Thursday, June 27, 2013

Reach out to the mobile reader

Say hello to your audience.
Next time you're in a public place look around. What do you see? I'll bet more than a majority of the people will have two white wires running to their ears or their gazes will be cast down at a phone.

If it's your job to reach an audience, you need to think mobile.

If you want to reach me, for example, I am reading on my phone more and more. It sure beats lugging a laptop around just to catch up on my reading.

The rise of smartphones means that more and more people are going online from a mobile device, Karen McGrane writes at The Harvard Business Review.
According to Pew Internet, 55 percent of Americans said they'd used a mobile device to access the internet in 2012. A surprisingly large number — 31 percent — of these mobile internet users say that's the primary way they access the web. This is a large and growing audience whose needs aren't being met by traditional desktop experiences.
Some more numbers:
Young adults: 50 percent of teen smartphone owners, aged 12-17, say they use the internet mostly on their cell phone, according to a 2013 Pew Internet report . Similarly, 45 percent of young adults aged 18-29 mostly go online with a mobile device.
Amazon, Wikipedia, and Facebook all see about 20 percent of their traffic from mobile-only users, according to comScore. A whopping 46 percent of shoppers reported they exclusively use their mobile device to conduct pre-purchase research for local products and services. Internal data from some finance, healthcare, and travel providers show similar mobile-only usage. If you're trying to reach customers who only shop, bank, and socialize on their mobile devices, you're missing out.
Do us all a favor and make your messages mobile friendly. If you're in love with an annoying popup add on your site, you're not mobile friendly.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Mind your manners in conversation

Lose the hats, guys.
Other than avoiding politics and religion, what are the rules of polite discourse these days? Especially given that everyone seems on edge about so many issues?

Perhaps we can take a lesson from Cecil B. Hartley, whose A Gentleman's Guide to Etiquette was published in 1875. Yup, things don't change that much.

A few suggestions for getting along with fools, knaves and idiots:

1. Even if convinced that your opponent is utterly wrong, yield gracefully, decline further discussion, or dexterously turn the conversation, but do not obstinately defend your own opinion until you become angry…Many there are who, giving their opinion, not as an opinion but as a law, will defend their position by such phrases, as: “Well, if I were president, or governor, I would,” — and while by the warmth of their argument they prove that they are utterly unable to govern their own temper, they will endeavor to persuade you that they are perfectly competent to take charge of the government of the nation.

2. Retain, if you will, a fixed political opinion, yet do not parade it upon all occasions, and, above all, do not endeavor to force others to agree with you. Listen calmly to their ideas upon the same subjects, and if you cannot agree, differ politely, and while your opponent may set you down as a bad politician, let him be obliged to admit that you are a gentleman.

3. It is ill-bred to put on an air of weariness during a long speech from another person, and quite as rude to look at a watch, read a letter, flirt the leaves of a book, or in any other action show that you are tired of the speaker or his subject.In a dispute, if you cannot reconcile the parties, withdraw from them. You will surely make one enemy, perhaps two, by taking either side, in an argument when the speakers have lost their temper.

4. If you find you are becoming angry in a conversation, either turn to another subject or keep silence. You may utter, in the heat of passion, words which you would never use in a calmer moment, and which you would bitterly repent when they were once said.

More here.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Do you have clients or customers? (It matters.)

When I acquire a new client I usually ask what they call the people they hope to sell things to. "Clients" or "customers?"

"Whatever" is not an acceptable answer.

When IBM acquired PricewaterhouseCoopers Consulting more than a decade ago, the PwC consultants relentlessly stressed that "customers" were about managing transactions but "clients" were about investing in relationships.

Michael Schrage, a research fellow at MIT Sloan School’s Center for Digital Business, writes that the word change was very important for a product-oriented company like IBM as it morphed into a professional services firm.

Perhaps we can call this part of a company's "strategic vocabulary." One word can suggest a totally different raison d'être.

Schrage notes the effect of another word choice. At a meeting in a different company executives were boring themselves to tears trying to imagine the "products" their "customers" would want in 10 years.
The facilitator, with a world-class flair for bafflegab and platitude, had asked the group to envision products customers might desire a decade hence. The conversation regurgitated cliché after customer-centric product cliché until the moment the team rejected and replaced the facilitator's language. 
Instead of brainstorming new "products," the group instead collectively chose to imagine future "offers." The word forced a different discipline of design thinking. "Offers" usefully blurred categorical and cultural distinctions between "product" and "service" innovation. Making an "offer" looked and felt different than selling a "product." The more people talked, the clearer it became: "offers" was simply a better word and organizing principle for generating more innovative innovation scenarios. "Offers" liberated participants, where "products" constrained them. 
Language matters. A lot. Amazon, for example, lists over 3000 publications about "product innovation" and roughly 800 for "service innovation." According to its search engine, however, the world's largest bookseller doesn't have a single "offers innovation" title. Is that an opportunity?
Schrage notes that IBM also substituted "team" for "committee." I think if I hear one more person use the word "team" I'll scream. It's typically used by someone to assert that he's in charge. Well, if you're not in charge, don't imply that I'm on your team.

"Commodity words yield commodity outcomes," Schrage concludes.

I like that.

Monday, June 10, 2013

What are your words worth?

I'm pretty sure that "letting it all hang out" is not the first thing CEOs have in mind when comes to discussing a company's hard times.

Yet candor may be responsible for the financial health of some companies, according to a survey by consultant and author Laura Rittenhouse.
"When leaders clearly communicate the company's principles and profit expectations to customers and investors, they build confidence in the company," she writes in her book Do Business With People You Can Trust. "When they walk their talk, they are more likely to extract better performance from their employees. These CEOs can draw on 'credibility currency' when times get tough."
Her most recent survey, reported in December, evaluated how frank the leaders of 100 leading companies are, and how well their stocks have performed. 
The results are impressive: The companies in the top quartile of the group saw their stock rise an average of 9.9 percent, while those in the bottom quartile experienced a drop of 5.7 percent. This is the sixth consecutive year that the most candid companies have outperformed the least candid ones.
The five companies with the greatest gains in rank (over year-earlier levels) had stock gains averaging 12.4 percent, vs. a 5.7-percent loss for the bottom companies and a gain in the S&P 500 of only 3.1 percent. The five big improvers are Home Depot, Intel, Foot Locker, Franklin Resources, and Citigroup.
I don't know her methodology, but it must involve a subjective judgment of the candor in those companies' investor letters and other published material. It would make sense that companies that don't have their heads in the sand about their situations would do better.

Friday, June 7, 2013

Write well, get ahead

It's been said many times: how you speak and write affects your success at work. 

The fact that you can use a calculator doesn't mean you know accounting. The fact that you've been writing all your life doesn't mean you do it well. Trust me: I write for a living, and I measure the time in decades, yet I can make some awful mistakes.

Bryan Garner, who has written several books on writing, enters the fray. People see your language as a reflection of your competence, he writes.
Make lots of mistakes in your e-mails, reports, and other documents, and you'll come across as uneducated and uninformed. Others will hesitate to trust your recommendation to launch a resource-intensive project, for example, or to buy goods or services. They'll think you don't know what you're talking about.
He gets right into one of the most common mistakes -- one whose frequency surprises me.
Certain errors will predictably get you in trouble: "Just keep this matter between you and I," for instance, and "Tom and her will run the meeting."
Write instead: "Just keep this matter between you and me." And: "She and Tom will run the meeting." 
The rule, very simply, is that I, we, he, she, and they are subjects of clauses — as in "Leslie and Iwere delighted to work with you." Me, us, him, her, and them are objects of either verbs or prepositions: "You might want to consult with Leslie and me." In the compound phrasings, try leaving out Leslie and — and you'll know the correct form immediately.
He has other examples, but let me suggest that if you can master the I/me challenge, you'll be making the world a better place. And I will give you the afternoon off.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Some apps for writers

Top-rated app.
I try to remember life before personal computers and the Internet and Twitter and blogs and all the things that are central to my life today. I have no idea how we coped.

Well, we just did a whole lot less. And the world survived just fine.

Today I have a smart phone so smart it's always burning up the battery. So I have an app, Juice Defender, that tries to preserve the battery. So far so good.

There are so many apps out there -- there's one to test my urine should I so desire -- that my phone has an app to suggest other apps I might like. I hate all the suggestions. They seem to be for people in some parallel universe.

I was delighted when I came across an article by Carla King, an author and publishing consultant, on five apps for writers, because I'm actually using some of them. I feel kinda cool.

Here are several.

1. Efficiency and analytics. We writers browse the web a lot, especially when researching a book or article, Ms. King writes. And we know it’s important to interact with our “friends” and followers in order to build something called a “platform.” So along the way, when I see something that I want to share, I highlight it, then click the extension in my browser. It pops up with a short URL and the text I highlighted, and asks me what networks I want to share it with: Twitter? Facebook? Do I want to email it to a friend? Yes, dahling. Yes.
It’s like having your own personal social media butler, except it won’t bring you a martini. But it will tell you how many people clicked on the link, which of course gives you insights on what’s hot and what’s not. (More motorcycle accidents, fewer grammar lessons.) So now I use for almost every link I share on social media sites, blog posts, and newsletters.hash.k5JSV5Cz.dpuf

Feedly. I juggle book research with adventure travel and self-publishing journalism careers, and the fire hose of information coming in on both those topics is pretty thick, Ms. King writes. To stay up-to-date requires perusing the daily news and organizing the blogs and other RSS streams.
I moved to Feedly as soon as I heard Google Reader was being discontinued. It’s a much better-looking news aggregator, and the mobile app is awesome, too. I installed the Feedly bookmarklet on my browser toolbar, which is overkill because Chrome and Firefox embedded it in the bottom left corner of their web browsers. Best of all, when I go to Feedly I can desperately scan an uber-efficient list view, or relax and enjoy my feeds in rich visual mode, like I’m reading my own custom newspaper. 
Tweetdeck and HootSuite: For managing Twitter relationships. As a writer, I probably connect with more sources and readers using Twitter than any other social media site. I use TweetDeck all day long when I’m at my computer to share wisdom and links, to converse and congratulate.
TweetDeck is a desktop app, and HootSuite is similar, only it’s a browser-based app. They both manage your Twitter streams so you can keep track of friends, mentions, direct messages, and to track hash tags. They both let you schedule tweets, and cross-post to your other Twitter accounts and your Facebook and LinkedIn updates. The column-based format is great when I want to know what’s going on in #selfpub or @HuffPostBooks, but especially during live Twitter events. As a side note, TweetDeck is discontinuing its mobile app, but Hootsuite still has one. However, I’ve always preferred Echofon for mobile tweeting.
Like Ms. King I use HootSuite and Feedly, and I'm going to look at and Echofon. On my phone I started using something called TweetCaster, because I've found the typeface on Twitter hard to read, and I can't seem to change it. I use HootSuite, because I have two Twitter accounts. It works well on my laptop and my phone.

Monday, June 3, 2013

If you really want them to read your brilliant email

It occurs to me that each of us is caught up in his own little melodrama of information overload. Yet we continue to assume that other people read any old thing we send them. Really?

I am guilty of slinging emails out there without stopping to think about the poor sucker on the other end. I think it's time to decrease the number and length of the messages I send, while increasing the amount of time I spend on them. Why not treat email as I treat other forms of writing -- with a little respect?

Dave Johnson, a prolific author and editor of eHow Tech, offers some sensible rules:
Make the subject line descriptive and clear. Don't just click reply to a previous thread or a meeting request and enter something unrelated in the body. And if you're in the midst of a long email thread and find that the subject has changed substantially from where you started, re-title the email. It can be easy to lose track of the actual "ask" if the subject line is misleading. 
Keep the recipients to the bare minimum. Don't cry wolf by including lots of irrelevant people on your email threads. Eventually, folks will start to tune out email from you if you get the reputation for sending everything to everyone, all the time. 
Put the bottom line up front. This is probably the most important rule of them all: Don't waste recipients' time with a long preamble they'll have to wade through to get to the "ask." Start with the important bits at the top of the message, and save the context for later. That way they can read on for the details, but at least they know what you want within moments of opening the email. 
Don't bury or co-mingle your asks. In addition to putting the ask right up front, make it clear what you want by putting each request in its own paragraph, ideally at the start of the paragraph. I often see emails in which someone asks for three or four things, and they bury these requests deep in a long paragraph. Break them out into their own 'graphs, and even consider putting the key ideas in bold. If you don't do this, don't be surprised if someone only responds to your first questions or request because they didn't see the others, and you'll need to send a follow-up to get the rest. 
Proofread it. Take the time to re-read your email before you pull the trigger -- you'd be surprised how often what makes sense in your head is borderline gibberish when it lands on the screen. A little proofing will make your prose easier to parse and, consequently, easier to respond to. I can attest to the fact that if I have to guess what someone meant, I'll generally move on and deal with other email that is easier to understand.
This is good stuff. Someone should print this out and hang it on the refrigerator, the one nobody cleans out.