Coaching social media

Talk like a human, not like a robot

This morning, a company rep told me, “”Customer satisfaction is our number one priority.”

I laughed, because no human being actually talks like that, right? Clearly, he was badly coached. Stilted words guaranteed a clumsy delivery. This turned into an awkward, laugh-out-loud moment.

Later this afternoon, I worked with another service.

“Customer service is our top priority,” the customer service person squawked at me, stiffly.

I didn’t laugh this time. I felt alarmed. Twice in one day? Two different companies? What gives?

When did training employees to talk like robots sneak back into fashion?

talk like a robot

The rise of social media taught us that robotic corporate scripts do little to help customers connect to the brand. Instead of training employees to ‘speak to a script’ — it’s far superior to learn business improvisational skills.

  • How might a customer react to a certain situation? How might an employee respond?
  • How might an employee initiate a conversation? How might a customer respond?

The answers to each set of questions are limitless. Limiting conversations to a small set of scripts dehumanizes the interaction. It’s a painful and humiliating experience for both the employee and the customer.

Instead of scripting your business interactions, imagine a training session where employees present each other with a variety of customer-facing situations. Employees can practice responding to the many moods and scenarios they encounter on a daily basis. Employees learn and practice empathy skills when they act as customers in each scenario.

Why would anyone ‘stick to the script’ when they can instead present an opportunity to make an authentic personal connection?

fun social media video

When to use social search to supplement Google search…

You can ask Google almost anything. But at the moment, you have to use your words.

Today, I can’t show Google a photo of an unknown thing and ask, “What is this thing?”

For such queries, social search might be a better option. You can post a photo on your blog, on Twitter, on Facebook, on YouTube, on Flickr — and ask your friends. After wading through guesses and jokes, you might want to use Google to verify the answers!

Before the popularity of online social search, I used my favorite social network: face-to-face. I’d ask friends and colleagues, “What is this?” In the case of the unknown object seen in the YouTube video posted below, it took about 5 years of lighthearted cocktail party conversations before I found a correct answer.

Today, I’m posting the object online for the first time. I’m going to guess that it’s going to take a considerably shorter amount of time than 5 years for someone to see this and correctly identify the object.

My three questions to you are:

1) how long before we’re able to show Google a photo of an object and have Google correctly identify the object?

2) under what other circumstances might you use social search to supplement Google search?

3) what is the ‘thing’ in the video?

fun social media

How are you using improv skills to build credibility?

True story: I haven’t formally interviewed for a job since 1999.

So when a local university called to ask if I could conduct a training session about interviewing skills, I politely declined. I haven’t interviewed for a real job since 1999. I don’t feel qualified to speak to a modern audience about interviewing for a job. I can personally claim no first-hand expertise in successfully interviewing in this job market — in this century!

For me, it’s all about credibility. If I don’t have experience or knowledge about the topic — why would I agree to talk about it? I told the event coordinator that I’d be happy to talk about body language or confidence building — but not interviewing skills.

Interviewing skills

Image by bpsusf, on Flickr

It was one of those out-of-the-blue phone calls that lasted 5 minutes — but it stuck in my mind in a glib, offhand way. I often use this anecdote to offer an important lesson on developing credibility: don’t agree to speak on a topic if you don’t have knowledge or experience in said topic!

But I thought about it a little more last week. I fell to wondering: who did the university get to speak on the topic?

It strikes me that job seekers who have interviewed extensively throughout this decade may have experience with interviewing. However, their experience may not necessarily be successful! After all, they haven’t landed a job.

As it turns out, the university hired an HR person from a large company to speak. And he received rave reviews.

Apparently, the speaker ran an improv session. He asked students to come up and fake interview with him. Brilliant approach! The HR person offered critiques, and the audience chimed in with their comments, as well. It was a lively and interactive show, with lots of actual learning taking place.

I’m a huge fan of using improv skills in business presentations. Improvisation shows that you know the material well enough to think on your feet. You can adapt your content on the fly. Done well, improv demonstrates competence and confidence.

Improv skills

by gaelenh, on Flickr

Often closely associated with raucous comedy shows, improv is also a critical skill in a business context. After all, listening is at the heart of improv. Instead of sticking firmly to a script, you listen and react to the other performers on stage, as well as the audience. You put aside your ego, and engage in public conversations.

As we enter into the era of greater social media use, business improv skills are becoming increasingly important. Gone are the days of using a corporate voice and sticking to the company script.

Boring, pompous, one-way conversations are officially OVER. I’ve been discussing the need for developing more improv skills in business communications for the past few years. In corporate training sessions, I often lead sessions by inviting the audience to participate and react. As a result — we all learn.

I see the need for more improv training in business communication. You?

And how are you currently using improv techniques in your business presentations?

content ideas social media Twitter

Ask yourself: what does your audience really want?

Google Plus Business Page

Google Plus opened its doors for business pages yesterday. Far out, right?

Boom! I’m suddenly getting swamped with requests to follow new G+ business pages.

So let’s say you’re a business communicator. And you’re posting the exact same content to your Facebook, Twitter, and Google Plus pages today.

Oh, uh! You’re being redundant.

Think about your audience. Let’s say I’m one of your most rabid brand fans. I follow you EVERYWHERE: Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and now — Google Plus.

Now —  let’s also say I publicly ask the question: where you would like me to follow you? Take your pick. If your content at each venue is mostly the same — why should I follow you everywhere? Let’s take a look at three common yet unsatisfactory answer categories:

  • You tell me that if I was a real fan, I’d follow you at all three and put up with your tiresome repetition — because that’s what real fans do. I should suffer. Love means putting up with thoughtlessness and boredom. (Uh-oh. I just went from thinking you’re wonderful to thinking that you’re an abusive jerk.)
  • Or maybe you tell me that I should follow you wherever the heck I want. It doesn’t matter to you, it’s really all about me getting your messages in a way that I most enjoy. (Congratulations! You’ve just revealed that your whole “it’s personal” mantra is a load of manure. Social media is a mass marketing play to you.)
  • You apologize, explaining that your audience is significantly different at each venue, so you need to be redundant to reach as many people as you can. (Oops! Telling me ‘the audience is significantly different’ is saying that I’m insignificant! Also, think about it: if your audiences are indeed ‘significantly different’ — why not develop significantly different messaging to appeal to their different needs?)

Yes, none of these three responses defending redundancy seem quite correct. At this brief moment in history, you have an almost risk-free opportunity to experiment with audience messaging. Google Plus Business Pages are brand-spanking new. Instead of redundant posting, what might you do to deepen or extend engagement with your brand’s biggest fans?

  • Take some time out for audience identification. What’s different about each audience? How can you appeal to different needs and desires?
  • Take some time to think through your content strategy. Instead of repeating the exact same message to three unique audiences — what might you do differently to be more appealing to each?

How might you offer your biggest fans an enhanced experience with your brand or business?

PS – Yes, I’ve created a Google+ business page. But I’m not promoting it yet — not until I’ve completed an audience profile and developed a content plan. You?

Blogging social media Twitter

Tsk! Some people do nothing but criticize…

“Waah! Some people just sit back + criticize when we try to do good for our community,” pout legions of wannabe activists.

Many passive-aggressive dimwits have gotten it into their puny brains that thoughtful, articulate criticism is the equivalent of “do-nothing”. That critics “sit back” while criticizing. That criticism is a nobler, fancier word for “bitching”. Or that a critic is slothful at best and damaging at worst.


photo credit: Rhys Asplundh

Here’s a five-step self-help program designed for those who whine about the perceived ease or “negativity” of thoughtful criticism:

1. Build or co-opt a good-sized public following of readers, viewers, friends, clients, and/or colleagues.

2. Publish a witty or thoughtful speech, article, video or blog post. Sharply criticize a sacred cow or popular vice/trend of the majority of followers.

3. Make sure the audience — including both saints + pyschopaths — has a public feedback mechanism. Respond to or categorize every rant, rave, and threat.

4. Participate in public discussions. Learn how to deal with personal threats, hate mail, irrational fanaticism, reasonable arguments, and irate phone calls.

For the fifth and final step, post but one ironic and grossly iniquitous tweet:

“Some people have nothing better to do but sit back and criticize.”

Alternatively, try this ostensibly easier exercise: learn to listen to and respect thoughtful criticism. Far from bitchy, good critics make you think. They inspire conversation. They foster relationships. They make ideas better. They make the community better.

Heck. They make YOU better.

Without criticism, there can be no activism. And honestly: when was the last time you learned anything from a great review of your work?

Blogging fun social media Twitter

The most passive-aggressive phrase in social media

Ding ding ding! We have a winner for THE MOST passive-aggressive phrase used in Facebook and Twitter posts.

Coming in at number one: “some people…”.

As in posting “Some people tear down everything positive we try to do for our community” instead of “Cindy habitually encourages people to think critically before jumping on dubious social media bandwagons with wild enthusiasm!”

Or “Some people overreact to everything!” instead of “Greg seems empathetic & usually writes passionately when he believes that oppressed people are being harmed.”

some girls - the rolling stones

Photo Credit: OddSock

For the legions of “some people” and “everything” posters out there, please note: there is but one letter of difference between “posting” and “pouting”. You can make a stronger case if you write with specificity as well as passion. Engaging directly with folks who think differently can help you adjust or strengthen your point of view.

Keeping your sense of humor can help, too.

What are your runner-ups for the most counterproductive phrases you’ve seen in Twitterville and Facebookland lately?

social media Twitter

This is social media on drugs…

We often talk about online social media channels as they are some kind of inebriate or illicit drug.

  • “Are you ‘on’ LinkedIn?”
  • “She’s addicted to Facebook.”
  • “I’m a heavy Twitter user.”

I wonder if it’s because we sense that our online social media behaviors aren’t exactly healthy or moderate. After all, we seldom admit an addiction to leafy green vegetables or that we’re heavy elliptical training machine users. And when was the last time you asked someone if they were “on” clean water?

Shattered into Yellow
This is your brain on Twitter?

photo credit: ganesha.isis

What other language from the drug subculture are you hearing with regard to online media? Pop open your Crackberry and give me a comment…

Presentation social media

Finding Hell in the Audience Poll

“Hell is other people” is a phrase from one of my favorite plays, Jean-Paul Sartre’s No Exit. A classic existential line, I like to think that it means that other people make you self-conscious.

Self-examination can be brutal. Hellish.

When it comes to our own transgressions, we don’t like to acknowledge them privately. And we certainly don’t want to discuss them publicly.

No ExitPhoto Credit: Newsbie Pix

That’s why I’ve learned to pick my words carefully when polling an audience about bad behaviors. Imagine asking a business audience:

“How many people here have been fired for something they’ve posted on Facebook?”

No hands go up. Now, imagine re-phrasing the question:

“How many people KNOW OF SOMEONE who has been fired for something they’ve posted on Facebook?”

Hands shoot up. Knowing looks are exchanged. “I know a guy who…” stories are shared.

We’re eager to gossip, to gleefully tell cautionary stories about the sins of other people. Anything to take the heat off of ourselves. If your intention is to stimulate audience discussion in a classroom or business setting, ask people to think of others… never themselves.

Hell, after all, is other people.

Presentation social media

Which audience are you really addressing?

“The real leader serves truth, not people.”  -J.B. Yeats

You have many audiences, all at once.

You have the audience that is in front of you as you speak.

You have the audience of people that will hear about your message from the first audience.

You may even have media coverage of your message, which gives you a whole new audience.

Further, your message may even have an audience long after you’re dead: a historical audience.

Which audience are you presenting for? The audience in front of you… or the audience who heard about you from the first audience? Or a historical audience?

What message will they hear?

All these audience research questions are worth considering as you craft and deliver a speech or presentation.

fun Presentation social media

Steal This Press Conference!

Actually, the title of this post should be:

“If you don’t like the news, why not go out and make your own?”

The above question is a quote from “Steal This Book“, a social instruction guide written by Abbie Hoffman in the 1970’s. Hoffman was a master at getting free publicity for his causes in the 1960’s and 70’s. He didn’t have the power of Goliath on his side — large corporations and governments certainly did not appreciate his approach! Instead, Hoffman used the stealthy power of a David to successfully change the course of the Amerikan conversation.

Abbie Hoffmancredit: osbomb

In one paragraph, Hoffman describes timeless presentation techniques for snatching free publicity using the conventional press conference system. With the popularity of social media channels, Hoffman’s techniques may be even more effective today than they were over 40 years ago.

The paragraph, in its entirety, is in italics below. I broke up the paragraph with free (stolen?) images from Flickr, for your viewing enjoyment.

Everything about a successful press conference must be dramatic, from the announcements and phone calls to the statements themselves. Nothing creates a worse image than four or five men in business suits sitting behind a table and talking in a calm manner at a fashionable hotel. Constantly seek to have every detail of the press conference differ in style as well as content from the conferences of people in power.

DSC_0069.JPGcredit: Andrew Feinberg

Make use of music and visual effects.

Bidê ou Balde - Natal da Integração Campo Bom - Dez 2008credit: Tiago Zaniratti

Don’t stiffen up before the press. Make the statement as short and to the point as possible. Don’t read from notes, look directly into the camera.

ACORN press conference 12/18/08credit: ProgressOhio

The usual television spot is one minute and twenty seconds. The cameras start buzzing on your opening statement and often run out of film before you finish. So make it brief and action packed.

GAW: Massive Dynamiccredit: Giant Ideas

The question period should be even more dramatic. Use the questioner’s first name when answering a question. This adds an air of informality and networks are more apt to use an answer directed personally to one of their newsmen.

TR20081106-011credit: Menlo School

Express your emotional feelings. Be funny, get angry, be sad or ecstatic. If you cannot convey that you are deeply excited or troubled or outraged about what you are saying, how do you expect it of others who are watching a little image box in their living room?

Bumper Sticker Wisdomcredit: Kevin Krejci

Remember, you are advertising a new way of life to people. Watch TV commercials. See how they are able to convey everything they need to be effective in such a short time and limited space.

A Christmas Present for My Snow-Bound Friendscredit: Caveman 92223

At the same tune you’re mocking the shit they are pushing, steal their techniques.

Keeping it Real, West Jerusalemcredit: David Masters

How many of Hoffman’s techniques can you “steal” to help promote your own worthy cause? And how astute is  “the establishment” (politicians, governments, large corporations and organizations, etc.) becoming at using Hoffman’s style to promote their own agenda?

How many of these techniques have you seen successfully deployed lately? Book burning, anyone?

PS — If you’d like to steal Hoffman’s book, I found it as a free pdf download here: I wonder how long before it will be a free Kindle download on Amazon… it only seems fitting.