In Our Own Bubble

The information superhighway took a turn for the worse, we now travel down it in our own comfortable, insulated and isolated bubble.

We can now get any information about any subject at any time online. There’s so much information available that we cannot consume it all, so we make selections. There are more than 500 million tweets per day, but only about 20,000 make it into my twitter timeline, and I only see a subset of those. There are 420,000,00 status updates on Facebook each day, a few hundred of those make it into my feed and I read only a few of those. Then there is Linkedin, YouTube, RSS (yes I still use RSS), and general news outlets.

It’s way too much, so we apply filters. A big part of the filter is who I follow or connect to, in general I follow people who have similar interests or views. As my major news sources are now online I’m unconsciously applying a filter to what news I get.

But there’s another filter being applied that we might not be aware of. The major platforms are also filtering what lands on our screen in our Facebook feed, and (coming soon) our Twitter feed, and our search results. Meaning that Google results are customised based on your search history, your browser, your language choice, your computer. Here’s how it works.

We know that news shapes our world view; in this TED talk Alisa Miller talks about the amount of time given to various news stories. As news organisations reduce costs and dismantle their international news bureaus the international coverage has reduced. She’s speaking from a US perspective, but a similar dynamic plays out in other countries.

If you add together the distortion in what is published, the “customised” news presented in social media and search, and our own filters in choosing who to follow and what to read, it’s fair to say that we’re living in a bubble. Throw into the mix the human tendency for confirmation bias and it’s easy to see that people become increasingly entrenched in their views, both less likely and less willing to hear evidence that doesn’t support their view.

In the last few weeks I’ve seen emotional discussion on politics from both sides of the Atlantic as the US heads into a presidential election later this year and Britain heads to a referendum, dubbed “Brexit“, later this week. It’s not pretty, in both cases it’s a polarised discussion.

It’s because of the level of polarisation, and the anger I’ve seen that I started digging into this. I’ve long thought that social media platforms were poor places for serious discussion for five reasons;

  1. Clutter; Facebook is a blend of photos of cuteness, personal confessions and travel photos. Right next to a photo of my niece walking a tightrope doesn’t seem to be the best place to compare a candidates track record on gun violence.
  2. Godwin’s Law; sooner or later someone is going to drop the N-word. Either of them.
  3. Reading Comprehension; sooner or later someone is going to misunderstand you, perhaps willfully.
  4. Not in Person: in person I could read the person’s body language to pick up on sarcasm or irony (better than in an online discussion)
  5. Asynchronous; nothing worse that waiting hours for a reply to your well-formed attack on a person’s point-of-view. (This should be understood as a tongue-in-cheek comment, see no. 3 above).

So I wasn’t surprised to discover that there is a known phenomenon called the “political spiral of silence“, which means that nuanced, thoughtful points-of-view which are likely to cover some of the middle ground are lost in the noise of social media.

The outcome is a debate so polarised that it’s destructive. How can we change this? What would it take to make your social media and search results more inclusive?

Start by reading opposing views, and having open discussions. We can agree to disagree, can’t we?

Image: Bubbles  | Michael Carson  |  CC BY-NC 2.0

3 Ways to Release the Content in Your Organisation

At a recent meeting of Digital Experts (run by Advatera) the most common challenge raised for social media managers was sourcing content. Most participants knew there was content somewhere in the company but struggled to release it for use on social media. Most reported that they’d asked people to give them content but that hadn’t helped. The reality is that few people will think about your content needs and will need to be led into giving you the content you need.

One common cry from over-stretched social media managers is “I ask for content, but I don’t get any sent to me”. I recognise the frustration, but I can also see things from their colleagues’ perspective; it’s something extra in a busy day. However if you can lead them to give you content you’ll unlock the company stories needed for your social media presence.

Repurpose the ugly stuff

Almost every company produces reports on a grand scale, inside these reports are ugly tables of data. You can use that data to create infographics which have a visual impact that works on social media.

For example, the UNHCR’s data on refugees is transformed into a visual showing the scale of the crises in refugee source nations in the last 24 years. This is shareable, the original report is not.

 

Take another look at your annual report, sustainability reporting and employee satisfaction reports. Very often these are produced with infographics, add a requirement to the briefing that a certain number of “mini-infographics” are produced for sharing on social media. It’s much easier to build this into the production stage than add it afterwards.

Look also for other data in the company, years ago we included “cups of coffee drunk per day” in a series of company data images. Of course that was the image that got the most attention.

To make this work

Add specifications for images for social media in your designer briefing. You’ll need to say the size, file format, any limits on the image and as far as possible identify the data points you think would be worth sharing.

Leadership Quotes

Your executives speak at events, press announcements, Annual General Meetings, staff meetings and write statements for company publications.

Pull quotes from these sources and present them in a branded template with a head shot, add a link to the report or event, and magically you have content to share.

You can also create events for them to speak, it would powerful if your leadership posted their new year’s resolutions for example. You can make a simple template for this

To make this work

Start early, particularly if you’re looking for new quotes, leaders’ calendars are stupidly busy and finding time to ask them for thoughtful input can be challenging.

Employees as Ambassadors

I guarantee your employees are active on social media, there will be people willing to co-create the content and share company’s branded messages on their own social channels. This has the benefit of reaching a different audience from your own company’s channels, and showcasing your employees pride in the brand.

In some countries – including the Netherlands – this is tricky, the Works Councils/Unions are really concerned at any expectation that work life crosses into private life.  Philips found a way to build a brand ambassador community that didn’t pose that risk using an employee community on the internal social network. They addressed potential concerns by;

  • Using an ‘invite-only’ community on the internal social network
  • Members invited once they’ve completed their initial social media training, ensuring social media knowledge of all participants was at a good level
  • Members are invited to contribute to content
  • Sharing content is always voluntary for each campaign
  • The company does not list, share, or monitor personal accounts of employees

The model of working was first tested on world coffee day in 2014. A series of image templates was developed that met house guidelines on brand and left room for a coffee slogan. On the brand ambassador community members were asked for their ‘coffee slogans’, those with the most likes were used to create assets for world coffee day. And all community members were able to share the images on their own social accounts. Here’s one from my former colleague.

To make this work

First build a community of people willing to contribute to content, and promote your brand. Work with your brand experts to develop templates for use across campaigns. For each campaign collect the internal input 2-3 weeks ahead of the campaign date, this might sound last minute by other campaign standards but this step can help build momentum for the publishing phase.

You’ll notice that to make each of these work you need “pre-work”, there are no quick fixes. Years ago in digital it felt like we were the last to know, we’d beg for content and then get it right before it needed to be published because the running assumption was that publishing was no more than pushing a button. I think we’re seeing the same sort of tension for a lot of social media teams. The answer is to have the discussions about what’s needed for social media earlier in the process, join the editorial process earlier and discuss with the content writers what will work on social media.

Missing Communication

When a friend of mine didn’t answer question on Whatsapp last week, I went cyberstalking. I checked his facebook and found he was in the UK. Not really an excuse, it’s just next door and it’s almost the same timezone, his phone should work there.

Turns out, he has a brand new shiny phone, with a new phone number. I found this out because he emailed me.

I started thinking about all the tools I use to connect, and how I choose which tool to use. It’s a question that comes up in companies as communication tools proliferate, I can remember conversations with internal comms colleagues wanting to make a guideline to help people along the lines of “if you have this type of content – use this tool”.

It turns out that for me, it’s less about the content and more about the people, particularly when it comes to short messages.

Email

I have multiple email addresses, to add to the fun. I use email to communicate with my mother, she’s on a very different timezone so if I need to send her a message email works well. I know she’ll go to her desk at least once in the day and she’ll pick up my message (while I’m asleep).

In my social circle almost no-one emails me, unless they have a specific document to send me, or perhaps photos to share that they don’t want on facebook.

sms

One group of friends has never evolved past using SMS; few of them are on facebook, so that’s not an option, and one doesn’t have a phone smart enough to use Whatsapp. It’s fine, until you want to have a many-to-many conversation.

Lots of friends use this as the fastest way to get someone’s attention for a short message.

whatsapp

Currently my favourite tool, used by certain groups of former colleagues. It lets you have one-to-one or many-to-many conversations. It’s phone agnostic. Plus the emoticons are prettier. I tried using it with other groups, but mostly people default back to what they’re used to.

facebook

I limit my facebook to family and friends, so “only” have 111 facebook friends. I use the chat function within facebook a lot, it seems to be the tool most friends are most comfortable with, it works pretty well in the phone app (despite the endless invites to upgrade to another level of service). I have a group of friends from all over the world that I got to know online, we started out as anonymous handles in a chat room, but as we’ve grown to know and trust each other real names have been shared, and this group are the most comfortable using facebook – it’s a lot like having them in the room.

twitter

Rarely used for messaging, unless twitter is the only way someone knows me. Often use the “@” function to share something the person will find useful or (more often) funny. Pretty much no-one uses DMs.

linkedin

Former colleagues, classmates, conference delegates, business contacts – either through a message or an in-mail, the connections there are more of a work nature, and so is the contact.

These tools are all available to all of the people (except whatsapp – blocked for one person). Who uses what has evolved, and there are certainly people I would contact on more than one platform. I don’t keep a list, I don’t use any special decision tree. The icons for all these tools are on the home screen of my phone so it’s easy. In the olden days I used to know people’s phone numbers, this knowledge has replaced that.

I think the same thing is happening in the workplace, each platform added to the workplace is adding another communication or messaging tool, and for some the choice feels overwhelming – particularly as the number of external tools is also growing. As people get more used to the tools, and understand how groups and communities form, it will feel very natural. Rather than take a prescriptive approach, trying to guide employees to a “right” way to use the tools, companies should take an open platform approach, simplifying access and enabling employees to find all the tools they need in one place.

Finding the right tool to communicate should be as easy as accessing it from my phone’s home screen.

Image; smartphone via pixabay

7 Steps to Creating a Great Presentation

I’m speaking at the IntraTeam event later this month, and I have started working on my presentation –  from scratch as it will be something totally new right down to the slide template. I got distracted thinking about how I present, and what makes a presentation successful. I happen to enjoy presenting – which helps, but there are definite steps to making sure your presentation is a success.

Presenting is an essential skill; whether it’s presenting your project to your team, convincing a management board to fund your project, or telling a conference audience about the fantastic results of your project/idea. Public speaking is still a common fear, and even the most experienced speakers feel some nervousness before a big speech. I’m find once I’m on the stage but I always want to cancel about an half an hour before I take the stage.

I don’t think anyone finds it easy, but by following these steps – especially practising – you’ll get better at it, and come to enjoy it.

1 Purpose

I once presented to new employees, all I wanted was for the people to know how to find my team and that we did digital projects. Every other presenter had slides crammed with text. I had four slides; projects we’re working on, who is in the team, where we are in the building, and where the sweet jar was kept in our team room. It was the only one people remembered.

I had a simple purpose – and threw some candy in to help people remember my presentation.

So before you start creating your presentation think about what outcome you want, what do you want people to recall afterwards. Are you informing, persuading or entertaining people?

And what “candy” are you adding to help people remember?

2 Audience

For the presentation I’m working on I’ve asked the conference organiser for a list of participants, I know they’ll also have some expertise in the field I’m speaking on, but I want to know more. There’s a good chance I’ve already met some of them, and a chance that they’ve heard me speak before.

I want to know these three things about my audience;

  • who they are, what industry they work in
  • level of expertise in this field
  • what they’re looking for in the presentation

The first two are pretty easy to figure out from public information, the third one is tougher to get specifics on – in this case I’m making an assumption that they’re at a conference to learn and if they come to my presentation it’s because they’re interested in social intranets.

You need to find a way to identify their needs, the “sweet spot” of your presentation is the overlap of your purpose and their needs.

3 Storyline

I did, what I thought, was a pretty good presentation. It happened to be videoed, so I asked someone who’s a prize-winning speaker to review the video and give me feedback. His advice was really good, he suggested that instead of telling the story in a chronological way I structure it into “lessons learnt”. That would force me to focus on what was really important, and I’d give my audience more content.

This step could also be called “building structure”, if that makes more sense to you. And sometimes chronological will be the right way to structure your presentation. But a list format such as the lessons learnt gets to the useful content in a structured way. If you’re presenting to a management team you can be more convincing with a problem – solution structure.

4 Building Content

Map out your main ideas, the order they will come in, add sub-headings, notes on resources.  I start with post-it notes, or pencil and paper. Something I can move around and play with – and remove.

DO NOT START IN POWERPOINT.

There are two reasons for this, firstly it’s harder to see the whole overview of the presentation with just one slide on screen, secondly I think it locks you in to your first idea.

Think about the amount of time you’ve got to give your presentation, aim to speak for about 80% of the time alotted. Things regularly go wrong even at the best conferences; if you’ve left extra time you won’t become flustered when the computer goes into sleep mode, or the lights go out. And if nothing goes wrong you’ve got some time for your audience.

Take each idea in your presentation and work out what you want to say, there’s something magic about the number three, it reassures listeners and you can use it to structure  your presentation. “We found the most important things to do were a, b and c” or perhaps “we took a three phase approach; first a local test roll-out, then across Europe, now global”.

It’s at about this point that will be ready to start using powerpoint. I like to use single images and 1-4 keywords on my slides, by the time I present that’s enough for me to recall what I planned to say. My favourite resource for designing presentations is Presentation Zen, by Garr Reynolds. There’s also handy advice on creating effective graphics from Thomas Baekel.

Leave stuff out, there’s a temptation to tell everything you know as if this proves your expertise, it’s much better to present the key insights. People can only absorb so much listening to you.

Prepare for questions – some will be on the detail that you’ve left out, others will be on things you’ve never thought of. “I don’t know” is a good answer if it’s honest – if you can offer to find them the answer and get back to them, or perhaps refer to the audience to answer. It’s also OK to say “I’m sorry that information is not to be shared outside the company”.

Plan your conclusion; there’s an old rule about giving presentations “tell them what you’re going to say, tell them, tell them what you said”. Summarise what you’ve talked about and finish with the main point you were trying to make.

5 Tools

It’s not compulsory but it’s likely you will be using powerpoint, so here are a few tips;

  • presentation content is in what you say,  everything you use should support your words
  • fewer slides
  • aim for about two minutes per content slide, more if you have a lot to explain on the slide
  • few words per slide – don’t read from the slide
  • use images or simple graphics
  • everyone has seen a boring presentation, don’t be that guy, don’t contribute to  death by powerpoint.

Video is great, it can bring something lively to your presentation and it can make a point or set a mood better than one person on the stage. If you use video make sure it is part of the story you’re telling, make sure it’s new and keep it short. No more than 10% of your presentation time.

Live Demos are often used by sellers of software and they can be a great way to show how well something works, until it doesn’t. Create some screenshots to make your point as a back up.

6 Practice

When you think you’re at about final draft stage give your presentation in front of people; colleagues, friends, the office security guard it doesn’t matter who. This will help you get used to that nervous feeling. Ask for feedback.

Think about the trombone player’s first attempt to play a tune, then thing about his 500th. The 500th was better than the first. The first time you ask for feedback is tough – but it works.

If you’re really stuck finding someone to present to, just present in front of a mirror, watch yourself.

Time your speech, make sure you’re within the conference guidelines.

Say yes to speaking opportunities – it will get easier with practice.

7 On the day

Arrive on time, make sure you have a digital copy of your presentation accessible and a spare (just email it to a web-based email address).  Check with the conference organisers regarding the timing of the event, and what time you need to pick up your microphone.

When it’s your turn, begin by introducing yourself, smile, talk slowly (the nerves can make you rush).

Move. You should know your content well enough that you don’t need to refer to your notes constantly, so move across the stage.

Look at the audience, eye contact.

Never complain during your presentation, not about your project or about the conference. I saw a presentation where the speaker began by complaining about how he’d rushed to get there and spilt raspberry on his shirt and felt grubby and the organisers wouldn’t switch his time to later so he could get a clean shirt. You know what? I don’t remember anything else he spoke about.

Telling a joke can break the ice, it can help you connect to your audience. But make sure the joke is on you, it supports your presentation and it’s clean.

If something goes wrong, keep going. I gave a presentation last year and in the middle of it a login box came up screen. It wasn’t my computer and it was in a language I don’t speak. I looked at it said “I’ll ask Kristian to take care of that while I tell you…” Kristian lept onto the stage and sorted out his computer and the presentation went on. Other presenters have had it much worse, lights going out, falling off stages or a fire alarm. Keep going unless it’s a fire alarm.

To improve your speaking skills even more ask the conference for feedback, ask the audience, check the event’s twitter feed.

If you’re really serious about getting feedback join Toastmasters, it’s a global organisation of clubs run by members and for members. You’ll hear some really good speeches, get many opportunities to speak, and your speeches are evaluated.

Got any other tips for people giving speeches? Add them below.

Images;
microphone via pixabay
Candy Corn / BY-NC-ND 2.0
LT – Presentations – Audience Participation / CC BY-NC 2.0
“Story Road” / CC BY 2.0
Leave A Note On Me! Cosplay / CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Trombone 1 / CC BY-NC 2.0
Tara on stage / CC BY 2.0

So that was 2013

People got famous on the internet

My favourite for 2013 was Batkid. In an event organised by the “Make a Wish” foundation a five year old cancer survivor went on missions with Batman. There were (volunteer) actors set up and real baddies arrested. I wished I’d been in San Francisco to take part – it looked like a lot of fun and this kid is a hero.

Lots of other people got famous on the internet; here’s a roundup of some of the best.

Some cool stuff happened on the internet

Here are three that raised the bar.

Real Beauty Sketches from Dove, for a while this was showing up daily on my twitter and facebook feeds. Dove continued it’s theme of women’s own beauty by asking an artist to make two sketches one based on a woman’s description of herself, and the other based on someone else’s description of them. The differences in the portraits are striking, and the reactions are touching. Dove are finding creative ways to demonstrate their commitment to the

Hashtag Killer was a campaign to draw attention to the thoughtlessness behind the #FirstWorldProblem hashtag, while raising awareness of real issues in the developing world. It’s tempting to conclude that some people just don’t get irony – but the campaign is effective and went on to win a Webby.

Oreo’s blackout tweet was sent out during the superbowl (apparently a big sporting event), when the lights went out at the stadium. Their tweeted image was funny, timely and got thousands of retweets. But that’s not why it’s raised the bar.

Oreo understood that social media is real time, they knew their audience would be watching on two screens (one for the game and one for social media), and they had an in-house team of 15 people ready to work with whatever happened.

Increasingly social media will be integrated with traditional media/marketing and communication initiatives; that requires integrated and flexible teams.

For more of the good stuff see the Webby Awards winners, or the Business insider list

Vines Got Interesting

Some people started using vines immediately, and there are some pretty funny compilations on youtube – hours of entertainment. Brands took a little longer, my favourite for the year comes from Airbnb. Not only did they use the new technology in a smart way they did it via crowd sourcing.

You can see more brand creativity with vine, I’m sure there’ll be more in 2014.

And some un-cool stuff happened in social media

Companies are still struggling to understand how to use social media, there are long lists of social media fails from Business Insider, econsultancy, and the UK Telegraph.

But there was a late entry that beat most of those from a PR professional, the infamous Justine Sacco tweet, even people who are supposed to be digital savvy can screw up. It’s a reminder to think before you post. If in doubt – delete.

Something Funny to Finish

Mostly I follow people on digital expert type people on twitter but there are a few humour or parody accounts in their for light relief, one of my favourites is featured on this list of the 40 funniest tweets of the year.

In Praise of Jane Austen

It is a truth universally acknowledged that Jane Austen is one of Britain’s favourite writers. She has been one of my favourite writers for many years, even before Colin Firth took a swim. Jane Austen will soon adorn the 10 pound note, following a campaign to have at least one woman represented on their currency. Hurrah for women. Although I can’t help questioning the selection process. Since it’s replacing a scientist why not Ada Lovelace, Elizabeth Garrett Anderson, or Rosalind Franklin? There used to be a woman on the five pound note; she has been replaced by Winston Churchill. So how about a woman politician or campaigner; Emmeline Pankhurst, Nancy Astor or Margaret Thatcher?

But Jane it will be, a somewhat innocuous choice. Although Austen scholars and fans the world over are disheartened by the choice of image and quote.

It turns out that this decision is more controversial and in ways I couldn’t have imagined. Those who campaigned to have a woman on the notes have been challenged on twitter with the most foul language. Including threats of rape and death. The UK police have taken the threats seriously, and already made arrests. Other twitter users have taken the side of the campaigners – to see their supportive reactions check the hashtag #shoutback.

The debate has moved on; there’s now a campaign to get twitter to make reporting abuse easier. There’s a debate about whether it’s really possible to monitor twitter and act on abusive tweets (which are outside twitter’s terms and conditions). There’s a debate on free speech and a discussion . Looking at those in order;

The campaign sought to get twitter to make it easier to report abuse. Currently you have two options; block the sender, which means you won’t see their tweets but others will, or report spam via a form, which takes a while too long when you’re receiving 50-100 abusive tweets per hour. Twitter has committed to making reporting abuse easier, but it’s not as easy as adding button.

It’s difficult because it can’t be an automatic blocking on the basis of a report, that in itself would be open to abuse. There are more than 100,000 tweets per minute, in a multitude of languages and in every time zones. It’d be difficult to build algorithms to sort out the tweets with issues from those without, as Flashboy discusses. Plus there’s context, there are conversations on twitter with banter that could seem abusive, but are not taken as such by the participants.

For all that Twitter has committed to finding a better way of protecting users from abuse. I guess using a mixture of streamlined reporting and monitoring, there are no specifics announced yet.

You must allow me to express how ardently I believe in the freedom of speech. But your freedom stops at the point where it destroys someone else’s freedom. Most countries, including the US place limits on the right of freedom of speech. You may not incite violence, slander another or threaten someone. Obviously your freedom to tweet does not supersede freedom in law. In this case the law, the UK Police, have taken the threats seriously, conducting investigations and making two arrests.

So what is in the minds of the people making these tweets? Where does the anger come from? The threats went on for days, that’s some serious anger.

I think the perceived anonymity of twitter is a drawcard, some have pointed out to the thin veneer of civilisation the abuse shows, others to the underlying misogyny in our society. It’s not wholly a misogynist issue, there are plenty of abusive tweets for anyone, including GQ. Perhaps the abusers are indeed Austen fans, or at least fans of Northanger Abbey where the narrator states;

A woman, especially, if she have the misfortune of knowing anything, should conceal it as well as she can.

We’re still reading Jane Austen’s works almost a hundred years after she died. I suspect the abusers will leave no such legacy.

Image: Jane Austen to Feature on Bank Notes  |  Bank of England  |  BY ND 2.0

Brain Dump

I’m guilty. This is a cliche I use, often to refer to a first draft of a report or a presentation where I’m still figuring out what should be included and what should be omitted. The image to the right is my first draft for a presentation I’m working on about digital literacy.

My “braindump” for a presentation on Digital Literacy

It turns out this is not the meaning most IT people understand from “braindump“, where it has come to mean the mass of information needed to pass an exam – particularly a certification exam – produced by examinees who memorise the questions or record them and then “dump” that information onto a website for the next crop of examinees to use.

It’s considered bad practice by the examiners obviously, as it makes it difficult to assess the real knowledge of examinees. Long term it devalues the certification.

What do you understand by the term?