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Archive for the 'Social Media' Category

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



DeloitteOne of the more intriguing challenges/opportunities created by the array of new media choices is the concept of the multi-stage or multi-platform message, in which the delivery of a message starts on one platform and moves to additional platforms in order to give readers the complete message. For example, you can use Twitter to grab readers' attention, then link to a blog post for an in-depth narrative on the topic, then link to a database-driven webpage with reference material, then link to YouTube or SlideShare for a presentation.

The ability to transport readers across multiple platforms offers some significant benefits:

  • Casting a wider net by using multiple media to capture more target readers
  • Staging a complex message in a way that keeps readers intrigued without overwhelming them
  • Weaving in multiple media types along the way (such as embedded videos or infographics)
  • Giving readers the flexibility to navigate their own paths through the information as they discover how it applies to them

In the old days of print-heavy communication, a complex message was usually communicated via a lengthy printed report, working from the title page through the introduction, body, supporting graphics, and appendices. While such reports suffered from the usual drawbacks of printed media, they had the huge advantage of being closed systems in the sense that everything was there in one place, within a single, unified message structure. Readers didn't need to click around to get additional information, and writers didn't need to worry that readers would get distracted by a more entertaining YouTube video halfway through the document.

Crafting a successful multi-stage message requires all the skills needs for every business message, including using several of the compositional modes for electronic media, plus the ability to plot a clear path from the message's beginning to intended conclusion (or conclusions, as various readers might want to take different paths). It can be a big challenge to move readers from stage to stage without losing them to the multitude of distractions online while balancing the need to guide them while also offering the flexibility to choose their own paths if appropriate.

The accounting and consulting firm Deloitte offers some great examples of multi-stage messages to share with your students. Deloitte frequently uses Twitter (https://twitter.com/Deloitte) as the first stage, such as sharing a startling statistic or a provocative forecast, then linking to one or more other platforms where readers can get the rest of the story. In some cases, the message delivery system is more or less closed, such as a tweet that links to a special landing page for a new research report or an upcoming webcast, making it easy to keep information delivery on track. In other cases, though, a tweet might link to one of the company's regional homepages, where the reader is then tempted by a dozen or more other interesting graphics and headlines, all competing for attention.

You can use this concept of multi-stage messages to demonstrate for students (a) the importance of being able to write in the various modes, from compelling teasers on Twitter to engaging narratives in a blog post or webcast, and (b) the need to plan carefully before crafting multi-stage messages so readers don't fall off the bus before the tour is over, so to speak.

You might also create a "treasure hunt" exercise for students, asking them to start with a single tweet from a company such as Deloitte, follow that message through as many links as they can find, and describe the structure of the overall message they uncover.



GamesRadarOne of the most effective business uses of Twitter is as a "headline-announcement service," alerting readers to new blog posts, new pieces in online magazines, and other fresh content. However, writing effective Twitter teasers for any given target audience is a bit of an artform. The videogame review site GamesRadar.com does a good job of this, enticing game fans with cheeky and provocative prompts.

Here's an annotated snapshot of the company's Twitter account with several examples: Bovee and Thill blog – Hall of Fame – GamesRadar on Twitter

This post offers an overview of teasers and the other compositional modes that students should be comfortable with when writing for electronic media. The post also includes a link to a new video on the Bovée-Thill YouTube Channel that explores these modes.



Surviving Social Feedback

April 18, 2013

To do business in the social media era is to walk around with a giant "Kick me" sign taped to one's back. Evernote CEO Phil Libin put it perfectly in a recent Inc. article: "…the Internet is the most efficient invention in the history of the universe for concentrating dissatisfaction into its purest, darkest, and most bilious essence."

Every business from the corner coffee shop to the mightiest multinational is subject to public criticism that can be unfair, unkind, and at times deeply personal. Responding to legitimate criticism without letting the negativity corrode one's peace of mind can be a tricky balancing act. Here are some steps that anyone with an online presence can take to handle the onslaught:

  • Separate rants from legitimate complaints. Ranters have a remarkable ability to turn any situation into an opportunity to spew off about politics and a host of other unrelated topics, and it is far too easy to take the bait. Rants are emotional poison that have no place in business communication, and it's best to filter them (by moderating blog comments, for example) or removing them as quickly as possible. If they're left visible, they'll eat at team morale, even if no one responds to them.
  • Examine the complaints by first separating factual content from emotional content. A comment such as "Whoever designed this user interface doesn't know the first thing about ergonomics" offers the fact that someone is dissatisfied with the user interface. The comment might be spot on or misguided (perhaps the person is misusing the product or hasn't been trained), but the dissatisfaction is a data point that needs to be considered.
  • Analyze the emotional content for the audience needs it suggests. Remember that strong emotions usually mean the subject matter is important. Perhaps you're not performing the way every stakeholder would like, but at least you're striving toward a valued goal, which suggests that an opportunity exists. Then again, the anger in a comment may have nothing at all to do with the matter at hand; a commenter might just be having a rotten day, and it spilled onto Twitter or your blog.
  • Pay attention to team morale. Regularly remind everyone involved that negativity is an inescapable element of life online and that criticism shouldn't be taken personally. Gallows humor and a chance to blow off some steam from time to time can help people scrape off the emotional barnacles that tend to accumulate. Evernote's Libin emphasizes the importance of sharing good news, too. Doing so can soothe battered emotions and remind everyone that for every complainer, there might be dozens or hundreds or thousands of silently happy customers.

Ragers and trolls aren't going anywhere, so the ability to listen actively without sponging up all the negative emotions has become an important skill for business communicators at every level. Students who are active in social media may have experienced personal attacks, and discussing how they've reacted can be a good opportunity to advise them on how to handle public criticism on the job.

In addition to handling the emotional fallout from online criticism, of course, organizations need an overall communication strategy for responding to incoming complaints. These three articles offer good advice:

 

Image credit: Thoth, God of Knowledge



One of the more intriguing effects of social media is the way these tools have put organizational culture on public display. Companies that might have once been known mostly by products, headquarters architecture, and advertising campaigns are now also represented (officially and unofficially) by legions of bloggers, YouTube producers, and Twitter users. Professionals and managers who used to be invisible to the outside world are now presented in rich detail on LinkedIn. Glassdoor and other platforms give employees the chance to vent or boast about the conditions in their workplaces.

Few companies show off their internal culture with the quite the gusto of C3, a customer communications outsourcer based in Plantation, Florida. The company's Facebook page looks more like an internal employee social network than one of the official faces of a corporation with a global footprint. You'll find more photos of office birthday parties and costume-day getups than you will official company announcements or marketing messages.

This inside-out approach to communication is by design, according to C3's marketing VP Alicia Laszewski. Quoted in Workforce Management, she explains that it's part of a strategy to position the company as a great place to work, which helps attract employees (and, presumably, clients who want to outsource their customer contact work to a company populated by happy employees). "If your campaign is about people loving the work environment, you'd better create a company where people really love to come to work. If not, it's just a marketing campaign." Hence the party-hat, pajama-clad atmosphere of the Facebook page.

As the Internet-raised generation moves onto and up the corporate ladder, we can expect more companies to put themselves on public display like this. Will the gap between external image and internal reality collapse as a result? How will this affect the practice of corporate communications, which has long had control, or at least the illusion of control, over how the company was presented to the outside world?

With this and other communication matters to ponder, we'll leave you with best wishes for a relaxing summer. We'll see you again as the fall semester approaches. Have a great summer!



We've written here before about the power of storytelling in business communication, and all our textbooks now cover storytelling as a compositional mode, so we are definitely intrigued to see how businesses will be using Facebook's new timeline feature as a storytelling tool.

This article in Ad Age highlights a number of firms that have extended their Facebook timelines back in time to tell the company's story from its founding. The tone and presentation vary widely, as one would expect, from the quirky nonsense of Old Spice to the journalistic presentation of the New York Times.

These timelines offer a great opportunity for a student activity. Have your students analyze several Facebook timeline histories and compare them with the About Us pages on the companies' websites. Which medium presents each company's story in the most compelling fashion, the Facebook timeline or the website? What are the potential disadvantages of the Facebook timeline feature? (Students should recognize, for example, that the linear, chronological format can be a frustrating way to find specific information and to read the company history in proper order, one has to find the very bottom of the timeline and read upward.)

What do you think of the timeline as a communication feature in general and as a storytelling tool in particular?



Newsfeeds from blogs and other online publishers can be a great way to stay on top of developments in any field. However, anyone who has signed up for more than a few RSS feeds has probably experienced the "firehose effect" of getting so many feeds so quickly that it becomes impossible to stay on top of them. Moreover, when a highly active publisher feeds every new article, from the essential to the trivial, the reader is left to sort it all out every day.

An intriguing alternative to newsfeeds is media curation, in which someone with expertise or interest in a particular field collects and republishes material on a particular topic. Business Communication Headline News, for instance, was one of the earliest examples of media curation in the field of business communication.

The latest curation tools, such as Scoop.it, make it easy to assemble attractive online magazines or portfolios on specific topics. To see these tools in action, check out Bovee & Thill's Online Magazines for Business Communication:

  • Business Communication 2.0: Social Media and Electronic Communication
  • Teaching Visual Communication
  • Teaching a Modern Business Communication Course
  • Teaching Business Communication and Employment
  • Teaching Business Communication and Workplace Issues
  • Teaching Business Communication and Interpersonal Communication

And on the right side of our Scoop.it home page, you can see the many curated magazines that we follow as well.

Curation promises to bring the power of community and shared expertise to a lot of different fields, and we're excited to see how it will shape business communication.

See media curation video.



One of the more intriguing instructional questions we see on the horizon is how (or perhaps whether) to address video in the business communication curriculum.

Now that video is cheap to produce and often free to distribute, more and more companies are using video to supplement or replace written messages. Of course, video has been used for years, but it was usually concentrated in a few functional areas as marketing and training or reserved for special occasions. Significantly, video was often the domain of trained videographers who were comfortable making the many aesthetic and technical choices that quality video requires.

In much the same way that basic desktop publishing went mainstream, video is now a common media choice for many business professionals. The benefits for senders and receivers can be huge, whether it's an engineer posting a how-to video to the customer support blog or the CEO issuing an important public statement. The wild growth of YouTube and other video-sharing sites—even for clips that don't involve piano-playing kittens—is evidence of how readily professionals and consumers alike embrace content in video form.

Unfortunately, just as it was easy for the untrained to make hideous brochures and posters when they first got their hands on desktop publishing capabilities, making awkward or ineffective videos is easy, too.

Imagine a public, negative-news message from a CEO, such as the announcement of a facility closure or a product recall. A print form of this message would be challenging enough to write, given the multiple stakeholders in the audience and the level of emotional involvement. However, with a lean medium such as a news release or a blog posting, the number of nonverbal signals associated with the message is small, so the communicator can focus his or her energies on the words themselves and not have to worry too much about whether the packaging of the words will send unwanted messages.

In contrast, using video to send this message introduces a wide array of nonverbal variables. For instance, a CEO sporting a $200 haircut and $2,000 suit while sitting comfortably in a mahogany-paneled office won't be a very sympathetic character for delivering news of a major company layoff. At the other extreme, surviving employees who worry if they're next and community members who count on the company's economic activity might not be too comforted by a poorly lit CEO standing stiffly in front of a blank wall with a look of gloom and doom on her face. The same message delivered in two starkly different visual settings could trigger profoundly different reactions from the viewing audience.

Even for less dramatic messages, the communicator has to consider a significant number of variables: setting, lighting, props, camera angles, clothing, speech patterns, body language, vocal characteristics, whether to add musical cues on the fade in or fade out, and more.

With many instructors still trying to fit blogging and other new media into an already overloaded syllabus, we realize the thought of adding video might be enough to make one scream. However, as video continues to go mainstream as a business communication medium, how can today's and tomorrow's business professionals learn the nuances of good video production?

Video clearly falls outside the scope of a focused business writing classes, but what about broader business communication courses? Do you address video as a business medium now? If not, do you anticipate doing so in the future?

We'd love to hear your thoughts.

Photo credit: Andrew Rennie

 



ProtestJudging from the vociferous comments in the social media atmosphere, one might think that Netflix's decision to split itself in two or Bank of America's introduction of a debit card fee were some of the worst horrors ever visited upon the human race. BofA isn't likely to reverse its decision, even if thousands of people really do drop their banks for a credit union on Bank Transfer Day. However, the online uproar certainly prompted Netflix to first apologize for not doing a better job of explaining its decision—and then to reverse the decision entirely. [Update 11-1-11: In response to an overwhelming number of complaints, BofA just announced it is scrapping plans to introduce the debit card fee. The crowd has spoken!]

When we began covering social media in our textbooks some years ago, it was soon apparent that these new tools were much more than tools: They were disruptive technologies that were going to fundamentally alter the relationships between companies and their stakeholders. Sure enough, consumers have more power to influence business than ever before, and they aren't always yielding that power with a gentle touch and a kind word.

In addition to aggregating consumer voices, social media can amplify consumer moods and emotions. Unpopular decisions that might have once caused little more than isolated, ineffectual grumbling can now spark organized protests that tarnish brands, deplete goodwill, and even cause changes in corporate strategy.

The message to companies: You better get it right, you better get it right the first time, and you better explain yourself before, during, and after every change you make. Effective communication has never been as important as it is in this volatile new world of business. And even if you're doing something that makes strategic or financial sense, prepare yourself for a negative response.

Photo credit: tomboy from morguefile.com



These PowerPoint slides offer annotated examples from three companies making effective use of social media tools to develop customer relationships:

  • Biznik
  • Segway
  • Lie-Nielsen Toolworks

 

You can download the PowerPoint file from the link below.