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Taxi"I try to equate this illegal operation of [. . .] as a terroristic act like ISIS invading the Middle East" he said, "It is exactly the same menace."

Whoa. That must be one horrible outfit the speaker is referring to, to warrant comparison with a terrorist group so brutal that al-Qaeda cut ties with it.

The speaker is Alex Friedman, general manager of two Philadelphia taxi companies and president of the Pennsylvania Taxi Association, and he said this at a board meeting of the Philadelphia Parking Authority. And the diabolical operation in question? uberX, the ride-sharing service that is winning fans among consumers looking for an alternative to conventional taxi service—and winning enemies among taxi companies for presenting a form of competition they consider unfair and even illegal in some instances. (The uberX operation Friedman refers to recently began transporting passengers in Philly, even though the Parking Authority considers it an illegal operation and threatens to fine Uber drivers and impound their cars.)

Legal issues aside, referring to any business operation as a terrorist organization is an absurd use of metaphor. Moreover, it is—or at least should be—an ineffective, credibility-destroying communication strategy to use with any rational audience.

If you need to give your students an example of metaphorical speech and hyperbole gone horribly wrong, chances are you'll never find a better/worse example than this.

 

Photo credit: blu-news.org


Twitter phoneAs we monitored the emergence of mobile business communication over the past few years, we were struck by the parallels with the rise of social media. These similarities and the documented growth of mobile usage convinced us it was time to integrate mobile in our business communications texts, starting with our editions coming out in January.

(Note that by “mobile,” we’re referring to tablets, smartphones, and all the various sizes and form factors in between.)

Here are the parallels we’ve noticed:

Larger technological, social, and demographic forces at play

As with social media, mobile communication is a case of both necessity and opportunity. Businesses are seeing the need to make their communications more mobile friendly because more of their stakeholders are using mobile devices. In particular, the next demographic wave of employees and consumers is less PC-centric and expects to be able to communicate using mobile devices. You’ve probably noticed one manifestation of this already, with more companies adopting mobile-first web design, abandoning the highly structured and detailed web designs optimized for larger screens and making their websites more mobile and touch friendly. (One could argue that some of these designs are now less usable on conventional PC screens, but the companies making the changes clearly see significant numbers of their constituents switching to mobile.)

At the same time, mobile represents a huge opportunity because communication and content consumption on mobile devices can be a more personal and pervasive experience. Smartphone users tend to keep their gadgets close at hand, night and day, unlike their computers, so they’re never out of touch for long. Through push notifications, interactive apps, and other methods, companies have more ways to stay connected with internal and external audiences.

Variable rates of adoption

Of course, not every company needs or perceives a need to rush headlong into mobile. Adoption rates will vary widely across industries and companies and within individual companies. With social media, we’ve seen instances where adoption within a company varies dramatically from one business unit to another, so it’s difficult to make blanket statements about media usage. For example, a few years ago an instructor whose students were mostly IBM employees wrote to say that those students rarely or never used social media, so the instructor didn’t see the point of covering it in the course. However, at that time, IBM already had hundreds of employee blogs, wikis, and other social media activities (both internal and external). In fact, so many IBM employees were involved in social media by then that the company had already issued a comprehensive set of social computing guidelines.

Privacy, content ownership, and security issues

Because mobile, like social media, is partly driven by forces and trends outside the conventional corporate structure, it is creating similar headaches. For example, many IT departments are struggling with the “bring your own device” (BYOD) phenomenon, in which employees want to access corporate networks or conduct company business using their personal devices. This raises some sticky questions, such as who owns messages sent from personal devices, who is liable for ethical or legal mistakes made with these devices, and how companies can keep their networks and digital assets both accessible and protected at the same time. Alerting students to the broad outline of these issues will make them more responsible communicators on the job.

A necessary element in a comprehensive business communication curriculum

Directly or indirectly, mobile is going to influence the communication practices of graduates about to enter the workforce. As with social media, even companies that don’t yet use mobile extensively are still influenced by this phenomenon because it changes the overall communication dynamic. One of the foundations of successful communication is making the effort to communicate with people in the manner they want to use, and for an increasing number of constituents that manner is now mobile.

We believe the time is right to introduce mobile as a major new medium in the business communication curriculum, integrating it with coverage of basic concepts and skills development, including writing activities for mobile devices.

For more about mobile, see How the Mobile Revolution Is Changing Business Communication, an online magazine.

Photo credit: mkhmarketing


iPadIn our last post, we explored the magnitude of the mobile communication revolution. Now for a quick look at the impact mobile is having on business communication. The rise of mobile has some obvious implications, such as the need for websites to be mobile friendly. Anyone who has tried to browse a conventional website on a tiny screen or fill in complicated online forms using the keypad on your phone knows how frustrating the experience can be.

However, device size and portability are only the most obvious changes. Just as with social media, the changes brought about by mobile go far deeper than the technology itself. Mobile changes the way people communicate, which has profound implications for virtually every aspect of business communication.

Social media pioneer Nicco Mele coined the term radical connectivity to describe “the breathtaking ability to send vast amounts of data instantly, constantly, and globally.” Mobile plays a major and ever-expanding role in this phenomenon by keeping people connected 24/7, wherever they may be. People who’ve grown up with mobile communication technology expect to have immediate access to information and the ability to stay connected to their various social and business networks.

Here are the most significant ways mobile technology is changing the practice of business communication:

  • Constant connectivity is a mixed blessing. As with social media, mobile connectivity can blur the boundaries between personal and professional time and space, preventing people from fully disengaging from work during personal and family time. On the other hand, it can give employees more flexibility to meet their personal and professional obligations. In this regard, mobile plays an important role in efforts to reduce operating costs through telecommuting and other nontraditional work models.
  • Small mobile displays and sometimes-awkward input technologies present challenges for creating and consuming content, whether it’s typing an email message or watching a video. For example, email messages need to be written and formatted differently to make them easier to read on mobile devices.
  • Mobile users are often multitasking—roughly half of mobile phone usage happens while people are walking, for instance—so they can’t give full attention to the information on their screens. Moreover, mobile use often occurs in environments with multiple distractions and barriers to successful communication.
  • As every instructor has no doubt observed, mobile communication (particularly text messaging) has put pressure on traditional standards of grammar, punctuation, and writing in general.
  • Mobile devices can serve as sensory and cognitive extensions. For example, they can help people experience more of their environment (such as augmented reality apps that superimpose information on a live camera view) and have instant access to information without relying on faulty and limited human memory. The addition of location-aware content, such as facility maps and property information, enhances the mobile experience.
  • Mobile devices create a host of security and privacy concerns, for end users and corporate technology managers alike. Companies are wrestling with the “bring your own device” or “BYOD” phenomenon, in which employees want to be able to access company networks and files with their personal smartphones and tablets, both in the office and away from it. However, these devices don’t always have the rigorous security controls that corporate networks need, and users don’t always use the devices in secure ways.
  • Mobile tools can enhance productivity and collaboration by making it easier for employees to stay connected and giving them access to information and work tasks during forced gaps in the workday or while traveling.
  • Mobile apps can assist in a wide variety of business tasks, from research to presentations.
  • Mobile connectivity can accelerate decision making and problem solving by putting the right information in the hands of the right people at the right time. For example, if the people in a decision-making meeting need more information, they can do the necessary research on the spot. Mobile communication also makes it easier to quickly tap into pockets of expertise within a company. Customer service can be improved by making sure technicians and other workers always have the information they need right at hand. Companies can also respond and communicate faster during crises.
  • With interactivity designed to take advantage of the capabilities of mobile devices (including cameras, accelerometers, compasses, and GPS), companies can create more engaging experiences for customers and other users.

For the business communication course, mobile adds some interesting twists and challenges, but it also creates the opportunity to tap into students’ experience with and enthusiasm for mobile devices. In future posts, we’ll be looking at some specific issues in mobile communication, including writing and designing for small screens.

For more information about mobile, see How the Mobile Revolution Is Changing Business Communication, an online magazine.

 

Photo source: Sean MacEntee

Sources: Nicco Mele, The End of Big: How the Internet Makes David the New Goliath (New York: St. Martin’s Press: 2013), 1–2; “JWT’s 13 Mobile Trends for 2013 and Beyond,” J. Walter Thompson website, 2 April 2013, www.jwt.com; The Changing Role of Mobile Communications in the Workplace, white paper, Frost & Sullivan, accessed 8 February 2014, www.frost.com; Top 10 Ways Successful Small Businesses Use Mobile Tech, white paper, T-Mobile, 2012; Armen Ghazarian, “How Do Users Interact with Mobile Devices,” Medium.com, 29 November 2013, http://medium.com; “Bring Your Own Device: BYOD Is Here and You Can’t Stop It,” Garner, accessed 9 February 2014, www.garner.com; Jessica Twentyman, “Deploying Smartphones, Tables, and Apps for a New Employee Communication Era,” SCM, January/February 2013, 28–29; The Changing Role of Mobile Communications in the Workplace, Frost & Sullivan; Aaref Hilaly, “The Biggest Opportunity in Mobile That No One Is Talking About,” LinkedIn, 17 December 2013, www.linkedin.com; Michael Saylor, The Mobile Wave: How Mobile Intelligence Will Change Everything (New York: Vanguard Press, 2012), 10; Milton Kazmeyer, “The Impact of Wireless Communication in the Workplace,” Houston Chronicle, accessed 10 February 2014, http://smallbusiness.chron.com; Gregg Hano, “The Power of Corporate Communications on Mobile Apps,” Mag+, 1 August 2013, www.magplus.com.


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 non-voice 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.

For more about mobile, see How the Mobile Revolution Is Changing Business Communication, an online magazine.

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

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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.

For more about mobile, see How the Mobile Revolution Is Changing Business Communication, an online magazine.

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