Tuesday, January 31, 2012

What frequency do you function on?

What frequency do you inhabit in cyberspace? You will find you sit somewhere on the continuum of frequenting your social media every moment of every day - to - the occasional visit once a week or so. Some of us have our email, Twitter, Facebook and mobile phone notifying us of every communique all day (and even night) long - others have everything turned off all day and only check them occasionally (and for some this may mean only weekly). Yet somehow we manage to negotiate communicating with one another using these digital media - as well as the telephone and meeting up face-to-face.
Image: By Tungphoto

After awhile you work out who in your network sits on Facebook all day and who will only answer emails when it suits them on a Friday afternoon.  There is the friend who will SMS you twenty times in 30 seconds but never pick up the phone to talk, and the peer at work who pops over to see you every ten minutes when a Tweet with a link to a useful web page would have sufficed.

There is something to be said for looking at how others interact, and meeting them where they are at. Digital communications are many - some people have their total professional relationship by text on LinkedIn - and others only socialise on YouTube. "Where" you meet up on cyberspace and how often is part of your communication style. And we are all so very different - and 'meet up' on specific sites for different aspects of our lives.

But meeting people where they are at also includes frequency.  I for one hate the  '2 million SMS messages in a minute' style of communication when a 30 second phone call really would sort the issue. Others prefer the SMS because they can hide their mobile phone under their desk at work and still make calls!   I religiously answer every email I get from colleagues - I may not answer it within ten minutes, but at work i will generally make sure it is answered within 24 hours. However I work with others who never respond to emails. It's just their thing.

We can take the "Where" people meet and the "how" they communication (that is which tools - hardware or software) and the "frequency" to work out what they might want from us in terms of communication. The non texter will appreciate a phone call or face-to-face communication, the Facebook fanatic will appreciate a "like" or a comment on their Timeline, and the mad Tweeter will love the websites you send out on the Twittersphere.  A phone call or thank you note by snail mail can still make someone's day. The first step in effective communication and relationship building is always to listen ... and listening in the digital world works when read the frequencies of others.  Meet people where they are at ... at the frequency they can handle. It does wonders for professional relationships.

Friday, January 27, 2012

In an emergency ...

 The need to connect with others is an innate survival response.  And you experience it no more strongly than in an emergency. An earthquake, a car accident, a flood or fire are moments when the people in your life are utmost at the top of your mind.  Add the feeling of impending isolation - like in recent flash flooding in Queensland/NSW, earthquake in Christchurch or Fires in Western Australia - and the need to connect to both loved ones and emergency information and services kicks in with a nice dose of adrenaline.  With the development of social media and Web 2.0 and 3G communication tools, it is almost a natural response these days to hit Twitter, Facebook, SMS and email as soon as disaster hits.

Image: Gravr Razvan Ionut
First there is the 'connecting with loved ones' response.  How is everyone else? Where are they? What do people need in terms of support for one another? Facebook is a great way to let all your family and friends know you are doing fine - and to reach out to those who are isolated physically.  It can provide a sense of 'being there", even if you are across the globe. This is not to say that you don't pop over to your neighbour's place and ask face-to-face - but to be honest there are times when using an SMS, even to next door, may be the safest option for you both.

Then there is the need for emergency information. In recent Queensland floods, I found Twitter to be faster than the radio for road closure and weather update information and realised all the emergency web sites I was checking like the Bureau of Meteorology and Department of Main Roads Travel alerts were the same source as the radio - and I could update it instantly when I wanted it rather than waiting for announcements.  While people calling in to the station were full of useful information about recent events - Twitter was too, and Following Tweets by the Police, SES, and local Council were invaluable. Of course the radio comes into its own when you have lost power and you can still use a battery powered radio.

A shining examples of lessons learned from previous emergency management situations can be found in the Emergency 2.0 Wiki .  The Emergency 2.0 wiki was created by Eileen Culleton and it connects experts and the public with content on using Web 2.0 communications to connect people in emergencies (and for preparing for emergencies).  The wiki is full of sound tips and hints for using our communication tools to prepare, see through and render assistance after disasters. Hints on saving power on your mobile phone through to useful apps and feeds to follow are worth having a read of no matter where you are from.  Eileen's vision for Emergency Wiki 2.0 is  "To help build resilient communities, empowered with the knowledge to use web2.0 and social media in emergency communications" and she should be applauded for the great service her volunteer hours provide.

And next time someone carries on about how evil digital communication tools are - perhaps point them in the right direction!

Monday, January 23, 2012

Don't die while communicating

 I hate flying. Even though aviation accidents are decreasing (when statistics regarding hours of flying are taken into consideration), I still worry when I fly.  Crazy I know - but I also know I am not alone on this one. Conversely - until recently I hardly think twice when getting in my car - despite the rising accident rate. If this sounds a little like you, I may change your mind by the end of this posting.
Image: by Stuart Miles

Billions, literally billions (up to 10 billion in Australia) of text messages are sent while driving. According to Telstra, 45% of Australian's have texted whilst controlling  driving a vehicle - and this number is on the rise.  They didn't even ask them what else they might be doing with their smart phones! This is despite clear evidence in medical journals, and controlled driving experiments, providing clear evidence that texting and driving not only reduces your reaction time, but also your steering capability. Let's not even talk about the 12 seconds you don't have your eyes on the road when travelling at high speeds. It's scary to think about - you travel a long way in 12 seconds.

Of the three ways we might communicate with others by mobile phone in a vehicle - talking on the phone while physically holding it; talking on the phone hands-free, or texting - according to insurance statistics texting is by far the most dangerous of activities. Motoring reports go so far as to claim that texting whilst driving is the equivalent to driving drunk with a blood alcohol level of 0.08.

Generally we don't talk about the negative side of digital communications here at Text-to-Me. We prefer to concentrate on how we build effective human relationships using the technology. However I feel it would be remiss of me not to mention the issue of texting and driving in more than passing. In a recent in-car conversation with friends (having just seen a number of people texting or telephoning (not even hands free) on both a wet-winding mountain road and then whilst driving 110km per hour on a  busy motorway, we considered whether there is ANY text-based worth having in a car that couldn't wait.  We tried hard  but we honestly couldn't think of one where it was worth risking your life (and that of others) to text whilst driving.  Now with 45% of people still texting whilst driving, we three are obviously only just in the majority, but we all pledged to stay that way and never text and drive.

Communicating with others is what makes our lives rich and exciting. Having accidents - even if all you do is scrape your car - is not. No relationship is worth dying over. Save the texting till you can safely pull over. In the great texting tradition I share the Telstra drive-safe code:


Crazy fact for your next awkward silent moment at a dinner party: None of the statistics I have read on the cause of air traffic accidents have happened due to the pilot texting while in flight.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Spoilt for choice?

So when you got a tablet computer did you throw out your desktop or smart phone?

Image by Nokhoog Buchachan
According to a survey from IDG Connect’s 2012 “iPad for Business Survey”, Aussie and New Zealand executives aren't adding extra hardware options to their computer glad bags as quickly as counterparts in other parts of the world. Reported today in IT News,Share those of us from down under are less likely to be replacing our laptops with a tablet PC with 40% down under claiming to either have replaced or partially replaced their PC with a tablet computer as opposed to 60%  of respondents worldwide. A figure which is puzzling when Australians have the reputation as early adopters of most new technologies.

Despite this claim, there is an ever growing collection of communication devices we seem to collect. While desk top computers are still part of the landscape in most workplaces, laptops and notebooks have emerged as useful mobile versions of the same, especially since access to 3G networks and WiFi have almost become ubiquitous. Which brings us to our little cousin, the Smart phone. While the screen is tiny, it is about as mobile as you can get without a chip being implanted  in your forearm! There are more mobile phones in Australia than people.  At the other end of the size scale, the emergence of the Smart TV is still being watched closely for its workplace and home uses.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Text Tone!

Image by: David Costillo Dominici
Have you ever innocently started a flame war online? Or nearly lost a friend because of a poorly constructed SMS or instant message? Emailed your boss when cranky?  It is really easy to do - and yet difficult to undo the consequences. Prevention is the best cure.

 You know the context - you quickly respond to a message or text without thinking it through. Without analysisng what is going on - perhaps without even really reading the original correspondence slowly enough to really take it in.  You might also suffer from "they are picking on me" syndrome and assume the worst of the author.

Texting, email, commenting online, tweeting and instant messaging all rely on our reading and writing capacity. And even the most skilled readers and writers have down days...  where they struggle to quite understand what they are reading - or choose their own words bady. Add the fact that these messages are often instantaneous - and we easily respond without much thought.

We are conditioned from birth to read faces and body language - something taken away from us when we use text-based computer technologies for communication - so the issue of relaying an effective tone in our content is a real one in digital communications.

Here's five quick tips to help you:
  1. Choose your words carefully.  Read your words carefully.  There are plenty of words to choose from ... around a million in the English language.  Choose just the right ones to get your point across.  When we limit our messages to 140 or 160 characters ot a two paragrpah email, this becomes even more critical. When choosing words remember that simple is often the best.
  2. Slow down.  Pause a moment.  Read lengthy, complex or possibly emotional digital communication with care.  While we are used to the "quick scan" of emails simply to get through the day's barage of messages - some really do need careful attention.
  3. Assume the best until you check in and learn otherwise. All it takes is a 3 o'clock caffine withdrawl to make the best of us feel a little shaky and write poorly thought out resonses to poorly considered messages. If you think you may have offended someone, or you think someone is thinking the worst of you - it might be time to pop into their office, pick up the phone or go for a coffee to check and see. Miscommunication is at the heart of much written commnuication.
  4. Use emoticons, acronyms and punctuation carefully - and even sparingly. While a few standard emotiocons and acronyms are widely used - some of us use particular ones in very specific ways. Make sure your recipient knows their meaning in the way that you are using them. In fact think carefully about using them at all. If your message is well constructed and well thought out - you might not need them.
  5. Edit before you send. Stop one last time.  Read your own messages for tone. Read it out loud. Check spelling and grammar. Then you can hit send.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Three Step Professional Social Networking.

Image from: Jannoon028
We don’t get into the debate about whether digital technologies and the Internet are good or bad here at Text-to-Me.  Rather we acknowledge that they are here to stay and look at ways to consider their effective use. Many of the tools of social networking cop a battering in the media – especially Facebook it seems.  If you haven’t read it before you may wish to take the discussion Personifying the Internet into consideration before reading further.   

According to the old idiom, “There is nothing new under the sun”... or to put it in Biblical terms (Ecclesiastes 3:15 - NLT version), “What is happening now has happened before, and what will happen in the future has happened before, because God makes the same things happen over and over again.”  Which brings me to the basic argument about social networking. We have been networking (socially or otherwise!) since we started sharing information about where the next great Mammoth hunt would be held at the hearth of our caves.  Networking is not new.

So if networking is not new, what is all the hullabaloo about social networking?  Partially it appears to be the openly social nature of it. The fact it happens in a space where you are seen by others, your information is disclosed to others, and you have limited control over what they do with it.  The fact that some people you share information with may be deceptive about themselves and their intentions.  It is fair to say all these elements have always been a part of networking, as at its base it has always been about meeting and forming relationships new people – people who prior to that initial meeting were strangers. The only difference now is the global nature, size and speed of potential social networks and networking.

So if we take just three basic elements of networking and apply them to social networking how would they look?  These three elements are initial contact, maintaining the network, and ending the relationship if appropriate - or more simply - the beginning the middle and the end.

The most useful way to consider the beginning of your social networking is to consider your online profile. It is the virtual equivalent to your handshake, your dress sense and overall first impression. You want to be safe when you do this – so consider what information you are placing on any online profile (and also consider what might be collectively available to people who can access more than one profile of yours).  Once you have dealt with privacy and security settings, comes the question of profile picture  and your bio information.  You choose these most effectively when you consider the outcome you want from your socialising. If it is personal contacts – then ensure both demonstrate your personality.  If professional – then how clever can you be in your selection of words and images? Check out what others in your potential circle have done - so you have some cultural understanding of the site you are joining as they are a little different.

Maintaining networks has always been about the art of giving. Some people, usually not particularly successful in their networking, network for what they can get.  If you network to give to your network, and attract others who are the same, then you will naturally get lots from your network. You can also control what you give. In social networking in particular it is about sharing of online information, introducing contacts (with their permission of course), and sharing ideas and tips and tricks.  You might do this for a large number of contacts through a blog or regular useful postings – or to individuals who ask for assistance.  Keeping in contact makes for stronger social networking.  Simply 'collecting friends’ does not.

And on the subject of collecting friends.  If you are serious about networking, you will value them and you can expect the same in return. Just like face-to-face networks, sometimes a social network contact will dry up and not be useful for either party. This brings us to ending a virtual relationship.  You can choose to be upfront and announce that you are weeding out your contacts on Facebook – or quietly un-connect (most social networking sites allow this without any message going to the person you are disconnecting from) – just like you would stop ringing someone in your face-to-face network.  

The key is beginning well, giving to your networks, and contributing to the relationships frequently (or ceasing them).  Then you won’t just be a ‘friend collector’, but well on your way to professional networking which will build effective communities around you.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

The Art of Brevity

Image: By twobee
How do you deal with post it notes?  Do you only write two or three words in large letters and make your point with large writing? Or are you more of a 'write really tiny and in all directions' kind of person so you can fit heaps on it?

How you deal with writing with limited words, characters or space is becoming a real skill in the age of digital communications. Brevity is the new War and Peace.  According to the Cambridge Dictionary  the word brevity means:  'using only a few words'.  And let's face it, with form filling on line in fixed size text boxes, Tweets at 140 characters, SMS at 160, and long emails just not getting read, the briefer the better.

Brevity is now the new annointed King of digital communications.

So how do you get to the point - and quickly?
  • Think before you write. Know what you want to say.
  • Once you know the main point you want to make - make it simply.
  • Only make secondary points if they are absolutely essential.
  • Use concise, punchy sentences.
  • There are around a million words in the ever expanding English language - use the best ones for the job.
  • Use key words well so readers can scan your message quickly.
  • Delete redundant words.
  • Consider using a graphic if you really think the picture is (approximately) "worth a thousand words".
  • Go back and cut out just one more word ... you know you can!
And if you need a little light relief after that - take a look at Stephanie Buck's article at Mashable - 10 Things you can fit into your 63,206 character Facebook status just for fun.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Quick Five: Improve your texting IQ

Image by: Renjith Krishnan
Some daily activities have become so ubiquitous that we fail to see the skills involved. Do you remember the first mobile phone text you ever sent to anyone?  Working out the screen and the keyboard that were once foreign to you - a feeling that returns if you buy a new brand of handset . While there is a chance you will remember learning your new handset or how to SMS (Short Message Service), you were probably never educated on how to send effective texts, textiquette or wording short but effective messages. For those of you who still have your instruction booklets shrink wrapped in the back of a cupboard somewhere, open it up and see if there is textiquette or text skill hints in it. Probably not.

Somehow we just kind of learn these skills as we text ...  Often by making embarrassing mistakes like texting the wrong person something anti-social, or leaving your phone on and receiving SMS during an important interview. The Text-to-Me blog is not about rule setting -  it is more about exploring how we decide upon standards for ourselves and others when using computers to communicate with one another. So I am not going to give you a set of rules for texting ... I am however going to unashamedly give you five things to consider... and trust you will find such musing results in improved texting performance in 2012. (And yes I am ignoring the R(esolution) word on purpose!).
  1. Pack a punch. A standard SMS is 160 characters - not much larger than a Tweet.  Of course you can send more but they are usually then bundled into separate messages to the receiver. And cost you more. Writing 160 character messages is an exercise in brevity, whilst also being an opportunity to pack a punch when well constructed.  Depending on your message you may wish to be direct, romantic, caring or blunt - stop and check the language you are using and ensure that you are bringing both an effective tone and accurate content.
  2. Make an impression. Our SMS to colleagues make an impression. If making and maintaining that impression is critical to the relationship then check your spelling, grammar and use of acronyms and textisms.  Knowing your audience is really the only consideration you need to make - from that point, you'll know whether a drunk or emotional text is OK - and if textisms are acceptable. You can find a comprehensive list of text shorthand at Netlingo. Oh and remember that texts can be easily stored or retrieved, and are thus even more permanent than the spoken word, so the impression you make could be a lasting one.
  3. Turn it off. There's a lot to be said about not texting.  We choose to text, and we can choose not to.  Not replying to a flame or bullying text can improve outcomes. Choosing to turn our SMS capacity or mobile phone off in meetings or social settings can make a statement about the importance of an event or people you are spending time with.  You might also choose when you text others - midnight, when you know they are driving, on a plane? Sometimes the best text to send, might just be no text. Remember you have a choice.
  4. Text for good. Consider how the text will either contribute or detract from your relationship with the receiver.  Would a phone call or email be more appropriate? Are you feeling stressed or negative to an extent that it will impact on what you write? Could some simple word substitutions achieve a more effective result for the relationship?
  5. Text Safe. Avoid repetitive strain injuries or 'texting thumb' by considering your use and over use of SMS for communication.  Virgin Mobile have a Safe Texting Site with heaps of 'textercises' for prevention of injuries. SMS can be sent from computer programs, which may be a solution worth considering if your business is sending out a lot of texts.

    Of course the statistics are clear about distracted driving - and to be frank, only idiots text and drive.
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