Matthew Sekol

"The basic tool for the manipulation of reality is the manipulation of words."

Category: Communication

Phones are Dead! Long Live the Phones!

I’ve written about the death of email for personal communication, while business email has been unaffected. I’ve discussed how we’ve shifted personal email into something more functional through spam that we opt into willingly as consumers. Still thought something is amiss. There are now more ways to communicate than ever before, but for both personal and business communication, there can be only one king and, believe it or not, that king is the phone.

The phone has had an interesting near death experience lately for two reasons. First, some still hold onto classic landline telephones, but others literally cut the cord and just keep to their cell phones. The second death comes in the form of texting and the multitude of other messaging apps out there.

The biggest problem with messaging apps is that there is little to no standardization, so your circle of friends need to all use the same app or you are stuck using multiple apps. Nothing like the standard platform is email, however, we’ve already determined that email for personal communication is dead. Texting is good for instant communication and it is fairly standard, but it still has more in common with email than the phone. It relies on a sender and a receiver, back and forth. Texts could go unanswered for days. The other problem is that inflections and intentions are lost, just like with email.

With the phone, you have instant communication, period. The phone also allows you to catch inflections in the voice, leading to intention. There’s also a convenience factor to the phone that is lost when something like video is added. The phone is truly the real-time communication you crave because it hits that sweet spot between real-time communication, ease of use and contextual audio cues.

So, why don’t we use it more?

To some extent, the phone also has the same problem as personal email. It became the source of a lot of spam. Things got so bad, the government stepped in with the Do Not Call list, which is almost like a nationwide spam filter. If only telephone companies had the foresight to predict and design spam filtering on phones, they could’ve made a fortune.

Another problem similar to email is something that is self-inflicted. With the advent of Caller ID, it became easy to ignore spammers, but also people you know. You could just ignore them unless it is convenient. Oddly enough, technology has enabled us to be introverts through our fear of what’s on the other side of that communication. When someone calls, we know that person wants something. We assign a value to the caller’s potential ‘ask’ against all the other stuff we have going on. If the value is low, we simply avoid the call.

What a sad state we’re in!

We shouldn’t be afraid of what’s on the other end of that call or assigning these arbitrary values. Instead, shift your mind into opportunity mode – maybe whatever is on the other end of that phone call is something amazing that can help your career or your life. Even better, maybe the person’s ‘ask’ of you will be advice that will help them grow or make their life better.

Here’s my challenge: Think before you have to communicate and try using the phone instead of your normal method. Do this for one month to see what happens.

I’d love to hear what happens in that month, so feel free to post it in the comments below!

Spam is Dead! Long Live Spam!

Back in Part 1, I talked about the decline of personal email for communications. Our failure isn’t limited to email though. Here’s a quick story. I spent the better part of this past Father’s Day weekend working on my father-in-law’s computer and then again with my wife’s uncle’s computer. This started a lot of conversations on their purpose.

When my in-laws’ computers were first purchased, email was a much larger part of the personal communication experience. It was THE way to stay in touch, but now both computers are used for simple functional tasks like personal email, and banking with a new personal communication tool in the mix, social networks.

They both like their computers still, but had the same opinion when I asked about their personal email. They could take it or leave it if they got new computers. There was no need to migrate their old personal email as much of it was just spam. Balance this against the recent Quartz report about the decline of spam and this is where things get interesting.

Spam’s nature remains the same, but it has changed. While there are still blatantly obvious spam emails that are now better filtered, thanks to Google and Microsoft, we now opt into our spam. Most of my personal email is from consumer based sites that I shop at frequently. Spam is no longer something we avoid. We embrace it as part of our consumer productivity. As a result, we’ve moved personal communication into social networks for one to many (let’s leave text messaging out for now since it isn’t strictly computer based).

Through our journey of personal communication, we’ve killed physical letters, evolved into email and then killed that too again through social networks. Spam has followed us all the way through at each stage. Social networks are the ultimate method to embrace spam and kill personal communication.

“The beauty of social networks is you can get users to send it themselves”
– from Kevin Haley, director of Symantec’s security response

As an exercise to prove spam exists and that true personal communication is dead on social networks, let’s run through the top interactions through my personal email, Facebook and Twitter.

Here’s my current top personal emails outside of the pre-filtered spam.

– Banana Republic sales
– Various emails from Amazon
– Emails from XBox, DC comics, Humble Bundle and various custom T-Shirt sites
– Billing and payment confirmations

As you can see, I have bought all in to being a consumer in my personal email. There is not a one to one communication to be found.

Next, let’s take a look at Facebook.

– Political post
– Photos of kids I don’t know
– Funny video
– Religious post
– Consumer re-post
– Photos of kids I don’t know

Granted, I control my Likes on Facebook pretty well, so I don’t get too much spam. Mostly, I get a filtered down version of a complex issue distilled into black and white. While I do enjoy trying to keep up with my old friends and their families, I’m not truly getting a personal interaction. I see the photos or posts and comment or move on.

Lastly, here’s Twitter.

– Witty comment from a stranger
– Witty comment from a known company
– No clue, inside joke from a stranger
– Not witty comment from a stranger
– Local news article from newspaper
– Too many other things to see in the 10 minutes since I checked last

Twitter seems to be the best for one to one personal communication, but the relationship is missing. You can’t build a meaningful conversation out of a Tweet.

Is spam to blame for the decline of personal communication. Well…not really. I think we just have too many choices and have built ourselves into consumable information and consumerism though to build real relationships.

Social networks aren’t adding to real one to one or even one to many personal communication. While they have their uses, we still aren’t keeping in touch as we once had. We’re at a point where personal email has become functional and consumer based. Social networks are also consumer based and lacking either the personal interaction or relationships we need to truly build connections with each other. While great monumental shifts in culture take place online, the unique individual is what I see missing. How can you connect with one person ever again?

Ladies and gentleman, we’ve come full circle. I’d like to re-introduce you to the indispensable tool of businesses everywhere – the telephone.

Email is Dead! Long Live Email!

As I check my personal email, I realize it has died. Yet, I still grab my phone and check my work email constantly. There is definitely a disparity today that wasn’t so apparent all those years ago. While business email has thrived with Microsoft Exchange and now Office 365, personal email has become a wasteland.

I started my personal email journey with a Penn State student account, then an Enter.net account, moved into Hotmail, then GMail, my own flockofsekols.com domain (still in use) and back to Hotmail (now Outlook.com) again. As I look through my old personal emails from over the years, I realize it has been dead for most of the time.

Stage 1: The Demise of Personal Interation
Back in the late 1990s and early 2000s, I received quite a bit of personal email on Hotmail while my family and friends used other various email systems to keep in touch. I received emails to engage in personal conversation, but eventually, with the dawn of increasingly rich content on the Internet, personal email became funny or relevant links and pictures.

I still used my personal email, but adjusted my interaction. I, along with others, started to attempt to one-up others. Forget about actually engaging with someone! There was now a race to send something funny or relevant to your circle before someone else discovered it. The payback was the replies of innocuous approval.

Personal email had become nothing more than a modern Facebook or Twitter – friends and relatives sending information or links with little original thought. This shift in discourse was about to open us all up to a BIG problem…

Stage 2: The Rise of Spam
As personal email became the social network of its day, scammers moved in. After all, it was easy to slip in advertisements and scams amid all the other content being thrown around.

Corporate email systems meanwhile were still being used mostly productively. I’ll admit there was a brief growing pain here while people still figured out how to use a personal email account and a business one. Spam helped us all figure that out though.

Spam forced companies to start managing email at a different level. Looking  back, it seems so obvious now, but back when email started no one really saw the risk. In our corporate lives, spam checking solutions were implemented and email was refocused to the business, meanwhile our personal accounts became hotbeds for phishing scams, spam and other seedy activities.

But then, something even more ridiculous happened.

Stage 3: Google Kills It and We Embrace the Spam
At this stage, Google changed the landscape of personal emails in two ways. First, they offered larger mailboxes and second, they started in initiating spam scanners.

Here, we built up on personal mailboxes as throw away. With ever growing space and search calling up emails, we just kept everything. There was really no need to reply because nothing insightful was ever sent. Personal email became the basement of the internet. Just store what you don’t really need down here and come get it whenever you want.

Any communication left here was destined to die under the guise of archiving. In this new system, recipients felt safe in ignoring any sort of interaction.

While this happened, legitimate corporations realized that email was the perfect form of communication to reach real consumers. IT systems were upgraded and suddenly we could shop and pay bills online. This vastly changed the landscape of our personal email.

Our personal Inboxes were suddenly filled with legitimate spam and here is where it dies.

Stage 4: The Death
Certainly, its application, if ever used anymore, is not personal discourse or keeping in touch, but consumerism. We have entered a functional stage, where it is providing a service where we shop, consume and pay bills.

Sure, we might send an update out there once in a while, but likely it is through a social network of some kind. Personal email is surely dead. I suggest you play taps for such a short lived way to track your friends and family.

Email Isn’t Dead!
In the business world though, the demise hasn’t happened. Of course, other systems have arisen, just like in the personal space, but business email remains an integral part of work, despite efforts to kill it off over the years. There are a lot of great reasons why work email hasn’t died yet, but there’s one that stands out.

Regardless of your company’s email platform, you can still communicate over a standard protocol (SMTP) with all of your external partners. Nothing special is needed. Every business can use any email platform today and be sure that they can still compete and communicate in the global environment.

Trying to kill corporate email is like saying that there is one new web platform that is not based on HTTP.

Will email ever die? Well, likely something new will come up, but it won’t be born out of something created by a corporate entity. It will have to be something for everyone, like the simplicity and ubiquity of SMTP – Send and Receive.

About Matthew Sekol:
Matthew Sekol is a Microsoft Solutions Sales Lead with a degree from Penn State in English. With a mix of creativity and a passion for computers, he has a unique perspective on life, business and technology.

If you enjoyed this post, share it with your connections or click the thumbs up above to let me know!

Follow Matthew on Twitter

How Does Your Article’s Title Impact Response?

I have a lot of strong opinions. Sometimes my opinions get me into trouble, but most times I use my opinions to get others to think or at least persuade them to see my point of view. Writing on LinkedIn has proven to be an interesting experiment for me over the past year. One thing though has proven the most difficult to master – writing the title, especially for editorial content.

The title is the way you hook people into clicking on your article to see what your thoughts are. While there are many articles out there on writing a great title and getting it noticed on Pulse, I’m going to take a step back to examine two examples of titles for the same news story in an attempt to help you make sense of how each engages the reader.

My Opinion is My Title and By the Way, Here’s the News

Recently, there was an executive shakeup at Microsoft. Since this news is so potentially massive and multi-faceted, I went to Bing to check it out and get people’s opinions. I’m exceptionally curious about Stephen Elop’s departure because, while Lumia sales are struggling in the US, there is momentum overseas, but no flagship phone in sight, yet Microsoft seems to have a game plan to move forward with Windows Phone 10.

This is when this Wired article from Issie Lapowsky caught my eye

Wired article about Microsoft's dire future, apparently

Wired article about Microsoft’s dire future, apparently

BOOM! I am hooked! I clicked this link because, while I doubt there was an official concession from Microsoft, I wanted to read the author’s opinion on the subject. For example, maybe they know something about Satya and Stephen’s internal relationship that I hadn’t heard or they had unique insight into the situation. I clicked the link and read the article. The article itself states the facts, but turns the news itself into the opinion without much thought.

“…his exit from the company seems to be as strong a sign as any that Microsoft is—at least in spirit—seceding from a crowded smartphone market that has become increasingly difficult to penetrate.”

The question I’m asking is why does x (the departure) mean y (Microsoft is leaving mobile behind)?

The article does mention one other fact, which is the departure of 18,000 Nokia employees. Still though, this fact fails to tie that back into the main opinion and title through any analysis.

Wired, which usually has great content, is exploiting our short attention spans (ironic link to a study from Microsoft) in an effort to get us to think a certain way. To an extent, this isn’t just click-bait because the article’s title isn’t even hyperbole for the article’s content.

A better approach for this article might have been to juxtapose the recent Ignite and Build conference announcements around Continuum and Windows Universal Apps against Stephen Elop’s exit and the Nokia layoffs, questioning what might be coming and hinting at the inconsistent message between all of these announcements. What about the fact that Satya doesn’t mention the word “phone” in his letter to employees once and only mentioned “mobile” twice, but not in direct relation to this news?

Still, these ideas don’t impact the real issue, which is the poor title.

Suggestions for re-titling this article include:
With Recent Executive Changes, Is Microsoft Leaving Mobile Behind?
Stephen Elop’s Departure Brings Up New Questions about Mobile at Microsoft

Editorial pieces that have questions in their titles or frame questions are great because you are engaging the reader to ask that same question. The author is then free to provide the answer with your their unique perspective.

Since the title is provocative, but the article skimps on insight, you’ll notice that the comments have already devolved into a flame war for Microsoft vs. Google vs. Apple. This is not productive engagement, but might gain Wired more ad revenue through clicks to the article itself.

Same News, with Insight and Engagement

It didn’t take me too long to find another article about the same subject written with genuine insight. Roger Cheng over at CNet nailed it with his insight on the same news story.

cnet

If you’re connected with me, you know I’m a Microsoft fan. Regardless of this fact, I love Roger’s article because he lays out as it is – the good and the bad, the shakeup and what Microsoft needs to do to address it’s current mobile issue and outlining what they’ve done in the recent past around the Surface. Granted, this article’s title is pretty long and it includes a sub-title, but the framework laid out follows through nicely in the article.

1. It gives us the news (facts).
2. It tells us how this news relates to the company, industry, and market (context).
3. Reminds us where we’ve been (challenges).
4. Hints at where we might go (potential).

Roger and the editors over at CNet got me to read the article through the question in the title and gave me useful insight, helping me build my own thoughts around this topic. Quick side note – not every article needs to follow this format, the one you’re reading now doesn’t for example, but this format is a great one to follow when posting your own thoughts on industry news.

If you check the comments section on this article, you’ll find more useful comments on the topic at hand. It is almost as if just by writing the question in the title, Roger has invited people to participate in a real conversation. This is what you want to emulate when you write, especially on LinkedIn. The more people you engage meaningfully, the more connections you can make.

Picking a Title that Engages

There is now little difference from writing on LinkedIn and writing for professional publications. The lines are blurring. On LinkedIn though, there’s a lot riding on someone reading your article. It could lead to new sales, a new job, or even a new way of thinking. Here are three helpful tips:

  • Don’t turn your title into something that should’ve been a Tweet. People will simply read it and move on.
  • Be sure your title captures what you’re writing about and you back it up with your article’s content.
  • If the article is your opinion on a news story, try to engage the reader by asking them a question, it can be a great hook for their participation.

Think about these tips when you are writing new content for LinkedIn Groups, too! You might just see your engagement go way up!

How to Get People to
Read your Notification

mel_bochner_blah_blah_blah

Business support groups like HR, IT, facilities, etc. need to communicate changes and updates out to employees often. Probably too often. You can’t blame these groups though, they have a responsibility to communicate compliance rules, training, changes to processes, downtime and improvements.

Your email is probably already inundated with useless information and now these notifications compound it. As a result, almost everyone filters or ignores these types of emails. Here’s some tips to manage a notification to ensure it is read.

To be fair, there will always be people that don’t read your notifications no matter what you do. These steps though should get people reading your email and at least transfer the responsibility to them to read it.

Step 1: Consistency
Well, you can’t start being consistent on your next email campaign, but you can put a good foot forward. Work with your team or organization and design a central notification sending address to work with. If you have a Corporate Communications or Internal Marketing group, work with them for reviewing, branding, and potentially sending.

For all notifications your organization sends out, use the same sending address so your employees begin to recognize the sender (and hopefully not set up a rule).

Design a reusable format that will be the standard for your organization.

Step 2: Pick Your Audience
Make sure that your audience is appropriate. For example, if you rebooting an email server that serves only 100 people, only send the notice to the 100 people. If you communicate useless information out to the masses, it will train them to tune you out.

Step 3: Include Something Actionable if Required
It is absolutely the worst when you send a notification that requires an action from your employees, but it goes into a black hole and no one does what they need to.

In the Subject line, include an ACTION REQUIRED: so that employees know they need to do something. This should halt them from deleting it immediately. Include dates to complete by in the subject or body of the message.

As a helpful side note, if there is an action required, be sure you have a way to track it and don’t be afraid to send follow ups. This may be required for tracking compliance training for example.

Step 4: Avoid the Technical Jargon
Coming from IT, I can tell you – just avoid anything technical. Chances are it will be over the employees heads. Stick with the impact. If we continue the example about rebooting an email server, You will not be able to send or receive emails between from 1-3PM EDT on Saturday, Oct. 25th. Incoming messages from the internet will queue and be delivered after 3PM EDT.

Step 5: Leverage Your Leaders
For major changes, engage your managers and leaders with supplemental information so that they can reiterate the message if their teams ask. You can do this through leadership focused emails.

Step 6: Bonus!
This step is a bonus and includes one! If you are desperate to get people to read your notifications, include an incentive. Put a gift card reward for the 50th person to reply or some other incentive at the bottom of the email. Eventually, this will train your users to stop ignoring you.

All these steps should help you do everything you can to inform the employees through a notification. If they still refuse to read, you can always ask them for feedback on communicating better. For example, an IM broadcast might work better in an emergency.

Warning – ask people for their opinions at your own risk!

Where’s the Humor?

I’ve gotten into a full swing of writing LinkedIn articles now. I certainly don’t consider myself what you might call a ‘swinger,’ but I do alright. Some articles I write are serious, some are funny. On the flip side, I’ve read quite a few LinkedIn articles too. Most are serious and some talk about using humor or empathy in your job, but rarely do they use humor.

Come on, folks. We’re only on this crazy planet for a short time. We spend half of our lives working. Why not put a little humor into you day?

Corporate Life is Your Life
There’s a reason why people post Dilbert comics on their cubicle and dream of bashing their printer with a bat (a la Office Space). Working in the corporate world is horrible. It just is.

If you don’t believe me, consider the monotony, red tape,hours in pointless meetings, the soul sucking policies and procedures you must follow. Plus, what’s with that guy that always sleeps at his desk? How isn’t he fired yet?

If you’re happy in your job, come join the rest of us on the dark side. As the t-shirt states, we have cookies.

A Call to Action
I really believe LinkedIn Pulse should have a Humor channel. Work is ridiculous, yet we do it anyway. Why not let us share our combined depression and spin it into something humorous?

I certainly not proposing that we turn LinkedIn into Facebook, but come on! Being human means two things, you work and do stupid things. There are a million great stories out there (and voices) that have the power to give us a chuckle throughout our day.

I posted a request for this channel over in the LinkedIn Help Center. If you agree – go comment!

The Only Thing We Have to Fear
I can imagine why folks may not want to be funny on LinkedIn, I get it. You’re trying to get your name out there in your industry or maybe you are trying to get a job. But, you can spin out humor into a lesson. For example, I took a shot on two LinkedIn Posts when I got started. The first was about a bad ATS experience I had and the second was a humorous re-writing of my resume as a result. The end result? Maybe I imparted a little knowledge and backed up my belief that I use humor to get things done!

What are you afraid of? Get writing!

What Weird Al can teach us
about Corporate Communication

No, I’m not talking about “Word Crimes.” If you are that far gone, please close your LinkedIn account to avoid embarrassment and check with your nearest 7 year old for assistance. I’m talking about Weird Al’s all too familiar generic corporate speak found in “Mission Statement.” The song is a parody of Crosby, Stills & Nash’s “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes.” Go listen to both, I’ll wait…

I think the “Mission Statement” is great for two reasons:
1. The melody is technically proficient and catchy!
2. Anyone working at a modern business has been exposed to a mission statement similar to Weird Al’s interpretation and its ensuing spawn of generic corporate speak. Typically, when people hear these nebulous phrases, there is an uptick in self-inflicted head injuries.

As much as I’d like to discuss the finer points of Weird Al’s musical ability, that’s what Facebook is for. Let’s focus on number 2 and start with the mission statement itself.

In a few scant sentences, a business is expected to write a framework for its purpose. Think of it as an elevator pitch that justifies the company’s existence and its place in the universe. Furthermore, it relinquishes any responsibility to answer questions about your business’s true nature. Just refer to the mission statement!

The word ‘mission’ is jam packed with action! Didn’t you realize that your employees jump over hurdles and crawl under barbed wire? It’s the ‘statement’ that gives us trouble. An example of a statement is, “I am confused by your mission statement.” That’s it, one sentence. A quote from Disney’s “Aladdin” comes to mind – “Phenomenal cosmic power! Itty bitty living space.” This thing is doomed from the start.

But, we’re stuck with it. Someone long ago etched in stone that all companies must have a tweet-length summary to define itself – so say we all! The result is nothing less than a complete deconstruction of the English language into broad terms that could fit any company as Weird Al portrays. Quartz went as far to call out companies that use phrases from “Mission Statement.” See how many you can interchange! It’s fun for all ages!

How does a company move on from this blatant attempt to dumb down the true essence of the business?

1. Your employees, consultants, and fortune tellers need to know what exactly your company does and what your expectations are. Let’s help them get there. Look past the bland words that you’ve associated with your awesome business and define a clear strategy for the company with specifics. Something like, “we strive to be the preferred provider for 70% or higher of the widget resellers.” After all, you want to do well, right? Take those ideas (more than one paragraph is encouraged here) and communicate your expectations to your employees.

Adjust these paragraphs and ultimately your mission statement as your company evolves.

2. When selling, communicating, or interacting in any way to the outside world, use those same internal paragraphs to craft a concrete summary specific for the situation at hand. For example, “we provide our inventory to 70% of the widget resellers because ours are more yellow than our competitors.”

3. If at all possible, don’t refer to or publish your mission statement on the internet unless you can supplement it with honesty and specifics. Bury it deep down in your soul and cover it with junk food. Weird Al isn’t the only one judging you.

Well, we’ve got our mission statement and we’ve isolated it fairly well from doing any harm elsewhere by expanding it with specifics, or at least we though so! Out of left field, where all problems originate, we find a new communication issue that permeates a lot of organizations, stemming from the mediocrity of the mission statement – the dreaded convoluted management email.

This email is from anyone in charge to any group that is affected by some action. For example, it may be a CxO level email to a group that is being downsized or a director level email announcing a new goal for a group of teams. Typically, HR has been mistakenly encouraged to perform in an editorial capacity to soften the communication.

Beware! Danger! Watch Out! These might be typical signs I would flash at you before you click Send. While you might think you have written a carefully thought out communication, you need to reconsider if you’ve been infected by the mission statement virus. Here are some tips.

For bad news, don’t beat around the bush or pontificate, just get to the point! Folks have most likely heard rumors or at least understand what’s what and how your business works. They have either read the internet articles and analyst reports about your company or Gary in Accounting has told them the full deal (after all, Gary is the one who told the analysts). Give them some credit and be straight with them. Yes, it will suck, but they will at least appreciate your honesty, even if they hate you forever for whatever it is you’re doing to them.

If you are a manager or higher, you might find yourself having your hands tied as to what you can say and when. Assess whether it is the proper time to communicate the message. It might be better to wait until the complete picture has formed. If, on the other hand, there’s top secret machinations at work, but some communication still needs to get out (because information has a mind of its own, especially when HR is involved), you should be succinct.

For other news, set clear goals and timelines or at least communicate downstream and make sure the real message gets to the folks doing the work. Measureable results allow you to, get this, measure the results you get and hold people accountable! This isn’t rocket science, people (unless your company is building rockets, then I apologize).

The generic mission statement has infected our corporate culture, causing strife and despair across many companies. There are all sorts of reasons this happens. Sometimes people think they know what people want to hear and try to coddle them, but when a convoluted and generic ‘feel-good’ statement escapes, it can be a poison. Poor communication loaded with useless information only insults your audience and leads to mental uprisings complete with pretend pitchforks! Instead of being burned as a virtual effigy, modify your communication methods and be honest, specific and succinct.

Don’t be the target of internet ridicule for your mission statement! That’s what the comment section below is for!

© 2017 Matthew Sekol

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑