Friday, November 21, 2014

What I learned about Digital Communication from R2D2

My old muse R2D2 ...
Regular readers of the Text-to-Me blog or my Twitter account will be fully aware of my first love - R2D2. While my girlfriends left the cinema swooning after Hans Solo or Luke Skywalker, I left with a crush on a droid and what turned out to be a life-long love affair with communicating technology.

Hopefully we aren't too far off the day where tablet PCs will seem passe and we will all have droid doppelgangers doing the hard work of communicating for us. As humans we seem to all fail miserably at perfecting our communication performance so isn't this a prime space for a robot to enter and help us with our lives?

If R2D2 could help Princess Leia in her time of need ... why not send R2D2 to do my bidding with humans for me?  Save me the angst of misunderstandings and putting my foot in my mouth please  ... Such a droid would be the best friend of every introvert on the planet!

Until R2D2 and his buddies are ready to be the heroes of the world's introverts, here are five lessons we can learn from R2D2. Lessons for the quagmire that is the digital communications landscape, where taking offense is a sport and being misunderstood is a daily occurrence.

The traits of R2D2 give us a platform for building our social media merely by looking at how he navigated his way into our hearts (and every Star Wars series movie), and then went on to save the Star Wars Universe.  
  1. Own your name (or a pseudonym if appropriate for your branding). No matter how difficult you think it might be for people to remember . Your name is, or will soon be your brand. When you hear "R2D2" you don't think of any other droid you have seen in a Star Wars movie - you think of the one trusted by Princess Leia.  Your name is your brand. Use it consistently across all social media - not unlike R2D2 who is seen in the entire Star Wars series along with other robots, but you always recognise him as the 'original'. Don't worry if you think your name isn't memorable - you never hear R2 complaining that George Lucas named him after Reel and Dialogue Track coordinates now do you? Protect the integrity of your name - and consequently your brand.
  2. You need a look. Initially R2D2 simply existed in George Lucas's imagination, and then R2D2's artwork was created by Ralph McQuarie.  Despite not having humanoid features such as a face and arms, R2D2 was immediately likable. It's a little easier for us as humans, already being born and all, now all you need to do is have a great profile picture taken - or get an artist to create an avatar. Along with your name, your face (or image) are the next most significant part of your brand.  A bright orange and purple R2D2 wouldn't be the same as our silver, white and blue friend. We connect with what we see, and as humans communicating via computers, an image becomes vitally important. To be fair, while R2D2 has a trusted 'face', he used holographic technology to help humans get their message across. The importance of a face in human communication is well understood by this clever droid.
  3. You need to exist in the digital world. George created R2D2 into imaginations, Ralph McQuarie interpreted George's imagination on to paper ... but let's be fair here ... R2D2 only became real, when he was built by Tony Dyson.  R2's whirring bits and characteristic droid swagger are what we initially fell in love with. The lesson here? Stop thinking about your social media platforms and profiles, and build yourself into digital existence. If like R2D2 you need the assistance of an expert to become 'real', then ask for help. Unfortunately we don't all have the creative genius of Tony Dyson to 'make us real', but you can easily do the research and join the appropriate platform for your social presence in the Star Wars digital universe.
  4. Communicate clearly.  Keep your language clear and concise. R2D2 spoke droid, but we understood his meaning at every turn - and could even interpret his mood by his actions. When in doubt about humans understanding him, R2D2 used holographic technology to show us what he meant - so don't underestimate the value of pictures and images to get your point across as well.
  5. Play nicely.  Let's face it - R2D2 took his task seriously when he carried Princess Leia's message. He was on a mission to save the Star Wars universe. He was assertive but not rude, took confidentiality seriously, and ensured his message got into the right hands, and was well understood. The lesson here is to communicate in a way that makes the world a better place. No one wants  the reputation of office cyber bully while what is critical to your success is building effective relationships around you. Keep your bad news to yourself, deal with feedback face-on, and play nicely while you do good. You would rather be likened to R2 than grumpy complaining C3P0 now wouldn't you?
(This post is dedicated to Tony Dyson who brought R2D2 out from the imagination of others, into our joint reality, and to this day continues to make the digital world a better place).

Monday, September 15, 2014

Who owns your digital profile?

Employees and employers alike need to be aware of the implications of professional profiles, profile pictures and bios that are posted online as part of workplace web sites and social media accounts.

Let's start with the basics. Your name is yours. When you post socially, any social media accounts - their pictures and content are all yours right?  Well not in every case. Employers who are relying on your profile for their networking are getting smart and asking employees, especially high profile ones such as in the media, to hand over their accounts and associated passwords. In some cases they are even suggesting they might keep ownership over professional accounts after you cease employment with them.

If you use your name on a social media account for professional reasons like marketing yourself and the company you work for, check your contract and organisational policies to see where you stand. None of us enjoy reading the small print, but it's worth knowing where you stand.
Source: Free Digital Photos

If you are setting up a professional profile on social media and using it as part of promoting where you work - have a conversation (and follow it up in writing) about the ownership of this account, and it's content both for today - and if you should resign. This is particularly important if you are in media type organisations where your profile and name are part of what the organisations "sells" in their marketing.

Employers - if you have personalities you rely on for your marketing, and they are doing this on personal social media accounts - then you need to look at contracts, organisational policies and have a chat to your HR team or occupational lawyers about where you stand. It's a real business risk to have someone central to your marketing resign - and take all your customers with them.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Join the #Hashtag Revolution

I think it might make me old to remember when # was simply a hash, pound or number symbol.  To be honest I hardly remember using it on my keyboard a few years ago - while now it could easily be the first one to fade away.

In computing and technological fields the hash symbol has been used in early programming languages so its use as a metadata tag isn't a surprise.

The term hashtag (as opposed to just the hash) was coined in 2007 by Ben Zimmer when he was Chair of the American Dialect Society's New Words Committee, but its use became ubiquitous with Twitter in 2009 when Twitter added a #hashtag search option. In June this year (2014) the term hashtag was admitted into the Oxford English Dictionary.

Twitter is not the only place to use hashtags. While there are a number of websites that support hastag use, the most common ones are also currently Facebook, Google +, Flickr, Instagram and Tumblr.

Why bother with the hashtag? 

  1. It is supported by a number of websites, as a useful tool for searching and finding people around common themes. Find likeminded people, customers, and even your competitors and know what the conversations are that are important to these stakeholders.
  2. Find events in your industry.  While events such as conferences usually have an acronym for their hashtags (so they don't get caught up in cross fire conversations), you can usually get the details of these from conference websites.
  3. Like hashtags can help you find people - they can also assist you to find information that is critical to you (or just interesting!).
  4. And just for fun (and increased engagement and brand awareness), you can set up hashtags  to start a buzz about a service, topic or product! If your hashtag starts trending on Twitter you know you have been super successful!
So hashtag away!

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Choosing Social Media Platforms - the retro way

Let's start by saying everyone, and every company who wants to be known for anything, needs a platform for sharing their skills, wares and knowledge successfully. Let's also acknowledge that there are a plethora of social media platforms to choose from. With these two facts at hand we face the challenge - how do we know which platform to use? (Quickly followed by how do we use it well?).

An easy way to start is to look at the big six - and I am well aware you might argue with me here but just suspend your disbelief for a moment.

Facebook is a popular visually based platform - though for success you also need to include some short sharp punchy copy. For companies, the images need to be pretty polished and should always be originals. 

Even more visual are Pinterest and Instagram, though on both of these platforms you can get away with a less polished image, as long as you let your personality shines through.

The best platform for video images is YouTube of course, but the competition is pretty strong and the bar is set high if you want your video to go viral (with the exception of some strange obsession the planet has for crazy cat videos).

A more text based platform is the micro-bloggin platform Twitter, although you can upload images. A trending hashtag can be a great marketing tool, but you will only maintain quality followers if you have quality content - which might mean creating some content not so closely related to your products and services.

LinkedIn as a professional networking platform is useful for small and personality based businesses, and while it is primarily about your career, it can be easily manipulated to offer your offerings to connections.

With minimal research you can match you various target markets, with your services and products through two or more well-performing platforms.  It's easy to get professional help - or you could learn a lot just by googling the benefits and challenges of each.

So what is the retro way?  Well it is critical to remember that while you might be using these platforms for professional  purposes - they are social in nature. That means they are based on relationship building and that effective communication is at the base of all social media platforms.

The cautionary tale here, is not to overlook the retro ways of networking and relationship building. Face-to-face meetings, seminars, product launches, or even a Friday lunch. Or you could pick up the phone, drop by a customer's office with muffins for the staff, send a handwritten note or card of thanks. The point here is simply to remind you that when picking your platform(s), don't forget that communication is at the heart of those choices - and sometimes the retro way might just be the platform of choice.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

The skill of written sarcasm

It is so easy to get into trouble with online communication.  Missing intonations, and the nods and winks of face-to-face settings can make it difficult to asses what another person is saying. We forget how reliant we are on body language and paralanguage such as inflections when working out the intent of another person's content. And therein lies the major problems with digital communications and getting it right.

From Free Digital Photos
One of the more difficult 'inflections' of verbal speech to make clear in online communications is sarcasm.  Sarcasm has Greek roots and means 'to tear apart'. While sarcasm can be meant to be cruel, it might also be simply a mechanism for humour, or more commonly, merely saying the opposite of what you mean - to make a point. It might be mock criticism or an exercise in being subtle.

Some language commentators argue that sarcasm is a destructive form of language. It is true that sarcasm can be lost on people who don't understand the context of what you are saying, who speak a different first language to you, or for people with some cognitive disabilities. But for most adults, in  verbal settings, they are able to recognise sarcasm for what it is - merely a tool to help make your point at the time. 

Oscar Wilde said: "Sarcasm is the lowest form of wit, but the highest form of intelligence", so it is fair to believe that sarcasm may have a use in written digital communication like texts, blogs, tweets and status updates. How do we ensure that our sarcasm is understood? How do we assess whether what we are reading is a sarcastic comment or not?  The inability to do either of these is where trouble starts in online relationship building!

There is no universal or standard mechanism for announcing our sarcasm online. While commentators have tried, the use of various punctuation marks to indicate sarcasm has not been universal enough to be trustworthy.  Here are some signs to look out for (or use):

  • Read for context. Context, or moving away from usual writing patterns, is often the first clue to sarcasm. This is something we scan for in face-to-face situations successfully so it is worth applying to online communications.
  • Look for odd punctuation or formatting - like bolded words, words surrounded by *asterisks*, and "inverted commas" as examples.  In some circles an inverted exclamation point, tilde ~, or exclamation point in brackets (!) is considered sarcasm. Know your audience and particular netiquette which is applied in differnt groups.
  • Watch for changes in spellings or elongated words such as "liiiiike" or "reaaaaalllllyyy" which are attempting to indicate a particular sarcastic tone. 
  • Emoticons - usually smilies :-), tongue poking :-Q or winks ;-) might also indicate a sarcastic tone.While :S, :-7, and ;S  are also commonly attributed to sarcasm.
  • Associate a picture with your statement - a cartoon or relevant photograph might help you make clear that your point is sarcastic
  • When in doubt about your ability to demonstrate your sarcasm use the hashtag #sarcasm, to ensure there is no misunderstanding of your meaning.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Is your message clear?

Whether you are writing a 140 character tweet or a missive in the form of a blog post, is your message clear?

Start by thinking about the following:
  • Are you clear about who your potential audience is?
  • What one piece of information  (or question) do you need your audience to understand?
It is easy to confuse a really simple message with  background information - resulting in your core message being lost.  It is just as easy to loose your  message if you are saying too much.

 Try using these top ten tips to keep your message clear in your digital communication:
  1. Reduce your words
  2. Shorten your sentences
  3. Edit and double check that your punctuation helps your meaning
  4. State your main message. If you have space- re-state it - slightly differently.
  5. Use simple language
  6. Be specific
  7. If you want people to take action as a result of your work - make it clear and ask
  8. Include relevant information - including a way for people to 'check-in' to see if they understand your meaning
  9. Be polite - it keeps people on-side and stops their emotions getting in the way of understanding your meaning
  10. Re read your work - or get someone else to - and edit until your message is crystal clear.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

What constitutes 'professional' and 'personal' in digital communication?

Many of us have both a professional digital profile and a personal one.  Perhaps you use Twitter for professional networking and Facebook for family and friends.  Some of your digital life might be more blurry - with a Pinterest account where you do a bit of both.  Making the decision on which platforms to use for what is a discretionary skill in itself - usually followed by a series of decisions where all the options are shades of grey.

Let's say you have made a decision not to have your boss as a friend on Facebook.  In most cases this is an easy one.  However, what about that colleague you have become friendly with at work?  When she asks you to become her friend on Facebook - what is your response?  If she has high privacy settings you won't be able to tell who else SHE is friends with - meaning some of your content could end up in places you are unsure of. If SHE is friends with the boss/suppliers/clients then you could easily become compromised professionally - from actions you take in your personal life.  The decision is not so little is it?

Image from Free Digital Photos
Let's try another example.  You've been emailing back and forth with a client for nearly two years now.  You have never met.  In the past few months the emails have included questions (and answers) around friendly questions like "How was your weekend?" or "What do you have planned for Friday night"?  You feel like you have a slightly personal relationship with your correspondent after so many months emailing back and forth.  You share details of your personal life - as do they.  It is reciprocal and not unlike meeting up with people in professional settings where it becomes friendly, but not necessarily become friends. How do you assess how any particular email might look in isolation to your boss? The lines between personal and professional are easily blurred in person - but even more so online.

There are no quick and fast rules on line.  Despite common agreements founded in organisations which we might call netiquette or strict policy guidelines - we are often functioning out there with little or no idea of where the personal vs professional boundary is .We can consider the following though.  That everything you type is permanent ... and ... everything you type is potentially public.  Consider those two facts before you hit send.  That's about as simple as the advice on this can be!

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Digital Distractions - Ten Top Tips to Regain Real Control

From: FreeDigitalPhotos
The research is now clear - multi tasking is not efficient or effective.  And yet we continue to attempt it.  Jumping from email to SMS, report writing to telephone call, tweet reading to article, and back to email and text at the end of the 20 minutes just described! Each attention shift requires a cognitive change, some require a physical change (though often not as many as our bodies would prefer if you are in an office bound job), and most require a change in target audience, tone of communication tone and focus.

Yes we can do all this in quick succession, and even do some mighty fine work. But it is neither effective nor efficient. Here are ten top tips from colleagues who are tiralling different ways of working in order to work smarter in a digital world full of distractions:
  1. Try scheduling your time for 'legitimate' distractions, and also for critical work which requires intense concentration.  The Pomordoro technique is great for this.
  2. Turn OFF the notifications on your mobile devices, PC and telephone - better still have periods in the day where all devices you aren't currently using are turned off.
  3. Choose to achieve only one task at a time.  This requires more attitude change than you might initially be capable of - rise to the challenge.
  4. Give the password to your favourite social media distractions to a trusted colleague and ask them to change your password - and not tell you what it is until a critical task or project is finished. NB: a colleague who did this recommends that you get them to write it down and pop it in a sealed envelope to reduce your stress about what would happen if the aforementioned colleague disappeared!.
  5. As a work team, choose to have email-free days or work hours.  It increases productivity and builds face-to-face relationships in a co-located team.
  6. Only allow yourself to take distracting mobile devices into certain areas of your workplace or home. For example no mobile devices in the home office and no mobile phones to the tea room at work.
  7. Set yourself two accounts for logging on to your computer.  One which allows social media distractions and one which only has your key work items on it.  Purposefully choose which account you open your PC with!
  8. An oldie but goodie - a colleague reminded me of the auto email filing feature on most email programs.  You can set up rules for your emails to go directly into pre-established mail folders.  These might include folders for e-newsletters, particular clients or projects and even one for *that* friend who hasn't taken the hint to stop sending you email jokes to your work account.
  9. Set up auto replies on all your digital accounts from email to SMS and other messaging and social programs such as Skype and Facetime. Have auto replies which set up reasonable expectations for people corresponding with you.  People feel you understand their frustration - and yet also understand the limitations of your time.
  10. Join the 'walking meeting' craze and get addicted to this healthy productivity tool (though it's been around for centuries) - it only works if you don't take any mobile digital tools with you though!

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Does your (email) signature matter?

Image from FreeDigitalPhotos
When Raymond Tomlinson sent his first email in 1971 it said "QWERTYUIOP" and had no email signature.  Short, sharp and with no point except to test the technology, some go so far as to say that this first email makes more sense than all the subsequent ones put together!

Our reliance on emails for communication within and between organisations has seen email become more used for communication than the telephone or any other form of written communication.  More closely linked to a letter or memo than any other form of communication, emails took on the form of a signing off practice, not unlike the signature of a memo or letter.  While graphologists will argue that you can determine the personality traits and characteristics of someone from analysing their hand-written signature, there is no such claim to the email (or forum) signature.  Your email may be used for digital impression management though - and many organisations now have a standardised 'look and feel' requirements embedded in policy or practice for this particular reason.

Often called signature blocks, these "sign offs" have developed around the cultures and sub-cultures of senders and sending groups.  While they most often contain useful contact details (both digital and physical), over time there have emerged ASCII art, image attachments and the practise of adding buttons, badges and even motivational sayings.  It is these embellishments which cause the controversy.  What do they say about you?  Or your company? Are they helping you to build your digital professional network?  And, because in some cases they are, is the signature just down right annoying?!

The rules (or netiquette) surrounding email use has developed over time, however it began with the RFC 1855 on netiquette. The contents of 1995 Request for Comment (RFC)  are often quoted as 'netiquette gospel', but its use is more often in understanding the intended use of Internet based communications and protocols, for us to then develop up-to-date guidelines which promote effective communication.

It was in RFC 1855 that the "four line signature block" protocol emerged. It made sense to distribute your contact details (including your email address) in such early communication when searching for email addresses was nigh impossible.  The four line length also made sense as early Internet users were also encouraged to reduce their bandwidth use. It is fair to remain considerate of these elements today.  Searching email addresses can still be problematic, and with the exponential growth of mobile devices and the cost of data, keeping communication sort and simple is still appreciated.

Despite this however, email signatures in some organisations (or departments) are becoming simply annoying.  It is easy to  append an automatic signature to an email account, and useful to do so. The downside is that some people have them appended to every email they write, meaning email addresses lengthen every forward and email trail you receive. What message does this give out about you and your consideration of others?

What does your ASCII art or image say about you while we are at it too?  Quirky and fun might be fine to send to a close work mate on a Friday afternoon - but it gives a different message to a new colleague you have just begun networking with.  Marketing departments are now requiring staff to add more and more to their email signatures in order to promote both company and individuals. This is all well and good - but there is often a fine line between image control and a spam like advertisement on every email.

Take five minutes out of your day today to check your email  signatures by checking the following:
  1. Is the information current and correct?
  2. Is the signature using the least amount of space and characters possible - while still remaining legible?
  3. Is the signature free from typos?
  4. Does your signature follow organisational policies?
  5. Are the auto-rules set on your email client for your signature "friendly"?  (for example, if you work in a small company with only 6 employees, your internal emails probably don't require signatures at all!). Check to see if you have an option to turn off your signature for certain emails or situations.
  6. Use imagery sparingly, if at all.  
  7. Do images create a sound impression of you and your organisation?

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Who are you talking to?

Whether starting a new blog, Twitter account or other digital media communication forum - or simply reviewing the work on a current one - focus is the key to success.  Like or not you are marketing your profile when you enter the world of social media, and despite the privacy settings available, you really never know who is watching you and what part they may play in your life.
From: Free Digital Photos

While we have little control over who is reading our thoughts online, we can target our digital conversations to particular groups. Any effective communication plan will begin with a set of goals and hearty conversation about two key things. Who are we talking to and what message do we want to send out? This is as critical for individuals as it is for organisations.

Some tips to get you started thinking about this if you are reviewing your digital footprint, or  you are just starting out:

  1. What groups or types of people do I hope will read what I have to say?
  2. What do I hope they get from reading my digital conversations?
  3. What else might they find useful that I could share?
  4. Who else to they know I hope they share my thoughts with?
  5. Can I keep this focus fresh for a long period of time?
  6. How will this message and set of followers make me look to people who are important to me?
Get these six areas right and your blog (or other digital conversation piece) will live a long and useful existence.  Is it time to check you are still on track?

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Creating Quiet Noise

Some of us can't work if the environment is totally silent. Most of us get bored if there isn't enough work to do .  Too much noise, or too much work and life starts to feel a little stressful.  Too little social networking at work means you don't have active contacts when you need them - too much chatter and time spent on social media and no work gets done. Striking a balance is an art form.

That is where quiet noise comes in.
Image from Free Digital Photos

Consider digital noise, in digital communications, as the amount of chatter, clutter and notifications in our digital communication. This includes our SMS communications, our Facebook notifications, email and chat pop-ups and Tweets bursting through our many devices. Even if you have the sound turned down, these notifications are 'noisy'. They provide us with clutter and if there are too many, too quickly when there are other stresses at work, they can be the straw that breaks the camel's back on a stressful day.

It is easy to loose sight of the value of digital communication. It is swift, it crosses temporal and geographical barriers and it provides us with quick answers and permanent records of conversations. But it quickly looses its value if it is overused.

Effective digital communications strikes a balance with quiet noise. Clients, customers, peers, management and suppliers want effective responses to their communications - but none of them want to be bothered with drivel or the latest You Tube hit when they are already busy trying to get through their text messages and emails on any given day. Your 'what's up' text or link to a funny pic Tweet is just noise. Irritating, loud noise.  They will block it out - and if you continue to send too many they will eventually block you out of their social network either literally or by not prioritising any of your digital communication with them.

So how do we keep up the relationship and not over do the communication while doing so?  It's learning to use quiet noise. It is the useful Tweet linking them to a supplier you talked about when you last met, or replying speedily with information they ask for on email, or managing to send your entire order to them in one SMS (and not going over to two!).

This week try an audit of the people who create noise and quiet noise in your digital network.  Which one do you think you are to them? Remember that saying nothing can be saying a lot - and saying too much digitally (like face-to-face) is just down right annoying.

Monday, November 12, 2012

"Send" Regret

Ever said something in anger and lived to regret it? 

In the digital age, the equivalent is shooting off a Tweet while you are crazy angry about something (only to find out you got your facts wrong) or commented on someones Facebook status when they were frustrating you.  Just as bad in the workplace is not thinking, and counting to ten, before pressing send on an email when you are feeling emotional.

It seems one of the most powerful things we do with our words these days is to press "send".

Image from
In the old days you could perhaps camp beside the mail box to retrieve a letter before it got sent off - today our messages move so quickly it is critical that we slow down.

Slowing down when we read, and reading digital communications out loud helps us to understand not only what someone writes, but what their intention is.

Slowing down when we write digital communications, and taking time to re-read our words, research our story and perhaps even save a draft overnight helps us to create a positive relationship every time we hit "send".

Failing to do this means we not only put gaps in our interpersonal relationships, but there is a permanent record in someones cache somewhere reminding us all of our errors.  They can hurt people again and again.

Other than taking your time, here's five tips to help you press send with respect - and always look calm and peaceful in your digital communications (even if you are seething inside!):

  1. Use full sentences, greeting/sign off etiquette and spell check. There is nothing like a poorly edited or constructed digital communication to make you look like you might just not be in charge of your emotions ...
  2. Re-read everything you write. Read it to yourself, read it out loud.  Double check the punctuation and grammar. Check in on the language you are using.  Without the beauty of body language, digital communication is easily open to misinterpretation. Make sure what you say is what you mean.  
  3. Check all digital communication for its ability to build relationships, not hinder them. Use the same tools of interpersonal communication you would use face to face. Be polite, be open to learning from each other and don't say anything you wouldn't put your face to on an opening page of Google! While the front page of the local paper might end up in the bin tomorrow - what you say digitally is permanently retrievable.
  4. Don't press send.  Remember that if you are feeling frustrated or any other heightened emotion then this is possibly not the time to communicate.  You might need time to process information or do some research.  
  5. Chose to meet with your correspondent. Digital communication via SMS or email might not be the tool of choice for your argument. Face to face communication is often a better choice - or the telephone if this is not possible.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Attachment Disorder

A regular reader suggested I bring the use of attachments to the fore here on Text-to-Me.  You know what I mean, those lengthy missives people attach to their brief well written emails - usually for the purpose of you reading them! Pretty much any file attached to your email is considered an attachment. It might be a text document, video, image or pretty much any file which meets the size (or other) requirements of your particular email server.

From: Freedigitalphotos
Sending attachments around the globe, and so quickly, was one of the reasons I really liked email when I first started using it. It makes for an easy and speedy way of sharing work with others. While in some quarters email attachments are becoming less popular - with the use of cloud accounts like Dropbox  or Google Docs where you can share documents, or Flickr where you can share photos - they are a part and parcel of the email culture in most organisations.

A good receiver be!

Let's start with the receiving of attachments. A little like the rules in administering first aid - first do no harm. Ensure you only open attachments from a trusted source, and ensure that your security software checks them all.  This includes the settings on your mobile devices. Remember that emails are filtered by corporations and may not get to your inbox if you have attachments which are deemed unsafe or possible SPAM.  So if you are expecting attachments from a colleague, check to make sure their email has not ended up in your SPAM folder. (you DO check that folder occasionally don't you?).

Secondly - know your email software. Attachments will 'appear' different in various email programs.  If you have more than one program ensure you know how to check, send and open attachments in all programs. Most programs will have a paperclip symbol accompany emails with attachments in your inbox as a hint.

Importantly - read them.  Or at least open them to see what they are (if you are sure they are from a 'safe' source).  The sender intended you to have them for some reason - so do the courtesy of checking them. If they are useful or you may need them in the future, save them in folder on your computer - don't assume you will be able to find them again on your email program in three months time! It is frankly annoying, and not great relationship building, to have to ask someone to re-send them because you never thought enough of them to save them.

Be a courteous correspondent.

Now to sending them. If you want your attachments read, then you might want to take a little more time in preparing them for sending. First - is it necessary to send them?  For example if you are working on a virtual team project there are many other ways to work collaboratively on documents using cloud based file storage or internal file exchange systems. This is particularly useful for large files. If you have a large number of visuals, a cloud based storage may be a better option for these too.  Failing that - consider zipping (compressing) the files so they don't use up too much space.

Having determined the attachments are necessary to send, consider your reader. If they are critical, you may wish to pre-empt the attachment's arrival. Anyone working in a large organisation may never receive them if they are considered SPAM by the incoming server. If they are expecting them, they will at least be able to track them down. If you don't warn them - perhaps send a followup email.

Another polite consideration is the file name.  While it might make sense to you to have the file called GTR-456 or PDF6, ensure it also makes sense to the recipient. Calling the file by the report title, with a date and version number could be much more effective.

You also need to consider the format you send your attachments. If you want to ensure they are easily read consider sending them as a PDF.  With the predominance of iPads in the tablet market you probably don't want to send attachments requiring Flash to view them, as iPads and Flash still aren't (easily) compatible .

Always use a pertinent subject line and perhaps a line in the body of the email as well letting the recipient know what you want them to do with the attachments. Are they FYI or do they require action? Be specific.

If the attachment is of a private nature, first consider if email is the best way to get it to the recipient, and then consider encrypting it or passwording the file. Of course you wouldn't send the password in the body of the same email would you?

Whether recipient or sender be - consider the netiquette of attachments.  And if you haven't used cloud based programs for sharing documents yet, now might be the time to consider their use.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Fail to Scroll at Your Own Peril!

One of the skills identified in my research on computer mediated communication is a really simple one.  Like most simple concepts, it is one that if you get it wrong the consequences can be moderately disastrous.  It is, quite simply, scrolling down!

Think about it.  Have you ever missed a really important point because you didn't quite scroll down far enough in an email trail?  Or perhaps you only half read your Twitter feed this morning and missed a critical Tweet.  Discussion Boards are another space where scrolling down can stop you from making the proverbial idiot of yourself when you write something someone else has already covered.

Image: from
Most of us are oblivious to how often we do scroll - most operating systems and web designs mean we scroll every time we open a web site. The skill of scrolling down is both the motor art - physically scrolling and knowing the easiest way to do this depending on your hardware and software.  When I'm on my PC using the trackball to scroll would be my favoured method - but I know others who swear by the up and down arrows. It's a matter of personal preference.

More importantly it is the skill of remembering to scroll- and the associated skill of being able to read postings/emails in a backwards thread.  This non-linear reading is a skill we have developed along with digital communication technology. The associated skill here is time management. Most people who can tell you about a "I didn't scroll through" disaster, will give context to the story by pre-empting how busy they were at the time. It is critical not to underestimate the concentration and time required to scroll or read non linear threads accurately - and then also critically evaluate them.

The equivalent old skills would be scanning a set of letters, turning the page of a memo, or simply taking the time to read correspondence through to the end. Somehow the speed of digital communications makes us think we need to be speedy in our scrolling and reading. Not so! It has the potential to make idiots of the best of us. Slow down and scroll - you never know, if you read until the end there might not be any action required by you!

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Could you be a Big Brother Housemate?

What would happen if all your internet connected devices were taken away from you?  What would your reaction be and what would you miss the most?  Give a thought to this year’s Big BrotherSeries 9 housemates who went into lockdown last Saturday. They had their mobile devices taken away and to top this off are not able to access the media in any form either.  I am feeling frustrated because I can’t take my mobile or iPad in when I watch the launch on Sunday - that’s bad enough!  For the first time in the Australian series we are about to witness what happens when people used to constant digital contact have to do without it for 100 days.  Watching Big Brother could be painful as we watch housemates withdraw from being connected - not only from family and friends in person, but also from people via digital communication.  What a way to kick this particular addiction!

Image from: Free Digital Photos
We might not write lengthy letters to keep in touch with one another anymore, but we certainly write a lot to each other if you consider your emailing, SMSing, Facebook messages and Tweets.  It all adds up. What also adds up is the amount of time we spend each day on social media and our mobile devices and computers.   Tablet computer sales have outstripped PCs and there are more mobile phones than people in Australia.  You could call text based communication a national phenomenon.

It’s not until we lose our mobile phone or our internet connection goes down with the power that we understand our reliance on computer-mediated communication.  In an emergency this can be critical.  It is a ubiquitous part of our lives.  It doesn’t hurt to stand back for a bit and contemplate what these devices and apps bring [or detract] from our lives.

 For me - instead of going cold turkey I think I will just enjoy watching the Big Brother housemates and see how they cope! 

[Check out my article for Online Opinion about the BB phenomenon and social media if you are interested to consider this some more ... and the official Facebook page is already raring to go and the official Twitter feed can be found at #bbau9.]

Monday, August 6, 2012

Are polite emails killing you?

Emails are really useful in the workplace. They save time and paper, they are a great record of conversations and agreements, they mean we don't always have to spend four minutes in polite chit chat to share 30 seconds of information with a peer.  But email overload is also a workplace stress.

We have talked about netiquette before here on Text-to-Me, and it is often a topic of water cooler conversations.  Some conversations I have overheard include "She emailed me when she could have just popped her head in my office"; "She never replies to my emails. I always have to chase her up"; "He is such a jerk and so impolite on email'; 'They send so many emails from that department I feel like blocking them from the system".  You know the drill.

Image from: Free Digital Photos
A recent scout through my 200+ work emails after a stint away on holidays got me to thinking about the state of netiquette in 2012.  I have always been one to answer emails. I personally try to have whatever information I need and return the email within 24 hours during the work week. If I can't attend to it straight away I will send an email politely saying I will get back to the sender as soon as possible. I am also a thank-er.  And I think that might actually be impolite and annoying to my colleagues.

As a thank-er, I will always respond to an email where someone provides me information or attachments, with a thank you email. I think its polite.  I think it lets people know I received their email and I appreciate their time. And it fills up email inboxes. So when I am a contributor to filling up their inbox, is that not DIS-respecting their time? When I returned from holidays, nearly a quarter of my 200+ emails were of the "polite" kind.  You can run the sit-com through your head on this one ... you could literally become a bot writing "thank you for your email thanking me" emails all day long ... it could be on a perpetual loop and never stop.

I think a new way to look at netiquette, now email is so ubiquitous in the workplace, is to think: "Would I want this email in my inbox on a busy day"?  And add that question to the one we should already be asking: "Is email the best forum for this conversation?".

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Social Media Small Talk

We are now living in a social and business world where it isn’t weird to meet people for the first time on the internet.  A random encounter in a chat room, an enquiry email, LinkedIn contact request, Twitter message and even a meet-up in a VR scenario are all ways I have met people who are now integral to my professional networks.  Some I have never met face-to-face.

So how do social media relationships start? Well like face-to-face relationships, an interesting conversation is a perfect way to engage with others. And like face-to-face conversations, social media conversations often commence with small talk.  Now I don’t mean Twitter’s 140 characters or less “small” talk, I mean those tid-bit conversations at a conference or workplace meeting that open up possibilities for professional contacts - which then in turn become professional relationships.

So how is your social media small talk? There are a number of ways to approach social media small talk - have you tried these?
* Share. You are an expert in something. Whether it is your inane ability to quote which season and episode a particular line of Seinfeld is from, or your knowledge of nautical history of the Antipodes or Apple Operating systems - you probably know something that someone else would like to know. Share it. According to the Internet Society from its beginnings the Internet has been about free sharing of information and it is almost expected when you are part of a social media community. In short - it will open doors and potential relationships. 

*Ask.  See above. People like to know stuff. Most people like to share and show that they know stuff. Particularly on the Internet. Why do you think there are over 17 million people contributing to Wikipedia?  A shout out for information or assistance on Twitter has been my saviour many a time. People are generally very generous!

* Be open.  We all have parent types babbling in our ears saying “how do you know that this person is who they say they are?”.Well I don’t know about you, but I have been face-to-face with a few “Elvis’s” in my time so whether it’s a virtual setting or not - who knows who anyone really is?  What you can do in your professional conversations is be you. Through your online profilesyou can give a little information about you and your personality.  In your conversations share something about yourself. It builds trust.  It helps others to open up to you.

*Reciprocate. When social media contacts share with you: Share back.  Be it letting them in on a personality trait or sharing resources, take part in a two-way relationship which is equalised in some way.  If they need information you can’t provide - introduce them to someone else.

* Reflect.  There is nothing worse than stalker type behaviour in any professional setting. You know the type. The one you give your business card to at a meeting and then they pop up everywhere you are and phone you way too often for information or advice. People always give out hints as to what they want from professional relationships - usually in how they act themselves. Reflect this level of contact and respect personal boundaries unless otherwise invited into their personal lives. A client you are happy to spend a line or two sharing some information about your weekend, doesn’t necessarily want to be a Facebook friend as well.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Exclamation Epidemic!!!

What is it about exclamation points !!!!

Has anyone else noticed the exclamation mark epidemic?  Used sparingly by classy writers, the exclamation mark hits us over the head and begs attention.  It interjects, it commands attention, it changes context.  Overuse in social media is simply irritating. Perhaps even simply lazy writing.
Image From: Free Digital Photos
Our good friends at the English Club, who know everything there is to know about the continually evolving  nature of English grammar  remind us that exclamation marks should only inhabit informal communication unless we are using it as an interjection or when indicating strong emotion. Of course this advice makes sense, because a skilled writer doesn’t need to use exclamation marks to display strong emotion because they will have an effective lexicon as part of their toolkit for communication. 

The exclamation mark clearly has no place in formal business letters, memos or reports.  But then somehow our assumption that digital communication is more informal than formal,  has left us slightly confused about its use in social media and email.

When I muse about the current exclamation epidemic I sometimes think it is the lazy person’s emoticon (it takes less effort, less key strokes).  And then I look at my own writing and see it creeping in - surreptitiously reducing its impact as I over use it in digital communication too.  When I think about it, I use it to make sure the reader is absolutely sure I am joking, being sarcastic or excited.  But why would a writer need to do this?

One of the impacts of reduced space for writing (140 character Tweets, SMS, quick chat messages and Facebook status) is that we write differently. We no longer have the time or space to carefully construct our meaning - and thus we have developed tools such as emoticons to quickly make a point. A point we often also add exclamation points to - just to make sure our point is seen as friendly and not severe.

Colleagues have also mentioned to me that they use exclamation marks to appear a little friendlier in digital communication. Like you might smile lots when you first meet someone new - they use an exclamation point.  The point makes me wonder - if our spelling is changing with digital media - is our grammar and punctuation also evolving?  I wonder!

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Online Communication in the Workplace

For many of us in jobs which require a significant amount of administrative work, or are office based, we find ourselves perched in front of the computer for much of the day.  Sitting between us and our work or our workmates, the screen we stare at can become a major conductor of communication.

In one morning you might deal with a barrage of emails, post some advice on a topic discussion board or comment on a customers blog, SMS a staff member some meeting details, and instant message a colleague across the office who needs some quick information to give to a client on the telephone.  It is becoming normal to do all these things at once while constructing work documents, dealing with pop-in visitors and the telephone ringing (even two telephones with mobiles and landlines).

Image: Free Digital Photos
Two significant skills sets are at play here (and possibly more, but I will focus on the main two). One is our mainstay in the workplace, communication. While we might not see all our peers, customers and suppliers face-to-face it doesn't mean we aren't applying communication skills. We are simply communicating with the help of a computer of some kind - be it a lap top, smart phone or tablet PC. The skills of communication become more and more critical as we have less input from body language, tone of voice and other paralanguage cues we reply on in social situations.

The second skill is that of technical competence. Think back to the last change in software or hardware you were faced with. The change management required can be stressful, the new skills sets don't just happen over night. You need to either 'click and play' around, or read the instruction manual. You need to know how to maintain your equipment and software, use it effectively and adhere to any privacy, safety and security policies as well.  Technological capacity is becoming more and more critical in the workplace just for communication alone.

The two broad skills sets of communication and technology are now critical to learn and master together. A quick review of some of the other blog posts here on safety, netiquette, cyber bullying,  and construction of messages are just the start. Computer-mediated communication is emerging as a significant employability skill required by us all - and yet most of us just learn it as we go.  We learn it as we are developing and maintaining important relationships, and risk not communicating well.

Five questions to ask yourself today to reflect on your basic computer-mediated communication skills in the workplace?
  1.  Do you know your and use your organisation's policies on privacy, security (including software updates, password security and virus protocols) and safe use (including occupational safety and health) as they relate to your computer communications internally and externally?
  2.  Do you understand how to read (and then apply) the cultural netiquette of an organisation or other social group - or do you just jump in and think they are all the same?
  3.  Do you have the skills to evaluate the communication that you receive - without any body language, or tone of voice to assist you to interpret meaning? Do you regularly 'check in' with others about their meaning if you are unclear?
  4. Are you able to create tone, clarity and an effective online voice in your communications at all times and with all mediums?
  5. Are you able to discern when it is, and isn't, appropriate to use computer-mediated communication such as SMS, email and messaging over face-to-face or telephone communication? IF computer mediated communication is the best choice - how do you choose which form it should take?
With the amount of mistaken communication, cyber bullying, email overuse and workplace communication issues which reach the media - I would suggest most of us could do with a refresher course or two (if we had any training on this in the first place!).  How we communicate with one another is too critical not to do it well: Computers or not.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Mummy Wars Online

The age old debate to stay at home full time to parent or go out to work rages not only in the media and at school gates, but also online.  In blogs, on social networking sites and even intelligent Twitter.

Image by Ambro
I am doing some research at the moment and would love to hear from mums on both sides of the fence, about how your use of the internet changes how you parent, and even perhaps influences how you make parenting decisions.

You will find a short survey here: Click here to take survey It will take you less than ten minutes but the results will hopefully help to inform research which will create effectice social policy.  Thanks!

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Texting to Customers And Getting Results - Guest Post

 Today's post is from Geust Blogger  Sam Mauzy. Sam is a contributing writer for Invesp, where he helps clients understand what their average site conversion rate currently is while helping them get to a better average.

Image from : Free Digital Photos
One of the least used tools for marketing right now is texting. Email, social media and other older varieties of advertising are essentially saturated, but right now texting is an underused tool for businesses. This is a bit surprising when you consider that 94 percent of text messages are read and that 80 percent of people keep their cell phones on them at all times. However, there are two main reasons that text messaging is not widely used to communicate with customers: there is a cost associated with it and businesses are not sure how to best use it.

To address the issues of cost, most people say that email is free whereas there is a small charge for sending a text message, even bulk texts. However, with spam filters and the like, there is no guarantee an email will get through, but text messages are almost always read. Further, using text messaging to communicate with customers does not have to be limited to advertising, though it does that well. It can also reduce the costs of call center employees and dispatchers.

As mentioned, the second reason that many people have not yet implemented texting into their business practices is that they are not sure what benefit it can provide for them. However, text messages offer a variety of low cost options that can replace or streamline things businesses are already doing.

Currently, the best way that text messages are being used in a business environment is by having people sign up for text message coupons lists. Customers can subscribe to a text list by sending a message to a number. At that point, businesses can send them coupon codes or notify them of sales and specials that are going on. This is far less expensive than physical mailings and emails can get lost in spam folders. It is also the most customer friendly option as it does not require printing out the coupons as online coupons do, and while not all phones have internet access, practically all cell phones have text messaging built in.

Advertising and coupon texting lists are not the only ways that texts can be used to communicate with customers. Many doctor's offices are also sending text message reminders to patients the day before they are expected to come in for an appointment. This takes only seconds for a receptionist to do, rather than several minutes to attempt to get someone on the phone or leave a voice mail message to remind someone of a scheduled visit. Doctors using text messages report that cancellations and missed appointments have dropped because people are more likely to keep up with their text messages than they are to check their answering machines or voice mail.

Another area that businesses are saving time and money via texting in is communicating estimated arrival times of repair and installation technicians. Instead of having a call center representative reaching out to a customer with the arrival time of a technician, an automated text message can be sent. Additionally, if a technician is running late, it allows companies to immediately apprise a customer of this, and it gives the customer the option to wait for the technician or reschedule. Companies that use text messaging for ETAs state that their call volume regarding appointment times has dropped dramatically.

While there is a small cost associated with using text messages to communicate with customers, the savings far outweigh it. Further, it is an incredibly effective way for businesses to relay a variety of information to customers.
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