Tag Archives | communications

Social Media is Not the Jazz Age: It’s the 60s

In June, my family and I took the ferry to Governor’s Island. We’d never visited this small island in the New York bay, and we wanted to take advantage of nice weather and bike rentals to explore it.

On the ferry, we suddenly felt transported into another decade. Dapper men with handlebar mustaches, straw hats and bow ties were escorting pearled ladies with hats and gloves. Parasols abounded. Flappers with bobbed hair and short fringed dresses pursed their darkened lips while surveying the modern-day crowd with disapproval.

And we deserved it, I think. I looked around at the rest of us, those not aware that the Jazz Age Lawn Party started at noon on the island. We looked god awful. Faded T-shirts, gym shorts, women make-up free.

It made me feel sad, and it made me miss a time that I’d never really experienced, when people actually dressed up for a weekend outing.

My grandmother was a child of the 1920s era, and she never lost a bit of decorum, insisting on dressing in her Sunday best even at casual weekend gatherings. Unfortunately, I was a child of the 70s. So as a teenager, I rebelled against the formal dress code. Dismissed it. Donned the ripped jeans and the concert T-shirt. I also thought fashion was shallow and below me. I believed in deeper things, stuff that no matter how you dressed it, it demanded respect and thoughtful consideration.

I eschewed the dress code, but I never let down my guard on good writing. Over the years, I did come to appreciate both the art of fashion and the value (and the return) of dressing well. But slipping my writing into a pair of blue jeans never held much appeal to me.

Social media is the 60s counterculture of our era. There is, I think, a deliberate disregard for the finer points of good writing, good spelling, and good grammar.

We’re all too familiar with SMS lingo: “R U @ home?” I understand that all of our text messages can’t be written with perfect grammar (although if you text me, I will reply in full sentences, with words spelled correctly and commas in all the right places). I get it, I do.

But, in all other communications, I don’t think it’s too much to ask for perfection. We need more decorum in our emails, our blog posts, even our Facebook status updates.

Because even if we think the bar is set lower and our colleagues expect imperfection in electronic communications,  a status update riddled with spelling errors (using their for there, for example) creates an insidious impression on your reader.

Whether you’re a business or an individual, people form prejudicial attitudes about you with every word you write. If you want to create a positive reputation, remember that words count. So dress them up – every day of the week.

Social Media as the Court of Public Opinion

Source: Causes.com

“Wow. Just wow.” Those were the leading words of Cecile Richards‘ letter to Planned Parenthood supporters about the impact of social media on her organization. This was the second example in just two weeks in which advocates using social media caused big organizations to reverse their positions.

Let’s run the numbers, shall we?

Susan G. Komen vs. Planned Parenthood:

The Entertainment Industry vs the Internet Industry (SOPA/PIPA debate):

Wow, indeed.

So what went wrong for these chastened organizations? Poor decision-making, sure. Total disregard for two-way communications? Uh-huh. Completely underestimating the wisdom of the crowd? Oh yeah.

For all people might scoff and criticize Mark Zuckerberg, this is exactly the type of open discourse that he imagines Facebook can help create. In his letter to investors, he says:

We believe building tools to help people share can bring a more honest and transparent dialogue around government that could lead to more direct empowerment of people, more accountability for officials and better solutions to some of the biggest problems of our time.

Amazing, actually, that these three events (Komen, SOPA, Facebook IPO) happened within days of each other. I’m not sure if there is some greater god trying to tell us something or if it’s mere coincidence. Whatever it is, there are some important communications lessons here:

  • Behind-closed-doors decisions are gone forever. Transparency is essential for success in today’s marketplace. Every decision you make will be tried in the court of public opinion – and that court is much larger, and its voices much more amplified, than ever before.
  • Your stakeholders expect dialogue – before a decision is made. Communications theorists have called this two-way communications. In the days of mass media (yes, they are long gone), it was one (organization) to many (stakeholders). Now, it’s many stakeholders talking to one organization, and you’d better…
  • Listen, and I mean really listen – and don’t deny. It’s one thing to stand your ground. It’s another to be blind to reality. Komen apparently scrubbed negative comments from their Facebook wall (only in rare cases should you ever do this, and then only when it violates someone’s privacy). Organizations must take what their stakeholders say to heart and incorporate these views into the organization’s decision-making. Today, it’s the only path to success.

What leaders today need to realize: We no longer have a top-down command structure. It’s bottom up. The court of public opinion rules.

Diane Thieke is trying to reinforce her control over her kitchen. But, the dialogue isn’t going well. The three kittens are not budging from the kitchen counter. Follow her on Twitter.

Keeping the Technological Pace

When I was a child, I read a short story in a children’s magazine about a student’s interaction with her teacher. The story captured my imagination because the girl’s instructor was not human. It was a computer.

Given that science fiction writing often imagines the future, it’s probably not surprising that this story is now a reality, as anyone who has attended online training can confirm. What is remarkable is that it ceased to be fiction so quickly.

This speed of change is why I think the new ebook, “Race Against the Machine,” by Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee, should be required reading for anyone in business today, anyone looking for work, or anyone still in school.

The authors argue that humans aren’t keeping pace with the machines: “Digital technologies change rapidly, but organizations and skills aren’t keeping pace. As a result, millions of people are being left behind.” We are facing technological unemployment.

I’m only halfway through this ebook (originally downloaded to my Kindle to Mac, but now reading on my just-out-of-the-box Kindle Touch), so I can’t yet comment on the authors’ conclusions. But I’m familiar with the picture they paint.

I’ve been in digital media for more than 26 years – a very long time. (Mark Z. was an infant when I was angling for my first job at a digital news service.) I know from experience that technology development has very much followed Moore’s Law, and it continues to progress at an exponential rate.

Let’s just look at its impact thus far on the way we communicate. By the mid-90s, email had replaced the paper memo. By the mid-2000s, cellphones, particularly the BlackBerry, were untethering workers from their desks. Laptops were doing the same. SEO was on the rise as a way of lifting your marketing website above the noise. By 2010, the focus was on marketing through social media. People now base buying decisions on opinions broadcast through these channels by their friends. Today, we talk about social SEO, but that’s unlikely to last long, because now we have Siri, which will change what  information we consume on the go. (A good read about this is: “How Apple’s Siri Could Destroy Local SEO.”)

There was a point where we thought technology changed our environment every 18 months. There are days now where I think things change by the minute. It’s as hard to grasp as running water.

It’s fun to imagine where we might be in the next five years. I think it’s safe to say that we’ll be using voice commands to do everything from starting our cars to programming our appliances for cooking a turkey.

But what I’d really like to have is a pet language translator, so that I can understand what my cat has been saying for the last hour and to have her understand why I don’t want her eating my office plant.

What communications innovations do you predict or would like to see?