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Anti-social media? How the medium messes with the message

Video killed the radio star. What will social media kill?

Computers killed the typewriter. Internet killed the phone book. Will texting and social media kill communication? Maybe not. But certainly, it has drastically changed the way we interact with each other. In fact, although we may be reaching out more through the ease of cell phone and Internet socialization, the meaning behind our messages may be suffering as a result.

One of the greatest advantages of the new era of communication is the ability to quickly-and instantly-get the word out. But that same benefit also creates some drawbacks. Namely, the increased likelihood of mistakes and misinterpretations.

When texting, proper spelling or grammar isn’t a priority, but a simple one-letter switch-out can seriously change the meaning of your words. Imagine a “conversation” where you inadvertently type “fat” instead of “fab” when referring to a friend’s outfit, or quickly text a colleague that the meeting is “sex” instead of “set.” Oops. Once the send button is pressed, there’s no turning back. The message is received, and interpreted, in a matter of seconds. Even if you note your error and make a quick rebuttal, the damage may already be done.

Similarly, and perhaps even more consequential, is the misinterpretation that can result due to the lack of intonation, voice expression, and body language signals. When communicating electronically, there are no verbal cues from which to interpret the tone or meaning of your statements. For example, if your husband texts, “going out with the guys after work. Ok?” and you reply, “fine,” he can’t really tell if it’s ok or not. Are you fine as in “ya, sure, that’s fine. Have fun!” or fine as in “fine. whatever. i’ll just sit here and keep your dinner warm.”

With tweeting and Facebook commenting, the same hold true, but on a wider scale, as your entire list of friends and followers will be scrutinizing your messages in their own way. Say you post or tweet an announcement of some kind. For example, “Johnny just got named president of the chess club. Makes a mother proud!” Those reading who think of chess as an impressive game and an admirable pursuit may interpret your message as sincere; while those who instantly think in terms of nerds and geeks may believe you are being sarcastic. In turn, comments may come back that are offensive or, at the very least, surprising, and feelings and friendships could actually suffer.

The power of words can’t be disputed. Words can sway opinions, pacify anger, instill terror, or generate goodwill. The words we use and they way we say them have impact on those who absorb their meaning. In fact, in the medical community, studies have proven that the simple word “may” is so impactful that it can actually have a physical affect on a patient.

Known as the nocebo effect, Latin for “I will harm,” a nocebo is a suggestion that inadvertently renders a negative effect. When a doctor warns that, “this may hurt,” it’s more likely to hurt, simply because he’s put the suggestion into the patient’s mind. If a pharmacist suggests a prescription “may cause dizziness,” the chance of vertigo increases exponentially. If no mention of the side-effect was ever made, there would likely be no reaction.

So how does the nocebo effect translate into social media terms? The mere addition (or deletion) of simple words or phrases, when used in printed form, can, like the nocebo effect, cause an inadvertent negative reaction. Even if the omission of words was unintentional, and eventually clarified, the power of suggestion takes over. The negative message has already been processed and has altered the recipient’s viewpoint. Your message to your friend that her jeans looked “fat”, even if immediately re-texted as “fab” will stick in her mind. She’ll think you called her fat!

The instantaneous nature of texting, tweeting, facebooking, and even emailing, often makes for sloppy messaging. You’re spitting out your thoughts so quickly, you often aren’t choosing your words with care. With personal messages, the miscommunications can cause arguments, confusion, or hurt feelings. But in office settings, this can be especially detrimental.

Long ago, before the days of computer convenience, inter-office communications were sent via the memo. A memo was typically relayed verbally by the boss to the secretary, who then laboriously typed it, returned it to the boss for editing and proofing, and then re-typed it with the corrections in place. The memo would only be distributed after this several-step process, ensuring the perfection and clarity of the message.

Today, emailing, and sometimes texting, has replaced the memo in the workplace. A change in a deadline, a new policy, a brainstorming epiphany, or even a friendly “suggestion” can lose something in the translation of a cut-to-the-chase instant message. With this kind of hurried communication, all sorts of misunderstandings can occur, with consequences that vary from missed opportunities to outright failures.

So, is social media, emailing, and texting causing us to be less, rather than more communicative? Jury’s still out on that one. It is clear, however, that the message can be suffering at the expense of speed. But don’t pull out the mimeograph machine, typewriter, stationery, or even (gulp!) telephone to do all your communicating just yet. Clearly, those days are gone. Just remember that the point of all this new, easy gadgetry is to keep you better connected. Be sure there’s not a disconnect between what you’re saying and what you actually mean.

Sheri Staak has served in many Vice Presidential roles at both large privately held and publicly traded global companies. She’s a corporate powerhouse and has been the recipient of numerous sales awards and recognitions. In addition to her key position in a highly aggressive, extremely competitive industry, Sheri is a regular contributor to a travel newsletter, lending her expertise by writing articles that provide tips and advice for business travelers. She also shares her wisdom and business perspectives with regular postings at her leadership-focused blog, The Staak Report, www.sheristaak.com.

Can Less Hours Equal More Productivity?

Have you ever sat down at your desk with a list of tasks for the day, only to walk away eight hours later having accomplished very little of what you set out to do?

In an office environment full of emails, conference calls and distractions, it’s easy to spend hours at our desk while making little headway.

What if you’d arrived in the morning with that same list of tasks, but only three hours to get them done?

Chances are, you’d have set right into the most important job, letting coffee breaks, non-critical emails and chatting with coworkers wait for another time.

Workaholics come in all shapes and sizes. Some entrepreneurs put in 100+ hours a week growing their own company, convinced that without their own constant personal energy, everything will crumble. Others simply feel like they need to keep up with the pace in their office. If everyone else stays until 7 pm, won’t you look bad for dipping out at 5?

In April, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg made news with a short video about her decision to leave work every day at 5:30 p.m. At first, she countered this decision by sending emails early in the morning and late at night. Eventually, however, she drew a clear distinction between ‘at work’ and ‘not at work,’ freeing herself up completely for time with her family.

Sandberg’s example should resonate with anyone who regularly misses dinners with their spouse or children due to late nights at the office. That’s reflected in Americans’ commendable productivity levels, which have risen 400 percent since 1950. In other terms, we could comparatively afford the same standard of living as 60 years ago with just a quarter of our work hours that we put in each week today. Exacerbating the problem, 86 percent of males and 67 percent of females in the U.S. are estimated to work more than 40-hours each week. In short, the notion of a 40-hour work week being the ‘average’ is definitely a thing of the past.

Most European countries mandate minimum leave for employees, generally at least 20 days per years. That’s in direct response to health studies demonstrating that people working 60 or more hours in a week are about a quarter more likely to get sick . People putting in 11 or more hours a day, in particular, are at a severely heightened risk of developing coronary heart disease than those who work just eight.

Working too hard can damage relationships, leading to strife, separation, and divorce. How much time would serious marital problems take away from your life and your work? Wouldn’t you rather spend those hours enjoying time with your spouse and family, rather than in the hospital getting stents in your heart or figuring out the details of how you’ll split up your family?

Think about your habits in a normal work day.

  • Do you read or work during meals?
  • Do you worry about your future even when things are going well?
  • Do you turn your hobbies into ways to make money?
  • Did your family give up on expecting you to show up on time long ago?

If the answer to those questions is ‘yes,’ pause to reflect for a moment on your priorities. Even if you’re a number-crunching details person who just can’t fathom how you’ll pull yourself away from the desk before 10 pm tonight, think about the ramifications that over-burdening yourself with work can have on the rest of your life.

Ultimately, keeping yourself happy and healthy will extend your lifespan and help to prevent unnecessary drama in your life. When it’s considered that way, heading home at 5:30 pm may be just the fix you need to increase your productivity in the long term.

Guest Blogger: Anita Brady leads the team at www.123Print.com. The website offers customizable print products for business and life situations, and has everything needed to market a business, where you can make your own business cards and design other promotional items that combine high quality and customization with an affordable price.

Is Goal Replacement One of Your Goals?

It is that time of year. Resolutions and promises abound. Sometimes it feels like setting New Year goals is such an arbitrary matter, but I assure you it isn’t. They are important for our mental and emotional development.  However, goal replacement is just as important as goal setting.

A few years back, when I was getting ready to graduate with my Masters in Business (one of my personal goals), I read about the importance of goal replacement.  One of the interesting psychological shifts that often happens when you reach a goal is depression – although I know that sounds strange.

Lauren MacEwen Smith College Graduation

Graduating was one of the first truly significant goals I achieved. What replaced it?

The first time: I experienced this when I finished my first book (no, I never published it and never will).  I was so proud of myself to have finished it, but now I had nothing to work toward. I was actually depressed about finishing my book. What amazed me was that the depressed feeling overshadowed the proud feeling.

The second time: The next most memorable experience of this was when I graduated from Smith College. I enrolled at Smith when I was 18. but I took a non-traditional path through college, taking 5 years off in the middle of my schooling. So when I returned to school, graduating was a huge goal. I was so excited when I walked across that stage and got the diploma; I was an official Smith College Alumnae! And I was profoundly sad to be done.

The third time: I was graduating with my Masters in Business.  If you can believe it, I was sad because I knew that my formal education was done.  No more classes. No more finals. No more group projects or papers. My degree-based education was over, unless I wanted to get a law degree (which I didn’t want to do).  However this time was different, this time my depression was fleeting because I had a new goal. Plus, I still take classes now to brush up on other skills, and because I love learning.

Goal replacement is hugely significant for our psychological development.  Goals are not just something to work toward, they give us focus and drive.  When you finally meet a goal, take a moment to revel in your accomplishment. Then replace that goal with a new one as quickly as possible.  Make sure that you are always working toward something, because otherwise you are working toward nothing.

What goals have you replaced lately?

The Gift of Gab: Women’s Advantage in Social Media

Lauren MacEwen being social at a partyWomen have the business advantage in social media. We continue to be the majority of social media users. As a driving force behind a lot of the overall internet usage, women are commanding a powerful influence in shopping, B2B, social media, blogging and content driven sites.   But women are not just the consumers of retail, information and social activity, we are also the drivers.

Socially women are taught to communicate. We are taught to express our feelings and thoughts and spread information along to other interested parties. Community interactions teach us the art of gossip and gab. We are known as the purveyors of information, and we are often a vast and varied  storehouse of information.

Another school of thought argues that women are neurologically better communicators. According to The Female Brain women can process 13,000 more communication events than men and have 11% more brain cells in the planum temporale, which has to do with processing language.

“[F]rom a young age, women are conditioned to nurture, communicate, and express their feelings through words; all necessary qualities of a social medialite. Our male counterparts, no matter how accomplished or web savvy, have to work infinitely harder to master the art of casually dishing information and “gossiping” about industry hot topics.”

According to PsychTests, women are more comfortable sharing their thoughts and more willing to discuss issues and take others opinions into consideration. Also, women are better listeners and empathizers and are more skilled at handling “touchy-feely” conversations.  But does this mean that women are better at social media?

Whether or not you believe that women have a neurological or social advantage, many schools of thought support the idea that women are better communicators than men.  Communication is a skill, and like any skill it can be honed and developed.  This skill is culturally, and possibly neurologically, supported for women. For men, however, the cultural idea of masculinity as the “strong and silent” type is working in direct opposition to developing this ability.

The nature of social media is social. It is about community, communication, conversation and sharing information. The way in which women use the internet supports a social media advantage.  Though men and women both use the internet for research, the way women conduct their research is  is different. “Women tend to treat information gathering online as a more textured and interactive process – one that includes gathering and exchanging information through support groups and personal email exchanges.”

The business of being social is in interaction and the dissemination of information.

Through our skills in communication and our own user trends, women are becoming a force to be reckoned with in social media. “Women are enthusiastic online communicators.” Social media provides a platform where our natural or socially developed communication skills give us a business edge.

The joke in my house is that if you want to know what is going on ask me, not my husband. In fact, my husband often says how much he dislikes gossip and would rather abstain from a conversation than participate in what he feels is gossipy. Me, on the other hand, I am a collector of information. I collect gossip, news, sociological theory, tech developments, and maintain a repository of generally random information.

I often use this information in my business communication to deepen relationships.  Just like friendships, business relationships are not limited to the topic at hand. The gift of gab can be more than a friendly conversation starter, it can now be an entire business model

Some Facts:

Reposted from a guest post written by Lauren MacEwen for Dr. Shannon Reese

Are you saying what I think you are saying?

So much of social media consists of us talking at one another.  We tweet, we post, we retweet, we repost.  We limit our conversations to 140 characters. I joke that I can’t even think above 140 characters any more, or write longer than 300-500 words, from all the blogging!

One of the intrinsic elements of one-on-one communication is the social cue. We reveal small expressions, physical movements, changes in voice intonation and even changes in our pupil dilation.  All of these subtle movements tell our partner what we mean, in a way that is far deeper than words are able to convey.

Ultimately, communication is not simply about your ability to talk and to listen. It also encompasses your ability to understand the complexities of an issue through verbal, physical and social cues, and then extrapolate that information into an appropriate and effective response. So where does that leave us on Twitter?  Facebook? Texts and IM’s?

In a conversation with Dr. Howard Book, author of the The EQ Edge: Emotional Intelligence and Your Success, he said that even communications via video chat are stifled because most of the subtle communication events are missed. And in many ways we manufacture some of our communication events because we are “on camera” as it were, so we alter our gesticulations to account for the filming area.

Effective, emotionally intelligent communication is challenging in social media.  Emoticons are hardly suitable for conveying the spectrum of our emotional communications.

So how can we manage this?

Try to read what you write as though you didn’t know you.

What I mean is, look at it as if you were someone else.  Is it funny?  Rude? Is the sarcasm lost, or appropriate? Will your reader understand a single entendre, much less a double one?

Don’t just look at what you post with 2 eyes. Look at it with 3 different sets:

  • From the perspective of someone who knows you well;
  • From the perspective of someone who doesn’t know you well, but communicates with you frequently;
  • Then try to look at it as someone who doesn’t know you at all.

Is the post still funny? witty? sexy? snarky?  Did it translate across all levels?

Writing for all levels of your audience is not always an easy thing to do.  Where a good tweet builds relationships, a bad one can cost you relationships, get you fired and generally plague your existence.  Just ask Octavia Nasr.

You are talking but no one is listening: Understand your audience

a 1950's movie audience wearing 3D glasses

Understanding your audience is an important part of marketing strategy.  Who are they? What are their age ranges?  Are they predominantly male or female? Unfortunately, you can know everything about the demographics of your audience and still not reach them. An important factor that is often overlooked is: when are they active?

Knowing when your audience is online is important for a number of reasons:

1.  If you want to be sure your target audience is reading your posts, then you want to make sure you are posting when they are online.

2. Posting relevant content at relevant times shows them that you are part of the group, participating in the conversation, rather than someone from the outside trying to broadcast information

3. Work smart not hard.  If you don’t get traffic on the weekends, stop posting on the weekends.

People are always trying to figure out how to drive more traffic.  The best way to do this is to thoroughly understand your audience.  By knowing when they are likely to be most active you can optimize your time by using it effectively.

There is no shortcut for this.  You can read all the stats you want and see when people tweet the most, and what days are best to post to your blog.  Ultimately every audience is unique.  What works for one person might not work for you.  Keep track of your stats, watch your traffic, monitor your engagement.  Pay attention to when your audience is paying attention.  Once you know them it will be easier to get them to know you.

Whose ideal are you? Everyone is someone’s inspiration.

A woman stading on Sandia Peake

When we focus on our business and professional development, it is easy to get caught up in where we are going. We focus on our next goal and where we want to be.  This is actually a good thing.  To invoke some sports analogies: see the goal line, be the ball, make the shot.  Keep your goals in view and make sure that you are working toward them every day.

However, we may get so involved looking ahead that we forget to appreciate where we are now.

Speaking to someone the other day, I was hit by a realization about appreciation and perspective.  I was quite taken aback by this metaphorical slap.  I was in a dialogue with a young woman who is highly ambitious and has been culturally successful in her artistic ventures, though not yet monetarily successful. She expressed her admiration for my professional success. She said she wanted to be like me and wanted to attain the success that I have reached.

I was so honored by what she said.  I realized that we spend so much time looking at where we are going, or trying to go, that we often forget to acknowledge where we are.  But even that is not necessarily enough to give us the feeling of accomplishment that we sometimes need. We can even consider where we have come from and see our growth and progression, and still not have a feeling of accomplishment because we are always gauging our success on our goalS.

Sometimes it is important to realize that you may be someone else’s ideal. In their eyes you are the person they aspire to be. Just as you may have someone in your circle who is your role model, your work and accomplishments may represent that for someone else.

I was given a great gift by being made aware of this.

Who are you inspiring?

My Business IS Personal: Emotional Involvement and Success

A woman with her arms in the air feeding seagullsNew business ventures are extremely personal. It doesn’t really matter what your business is, because in the beginning it is all you. The success or failure of any enterprise is dependent on what you do.

When we start something, be it a big project, a company, a new division or a partnership, it is very exciting. In part what makes it so exhilarating is that it is so close to us. People joke about the term “brain child” but this could not be closer to the truth.

Once you decide to let your venture take form and become more than thoughts and ideas, it becomes susceptible to the critiques, opinions and influences of the outside world. As it takes form you clarify your vision; you begin to define it and refine it. But the refining process has to happen out in the open. You have to begin working on it before you are able to truly see all the steps and developments that are needed. This means that your growing pains are happening in public view.

For some the next scary step is taking this brain baby that is still fresh and not fully developed to a financier and essentially asking, do you find me worthy? If they do then they give you the money necessary to grow your venture into something with real potential. Or at least that is how we feel about it. We internalize such things as financial investment as a judgment on the worthiness of ourselves and our ideas.

The first investment in your business is an emotional one. The first successes raise you up –  your work is validated and you feel the elation of being on the right path. But criticisms can send you down to a new level of feeling bad. You question what you are doing. Question how and why you are doing it.  This whole process is an emotional roller coaster where the highs are amazing and the lows are devastating.

The emotional involvement we have in our ventures is what gives us the drive to work crazy hours and commit 200% to make something work. However,  that same emotional enngagement can also hold us back.  What feeds our drive and passion gives us doubt and insecurity on the flip side.

At the beginning our emotional attachments are central to our drive, but at some point they can become detrimental.  Once you truly make the commitment, though, there is no point in questioning the decision. Honestly, it is more than just saying, “I’m doing this!” It’s saying, “I’m doing this, and signing this, and certifying this.” Essentially you are in it. Embrace it.

The challenge is to use this energy to drive you forward, but recognize that at the beginning you have no emotional separation between yourself and your venture. Every reaction, judgment, success and pitfall gets internalized as a comment on you and your ability to achieve your goals. To be successful we need our emotional drive, but we also have to be able to separate ourselves when the time is right.  This is your business, not an economic-based effigy of yourself. Ultimately, your self worth is not contingent on the success of your ventures.

For me, understanding this makes creating that separation easier.

Why your business isn’t growing: What does your fear look like?

Lauren MacEwen dressed as a demon demonstrating fear of change

What does your fear look like?

Yesterday I talked about the Status Quo. So now that you  have decided that you don’t want to live there, what is stopping you from moving forward?

Fear of Change

I was recently at a seminar by Mari Smith at Blogworld Expo 2010.  She talked about fear.  Fear is the biggest enemy to growth.  It causes us to doubt ourselves and feel uncertain –  about our ability to do something, to truly be the same person we are when we present ourselves professionally, to value our skills or our knowledge.

A lack of certainty paralyses people, which is a primary form of procrastination.

So what are you afraid of?  The mother of all fear is that we won’t be able to handle it.  So stop taking it all in as a whole picture.  If you look at everything you need to do to get from A to Z, of course you will be overwhelmed. Of course you will be convinced that it is too much.  So stop looking at it like that. Identify what you need to do, step by step.

  1. What do I need to do right now?
  2. What makes me money today?
  3. What makes me money tomorrow?
  4. What makes me money next week?
  5. Do I need help?

You probably want to have a wildly successful blog that creates multiple sources of income and feeds your value as an expert in your field.  Of course you haven’t even created your blog yet.  Yeah, I would be freaked out too.

Lets break this down, because you don’t go from deciding to start a blog to being Brian Clark over night. So what do you have to do?

  1. Decide a host for your blog. wordpress? blogger?
  2. Set up your blog.
  3. Write something

Ok, so you are done!  Well, kind of.  You are done being started, but that is still a huge step. Now what?

  1. How many times a week are you going to write?
  2. Write some more
  3. Start promoting your blog on sites like twitter, digg and technorati

You will start to draw readers. Engage them. Talk to them.  Build an audience.  Before you know it you will be the next ProBlogger!

Just remember that everything starts with a single step.  Sometimes it is not good to look at the big picture because the big picture can overwhelm us. Create a list of 5 things. Small steps. As small as you wish to make them. Any movement forward is progress. What do you have to do first?  Now do it. Then go for #2.

Just be sure to make #5 on your list “write the next list”!

Am I living in the status quo?

hand holding a sign that says "I am living in the status quo"

I was talking to a friend of mine recently who is very smart and very talented.  She is getting ready to ramp up her business, and therefore her marketing strategy.  She said her biggest block to taking the next step forward was fear. Fear was filling her with self doubt – making her question herself, her skills and her professional status.

  • Am I good enough?
  • What makes me qualified?
  • Do I really know better than anyone else?
  • What makes me an expert?

These are question we often ask ourselves, especially when we are breaking out of our comfort zone. Are you are taking on a new project? Maybe a new client with a new challenge?  Expanding your business? Putting yourself out there? It boils down to breaking out of your comfort zone.

Living in the Status Quo

This is what we worked for, right? Being in a spot that’s comfortable, where we know what to expect.  The place where everyone knows our name and our routine works for us.  So how did we end up at Cheers?  CRAP! I am living in the status quo!

Living in the status quo is easy, but have you asked yourself if this is where you truly want to be?  Are you really happy? Really satisfied?  Should you, could you do more? Do better?  Never be afraid to question. It is when we question ourselves that we find our growth.

Status quo might be nice for a while, a respite after a period of growth, but probably not the place you want to settle into. Most of us still want to grow our businesses. We want more, bigger, different.   If more is on your horizon then what is stopping you and your inner entrepreneur?

Fear, most likely. Are you ready to face your fear of change? Are you afraid to move forward? What do you think you want? What do you really want?

Tomorrow’s post talks about challenging your fear!