Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Reverting to Emails: Confusion and the Indian English Language

In workshops about global email many people focus on their issues communicating with colleagues in India. Partly this is related to some deeper cultural differences that lead to misunderstandings. But many problems are also caused by the different ways in which Indian people use English.

There are some "English" words that you will probably only hear in India, like "stepney", their word for a spare wheel. A hundred years ago this term was coined in the UK and was exported to India where it survived. Back home only a few antique vehicle enthusiasts have any idea what it means. There are also many English expressions that are peculiar to India, like "What is your good name?". But in both cases an English speaker from elsewhere would just see an unfamiliar expression and either ask what it means or google it.

Most problems are caused by another kind of difference: where a standard US or UK English word is used but with a different meaning. Recently someone asked why so many people make the "mistake" of using the word "revert" to mean "reply", as in "I will revert to your email next week". This might be considered an error in other countries -- where "revert" means to restore to a previous state -- but in India this is simply the way the word is used. And given the numbers speaking Indian English you could argue that it is hardly fair to describe it as incorrect. Indian English is by now a language or dialect no less than many others.

Revert isn't the only word that causes problems. The word "doubt" also has an unusual meaning in Indian English, where it is often used to mean "question" rather than simply suggesting uncertainty, as in "professor I have a doubt". The word "scope", too, might not mean what you think. In most English speaking countries it means something like the coverage of something, but in India it refers often to job opportunities, as in "what is the scope of chemical engineering?". Even innocuous phrases like "I hope so" are a source of endless confusion because in Indian English it can mean "I think so", rather than "that is what I hope".

Outside of the world of business there are also a few words that can cause serious confusion. One of the most common is the word "propose". In most English speaking countries "Mr A proposed to Ms B" usually means that they proposed a marriage. In Indian English the word "propose" is used much more often and is the word to use when you invite another person for a date or attempt to start a romantic relationship. You can imagine that this has been the source of many misunderstandings.

There isn't, as far as I know, any definitive guide to purely Indian English expressions. Most of the lists available online list many words that are actually British -- flat for apartment, picture for movie and so on -- rather than being purely Indian. This is probably because there are not many people who know Indian, American and British versions well enough to know when a word or expression is used only in India.

Perhaps one day someone will compile a definitive list, but meantime be extra careful with emails coming from India or from Indians living outside of India because sometimes the words might be English but they do not necessarily mean what you think.

This note is based on content from a workshop called Writing Effective Email in a Global Business, a half-day introduction to the essential cultural understanding needed to make email more effective in a multicultural business.


Lectures, Workshops, Coaching, Writing

Andrew Hennigan does lectures, workshops, one-to-one coaching and writing on this and other communication topics. You can contact him by phone on 0033 6 79 61 42 81 in France or 0046 730 894 475 in Sweden, by email at conseil@andrewhennigan.com or through his website http://andrewhennigan.com.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

How to Build a Social Media Presence With Little Effort

In a previous post I explained why businesses can no longer afford to ignore social media, but the next concern is how to use social media with limited resources available. Fortunately it is possible to begin with a very modest effort and gradually increase commitment as you become more confident and efficient.

For most small and medium businesses there is no need to be constantly tweeting and sharing photos like celebrities. Much of the time it is sufficient to be present, to watch what is being said and to participate in the discussions from time to time. Just like a few pencil lines can evoke a picture, a few well-chosen posts can give the impression of a solid social media presence. But concretely how should a small business get started?

Start By Just Being There. In social media just like in many other places simply turning up brings a noticeable return. Begin by creating an account and profile page on several top social sites including Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn, with the addition of Instagram and Pinterest if you have interesting photos to share and YouTube if you have video content. Initially all you need to do is to create profile pages with a photo, a brief description, contact information and a link to your website. This presence is very important for two reasons. First of all it ensures that you will have a more solid presence in Google searches -- social media sites are highly ranked by Google so these profile pages are more important than they might appear. This social presence also blocks other people from creating accounts with your name. Social sites like Twitter allocate user names on a first-come-first-served basis so that if there are two companies called Acme the first to register gets the username. Don't ever let anyone be first with your brands.

Continue by Starting to Listen. Once you have a basic social presence start to monitor activity around your name, your company, your brand, your technology and your field. Again this is easier than it might appear. You don't need to spend all day watching rows of monitors like they do in social media war rooms. In fact you don't need to look at all. The best way is to set up alerts using Google or tools like If This Then That so that you get notified on your phone when there is something interesting. At the very least you will be aware of what people are saying about you and your business.

Begin to Participate in Conversations. When you start to monitor social activity you will see posts that you would like to respond to. Thanks to the alert you will know when there is something interesting to respond to and if you install mobile apps like Twitter on your mobile you will be able to respond immediately. It's also possible to post news through your social channel using tools like Hootsuite that allow you to schedule publication in advance. The advantage of this is that you can schedule all the routine posts at the beginning of the week and then stop thinking about it. There is no need to be constantly posting, monitoring or responding, so that with a very modest effort you can build a satisfactory low-profile presence that will bring many benefits.

Just by following these three steps any small business can begin to benefit from the advantages of using social media but with a minimal effort and no budget. You don't need a PR company and you don't need a full-time community manager, though you do need someone who has learned how to use social media safely, but that's a story for another post. Watch this space!

This post is one of a series that was inspired by a short lecture that I delivered at the Future of Swedish and Danish Life Science conference at the Medicon Village in Lund, 8 April 2015.


Lectures, Workshops, Coaching and Writing

If you would like to contact me to talk about lectures, workshops, one-to-one coaching or writing about social media or other communication topics send me an email at conseil@andrewhennigan.com, call 0033 6 79 61 42 81 or 0046 730 894 475. You can also read more on my website at http://andrewhennigan.com

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Five Reasons Why Businesses Can’t Afford to Ignore Social Media

Many small and medium-sized businesses underestimate the power of social media. This is especially true in highly-technical business-to-business fields where the customer is another business rather than a consumer. 

Talking to entrepreneurs I hear many reasons for this. Some say that their stakeholders don’t use social media – which is almost certainly not true, they just haven’t noticed. Others say that they have tried using Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn or other social sites but nobody responded to their posts. This could be true because it takes time to build up this interaction. 

But even if there is little direct response to social media posts there are some indirect effects that make social media something that a business or organization can no longer ignore. Here are just five of the most important:

SOCIAL MEDIA ACTIVITY INFLUENCES SEARCH. Whatever you do people are going to Google you to see who you are. To most people you are exactly what Google says you are, so managing your online reputation is critically important. Luckily anyone can build a robust online footprint very easily simply by creating accounts on popular social sites and populating the profiles. To be seen that is all you need to do, though to get the best results it helps to post sometimes, too, and interact with other people.

MEDIA RELY INCREASINGLY ON SOCIAL MEDIA. Journalists in traditional media channels rely increasingly on content from and communication through social media. Everything happens first on Twitter and it has become an ideal place to look for sources, ideas and stories. It’s also a great way to reach out to experts who might be able to comment on a story. LinkedIn, Facebook, GooglePlus and other social networks are also very useful for discussing ideas for articles, collecting stories and identifying experts. To be absent from social media puts any business at a disadvantage in traditional media. Without an online footprint you have to rely on press releases – notoriously ineffective – or personal contact, which is very effective but costly.

SOCIAL MEDIA “UNDERTALK” DRIVES CONVERSATIONS. The people you talk to in normal face-to-face conversations, in meetings and at events are often influenced by social content and conversations – what I call the “undertalk” -- that they have seen recently. This parallels exactly the way that early adopters of the world-wide web were often ahead of other people a generation ago. What this means is that someone who is also monitoring social conversations concerning your business can effectively see what people might be talking about and the position they might take. Even better, if you participate in this social media undertalk you can help to shape the online conversation which in turn means that you influence the face-to-face conversation later.

RECRUITING IS HAMPERED BY ABSENCE OF SOCIAL MEDIA. People that you try to recruit are likely to try a Google search and also to look at the social media activity of a company before making their decision. When this activity is absent that can make people concerned that they are making a bad decision. Many people are used to interacting through social media channels so not finding access through this route they already feel uncomfortable. This is not a deal breaker for everyone but when a popular candidate has several offers to consider this might make a difference.

INVESTORS ARE SUSPICIOUS OF SMALL SOCIAL MEDIA FOOTPRINTS. Every investor I have talked to admits that they Google companies before they invest and that they are influenced by a lack of presence. A business can be perfectly solid without a social media presence but the lack of visibility breeds uncertainty and doubt. Given a choice between two equally appealing investments most people would favor the one with a more robust online footprint. This is because good networking tends to boost performance and because good external communication suggests that internal communications and investor relations are also likely to be well managed.

These are just the top five reasons why no business can ignore social media, but any single one of these is sufficient to justify the effort required to create and maintain a basic presence on top social sites. At the beginning it is enough to create profile pages, but to get more benefits you should also be monitoring the conversations related to your business and also participating in some conversations. This probably takes much less work than you expect but that’s a story for another article.


This post was inspired by a short lecture that I delivered at the Future of Swedish and Danish Life Science conference at the Medicon Village in Lund, 8 April 2015.


Lectures, Workshops, Coaching and Writing
Andrew Hennigan does lectures, workshops, one-to-one coaching and writing on social media and other communication topics. You can contact him through email using conseil@andrewhennigan.com, by phone at 0033 6 79 61 42 81 or 0046 730 894 475 or through his website http://andrewhennigan.com.