Bovee & Thill Business Communication Blog
Insights and commentary from the authors of the world’s
leading business communication textbooks

Subscribe

Enter your Email:

Bovee & Thill Videos

EmotionAs much of a game-changer as social media have been, some experts predict that mobile communication will change the nature of business and business communication even more. Venture capitalist Joe Schoendorf says that “Mobile is the most disruptive technology that I have seen in 48 years in Silicon Valley.” Researcher Maribel Lopez calls mobile “the biggest technology shift since the Internet.”

Many companies are scrambling to integrate mobile technology, from internal communication systems to banking to retail. Mobile apps and communication systems can boost employee productivity, help companies form closer relationships with customers and business partners, and spur innovation in products and services. As one indicator of this shift, you’ve probably noticed the growth of websites changing to a mobile-first design that works better on tablets and phones.

Whether it’s emailing, social networking, watching video, or doing research, the percentage of communication and media consumption performed on mobile devices continues to grow. For millions of people around the world, a mobile device is their primary way, if not their only way, to access the Internet. Globally, roughly 80 percent of Internet users access the web at least some of the time with a mobile device.

Mobile has become the primary communication tool for many business professionals, including a majority of executives under age 40. Email and web browsing rank first and second in terms of the most common nonvoice uses of smartphones, and more email messages are now opened on mobile devices than on PCs. Roughly half of U.S. consumers use a mobile device exclusively for their online search needs, and many online activities that eventually migrate to a PC screen start out on a mobile screen. For many people, the fact that a smartphone can make phone calls is practically a secondary consideration; data traffic from mobile devices far outstrips voice traffic.

Moreover, mobile phones—particularly smartphones—have become intensely personal devices in ways that PCs never did. For many users, the connection is so close they can feel a sense of panic when they don’t have frequent access to their phones. When people are closely connected to their phones, day and night, they are more closely connected to all the information sources, conversations, and networks that those phones can connect to. As a result, mobile connectivity can start to resemble a continuous stream of conversations that never quite end, which influences the way business communicators need to plan and produce documents and messages. If wearable technologies such as Google Glass and smartwatches become mainstream devices, they will contribute even more to this shift in behaviors.

The parallels between social media and mobile communication are striking: Both sets of technologies change the nature of communication, alter the relationships between senders and receivers, create opportunities as well as challenges, and force business professionals to hone new skills. In fact, much of the rise in social communication can be attributed to the connectivity made possible by mobile devices. Companies that work to understand and embrace mobile, both internally and externally, stand the best chance of capitalizing on this monumental shift in the way people communicate.

Coming up next in our series on mobile: How mobile technologies are changing business communication.

 

Sources: “More Than Nine in 10 Internet Users Will Go Online via Phone,” eMarketer, 6 January 2014, www.emarketer.com; Jordie can Rijn, “The Ultimate Mobile Email Statistics Overview,” Emailmonday.com, accessed 9 February 2014, www.emailmonday.com; “The Mobile Revolution Is Just Beginning,” press release, World Economic Forum, 13 September 2013, www.weforum.org; Maribel Lopez, “Three Trends That Change Business: Mobile, Social and Cloud,” Forbes, 28 January 2012, www.forbes.com; Kevin Custis, “Three Ways Business Can Be Successful on Mobile,” Forbes, 15 November 2013, www.forbes.com; “IBM Survey: Speed and Analytics Key Drivers in Mobile Adoption for Organizations,” press release, IBM, 19 November 2013, www.ibm.com; Christina “CK” Kerley, The Mobile Revolution & B2B, white paper, www.b2bmobilerevolution.com; Jessica Lee, “46% of Searchers Now Use Mobile Exclusively to Research [Study],” Search Engine Watch, 1 May 2013, http://searchenginewatch.com.

 

Photo source

photo by:

iPhonesMany companies are still adjusting to the upheaval triggered by social media, and you may still be adapting your business communication course to social media, too.

Are you ready for another disruptive technology?

Mobile communication and mobile connectivity are changing the way business communicators plan, create, and distribute messages. Mobile devices are overtaking PCs as the primary digital communication tool for millions of consumers, employees, and executives, and businesses that don’t get mobile-friendly in a hurry will fall behind.

For business communicators, the shift to mobile involves much more than the constraints of small screens and new input technologies. The ability to reach people anywhere at any time can be a huge advantage, but the mobile communication experience can also be a major challenge for senders and receivers alike. It requires new ways of thinking about information, message structures, and writing styles. With the notion of radical connectivity, for example, many communication experiences are no longer about “batch processing” large, self-contained documents. Instead, communication is taking on the feel of an endless conversation, with recipients picking up smaller bits of information as needed, in real time, from multiple sources.

As we did when social media began changing the communication landscape, we will be providing in-depth coverage of mobile communication in our textbooks, beginning with our upcoming editions. Business Communication Today, 13th Ed., and Business Communication Essentials, 7th Ed., will be available in January, and Excellence in Business Communication, 12th Ed., will be available in June.

In anticipation of these new editions, over the next few months we’ll be blogging about the impact of mobile on business communication and the ways you might consider covering mobile in your courses. We've also prepared a series of infographics that preview some of our new topic coverage. We welcome your thoughts, suggestions, and questions.

 

Photo: Blake Patterson


Picture0001

You may know the expression, "it's like a car crash," to describe a fascinatingly bad situation. (You know you shouldn't stare, but you just can't look away.) In a somewhat grim and literal example, Toyota recently had a bad brush with a series of recalls and a blow to its reputation. The upside, however, is that this provides an excellent case study about how a communication failure in the workplace should be managed.

The Facts on the Toyota Recall

In 2002, Toyota began warning dealerships of an electrical issue in Camry models. Between 2007 and 2009, millions of Camrys faced recalls, but the reason given was for problems created by stuck floor mats. The company later admitted that stuck floor mats were only incidental to the problems in the vehicles. Soon the company faced widespread consumer outrage, censure from the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA), and a congressional hearing. Things had gone dramatically bad.

The Communication Failure

If this was an electrical issue, how was it also a communication failure in the workplace? Easy. In 2002, the marketplace didn't have to account for the degree of consumer engagement that services such as Twitter and Facebook bring. But over the next decade, the marketplace responded to these new media by becoming a place where transparency, accountability, and clear communication had more social heft than established authority. Toyota failed these new criteria in a couple major ways:

  • It changed its story from an electrical issue to stuck floor mats, failing to realize that in an era of leaks, Internet archives, and rapid spread of awareness through media such as Twitter and Facebook, inconsistencies could be widely exposed.
  • When it had to admit fault, its spokespeople were evasive rather than upfront, even when the CEO testified before Congress.

In this marketplace, communication is king. Most consumers understand that mistakes happen, and they look for companies that can acknowledge and correct mistakes. 

Note: For more information about Toyota and its communication practices, see the following Bovee and Thill textbooks: Business Communication Today, pp. 2-3, 25, 202-203, 220, 293; Excellence in Business Communication, pp. 2-3, 26, 256; and Business Communication Essentials, 19, 136.

This post was written by guest contributor Pam Hurley, Hurley Write, Inc.

Image via Shutterstock.com


CorrelationWe thought we'd wrap up the school year with a look at the numerical side of communication. Sports-minded students might've seen this map, labeled "Who Is the Most Popular Athlete in Your State?"

Aside from LeBron James's universal popularity, the map shows some fairly predictable regional preferences—Tom Brady in New England, Payton Manning in Colorado, and so on.

It all looks like good, harmless fun until you read the subtitle of the map: "Average Monthly Google Search Queries." Ugh. Putting aside the not-insignificant questions of defining and measuring popularity, the only valid insight one can glean from the number of Google searches is the number of times people used Google to search for a particular name.

At best, it's a meaningless measure of anything else, and it could conceivably mean the exact opposite of what the map claims to say. Maybe fans of the Portland Trailblazers despise LeBron James, and that's why he shows up as the most-searched athlete in the state of Oregon. And one of the athletes listed was involved in a widely reported hoax involving an imaginary girlfriend, so his high ranking might not be a measure of "popularity" at all.

It's not exactly mainstream business communication, but the map is a great example to share with your students about the dangers of misusing numbers, particularly numbers that are easy to use and misuse because they are readily available. (Finding out who is really the most popular athlete in each state would, of course, require a large and expensive survey.)

In the spirit of innumeracy, the website Spurious Correlations has some really entertaining graphs that highlight the dangers of confusing correlation with causality. Did you know that the divorce rate in Maine correlates almost exactly (0.99) with the per-capita consumption of margarine in the United States?

Once students see how ludicrous some of these correlations are, they might become a little more skeptical of the numbers they see tossed around in the daily news and be a little more careful about using numbers in their own communication efforts. In our chapters on conducting research for business reports, we discuss the dangers of confusing coincidence, correlation, and causality, and these graphs would make a great presentation to enhance your class discussions.

With that, we wish you a safe, restful, and enjoyable summer, and we'll be back in touch in August.

 

Image: Spurious Correlations


Target SignBetween network security breaches and random corporate blunders, it's been a rough few months for GM, Target, Neiman Marcus, Adobe, Michaels, Lululemon, SeaWorld, US Airways, Yahoo, and about half the population of the Internet, thanks to the Heartbleed glitch.

Their grief is our good fortune, however—at least in terms of providing discussion material for business communication. CommPro.biz offers a wide range of commentary and analysis by corporate communication professionals, and the site's crisis communication section offers some great articles to discuss with your students.

The sections on internal/employee communication and corporate social responsibility also have a variety of pieces you might find useful in your classes.

photo by: Mr.TinDC

Red Ants PantsSarah Calhoun founded Red Ants Pants because she was frustrated by the lack of hard-wearing pants for hard-working women. Her passion for meeting the needs of her customers shines through in the company's communication efforts—along with her zeal for making work fun and meaningful. Not many firms could tell their founding story in goofy rhyming couplets, but Red Ants Pants pulls it off perfectly.

Bovee and Thill blog – Hall of Fame – Red Ants Pants


CDBabyCD Baby, the world’s largest retailer of independent music, uses clear, positive language to help musicians understand the process of selling their music through the company and its affiliates. By making the effort to
communicate clearly and succinctly, the company encourages a positive response from its target readers.

We've annotated two slides that point out some of the reader-friendly features of the company's website.

Bovee and Thill blog – Hall of Fame – CDBaby

 


HailoHailo is a popular taxi-hailing service operating in London, New York, and other major cities. With a quick tap on a smartphone app, passengers can hail any Hailo-registered cab in the area, without waving in the street or hunting for a place where taxis are likely to be found.

The system does have a potential downside for drivers, however. They have to spend time driving to the passenger's location and waiting up to five minutes once they arrive—time during which they aren't earning any income. If drivers suspect that a potential passenger will want only a short ride, they are more likely not to respond to the request because the short ride won't compensate for the time they have to invest.

This phenomenon can be troublesome for the system as a whole during peak hours, when more passengers are trying to use the system. To keep its app users happy, Hailo wants as many drivers as possible to participate during peak times. To encourage participation, it guarantees drivers a minimum amount of revenue for every Hailo rider they pick up.

The Hailo service in London recently raised its peak-time minimum fare and announced the increase in an email message to app users. The message is a model of how to present negative news in a positive way. It is also a great example of using the indirect approach for organizing a message.

We've included the message on a set of annotated PowerPoint slides so you can share it with your class.

Bovee and Thill blog – Hall of Fame – Hailo

 


VisuallyInfographics tend to fall into two basic categories: stylized data presentations and narratives. The former, such as this piece on customer satisfaction and loyalty, don’t necessarily convey any more information than basic charts and graphs in a conventional report or webpage would, but their communication value lies in their ability to catch the audience’s attention and the ease with which they can be distributed online.

The latter go beyond this, taking full advantage of the visual medium to tell stories or show interconnected processes. These infographics can be powerful communication tools, even to the point of replacing conventional reports. This infographic from the Sustainable America initiative, for example, uses the infographic format to explain how to compost successfully even if you live in an apartment. Narrative infographics can become quite elaborate, such as this animated piece on the story of coffee production.

For a class activity, ask students to find several narrative-style infographics online (visual.ly is a good place to start) and analyze their storytelling effectiveness. Does each infographic tell an effective story? How does it use emotional and logical elements to make its case? Does it use any suspect or oversimplified information (failing to differentiate correlation and causation seems to be a common sin among infographic designers)?

Creating professional-quality infographics is beyond the reach of the average business communicator, but if you'd like to have students give infographic design a try, they can draw sketches by hand or use the simple graphical tools in word processing or presentation software.


EdisonThe timeline feature in Facebook is a great tool for visual narration, particularly if a company has a rich library of compelling photos and other visuals to use. And as GE demonstrates, if you're telling a story of innovation, it helps if you can start the story with an image of one of the most famous inventors in history!

This PowerPoint slide shows the beginning of the GE timeline story.

Bovee and Thill blog – Hall of Fame – GE on Facebook