Monday, 25 February 2013

New blogging adventures, have I bitten off more than I can chew?!

I've broken my excellent track record these last two weeks. Having finally settled into a blogging routine, last weekend I had to abandon my regular schedule as I took on ownership of the CIPR Education and Skills Group's online presence. I'm taking on their blog, main CIPR homepage, Twitter and LinkedIn.

Between getting a schedule together for this, and finishing my choreography for Anything Goes, it's been a few weeks with not a minute's downtime. I'm not fitting in my own blogging as a result. Have I bitten off more than I can chew?!

I'm feeling fairly confident that after things get settled, and once I finish my choreography, I'll be back on track. But for the next few weeks, this blog might be quieter than it has been for the past few months.

Sunday, 10 February 2013

Hanging on the telephone: learning about communicating virtually

This week I listened in on a webinar session, entitled "Who are you talking to?"

It was billed as a chance to learn about communication in a virtual environment. I was excited: it's something I do a lot of, working for a company with headquarters in California and with remote members of team based both in the UK and abroad.

I have to say, on the whole I was fairly disappointed. It's expected that if I sign up for something free, or hosted by a sponsor, that I'll have to hear a little bit about that sponsor. But really, to set up a training session where 50% (20 min of a 45 min session) is a sales pitch is taking the proverbial.

There really wasn't much consideration of how to use communication techniques in a virtual environment. What I was hoping for was something that would consider how to compensate for the absence of body language cues, how to help establish common ground, or how to tackle flow when there are several people all trying to speak at once. It's really easy to be in a bad conference call, where people can't hear what is being said, or where everyone is trying to speak and good communication gets lost as a result. 

Ironically a good quarter of that 45 minutes was spent sharing feedback on what visual cues to look for in communication: so if the person you're talking to is looking up they're a big picture/visual thinker, looking to the side an auditory thinker (they apparently look at their ears), and looking down a kinaesthetic thinker. In a webinar environment there is no verbal cue: that would have been an interesting discussion to get into. Even on video conference this can be almost impossible, since screen resolutions or camera/screen size make it difficult to see more than a rough outline of the people in the room. I would love to come across more relevant advice/reading/training on how to do virtual meetings really well.

What it did do was reinforce some general good communications practice, such as thinking about your sphere of influence (Covey's seven habits) and how to use that sphere of control available to you to build a wider circle of influence. I also liked the trainer (Lynne Copp, founder of the Worklife Company): she consistently used a clear and varied tone that made the 45 minutes go quickly. She had some interesting ideas on using "words, music and dance", or in other words ensuring that body language and physical self have such a large impact on our ability to influence. I believe she said just 7% of our ability to influence is the words we use, the rest is all wrapped up in that frame of reference created by the "music and dance". 

It also reinforced some known truths about effective communication, which is never a bad thing: 

  1. Email is the worst form of communication. Ambiguity is so easy on email. Have a conversation face to face, or by phone. It's almost impossible to influence if you can't be in dialogue with that person. Email doesn't cut it.
  2. Unplanned attempts to influence will almost certainly fail. This was a point that really got drilled home to me on an excellent training course last month, where we spent two days considering personalities and how to influence these different types of people. You need to consider who it is you are talking to, how they think and what method of influence they are most likely to respond to.
  3. This in turn feeds the last important truth: two-way dialogue is key. They say that the majority of your time in influence should be spent listening, not talking. Get feedback, involve with open questions, and summarise the responses you hear. That all adds up to showing understanding, which in turn makes influence more likely.
Learning more about webinars is a focus for me this year, and I've already lined up some more reading to do on the subject. Two key takeaways for me from this particular webinar were:

  • Don't talk over each other. The webinar established this by only allowing input via Twitter or an online popup box - all attendees were muted. In a live meeting, another way to do this would be just to establish ground rules at the top of the meeting, and encourage people to be considerate to others on the call.
  • Use a varied tone of voice. I already mentioned how well Lynne did this on this particular webinar. It's important if you're the only person talking to do so with authority and keep the listening audience engaged.
I'm starting to compile more thoughts on running good webinars, and more on this to come.

Sunday, 3 February 2013

Goodreads: another look at personal endorsements

I wanted to follow up on last week's post about the power of the friend recommendation. I'm convinced that this needs more investigation.

It reminded me to take another look at Goodreads. I signed up for this site a few weeks ago when I was prompted by a Facebook invitation from a friend. Interestingly enough, my husband had verbally encouraged me to join several months earlier, but it took that live prompt via Facebook from another friend before I finally got round to checking it out. That says something itself about how influential an online peer recommendation is: I didn't take the advice verbally given by my best friend, but I did take the offer when it was made simple for me by taking me straight from invitation link to online registration.

Once that initial hurdle is dealt with, what about registration itself? Goodreads uses the same authentication that a lot of sites now use to make this as easy as possible: Facebook Connect. This is doubly clever. For one, it again makes the whole process less burdensome as I only have to confirm my details, rather than enter them all in from scratch. And (even smarter) Goodreads now gets something much more valuable in return for my registration: an easy brand advocate. With no effort on my part, Goodreads prompts me to tell all my Facebook friends, and invite them to join too.

On the whole, the interface for registration is (probably on purpose) confusing. I wouldn't have actually invited everybody I'm connected to on Facebook had I understood what it was I was being prompted to do, but I was being too lazy to interrogate the interface so just kept clicking to get through the process quickly. However having already spammed all my Facebook contacts, here's an interesting little social experiment at work, as my theory (that you follow up on recommendations from your friends) gets tested as I can then see who goes on to register in turn for a Goodreads account. Several do. Several also display that same idiocy which I had and go on to spam their entire Facebook friends list. And so this goes on and on...

If it's so easy to make a brand advocate, why shouldn't more online businesses make use of this to promote their goods and services? I did nothing to become an advocate for Goodreads except click on a link (which I didn't even read). I'm not saying that such behaviour is actually a healthy or long-term conversion to brand advocacy, but oftentimes it's that initial contact that is the hardest to make. Getting people to stick around is definitely a challenge too (and I'll come back to that point more in future posts), and good functionality, good design, good content and good user journeys is all crucial.

For now, I'm still playing around with Goodreads: it doesn't do much for me, but I'm interested to see that several of the friends I "recommended" it to are using it: in fact two have just told me today that they are using it and finding it valuable. So that in turn has prompted me to go back and give it another look. Oh, look! There's that friend recommendation working all over again :)