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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.

Got Style?: Blogger Makeover

I read a lot of blogs. I am sure this does not surprise you.  In reading blogs I often pay attention to the writing style of the particular post. Some people are very analytical, some are casual, some write like they are in the middle of a conversation with you. When I come across good writing style, I appreciate it. I like that witty play on words or a nice turn of phrase. I appreciate cleaver alliteration and enjoy the feeling when I understand an obscure reference.  But there is more to style than writing.

Writing style is more than the words that flow out of your fingers.  The visual impact of words are also important. Maybe it is my background is graphic design. Maybe it is my obscure interest in typography. Maybe it is that I just read a lot of blogs and want them to be easy to consume.

One of the more common style issues in a post is literally the paragraph format. Some people write blogs where nearly every sentence is its own paragraph.

Sometimes they will even have more than one line of space separating the individual sections.

 

Some people do this because they feel that it makes their post look more substantive. They think that blocks of dense text is hard to read and unwelcoming. In a way they are right. If a paragraph is nearly the length of your screen it can feel a bit daunting.

 

If the words are too dense then we are disinclined to read it. However if they are too far apart we feel the same way.

 

It is not a matter of creating white space to make your post feel longer and easier to read. It is matter of writing in a way that makes your post easy to consume.

 

This means that you need to make it easy on your reader to read. Don’t you remember in school that a traditional paragraph is 4 sentences long? Now 4 sentences is not to much to take in. In fact, you can write more than for sentences. Lets make it 4 lines.  Four lines is a nice block of text. It is not so dense that it is overwhelming. But it is not so spread apart that you are having to scroll down every two lines just to keep reading.

Being easy to read is more than just the words that you use. It is also the way in which they are presented. It is like TYPING IN ALL CAPS. WHEN YOU DO THIS PEOPLE THINK YOU ARE YELLING AT THEM. If you want to make your point, do it in the words you use not the capitalization. Too much white space is a pet peeve of mine because it makes reading the post difficult. I don’t want to have to scroll down every couple of lines to continue reading, it makes the post feel disjointed in my mind. Often times I have to reread to to make sure I absorbed all of it, and if that’s the case then I am not likely to do it.

So keep in mind that traditional writing styles have prevailed for a reason and make sure your blogs are both good to read and easy to read.

 

A real email conversation?

Feet with a tin can telephones tattooed on top

Have your written off a communication technology? I had forgotten that email could still be a valuable networking tool.

I like to guest blog. I like to participate in forums and boards that other people host.  I get to meet and talk to people that I would otherwise not encounter.  This just happened to me again the other day.  I am a part of Dr. Shannon Reece’s panel of women business experts who lend their advice, opinions and experience to her weekly questions blog. It is a great board. Our answers are different and intelligent, and very real. None of us write as though we are trying to advise people; we write from our own experiences and the ways in which we have integrated them.  From this week’s question I received an email from someone who gave me a better solution to my answer.

The question was:

What’s on Your Business Christmas Wish List?

My answer:

My wish list would be for an assistant who is a clone of me.  Many days I feel like I need two or three of myself in order to get things done. It is easy to get excited and commit to a project and not truly take into account the time commitment. So if I could clone myself, or find a reasonable facsimile, I could take on all the projects I want!
A man who read the post came to the website, filled out the contact form, and emailed me.  He said that what would actually be better would be someone with complimentary skills rather than a clone of me.  I wrote back and told him that I agree with him.  Ultimately having a compliment and a clone would be ideal because then I could busy myself with touring museums in Europe while my compli-clone did everything I could ever dream!

What was great about this interaction was that it began a conversation. He signed up for my newsletter , wrote to tell me that he had done so, and told me that he was not sure I would have applicable Twitter tips.  I started following his Twitter and then started talking to him about his Twitter account for his site (Fit Packing).

Our conversation is continuing, all over email.  As strange as it sounds it feels like email has become the lost medium. I rarely network over email anymore.  Most of my networking is done through Facebook and Twitter…mostly through Twitter. It is nice to be reminded that email remains a very valuable tool and should not be written off.

5 Ways to Prepare for 2011

A chalk board with a business plan diagram drawn on it

Do you have a plan for 2011?

The New Year is right around the corner. Are you successfully wrapping up this year and starting to think seriously about the coming one?

5 Ways to Prepare for 2011

  • Review Your Business Development Plan: Take a look at where you are,  and then envision where you want to be a year from now, and set new goals. Create a plan that outlines the growth you want to see. Is it expanding your network? Adding to your client list? Creating a marketing strategy? How can you get from point A to point B?  Is it time to hire a consultant or strategist? It’s time to start writing down your game plan.
  • Your Progress: One of the best ways to create a business plan is to take a look at how far you have come. Did you meet your goals this year? Do you need to change your focus? Where were you a year ago and where are you now? Take a moment to appreciate what you have accomplished.
  • Define your Brand Focus: It doesn’t matter if you are an individual or a business, if you are IN business then you have a brand. Take a look at how that has been coming along in the past year. Are you the brand or is it your business? Check to see if you are properly promoting it and establishing a true brand image. Is it time to rebrand?
  • Finish up: When we are getting ready to move forward it is really easy to leave things undone. Take this opportunity to prepare for 2011 by making sure you wrap up 2010 neatly. Make sure that you finish up the projects you have started. Get your end-of-year taken care of, whether you need to focus on paperwork, taxes or projects.
  • Give yourself a break: You have worked hard this year, and quite possibly even harder during the holidays. Make sure you give yourself permission to take a break. If you want to kick ass in 2011, you’ll do it a lot better if you’re not burnt out from 2010!

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.

Want Exposure? Advertise your Facebook Group!

retro facebook adFacebook groups have significantly increased their functionality, and one of the best new features is the ability to grow your networks.  You can have people who are not in your friend network be a part of your group.  The best way to do this is to advertise your group.

Facebook allows you to create ads for your group just like you would for a website. There is a setting for group ads, but currently they are not including the new groups. So to advertise your group you need to do it as though it were an outside webpage, by copying and paste the URL of your group into the website field during ad creation.

You can target just like you would for any ad, and since most groups are interest based you already have your target demographic. You will be able to increase exposure to the people directly in your demographic.

Creating a special interest group can potentially generate a higher engagement level, and therefore a higher network reach efficiency,  because everyone in the group is interested in the topic and  notification features encourage involvement. From an ad, some people might be more likely to click “like” rather than “join”; the people who do join will be more likely to engage and therefore increase their value in your network. Your network will be comprised of quality rather than just quantity.

The default setting when you join a group is to receive notifications and to have it show up on your navigation menu bar. This means that when someone joins they will receive notifications when someone posts in the group, and updates will show up on the navigation menu as a number next to the group, indicating how many updates have been posted since you last visited the group.

Special interest groups have a higher conversion rate from ads, because you are targeting people who have expressed a distinct preference for the topic.

If you are looking to grow your group network, ads are an effective way to achieve this.

Facebook: It’s a Group Thing!

Cats talking about Facebook

In the beginning of October, Facebook updated their groups. This was a departure from tradition – these new groups greatly increased functionality and usability.

Your groups are now in your left side menu, so you can easily access them and  see if there are any new updates. By clicking on the group you can simply post updates, share links and photos and generally interact with them.  New privacy setting make the creation of completely public or totally private groups easy to set up and manage.

A month has passed, and the improved functionality is beginning to take hold.  People are starting to transition groups over to Facebook. I have had a few of my message boards move their primary communication to Facebook Groups. New groups are forming that previously did not gain traction and are now becoming highly interactive.

These groups are becoming real resources and will be valuable for business because you can include people who are not in your friends list. This means that you can significantly increase your networking reach.  The privacy settings also allow you to establish exclusivity, if your group needs it. You can even create ads for your groups.

Groups are creating a new forum for engagement for people on Facebook; interest-specific and designed for you.  If you have a lot of friends, this is a great way to communicate with segments of interest-centric friend circles. Can’t find a group that meets your needs? Create one!

The new Facebook groups are the social clubs inside Facebook.

Why Blogsites are better than AOL Hometown

spinning peace sign

As a consultant people often ask me about their website: should they have one? What should it look like? What kind of site should it be?

I admit it. I am biased.

I have been doing web design since AOL came out with their personal web pages and a spinning gif felt like advanced graphic technology.

I have used a variety of web design programs and have always defaulted back to basic code editing.

Now I use blogsites.  I still code, but I can do that in an easier interface.  The tools are much easier to use and really help you create dynamic sites.

Most people think of a blogsite as a website for hosting a blog. It is actually a completely customizable website that is easy to edit and easy to update. It solves a lot of the utility issues presented by traditional websites and can save you a ton of money on design costs.

Updating your website…

The reason this is important is to drive repeat traffic to your site. If your site is static or unchanging then people have little reason to come back to it. To really drive traffic to your site you need to be a source of information. Give them a reason to keep coming back. This is where a blogsite excels! You can incorporate dynamic content through various widgets, making it easy to automatically stream content from sites such as Twitter, Flickr and YouTube. You can also easily update your content through blog posts and site updates.

It’s almost too easy…

You don’t have to be a web designing wiz to be able to set up beautiful blogsites. Themes are the easiest way.  A theme is a preformed site that is installed on top of your blog. It comes pre-loaded with widgets designed to make your site dynamic and highly functional. For the most part you can drag and drop the widgets and easily customize your site. If you are wanting something a little more complex, the CSS style sheet is easy to edit and the web is full of support sites to help you learn how to edit the code.

SEO…

Yup, blogsites are making that easy too.  With plugins like Scribe SEO, it is easy to optimize your posts.  These plugins analyze your writing, identify keywords, give you tags and give you advice.  It is like having a personal SEO consultant looking at your every post.

Back in the day of AOL Hometown, I spent hours scouring other people’s sites, pouring through hundreds of message boards, teaching myself HTML and learning to read source code.  In the end I had a site with a pretty night sky background, some spinning gifs and text in blue writing that I now know is nearly impossible to read.

Blogsites are superior to AOL Hometown – and they are also much better than a lot of standard wesbites.  If you want a site that is easy to update and gives you the option of having dynamic content, then this is the way to go.

The blogsite theme I use is Genesis by Studiopress. I find it easy to work with and easy to customize. It gives a great start to a beautiful and unique site. If you are going to get noticed on the web your webpage is your first impression.

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