The Communication Game: Tip #5

February 9th, 2012

Wierd and Wonderful Computer Error Messages

February 2nd, 2012

At one of our team meetings recently, we read through a list of wierd and wonderful error messages created by programmers (we try to have something fun in each meaning).  One could get very philosophical about the deeper meaning of each of these and what they say about life, but they can also be read just for fun and a little light relief :)

(sadly, I don’t know the origin of these or I would happily attribute them back…)

  • I once tried to post-date a piece for publication and was given the error message, “The future has not happened yet.” Wow, really? Thanks for that news flash.
  • I have a system that will occasionally throw out one word… PANIC. Oookay… I have many places that could be in a panic state, can you throw me a clue as to the location, at the very least?
  • Back in the day, my Cadnetix workstation once put up: “We should never get here.” That’s high on my list of informative and reassuring messages.
  • The server understood the request, but is refusing to fulfill it. OK,Hal. This message implies that there is a problem with a rogue server with an attitude problem.
  • “A internal error broke out” – it was exactly this spelling etc.  I often wondered what kind of internal error it was, and where it broke out from!
  • I was creating a HOBS payment back in the 90’s. The create instruction dialogue box popped up to let me the world as we know isn’t real…”the state of the atom is invalid – [OKAY]” Damn. That’s not “OKAY” at all.
  • IF-YOU-ARE-HERE-SOMETHING-IS-TERRIBLY-WRONG. STOP.
  • Many years ago I tried to install a modem program on a Mac. It didn’t work and the error message was: “Installation failed. Something is wrong. Find out what it is, fix it, and try again“.

I’m very proud to tell you that in our company we do not write error messages like these, but we sure had a good laugh over them :)

Katryn Communication, Fun, Technology

Communication 101 – the Communication Model

January 31st, 2012

Communication seems so simple – I say something, you hear it, message received.

Unfortunately, as we all know, the message often isn’t received, or is received wrong.

There’s a model that explains very simply what can go wrong and what the components of communication are.

  1. You have the sender of the message (the communicator).
  2. You have the intended meaning (what I think I think I’m communicating).
  3. You have the medium (how I communicate, whether by words, verbally, by body language).
  4. You have the message itself (the actual words I say or write)
  5. You have the received meaning (what the recipient hears as the message)
  6. You have the recipient (the person on the other end, who is the target of the communication.

If only the intended meaning and the received meaning always matched, life would be simple.  But all too often they don’t.

Many things interfere and mean that the message you receive (or decode) may be extremely different from the message I sent (or encoded).

Picture this scenario:

Person A: “I’m getting better at prioritization” (thinking “I plan my day, I know my top three priorities each day and get them done, I have my urgent/import items organized, and I even led the team meeting last week on the topic of how to prioritize effectively”)

Person B: responds “I’ve found it’s useful to keep of list of what needs to be done so I don’t forget – would you like me to send you an example of the template I use?  And you might find it helpful if we talked about how it’s going from time to time instead of you trying to figure it out all on your own.” (thinking ‘oh, poor A – I know how hard I’m finding it to keep the list up to date and not get discoured, s/he must also find it hard & I can help out because I’ve been doing this for a good month now!’).

This type of misunderstanding is the source of a huge amount of comedy – when it’s harmless as in the above scenario (unless Person A now thinks Person B is a total twit!).

But it can also have much more serious consequences.

Imagine Person A is applying for a job where s/he needs to be a expert in a particular field.  But Person A is modest & says ‘I’m not bad at x, but I still have a lot to learn’ (meaning in comparison to the absolute stars of that particular field) and the interviewer hears that Person A is just at the intermediate level and so does not hire Person A.  Now both the interviewer suffers (not getting the use of Person A’s skills) and Person A also suffers (not getting offered the job).  All because of the difference between the intended message and the received message (and note that neither has much to do with the actual words said!).

Equally in marketing or sales materials, the message we think we are conveying is often not the message actually being received (and I know this from personal painful experience!).

So what is the solution to getting the message across that we intend to send?

The answer is fourfold:

  1. Recognize and understand the difficulty (understanding the model is a solid first step)
  2. Get feedback (opening a feedback loop is the single most effective way to learn what message the recipient thinks you meant to send; this may be asking customers or prospects for feedback, or asking the person you are talking to what they just heard, or asking someone like the person you are creating a message for to tell you what they think it says)
  3. Recognize that one message may have multiple received meanings depending on the recipient (each person brings their own filters, background, past experiences to interpreting a given message, so with one sole communication to multiple people, each one of the recipients may actually receive a different perceived message) – know which types of recipients you are trying to communicate to and focus on those similar types of people – don’t worry about what other possible recipients might interpret
  4. Be aware that no message is ever received exactly as intended – stay alert to hints and indications that tell you that your message is not landing in the way you intended – and don’t take it personally when that happens!

Katryn Best Practices, Communication, Productivity

Top Ten Communication Topics For 2012

January 27th, 2012

Communication is like the hidden grease that makes the wheels turn smoothly in a business – when it’s there, you don’t notice it at all, but when it’s not the pain (and costs!) can grow very rapidly.

One organization that I find often has interesting and valuable resources related to communication is HumaNext, and they recently came out with their top 10 communications topics for 2012, which rang a lot of bells for me so I thought I would share the wealth.

According to their posting, they don’t use surveys to gather data, but rather look at where companies are actually investing money in communication tools and products in order to determine the hot trends.  From that data, they have identified the following top 10 communication trends for 2012 (comments in brackets are mine):

  1. Employee engagement (due to the current economic challenges and need to stretch resources, this keeps its place as a hot topic)
  2. Strategic Communications (more and more communications efforts need to support strategic objectives – which has the pre-requisite of needing the strategic objectives to be understood and communicated!)
  3. Managers as Communicators (ties in the previous item with the need to communicate the strategic objectives)
  4. Communication ROI, Measure and Audit (it’s important to know what the ROI of communications is, but the challenge is a little like preventative health – how do you measure the reduction in cost by preventing problems?)
  5. Leadership Communications (leaders need to be able to communicate effectively and powerfully both within their organizations and to the outside world)
  6. Managing Generations at Work (we’re all familiar with the challenges of different generations working together, but it’s not only the different expectations and attitudes, even the means of communication may be different from gen Y to the older generations)
  7. Electronic Newsletters (companies are doing this more and more, but is the effectiveness still there?  are we getting into information overload / newsletter blindness – I think there are some interesting conversations to be had here.)
  8. Cross Cultural Communication and Global Competence (what is a truly international communication? how do you sell to multiple very different cultures?  what does it mean to be a global organization, or, particularly, to become a global organization)
  9. Diversity and Inclusion (aging workforce, growing awareness of physical and mental disabilities, more and more diverse cultural groups working together, immigration issues, minorities – the discussions can be difficult and even risky for companies)
  10. Social Media (is it a fad, a tool, a money pit?  It’s definitely a hot topic and can give rise to both high potential risks and potential rewards…  Who is it useful for, and how?  And what is the actual payoff?)

All interesting questions that are part of the every day conversations in business, but I found the list interesting and a good starting point for potential discussion.

One other conversation we have been having internally relates to working remotely – while some companies have this nailed and extremely effective, others still struggle with the what, the how, and the maintaining the effective and close working relationships while at a physical distance.

Where are tbe communication challenges in your organization?  One of the above, or something different?

Katryn Business Growth, Communication

Protect Your Brand – Facebook Timeline Changes

January 25th, 2012

Facebook 101:

  1. Some companies use personal pages to promote their business
  2. Some companies have brand pages set up to promote their business
  3. Facebook introduced the new ‘timeline’ feature publicly in mid December 2011 (to much controversy) – this features displays your data differently and allows viewers to scroll through all past posts and activity way back to when you first created your page.  Originally the Timeline was optional.
  4. Yesterday, Facebook announced that the Timeline will be rolled out to all personal pages (i.e. no longer optional) over ‘the next few weeks’ – no more optional.  Once you get timeline (it will appear at the top of your profile, unless you choose to get it now) you will have 7 days to update it and preview it and then it will be rolled out live.

Business Implications

Currently only businesses using personal pages are impacted.  So if you are one of those (or if your personal page is connected to your business profile) you may want to get the timeline at your own convenience (i.e. schedule the time in and then get it yourself) to ensure that you can choose what will show up in the timeline.  You can hide items and delete them from the profile, and you can feature other items.  But don’t let your profile switch without you knowing what is there.

If your company uses a brand page, you are not affected yet (assuming your personal page is completely separate from that brand page).  There has been much speculation about whether the Timeline will be rolled out to brand pages, but no word yet on any plans for that.  However, this may be a good opportunity to do a quick brand review:

  • Does your page reflect your brand accurately?
  • Has this changed over time?
  • Do you need to be concerned if an when the timeline is rolled out for brand pages?  If so, is there someone in your organization that is aware of these possible changes and watching for them?

The biggest risk here is ignorance – when you know it’s coming, you can manage the process and keep aware of what is happening, and make sure that your brand continues to be reflected the way your company wants.

Katryn Communication, Technology, Tips

Meeting BS and Buzzwords

January 8th, 2012

A few weeks ago, I read (while cringing and smiling) TechCrunch’s list of most despised corporate buzzwords from 2011.  Then I came across this crazy tool calling a Meeting BS Generator – the scary thing is that when you try it out, the results almost always sound like they could be real.  So if you need a break between meetings, check it out, and enjoy.  Then try to figure out what you will say in that following meeting, but don’t blame me if you end up silenced.

Katryn Fun

2012 Franchise Growth Industries

January 3rd, 2012

The International Franchise Association has published their 2012 economic outlook. It’s interesting both for those in the franchise industry, and for any business, because if a business in growing in the franchise sector, it’s probably growing in general. You can see the full study at http://www.franchise.org/2012forecast.aspx or the quick fact sheet at http://emarket.franchise.org/EconOutlookFactSheet12.pdf.

The Coles Notes version is that the IFA expects franchising to grow by 1.9% in 2012 and economic output to grow by 5% in the same year.  However, this outlook for growth is highly dependent on which sector one happens to be in.  The highest expected growth within the franchising sector is in Personal Services (which include educational services, health care, entertainment and recreation, personal and laundry services, veterinary services, loan brokers, credit intermediation and related activities, and personal transportation), followed by Retail Products and Services.  Quick Service and Table/Full Service restaurants are expected to surpass all other business formats in growth in 2011 (not just within franchising).

The report has lots of interesting numbers and charts and is created for the IFA by ISH Global insight.

Lastly, for those who really enjoy statistics (and there are lots of them this time of year), here are the Globe and Mail’s predictions about growth industries for 2012: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/report-on-business/small-business/starting-out/top-5-industries-to-start-a-business-in-2012/article2287411/, or for more similar information about franchising, have a look at http://www.entrepreneur.com/article/222412.

Enjoy the new year, and remember that while the statistics are important, what you do in your own business is equally important and growth challenges can hit any company in any industry, but they’re certainly better than the alternative :)

Katryn Business Growth, Franchise

Your Secret Weapon for Social Media

September 15th, 2011

What is your motivation behind starting a social media campaign?

Social media is all the buzz; it’s unavoidable whether you are at work or play.  It is extolled online by bloggers and web writers, and is ballyhooed in traditional learning environments like conferences and seminars.

Not only are we constantly being bombarded by social media, we are being sold on it.secretweapon

Most of the information serves to hype the various platforms and to illustrate how ‘easy’ it is to get up and running.  This hype gets people eager to join in, or feeling like they should join in when they don’t want to.  A critical component has been left out.  The secret weapon behind a successful foray into social media lies in your answer to one question:

What are you trying to achieve?

Without asking this question first, it is easy to get overwhelmed and confused.  Multiple options, peer pressure and media hype can leave you stressed and unsure where or how to begin.  You may shut down at this point, or -worse- jump in feet-first, ending up frustrated and entangled in an unproductive task.

Once you know clearly what your goals are, building an effective social media strategy is almost formulaic – just follow the steps to get to your goal.  Social media is a tool to help you get where you’re going:  it is not an end in itself.

A social media campaign is strategically no different than a traditional marketing campaign: it all begins with specifically identifying what you want to accomplish.

You can’t hit a target you can’t see, and you can’t see a target you do not have. (Zig Ziglar)

This means that before you commit to a social media plan, you need to know what the success measures will be.

  • Are you looking for more customers?
  • Increased sales from existing customers?
  • Are you looking to increase traffic to your website?  If so, why?
  • Is it a branding exercise?  A public relations move?
  • Are you trying to build credibility with prospects reached by your sales team?
  • Are you trying to find strategic partners to work with?

Know what you want to accomplish, and then check out companies that have successfully done what you want to do, and see how they did it.  For example, Blenz Coffee has been extremely successful in getting great PR using social media.  They also use it to increase sales to existing customers and to find new customers.  Do a simple google search for ‘Blenz Social Media’ for some great examples of ways to get achieve business results.

But before you try to jump in, remember the question – what do you want to accomplish? And if you look at the best ways to accomplish your goal, is social media the right tool for your company?

Katryn Best Practices, Business Growth, Technology, Tips

The communication game: Tip #4

September 9th, 2011

SQUAWK?

Ever been ostrichized by insider jargon?  Then you’ll enjoy this fourth communication tip from Open Box.

Check out the earlier tips if you missed them:

Communication game: tip #1 (working miracles)

Communication game: tip #2 (what goes bump in the dark)

Communication game: tip #3 (what lurks in the seas)

Katryn Communication, Fun, Video Tips

Bill C-28 – Are you an Inadvertent Spammer?

September 7th, 2011

InadvertantSpammerAre you a spammer?

Most companies will answer ‘of course not!‘.  But are you aware of Bill C-28 and the implications it may have for your business – particularly your sales and marketing processes?  There are a lot of good articles online aboutmarketing compliance for email marketing and newsletters, but it’s important not to forget that your sales processes may be affected as well – certainly if you do cold calling to potential prospects.  Here is the skinny to help you avoid being an inadvertent spammer.

Who

Bill C-58 is specific to ‘commercial messages’ – according to some, this does not apply to other types of email messages that are purely transactional or provide information requested by the recipient or in follow-up to a transaction that has occured.  I would love to know if downloading a white paper or other document from a website is considered a transaction for these purposes – if so, the value of content downloads would be reinforced as part of a marketing program.

Basically any company that sends commercial messages needs to be aware of the regulations and evaluate the impact on their processes and how they will ensure compliance

Why

For example, When you are developing sales processes, do you have a cold-calling process where you then follow up by email?  If so, you want to be very aware of the new regulations coming in, and of the contents of Bill C-28.  The penalties are stiff.  Individuals can face fines of up to $1 million, while businesses face penalties of up to $10 million per violation.

What

If you use emails for prospecting, make sure that you either have consent (this can include such things as the prospect having given you their business card or email address, or having published their email address without a statement saying that they do not wish to received unsolicited commercial electronic messages) or that you have an existing business relationship with the customer.

You also need to ensure that your emails include contact information of the sender (including company name, contact name, address and phone number) and a clear and easy way to unsubscribe.

When

One of the key questions about Bill C-28 is when it will come into effect.  The deadline for comments on the draft legislation is September 7th, 2011.  The implementation will likely follow relatively quickly afterwards (i.e. late 2011 or early 2012).

How

Industry Canada has a Q & A page about Bill C-28 that outlines some common questions and answers, but it doesn’t have a lot of detail about how this affects your business.  Check it out for a basic grounding in what the bill covers.

You can find the Industry Canada draft regulations online to read all the details for yourself.

At Open Box, we have always done our best to follow best practices for all newsletters we send out, but after a review of these regulations, we are updating our signatures to include more detailed information (i.e. our address – we used to just have a link to our website), as well as ensuring that all emails to any type of prospect or new connection we have met include an ‘unsubscribe’ link that will flow through to our customer relationship systems.

Katryn Best Practices, Communication, Marketing