Author Archives: Catherine Ahern

3 ways to ensure that people actually read your tweets, posts and shares

get people to read your posts, tweets and shares

Like many people who are plugged in to multiple social media platforms, I sometimes feel overwhelmed by the constant stream of information sharing. Those platforms can be an invaluable source of insight and new ideas, but there’s so much out there that users have to be selective regarding what they actually click through to read. Here are three tips to improve the chances that your followers will pay attention to what you share:

  1. Keep it relevant. First and foremost, share only content that is interesting and applicable to your customers and followers, if you’re using a social media platform for your organization. Even on your personal accounts, don’t share things that are uninteresting to others (what you had for breakfast, for example) or that could harm your reputation (rants about your co-workers, for example).
  1. Limit the number of posts. Even if all of the content you share is relevant, however, it’s still possible to overshare. One of my co-workers stopped reading the posts of a LinkedIn connection, not because they weren’t good, but because he shared upwards of 50 posts every day. Often in these cases of overposting, the problem is that the person has multiple social media platforms linked. I suspect that my co-worker’s connection had his tweets forwarded to his LinkedIn account. Tweeting 50 times a day, while still a lot, is significantly more acceptable than sharing 50 posts on LinkedIn or Facebook. If you inundate your followers with posts, they will tune you out, either by ignoring you, by unfollowing or unliking you, or by blocking you from their walls. Instead: Think about the platform you’re using, and choose the appropriate number of posts for that site. As a general rule, limit yourself to no more than 10 shares per day on platforms like Facebook and LinkedIn—and that’s assuming that they’re all very relevant to your followers (and not all self-promotion). You can share far more on sites like Twitter and Pinterest, as long as you keep the content interesting.
  1. Preface your posts. I’ve noticed recently that I’m much more likely to click through and read something if the person who posted it explains why he or she is sharing it. We’ve talked about the importance of “Why” multiple times here, so that should have been obvious. The problem is that it’s really easy to be lazy about it. You click the “Share” buttons and the tweet or post is already created for you. Why bother adding your own comment? Adding your own thought—whether it’s an accolade like “I’ve never thought about networking from this perspective. Brilliant!” or a call to action like “What do you think: Is this entrepreneur forward-thinking or completely out of line?”—reminds your followers that you’re a human being with real thoughts, not a robot sharing random posts.

Want to connect? We’re on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest!

What makes you click through—or skip over—something shared through a social media platform?

[Image Source: F. Delventhal]

10 things you shouldn’t say to co-workers

10 things not to say to co-workers

If you value your professional reputation and your workplace friendships, avoid saying these 10 phrases at the office:

  1. “Oh my goodness, did you hear what _____ did? or “Did you see what _____ is wearing?” Don’t earn the reputation of office gossip. If the person whom you’re gossiping about hears what you’ve said, it could lead to an awkward confrontation. But even if it doesn’t, your other co-workers will learn not to trust you. Instead, make a conscious decision to stop gossiping. Avoid spending time with other office gossips, and make sure that the comments you make about your co-workers are positive ones.
  1. “I heard that they’re about to start laying people off.” Like gossiping about people, spreading rumors about your organization isn’t going to do anything for your professional reputation. It will damage morale, making the workplace less pleasant for everyone—including you. If your boss finds out that you’ve been spreading those kinds of rumors, he or she will be upset. If you are concerned about your organization’s future, approach your boss calmly and privately to ask about the situation.
  1. “Don’t ask me! I’m just the _____.” If a co-worker asks you a question that’s outside of your expertise, that response gives two negative impressions. First, it indicates that you’re not interested in being helpful, like the uncooperative “That’s not my job!” response, which you also should avoid. Second, it undermines your importance within your organization. It tells the person that you’re not confident or motivated. Instead, if you don’t know the answer to something, say “Hmm, that’s a great question. Let’s ask _____. I think he/she will know, and now I’m curious too.”
  1. “This is probably obvious, but …” or “This might sound dumb, but …” If you have an idea to share at a meeting or one-on-one with a colleague, project confidence. You know your idea has merit, so act like it. Practice speaking without qualifying your ideas.
  1. “You always …” or “You never …” Avoid absolutes when talking to your co-workers, especially when the conversation is about their shortcomings. Absolutes are rarely true, so they make you look petty and exaggerative. Plus, they’ll put the person on the defensive, which won’t help solve the problem. Instead, speak calmly about a specific instance. Example: Replace “You never get your assignments to me on time!” with “Because you didn’t get your part of the report to me on time yesterday, I was forced to stay late last night. I won’t do that again.”
  1. “You look tired.” You might be saying it out of genuine concern, but your co-worker will interpret it as “You look bad,” and no one wants to hear that from a colleague. Instead, show your concern by asking “Is everything OK?”
  1. “You look hot.” Maybe you just want to give a compliment, but that kind of comment can lead to a very uncomfortable co-worker and possibly sexual harassment accusations. Also avoid “sexy” and “babe. “If you want to compliment a co-worker’s appearance, you can’t go wrong with “You look nice today.”
  1. “I’m so hung over.” File that one under “TMI” with stories about bodily functions and intimate details of your personal life. Sharing those kinds of things will damage your professional reputation and make co-workers uncomfortable.
  1. “I can’t believe this @*%&” I suppose it depends on the culture of your workplace, and there are some where cursing is not unusual, but as a rule of thumb, it’s typically considered unprofessional. And cursing at a co-worker is never acceptable.
  1. “So a _____ and a _____ walk into a bar …” Off-color jokes about ethnicity, gender, religion or sexual orientation are never OK in the workplace. They could offend any co-worker—even those who aren’t members of the group in question—and will likely make those who are members of the group feel excluded, threatened or discriminated against. If you want to make a joke, choose a safe, inoffensive topic. Self-effacing humor is usually a good bet.

What other phrases do you avoid saying to your co-workers?

Enjoyed this post? Be sure to check out “10 things you shouldn’t say to your boss” too!

[Image Source: John Polley Brand Communications]

Another reason to give a reason

This summer while on vacation, I had the pleasure of reading Robert Cialdini’s excellent book Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, which I can’t recommend highly enough. In the opening chapter, “The Weapons of Influence,” Cialdini discussed an interesting psychology experiment that reminded me of a recent post Amy Beth wrote about her vacation. She talked about the importance of explaining why people should comply with your requests, but Cialdini’s explanation helped me understand the value of that practice even better.

The experiment went like this: Experimenters approached people waiting in line for a copy machine. In the first round of the experiment, they asked “Excuse me, I have five pages. May I use the Xerox machine, because I’m in a rush?” Ninety-four percent of people granted their request when it was coupled with an explanation (“I’m in a rush”).

In the second round, they eliminated the reason and simply asked “Excuse me, I have five pages. May I use the Xerox machine?” In those cases, only 60% of people let them cut in line, a significant drop.

In the third and final round of the experiment, they asked “Excuse me, I have five pages. May I use the Xerox machine, because I have copies?” They reinserted the trigger word “Because,” but instead of following it with a legitimate reason, they said something pointless and obvious. Of course they have copies; why else would they want to use the copy machine? Logic would tell us that this method wouldn’t be any more effective that the second request, but surprisingly, 93% of people said “Yes.”

The experiment indicates that we have an automatic response to the word “Because.” We assume that it will be followed by a genuine reason, and—apparently—we often go along with requests just because it’s there.

I don’t condone manipulating people with nonsensical or worthless reasons, but I agree with Amy Beth that following up a request or suggestion to customers, employees or co-workers with authentic reasons is a great practice.

Elevator sign that reads "Thank you for your patience. Elevator door closure has been delayed to accommodate our patients and visitors with special needs."

A few days after I returned from my vacation, I visited my mom at a local hospital, where she was recovering from a successful knee surgery. As I rode in the elevator and read the above sign, I thought “Hey, they must have read Cialdini’s book too!” I don’t know if that’s really the case, but regardless, I suspect that their explanation for why their elevator doors close so slowly probably is very effective for calming anxious hospital visitors who wouldn’t otherwise be inclined to patience.

In what situations have you found that offering a reason has been effective?

[Image Source: Catherine Ahern]

Are you triggering bad behavior?

Are you triggering bad behavior?

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about frustrating co-workers. No, it’s not because of my own experience—my co-workers are dependable and supportive—but because the topic keeps coming up. The free Focus On section at CommunicationBriefings.com is all about “difficult personalities” this month, we just launched our newest multimedia product called The Co-Worker From Hell and last night I listened to a friend vent about a particularly exasperating co-worker of her own. As far as I can tell, I’m in the lucky minority as someone without maddening colleagues.

First, I want to make one thing clear: I do think that there are some people who really are mean or lazy or otherwise “hellish.” However, I don’t think the vast majority of “co-workers from hell” are. Most of the time, bad behavior is triggered by another person or event, not by the person’s naturally evil ways. Therefore, when you’re completely frustrated by one of your co-workers, it’s best to step back, take a deep breath and ask yourself “What’s causing this person’s behavior?”

Sometimes they are being difficult for a reason that has nothing to do with you and that you couldn’t possibly know about. For example, maybe your co-worker Todd is being short with you because he’s been up all night taking care of a terminally ill parent. There’s not much you can do about that, besides offer Todd your sympathy if he opens up to you.

Other times, however, the behavior is caused by someone at work, and if you’re honest with yourself, you might realize that sometimes that person is you. For example, maybe Margaret is being rude because that not-so-nice comment you made about her last week got back to her. Maybe Bill missed the deadline because you weren’t clear about it. And maybe Clark whines to you about all of his problems because you’ve allowed him to for months. In those cases, the only way to fix the problem is to own up to your part in it.

After a little soul searching, if you suspect that you might be triggering a co-worker’s bad behavior, be the bigger person and approach him or her about it. In a calm, non-confrontational tone, say “(Name), when you (the behavior), it makes me feel (your feeling/interpretation). What have I done to make you act that way, and most important, what can I do to fix it?” Listen to the person’s response with an open mind. Don’t be defensive. After you’ve discussed the issue, commit to making any changes necessary for improving your work relationship, shake hands and put the issue behind you.

Have you ever realized you were causing someone’s bad behavior? What did you do?

[Image Source: Stewart Richards]

Olympian’s Twitter gaffe: Is your social media policy in place?

Papahristou's racist tweet: "With so many Africans in Greece, at least the mosquitoes of West Nile will eat homemade food!!!"

If you’ve been following the lead-up to the London Olympic Games, you’ve probably heard that Greek triple jumper Paraskevi Papahristou was banned from the events by the Hellenic Olympic Committee on Wednesday, because of a racist joke she made on Twitter. Papahristou responded to initial criticism defensively, but when she was dismissed from the games, she followed up with an apology on both Facebook and Twitter.

After banning Papahristou, the Hellenic Olympic Committee forbade all Greek athletes from sharing personal opinions unrelated to the Olympic Games on social media networks. “They can’t express personal opinions on other, third subjects, but only about themselves, their athletic condition, if they’re on form, or about the games, until the games are over,” a committee spokesperson said.

Unfortunately, that guidance is too late to help Papahristou. Her dismissal is irreversible, as is the smear she left on Greek Olympic team’s reputation.

Your organization’s social media policy shouldn’t be reactive. Don’t wait until an employee harms your organization’s reputation—as well as his or her own—to train your staff about proper, professional social media use. Explain exactly what you expect of them. Give examples of appropriate and inappropriate tweets and posts. Send them to Social Media Training Camp. There’s a session coming up in Las Vegas on Oct. 9-10. (Early bird registration rates expire on Sept. 9!)

How does your organization train employees to use social media effectively?

[Image Source: The Sports Bar]

Know when to keep a comment to yourself

In the past week I’ve had two experiences that reminded me that the cliché “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all” applies in the business world as much as the schoolyard.

In one instance I was picking up takeout from one of my favorite restaurants. I eat at the restaurant or take a meal home from this place almost once a week, but this was the first time I noticed its frequent buyer cards (the kind where a dozen stamps earn you a free meal). I picked one up, handed it to the woman checking me out, smiled and said “Can I start one of these? I’m in here all the time!”

She took the card and stamped it, but at the end of the transaction she said “You know, your meal really didn’t qualify for this. It’s supposed to be a $10 minimum and your meal was $9.99.” Her tone was accusatory, and I felt uncomfortable. There was, by the way, no indication of the minimum anywhere near the cards, and my meal exceeded $10 if you factored in tax, but still I handed the card back to her: “I don’t need it. I didn’t mean to break any rules.” In retrospect, that seems like a silly thing to say, but that’s how she made me feel—like I was breaking a rule.

Now she was embarrassed. She pushed the card back to me and gushed “Oh no. It’s fine; it’s fine. I don’t mind doing it. I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have said anything. I know you eat here all the time.” I appreciated her apology, but still the whole experience soured me a bit on the restaurant, all because of a penny.

The second instance wasn’t directed at me. It was an unnecessary remark from another customer of a local running store. The store posted a note on Facebook that said something along the lines of “Surprise! We’re giving away free massages at our Logan Circle location until 8:00 tonight! Stop by!” A few people had “Liked” the post, but the only comment read “Wish I’d known about this before I left work … :-/”

It’s possible that I’m misinterpreting the person’s tone, but to me it sounded critical, as if the store had done something wrong by not publicizing the event earlier. When I saw the post and comment in my news feed, I immediately thought, “Really? Is that necessary? You’re complaining about a freebie!”

In both instances, I suppose the speaker had every right to say something. I hadn’t reached the (undisclosed) minimum at the restaurant, and that customer was understandably disappointed about missing the massage. But I don’t think that in either case the comments benefited anyone. Next time, whether you’re the customer or the customer service rep, ask yourself this question before you say something negative: “Will this comment be productive?” If not, keep it to yourself.

What’s the worst unnecessary comment you’ve heard?

[Image Source: Alan Cleaver]

Grammar lesson: Dangling modifiers and misplaced modifiers

Grammar Lesson: Dangling Modifiers and Misplaced Modifiers

We’re starting a “Grammar lesson” series, in which we’ll cover tricky writing issues you might encounter in common workplace correspondences.  For today’s lesson, I’m going to cover dangling and misplaced modifiers. Here are the main terms you should know:

  • Modifier: An optional word, phrase or clause that restricts or clarifies a noun or verb in a main sentence. It’s “optional” because its removal wouldn’t render the sentence grammatically incorrect. Examples: “We are eagerly awaiting your response!” Of the samples we received, this one was the best value.”
  • Dangling modifier: A problematic modifier that is intended to modify a word that isn’t in the sentence. Example: Returning to their desks, the mood was anxious.” That modifier is dangling because it’s intended to describe a group that isn’t actually mentioned in the sentence. It’s just dangling there, not attached to anything. You could rewrite it as “Returning to their desks, the employees were anxious.”
  • Misplaced modifier: A problematic modifier that is intended to modify one word, but is actually modifying another because of its placement in the sentence. Example: “We spoke to the customers using calming word choice, tone of voice and body language.” The placement of that modifier implies that it was the customers who used the calming word choice, tone of voice and body language, but that’s not what was intended. You could rewrite it as “Using calming word choice, tone of voice and body language, we spoke to the customers.” That way, the modifier is closest to the pronoun it’s supposed to modify: “we.”

Note: Although I included both terms in the grammar lesson, I don’t think it’s actually critical to know whether the modifier in question is dangling or misplaced, as long you recognize it as problematic and know how to fix it.

Why dangling and misplaced modifiers are problems:

Aside from making your writing sloppy and unprofessional, dangling and misplaced modifiers can make your writing confusing and misleading. For example, if you reach out to a potential client and include the sentence “Please look over the proposal that is enclosed with your partner, and get back to us,” that person may dismiss you. As written, it appears as though the person’s partner should have the proposal.

Even if the potential client figures out what you intended (and doesn’t go on a wild goose chase looking for the proposal), he or she will question your communication skills and attention to detail, and possibly move on to your competitors—all because of a misplaced modifier. You can fix that example by moving the modifier: “Please look over with your partner the proposal that is enclosed, and get back to us.”

Want more practice with this grammar lesson?

Check out these quizzes to help you identify and correct dangling and misplaced modifiers:

What topics would you like covered in future grammar lessons?

[Image Source: Berries blog]