the opposite effect, but for reasons that nobody seems to have predicted.
Advocates of plain packaging believe that smokers and aspiring smokers will be repelled by unattractive plain packages.  This doesn't happen.  Nobody smokes because the packages are cool; people start smoking because they believe that smoking is cool and they continue because they are addicted. Existing legislation also ensures that people are not going to pick up a packet of cigarettes from a supermarket shelf because it looks stylish; they ask for a brand t…

Why Companies Don't Like You to Google and Xerox Things

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Some products are so successful in the marketplace that their trademark is widely used as the generic name for all products of that type. Google is the most common of these. People often talk about "googling" things or say "let me google that for you". There are many others: Xerox has become a synonym for photocopy, Hoover for vacuum cleaning, Jet Ski for acquatic motorcycles, Frisbee for flying disks or Jeep for compact sport utility vehicles.

Outsiders often see this as a sign of success and wonder why the companies who own these trademarks are apparently unhappy about the situation and try to discourage the use of their trademarks as generic names. There is a good reason for this. In the US and some other jurisdictions you can lose your rights to a trademark if it becomes generic and if the owner has not made sufficient effort to stop this.

This is not paranoia. Many famous trademarks have been lost by their owners precisely for this reason. Aspirin used to be …

Why Politicians, Celebrities Should Beware of Touch Screens

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After all his troubles with Twitter in the past, you might think that former US representative Anthony Weiner would be more careful, but he is in the news again for favoriting a tweet about sexting. According to the Slate article about this story, he claims that he did this by accident, touching the star symbol while scrolling the page.

This happens all too frequently when you are using apps on a touch screen device. Almost every day I inadvertently view someone's profile on LinkedIn while I am scrolling through updates one handed. I can easily imagine that someone could also like or favorite posts that they don't actually intend to endorse.

When my fingers slip on a touch screen the consequence are insignificant -- at most I leave someone wondering why I am suddenly interested in their profile -- but for politicians, celebrities and other high-profile social media personalities these mistakes are much more serious. As Anthony Weiner has found to his cost every slip on Twitte…

When You Should and Shouldn't Use Your Real Name on Social Sites

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People like me who teach online reputation and networking take it for granted that using your real name on social sites is a good idea, but a recent question on Quora reminds me that this is not as obvious as it seems.

An anonymous user asked Did you provide your real personal info to Quora when your user account was created? and explains that he or she avoids using their real identity to thwart data mining. There might be cases when this is a good idea but for most people it is actually better to use your real name because it boosts your online reputation.

When people hear about you or meet you for the first time they are likely to Google your name to see what comes up. This test will only find web pages that use your real name because Google cannot know that the owner of the username SqueakyPencil87 is actually John Smith. Some of the people googling your name will just be curious colleagues and friends, but quite often they could be potential employers or business partners and if …

What Speakers can Learn from Rock Guitar Solos

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Turning a good speech into a great speech is a challenge. There might be writers who can draft a perfect speech and there might be actors skilled enough to perform it convincingly. But for everyone else the best way to make a compelling speech is to focus on structured ideas and improvise the actual words.

Once the basic outline of the speech is defined one of the best ways to take it from the good to great level is to evolve the content. Test the first version with an audience and note their reaction, especially the parts that resonate and the parts that felt flat. Now try making some changes to the parts that didn't work and do another test run with a different audience, noting again which parts worked well and which need work. Keep repeating this process until all of the parts resonate with the audience and you feel that the entire speech is at your best level.

This approach to evolving content works find when you have plenty of opportunities for testing. This could be the cas…

Three Tips for Responding to Angry Emails

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One of the most common sources of workplace stress is dealing with angry emails from customers, colleagues or even managers. These messages can be extremely annoying but there are some tricks for dealing with them effectively and painlessly. Sometimes you can even turn the situation around 180 degrees, turning an infuriated adversary into an ally. There are many proven methods you could use, but here are the three most important.

1. WAIT TILL YOU CALM DOWN. It's a natural human instinct to get steamed up when you receive a provocative message. If you reply immediately you are likely to send an equally angry response that is unproductive and escalates the situation. Wait a few hours and your perspective will change. Wait a day and the anger will often be gone completely. By this time your neo-cortex will be able to assert it's authority over the amygdala regions of the brain that are useful in an emergency when time is short, but sometimes provoke emotional responses that are i…