New Definition of Social

A week ago was my birthday, and in the days and weeks leading up to it, I starting noticing other birthdays of friends and acquaintances on Facebook, and the number of people who would drop a line on the celebrant’s wall wishing them “Happy Birthday”. It made me think about the new definition of social, and how much I don’t like it.

Don’t get me wrong – Facebook is a fantastic site, and it has certainly brought people together who would otherwise have drifted apart. It has created a massive online community with its own culture.

That doesn’t mean it can’t fail.

There were people who, prior to Facebook, would call to say hello, would remember birthdays and send a card or call to say “Happy Birthday”. Now they use the convenience of Facebook to allow those relationships to drift apart. What has happened is that there is now a common middle ground toward which all relationships have migrated.

Those we were drifting apart from now know every event we care to share online, while those we would keep in close touch with before are now slightly further apart. Everyone is pretty much the same in the online world.

Additionally, we have lost our ability to segregate groups of people. The friends I have from school are not necessarily similar to my coworkers, while neither is really part of my family. In real life we isolate the groups from one another, and only allow them to mix under certain circumstances. On Facebook, we have one massive network, most of which does not really care about the other portions of our network.

What can we do about it?

First, we must decide if this actually bothers us, and if so, what approach we wish to take. I prefer to keep my Facebook page active, but I also try to keep my offline social life unchanged. I still call people, or send them personal emails. I don’t assume that a message left on Facebook will reach someone – if I really need to contact them, a minimum of an email, and ideally a phone call is how I continue to handle it.

How about you? What are you doing to maintain your relationships with people? Or have you allowed Facebook to redefine your social life?

Partial Criticism

I had a conversation with a client today who was discussing a particular problem he was facing in his business. His employees produce, in general, fantastic work at a pretty high level of quality. Their work, as a rule, is exemplary.

Their communication skills, however, leave something to be desired.

The problem he has is convincing them to improve their communication skills, without making them think that he has any issue with the rest of their work. That is, how to critique part of someone’s work without having them extend that critique to other areas of their work.

In some work environments, this is already handled through performance reviews. The review is often structured such that each area of an employee’s responsibilities can be addressed, and some will be praised, others, critiqued. However, the decision to have performance reviews in the first place is difficult, since they are often resented by the subjects of the reviews as being inherently biased.

That being said, perhaps the other approach is to lead off each critique with a compliment. For example, “Your quality of work has been fantastic, and you’ve been great at bringing in new clients. However, your expense reports have not been completed properly, so we have a hard time budgeting. Could you please try to fill them out properly in the future? If you need a copy of the guidelines, I’d be happy to email them to you.

While this might be reminiscent of the opening scene of Office Space, in which Peter is approached by several bosses because he forgot the cover sheet on his TPS report, there is a difference.

First, the reason for the comment should be included in the critique – that is, answer the question as to why this issue is important.

Second, don’t dump extra information on the recipient of the critique, but make sure they’re aware that you would be happy to provide it if asked.

Third, make sure that one and only one person is responsible for making that communication.

If you have any other suggestions, I’d be happy to share them – just let me know!

Honesty and Consistency

It amazes me how many programs are out there promoting various schemes, if you’ll only pay $29.99 for this fantastic presentation, followed shortly by $199.99 for a 1 day seminar, then $3000 for a 3 day course. Ultimately, having paid thousands of dollars, you discover that what you were presented with was a collection of platitudes that have been well known for decades, and which have been well documented in books that are currently selling for $14.99 on Amazon.

What truly is amazing, though, is not the fact that such programs exist. There are no end to the number of people willing to make a buck by taking advantage of other people (the only people who make money in these systems are the ones selling the courses).

If, however, people would take the trouble to investigate these programs, they would discover something very simple – the programs themselves are a study in dishonesty and contradictions.

For example, it is well known that the greater the reward, the greater the risk. However, the corollary to this is that you might fail, ergo the risk. Yet, in many of these courses, that fact will be conveniently forgotten or glossed over. In fact, the extent of the risk itself might be so well hidden that the unwary audience can easily fall prey to losing everything they own.

Granted, people should do their own research before taking a risk. However, there’s no excuse for hiding the truth when presenting material for your own gain.

That’s the dishonesty, and the price paid for this can go well beyond the money paid for the courses.

The issue with consistency has to do with the fact that the promoters of these programs are salesmen, not business moguls. As such, the content they create is sub-par in general, which leads to contradictions in claims. Additionally, verification of any claims made will be limited, if they exist at all. This leads to a collection of material which is difficult to disseminate because it was not designed to be purchased, it was designed to be sold.

In a few days, I’ll be writing an article here that will guide you to making money online, and no, it won’t be a quick and easy system. But it will work, and it won’t cost you anything to read it. In fact, you don’t even need to sign up for a mailing list or anything like that – because this information is already public, and I have no need to take advantage of those who might not know where to find this information.

On a side note, if you have a program that you’re considering signing up for, and are curious as to its legitimacy, or the fairness of its price (there are many courses out there that ARE worth paying for), please send me some information about the program, and I’d be happy to give you some direction for your research.

Speak Your Message Clearly

I was watching a motivational video recently in which the subjects of several stories were interviewed for the show. Each story was different, each story carried a message that contributed to the overall message of the video.

There was a problem, though. One of the subjects was mumbling. I tried to hear what he had to say, and I had a hard time following. It made me wonder about the choice of subjects for the video.

Clearly, when delivering a message, you want those with the best story to be doing the telling. If you’re trying to show a lack of bias, you pick anybody.

In reality, you need some bias in your selection. If your message can’t be heard, it doesn’t matter how good it is.

This applies to any area – when you try to deliver a message, make sure that it is easy for your audience to hear the message. If that means you have to pick an example that isn’t quite as powerful, so be it. At the end of the day, the powerful message that’s heard by no one is not nearly as effective as the okay message heard by thousands.

Sales in the Online World

There are two general attitudes toward sales, one which has its roots in the history of the industry, the other which was developed as a result of changes in technology. Unfortunately, despite the knowledge available that the old system is fundamentally flawed, there are still many people who will tout its merits.

The Old System

Under the old system, the salesperson would provide you with [biased] information, then try to convince you why you should buy it. A sense of urgency was often created, as though the sole opportunity to make this purchase at this fantastic price is about to go away. The salesperson was concerned solely with the idea of making a sale.

Over time, however, it has become clear that the concept of a special deal never did really exist, that the prices were always on special, with various modifications of the exact terms. The last opportunity is just one in a long line of opportunities. Additionally, with the ease of doing your own research, it has become more difficult to sell patently false information.

Despite this, such marketing techniques still exist, and are the subject of expensive courses claiming wildly [false] stories of success with the system.

The New System

The new system came from the idea that people are able to judge for themselves whether or not they need a product. The idea of a sale is to reach out to as many people as possible to identify their needs, and then to sell a product that solves a real problem. With this mentality, the vast majority of the people you communicate with DO NOT BECOME CUSTOMERS! Rather, you are providing information to thousands in the hopes that you’ll be able to help a few dozen.

As a result, what you end up doing under the new system is focusing not on the product or service, but on the relationship. While you don’t hide what your angle is, you also don’t focus on it. You don’t subject your audience with a sales pitch, but with discussions about real issues they face. As your credibility grows, they will approach you to find out if you can help them.

Dissention

I’ve been accused of being naive with this approach, that in reality, if you don’t try to sell people something, they won’t buy. As such, I would like to reply as follows.

If you look on this site, you will see that I do not sell any products or services directly from the site. I do have sections of the site that talk about the types of services I offer, and I encourage people to get in touch with me. People do contact me, and I’ve worked and continue to work with many of my readers. That being said, I don’t think I have something to offer every reader in terms of work for me. But I do continue to provide advice and information in the hope that it will help you in growing your business.

Will this system work for you? I can’t promise that.

But if you focus on content and relationships, then you will end up growing your network, and perhaps bringing it into your next venture if the first doesn’t work out. Focus on the hard sale, and you’ll find yourself being ignored by people who don’t want to be sold to, and you will make it more difficult to try to start a second venture on the success or failure of the first.

Gen Y and Authority

In an earlier article, I discussed Generation Y and its questions, or its attitude toward questions. Recently, I was exposed to another difference between Generation Y and X, or, more generally, those of us who grew up in the world of mass exposure to information and those who did not.

When reading information from any source, we all have a bias toward accepting the information as being accurate without any further research into the topic. In the past, a newspaper or magazine might be considered to be a provider of accurate information. While these sources are [silently] acknowledged to be biased, it was accepted, and rather than dispute the facts, the emphasis was placed on interpretation. As a result, the facts themselves were generally being presented accurately, and a critical reader could distinguish between fact and opinion.

In recent years, the availability of information has changed the landscape of information dissemination. The lines between fact and opinion are rapidly blurred, opinions are being presented as facts, while blatant ignorance of truth is being hidden behind walls of lies masquerading as reality.

Generation Y is used to this type of information presentation. While some are better than others at recognizing the differences, we no longer put faith in the written word. Just because an article has been peer-reviewed does not make it accurate. We look for differing opinions, and want to do our own analysis of the reality (whether or not we’re any good at that is debatable).

When someone from Generation Y hears about a new technology that has neat applications, we run to Google to see what people are saying. We check Wikipedia as a basis for our “factual” information. We rarely assume that the presentation was the truth.

That’s not to say we produce better or worse results than assuming the speaker or writer is honest without verification. But it does make for a more critical reader, and with the large number of scams and garbage information being distributed, that can’t be a bad thing, can it?

Twitter – Boon or Bane of Business

For any of you who have yet to join the site, Twitter is a micro-blogging site in which each post is 140 characters or less. People “follow” the posts of other people, and have their own posts followed. Coupled with the ability to search for topics of interest and to share and filter information quickly, this site has seen itself applied to a variety of uses.

Business Boon

Some businesses have applied Twitter to increase their revenues. Pushing out information in an easy-to-share manner, new products and services can be promoted quickly and easily.

One ice cream cart in Toronto used Twitter to post the special flavor of the day each morning. Another mobile business used it to update their location on a regular basis (though now there’s another service just for this feature).

Another typical use is for customer service – Twitter provides a very public way for customers to connect with a company and get issues resolved rapidly. Because the feeds are generally public, a good customer service response can gain a lot of positive publicity.

The search functionality as well is beneficial to businesses. Needs can be identified, and potential customers can be found by looking through posts and filtering by a variety of keywords. Posting questions to the public can gain interesting feedback as the crowd weighs in on the issues.

Business Bane

Of course, no system is perfect. A large number of the posts on Twitter are completely inane, not to mention those generated by bots. While choosing who to follow, as I do, can limit the amount of complete rubbish entering your feed, there’s never any complete escaping it (unless, of course, you just don’t visit the site at all). From a business perspective, having employees spend time on Twitter can result in large amounts of wasted time as people click through links, read posts that have nothing to do with their work, and potentially post information damaging to the business (although this last point has more to do with trusting your employees to be responsible than Twitter in particular).

As such, the time spent on Twitter in the business world can be something that drains time from other, more productive tasks.

Summary

Personally, I use Twitter, and have found it to be quite useful for sharing information, getting answers to questions, and engaging with people I would otherwise not interact with. However, like most things in life, the issue here is not black and white, but one of responsible use and moderation.

How about you? What do you think of Twitter, and what are some of the issues you see businesses facing with the now massive micro-blogging engine?

Book Education vs. Job Training

I have a degree from university, for which I spent 5 years taking a variety of courses on several subjects. Taking about 10-12 courses per year, that works out to about 50-60 courses. That’s quite a bit of education when you think about it: about 2000 hours of education in class. As a rule of thumb, about 3 hours were spent out of class for every hour in class, bringing the total to about 8000 hours.

I then worked for an insurance company for three and a half years. At 2000 hours of work per year, that’s about 7000 hours of work. During those years, I continued to learn, though not at the same pace. The learning was different from school – while school tended to focus on theory, work focused on the practical. Where school focused on diversity of knowledge, work was concerned with specific topics.

The difference is very fundamental, and neither would suffice without the other. School is about teaching you how to learn, providing you with the basics in a given subject area to get you started. Work is about getting a job done, requiring more detailed knowledge in highly specialized topics. By having a solid education, you will learn how to gain the particular knowledge you need to complete a given job.

That being said, it would seem that I value school knowledge over work training.

That would be the wrong impression. I learned more from my on-the-job training than I did in school by a major factor. But it was significantly aided by the fact that I had a formal education. That being said, what I learned on the job is not taught in school, nor is there an easy way to do so. There is no replacement for hands-on training, which is, perhaps, the reason that there is such a focus on employment history and little on education when it comes to hiring.

Personally, however, I would prefer to hire someone with a formal education and little/no work experience over someone with the reverse. Why? I would rather have someone who’s been taught to learn over someone who may or may not be able to learn new skills easily.