Thursday, June 23, 2016

Why Asking Other People Sometimes Beats Googling

In networking workshops I always tell people that networking is important not just for finding jobs. Among other things it is also a key part of any influencing effort and it is very helpful for obtaining information. With a strong network you will receive useful and timely information that you never thought of asking, and you will find it easier to get answers to your questions.

But both in workshops and in Q&A forums like Quora people often ask why anyone would ask questions to other people when there is Google? Can't you get the same information yourself by searching? Doesn't asking people annoy them? There are some simple factual questions where asking a connection would be overkill. Want to know which city is the capital of Finland? That's clearly a job for Google. But there are some compelling reasons for asking your network in plenty of other everyday cases. Here are the top five:

Google just gives the sources, not the answer. There are some trivial cases where Google actually pulls out an answer from a source like Wikipedia and presents it in a box next to the search results. But in many cases it just provides links to documents that might contain the answer but you have to read hundreds or thousands of words to find the thing that you are looking for. Sometimes it really is quicker to post a question on social media or send a quick message to someone in your network. Even some apparently simple "facts" like why an airplane wing generates lift turn out to be more complex than people think.

There is no simple answer.  There are many unambiguous questions where there is a single answer and any respectable search engine will find that answer very quickly. You would be unwise to trouble a connection with questions like this or they will start to ignore your messages and calls. But there are also many questions where there isn't a simple answer and you need an expert opinion. Even an apparently simple question like which is the best video editing software for my needs really requires an expert human analysis. Just Googling "best video editing software" will find many articles on the topic and you have to read them all to find the answer, which might also be out of date. Someone up to speed on video editing tools can probably ask a few questions then confidently give a useful answer in seconds.

Google has too many answers. In many other cases the problem is not that Google doesn't find anything but that it finds too many things, leaving you with the problem of identifying the best with imperfect information. What makes this so difficult is the level of noise in search engine results coming from aggressive search-engine manipulation. Try, for example, searching for a good hotel and you will be swamped with results. Ask the same question to your network and you will get accurate answers from sources that you can trust. Where's a good place to stay in Aix en Provence? Someone who has lived there can give an answer that factors in not just the quality of the hotel but also the location. Anyone familiar with the unusual anticlockwise traffic circulation around the center of town can quickly work out where is a good place to stay depending on where you want to go and taking into account the traffic.

Usually Google just answers the question. For most questions a Google search might find the answer to the question you asked, but a human will often do more than that, answering a question that perhaps you never thought of asking but which you would have if you had thought of it. In a recent conversation with a luthier about guitar design for a lecture I am preparing he answered my questions about guitars but also added an interesting parallel from violin design that I had never thought of. Another time I asked a museum about their policy on visitor photography for an article. One museum spokesperson answered all my questions but then volunteered another point I had not thought to ask -- evidence that in spite of all the bans many people take photos anyway.

Asking your network strengthens relationships. Assuming that you have a good reason for asking the question in the first place, asking your network also tends to strengthen relationships. First of all, just by asking you give people an opportunity to help you, so you are grateful to them. By accepting this help you actually make them happy, too. This might sound counterintuitive but accepting help is also a great way to strengthen bonds. At the same time by asking and accepting help from someone else you make it easier for them to ask for help, shifting your network more towards a collaborative community which benefits everyone. You might also discover some unexpected side effects. Ask about hotels in some place and people might ask why you are going there, leading to interesting conversations.

By all means use Google to answer simple, uncontroversial factual questions, but for other things consider asking your network. Someone you know maybe knows a better answer than you thought you wanted, or perhaps they know the person who can help.

Lectures, Workshops, Coaching and Writing

For lectures, workshops, one-to-one coaching and writing about networking, influencing and other communication topics you can contact Andrew Hennigan by email at or by phone on 0046 730 894 475 or 0033 6 79 61 42 81.

Friday, June 17, 2016

Why You Should Make Media Contact Info Easy to Find

Here's an interesting experiment to try. Ask someone not familiar with your company -- maybe the new intern or a friend -- to find the media contact information on your website. Did they find it? How long did it take?

If it seems to take a long time or -- the worst case outcome -- they can't find any useful media contact information then you have a problem. Yet this is a problem that is surprisingly common, even for businesses and organizations that should know better.

When someone just has to write about your company or whatever they have to try through other channels --  sometimes I have resorted to asking through Twitter or Facebook -- but very often they just need to talk to someone in your business. If your media contact information is missing or hidden they just ask someone else and you miss the opportunity.

It also matters how you provide contact information. What most journalists are looking for is an email address and a phone number for those urgent requests where only a phone call will be fast enough. And the email has to be an email address that someone is watching. Far too often messages are answered only when the article is already published and the request is moot.

Ideally what journalists would like to have is an immediate confirmation that someone has received the email and that they are working on it. This is also a good time to clarify the deadline. If there isn't going to be a response to the questions for some reason then it's useful to have a brief "Sorry, no." message. After you have promised to send a response make sure you do it on time. Better a poorer response on time than a perfect one that is too late.

Avoid using web forms because they are unreliable and very often people faced with no choice but a webform will just go elsewhere. The problem with webforms is that you don't know what is happening, where the messages go and if anyone will ever see your questions before it's too late. With an email address you at least know if it was delivered, even if the account is monitored by different people.

Sometime social media can also be a great way to get a fast response, but the problem with using social media is the uncertainty. There are companies that monitor their social media accounts very carefully and respond in minutes to a Twitter inquiry. But there are also some companies that seem to have a one-way approach to social media, posting scheduled content and ignoring responses. That's why people often prefer trying email first. Make sure it works and make sure that people can find it quickly!

Lectures, Workshops, Coaching and Writing

For lectures, workshops, one-to-one coaching and writing about communication topics you can contact the author Andrew Hennigan by email at or by phone on 0046 730 894 475 or 0033 6 79 61 42 81.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Influencing: Learning from the Everglades Airboat Case

Since the 1940's the characteristic airboats of the Florida Everglades have been carrying tourists and hunters through the grassy swamplands of the state's southern tip. But when the Everglades National Park was expanded by a new law in 1989 there was a provision calling for the use of airboats to be phased out to reduce damage to the park ecosystem.

Restricting any popular activity is complicated because many people will oppose the ban, and in any democratic regime opposition will at the very least delay plans if not actually derail them.

Dealing with opposition is the key problem in any influencing case and the Everglades Airboat Case is no exception. If the regulators simply ban the use of airboats in the expanded park area where people have been airboating for decades they can expect some vocal opposition. What they have chosen to do is instructive and an interesting lesson for students of influencing.

According to reports in the media, the way that the law will be implemented is to restrict airboat use to anyone who was over 16 and a regular user in 1989. Any of those airboat users who apply now will be given a lifetime permit that expires when they die and then no more permits will be issued. As nature takes its course the number of permits and thus the number of permits will gradually decline, achieving the gradual phase out included in the 1989 law.

This approach cleverly turns the only likely opponents into allies. When anyone is trying to sell an idea it is often the opponents that decide the day. Even if you have many people on your side just a few opponents -- sometimes just one -- is enough to block your plans. In theory airboat operators are likely to be opposed to the restrictions, but by giving them permits you turn them into allies -- in return for accepting that their descendants won't be riding airboats they obtain a lifetime permit.

Turning opponents into allies is one of the most effective influencing techniques available and it has been used in many cases. Stockholm's congestion charge, for example, was implemented partly thanks to the very clever move of exempting car rental and taxi companies -- two lobbies that would otherwise have opposed the scheme. Not only did that eliminate their opposition it also turned them into positive allies, since by reducing private traffic it benefited their businesses.

What we can learn from the Everglades Airboat Case is that at the heart of effective influencing there is the analysis of the landscape identifying the players and bringing opponents onto your own team, or at least to dial down their opposition. A little creativity in doing this will solve the most challenging influencing problems.

Lectures, Workshops, Coaching and Writing

For lectures, workshops, one-to-one coaching and writing about Influencing and other topics you can contact the author Andrew Hennigan on 0046 730 894 475 or 0033 6 79 61 42 81 and by email at

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Asking Help from Online Strangers? Better Fix Your Footprint

Like many people I have no problem with helping strangers who reach out through Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Quora and other social media provided that the request is reasonable and polite. But I realize that there is another factor people consider: your online footprint.

Since I don’t know you all I have to go on is your online reputation, and most of the time I am not going to Google someone just to see who they are. The first place I will look is the profile on the site where they tried to contact me. Quite often people contact me on Twitter, Facebook or Quora who have no biographical information, no links to other profiles and sometimes even no photo. This is a deal breaker. Why should I make an effort to help someone I don’t know if that person doesn’t even identify themselves? This is the digital equivalent to approaching me in real life with a paper bag over your head, asking for a favor without revealing who you are. Not many people feel the urge to help in these circumstances.

What this means is that if you want to approach people you don’t know and you want these people to take time to help you it is vitally important to make sure that your online profile is well defined. You will also need to formulate the request in the right way – that’s probably a good topic for a future post – but your online footprint is equally important. There are some spaces online where people use pseudonyms and anonymity, but in the professional space this doesn’t work. Nobody hires anons, nobody works with anonymous freelancers. At least not in legit business.

To maximize your chances of getting help your first priority is to make sure that you have a helpful profile on LinkedIn, Twitter, Quora and so on. For Facebook you might find it useful to have a public profile with your real name with real biographical information. At the very least people want to know who you are, what you do and where you are. Ideally there should be a link to your landing page where there is more information and it helps to link together your social profiles so that people can find easily the others if they want to.

Lectures, Workshops, Coaching and Writing

For lectures, workshops, one-to-one coaching and writing about communication contact Andrew Hennigan at or by phone on 0046 730 894 475 or 0033 6 79 61 42 81.