Archives for communication

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.

 

Is Your Emoticon Lying? Communication and Social Media

Lauren MacEwen holding an iPad that says "Can I text you?"

Can you communicate fully using tech? Does the emoticon capture your real emotion?

Communicating effectively is not easy.  Delivering your message and having it received in the manner and tone you intend is challenging; and that is if you are speaking face to face!  So what if you can’t see each other?  Communicating successfully in today’s IM-Texting-Wall Posting world is even trickier.

Emoticons are no substitute for seeing someone’s actual expressions or body language.  Tone of voice can’t be heard in an IM or text message.  A simple, “Yeah ok,” can be interpreted by the receiver positively or negatively, because we bring our assumptions about the world and other people to all our interactions.  Our interpretation of a message can be affected by how we feel about ourselves, others or a specific relationship at any given moment.

Let’s say for example you have an argument with your spouse in the morning.  Later in the day, you send a text asking your beloved what they want to do for dinner.  They respond with, “Whatever you want.”  Because your feathers are still ruffled, you assume they are being sarcastic or getting in a dig.  So you respond with, “Fine. Whatever it is, then! >:|”  Perhaps, though, your partner already let go of the argument and the emotional charge around it and was genuinely okay with whatever you had in mind.

How do we avoid e-communication pitfalls?  Do not assume the worst at the beginning.  If you are unsure about the tone or meaning, ask.  “Are you still mad from this morning; or are you really ok with whatever I pick for dinner?”  Don’t be offended right off the bat if someone misinterprets your message.  Clarify your meaning and intent.  The best way to clear up something is to talk face to face.  That way you have all the non-verbal signals that accompany communication.

Text-ing, IM-ing and Wall Posting are great ways to stay connected and get things done in our busy and instantaneous culture.  But nothing beats a good old-fashioned sit-down.


Portrait of Anna Marie Pederson

Anna Marie Pederson is a counselor who specializes in helping couples resolve conflict and develop communication tools to learn how to communicate better and more deeply. Her expertise in communication lends itself wonderfully to bridging the technological communication gap, and reminds us how easy it is to misunderstand each other when we communicate through technology. She has a wonderful blog that addresses communication issues in relationships, both real life and virtual.

You can email Anna Marie at annamariepedersen@keystonecounseling.org or call 253.651.3377.

Visit her website www.keystonecounseling.org, find her on Facebook and read her blog.

Today’s social campaign: tomorrow’s social office?

David MacEwen with his arms up

Social media is about staying connected. It is not about showing that you care, it is about actually caring.

Yesterday Doña County Commissioner Scott Krahling spoke about why he uses social media. I was really glad he decided to write this guest post.  I have spoken with a number of politicians about their social media campaigns.  There are many who recognize the value and power of social media during campaign season; there are many more who need to embrace the socio-political mobilization happening on social networks.  However, there seems to be a lack in politicians using social media for constituency management.

Social media is a powerful tool for reaching people in a variety of ways and on a variety of platforms.  Of course it is not meant to be used to the exclusion of other forms of communication. But with the prevalence of internet-ready devices, e.g. computers, laptops, tablets (iPad), smartphones and hand held devices, internet accessibility is becoming less of a problem.

There will always be people who shun the idea of social media, and that is why you communicate with them through different channels.  But the continued growth of social media is proving that it isn’t just a fad. Social media is here to stay, and quickly becoming the dominant channel for news and communication.

Since President Obama wowed the world with his innovative social media campaign, politicians have been coming around to the idea that the social networks are a great way to communicate with voters, recruit volunteers, fundraise and increase presence in the public eye.

Brian Colón, candidate for New Mexico Lt. Governor, had one of the strongest social media presences of any  candidate in the state. He used his social networks in a way that not only benefited his campaign, but kept him connected to the community.  Our new Governor, Susana Martinez, also had an incredibly strong social media campaign.  As she enters into her second month in office, she seems to be taking the social campaign to the next level – the social office.

So many miss the mark when it comes to truly accessing the power of social media. They go through the motions but have no commitment to the social campaign. Social media is the new grass roots, and Egypt is the most recent example.

The next election will bring a new round of strong and more deeply committed social media campaigns.  The necessity is overwhelmingly obvious.  The next level of evolution needs to be the integration of social media into the political office; it is time to take it beyond the campaign.  Using social media for constituency communication management is an excellent way to keep your fingers on the pulse of your community. It gives them a voice and a direct line to you.  It will make your time in office stronger, and make running for re-election easier. Social media is not about showing you care for the moment, it is caring for the long run.  Politicians like Scott Krahling are doing this by continually growing their social presence and availability.

How Free is Too Free?

A cardboard sign that says "will work for free"

If you make your living by giving advice and opinions to your clients, where is the line with your friends?

When you are a consultant, or someone who makes their living by providing information, free becomes a big issue. It can be hard to draw the line between free and paid. How do you know when free should stop being free?

I have people asking for my opinions and advice all the time. Friends, family, friends of family, acquaintances, people I just met at a party, that guy who friended me on Facebook, business clients…well, you get the idea. I have no shortage of people who ask me how to manage their social media.

I had a conversation in the not-too-distant past with a potential client who was also a consultant. It’s driving her nuts that everyone requests advice on their industry. She said, “this is what I get paid to do, why should I give it to you for free?” THEN she started asking me for opinions, and reviews that went above and beyond the casual “Do you like Twitter better than Facebook?” kind of question. I was flabbergasted by the irony.

But the obvious overstepping of bounds really made me think about the question, how free is too free?

What is the balance between being generous with information and just simply being taken advantage of?

I had to find an answer to this question that was simple and easy to follow:

If I am willing to blog about it then I am willing to talk about it.

Simple as that.

If you ask me about a topic that I am willing to blog about, that means I am willing to give the information away for free. It doesn’t mean I have written about it, or am even planning to, it just means that I would honestly consider writing about the answer to your question. If I am not sure, or know that it is something I would not consider blogging about, then I do not answer the question.

So how do you tell someone that you will not answer their question? Tune into tomorrow’s post to find out.


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Did you KISS your permalinks? The importance of simplicity.

colorful chain painted on a wall

Are your permalinks pretty, or are they a long messy horror?

Did you KISS your permalinks?  Of course, KISS stands for keep it simple, silly. Short, simple, easy to read permalinks are not only cleaner, but they are important to your SEO, your page load time and the way your site is perceived by visitors and search engines. When it comes to permalinks, simplicity matters.

Permalinks are the permanent web address (URL) for your posts.  Every post has its own unique URL.  A lot of times the default is:

www.yourwebadress.com/f87hne-ijn  or www.blogblog.com/?=145

OK, can you remember it?  I can’t.  When you see this address, does it convey anything to you? Is any information being passed? Nope.

Some permalinks are even longer than that. I am sure you have seen strings of characters that are 3 lines long. If one single letter, number or symbol is wrong then you are directed to a 404 page.  I am actually reticent to click a link that is really long because I question it: could it be spam?

It is hard to think of permalinks as an important part of your business strategy. They aren’t fun, interesting or particularly helpful, so it seems. Generally the only time we think about permalinks is if we are changing their format, and then most of us cringe at the thought of the migration.

Why it matters

  • Search engines don’t like long URLS.  You will have better  SEO if you have short, neat URLS.
  • You can put keywords in your permalinks to help gain higher ranking in search engines.
  • It is very easy to mess up a long URL when sharing links or backlinking
  • Spam? A short clean URL lets people see the path of the link.  A long messy URL can make us wonder where the page is really taking us.
  • Tells you everything. A good permalink can tell you a lot: the date of a post, the category, the keyword, the topic.
  • Clean URLs look more professional. It adds a level of sophistication to your site and shows that you know what you are doing.
  • A bad permalink structure can actually slow down the loading of your page. This has to do with how the page is indexed and read by your server and by the search engines. Here is a great post that addresses this in more detail.

Your blog posts

When you write a new post you should be able to see what your permalink is.  On WordPress, it is directly below the title of your post. Depending on how you have your permalink set, you may have the title of your post integrated into the link.  If this is the case, make sure that your permalink isn’t something like:

http://www.smcubedconsulting.com/2010/07/build-it-and-they-still-may-not-come-why-wont-you-talk-to-me-how-to-get-interactions-on-facebook/

Oh yeah, that is a real link.  Do you see how long it is?  Sure, it tells you that it was posted in July of 2010 and is about why people won’t talk to you on Facebook.  But YOWZA!  It is not as ugly as a string of incoherent numbers, letters and symbols, but it is not exactly clean.

Before you post, take a look at your permalink and check it.  You can edit your link.  Maybe instead of that super long URL, I could have shortened it to:

http://www.smcubedconsulting.com/2010/07/talk-to-me-on-facebook/

It still tells you generally what the post is about without giving you a summary in the link.

Migration:

If you already have a ton of posts, and a horrendous URL, you can still change it.  This is where most people panic.  Because if you change the permalink structure on your site aren’t you changing the URL of every post you have ever written?  Yes.  The way to do that without ruining your SEO, backlinks, trackbacks and inbound links is to use a migration plugin.

The one that I use is the Permalink Migration Plugin for WordPress.

What this will do is create a 301 redirect, which is a permanent redirect for your page. It tells search engines that the old address has been changed to this new address and will automatically send you to that new page. From the visitor point of view, nothing has happened.  From the blog owner point of view, you have just summited the Mount Vesuvius of web issues!

What to do?

  • Get a permalink migration plugin for your blog.
  • Check your links before you post. Make sure they are clean, and shorten them if they are not.
  • Use keywords in the title of your post for better SEO
  • KISS it – keep it simple, silly!

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.