Sep 012010

It’s the start of a new month and that means a new theme here at Ruly. In September, we are going to be discussing one of the most vital components of success in your personal and business life . . . communication.

"Classic Red London Telephone Boxes," Photo by niai. From the Flickr Creative Commons.

"LinkedIn Centipede Participants in the 2010 ING Bay to Breakers." Photo by smi23le. From the Flickr Creative Commons.

In 2010, there are so many ways to communicate with people: in-person contact, telephone, snail mail, email, fax, texting, videochat, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube, etc. etc. With all of the ways to communicate, how do you stay on top of all that information? How do you know which is the best way to reach someone? Are new social etiquette rules being formed?

The world of digital communication is evolving so quickly that I don’t think there is one “right” way to communicate. There are a variety of communication strategies and I invite you to share yours! If you are interested in writing a guest blog this month about your personal and/or business communications strategy or even an anonymous rant sharing your frustrations with communicating in the 21st century, please contact me at info@beruly.com. In exchange for your well-crafted words, I would be happy to include in the post a short blurb about your product or service (if applicable) or guest blog on your site in return.

To start, I will share with you my own communications strategy, which I consider a work in progress.

From a business perspective, it has been my philosophy that I want to make it as easy as possible for readers and prospective clients to stay up to date on what I am doing and to contact me. I try to speak their “language” and have this blog, a private email list as well as accounts on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. I generally have the same information updated in all these places continually. I try not to put information in one place that is not reflected in the others since I think it is unrealistic to expect that people will want to take the time to stay up to date on every communication I write in every medium. I also don’t want people to feel alienated if they miss out on something on a network they don’t use.

In other projects I am working on currently, I have the challenge of communicating with a mixed group of people, some of whom use the Internet and some who don’t. It becomes even more difficult to print and mail paper documents reflecting the substance of what occurs in Internet discussions. There is a definite generation gap at work where the majority of the people not using the Internet are older people. Bridging the gap between the digital and paper worlds is tough and time consuming and, despite best efforts, there is always at least some information that never makes it to the paper world.

From a personal perspective, my contacts are all over the place. Some I only ever see in person.  There are some that require paper/snail mail communications (including hard copy photos). Some want the telephone. Most use email. Some text by cell phone. A few are on Facebook and almost none are on Twitter.

Among many people I know, social networking is a hard sell for a variety of reasons. The most common objections I hear are:

1. Fear of humiliation/embarrassment. If you have worked hard to build a reputation in your business life and maintaining that reputation is essential to your job, Facebook can fairly be perceived as having more negatives than positives. The big challenge of Facebook is that you are connecting people from various parts of your personal and professional life into one big group of “friends.” While in the real world, you might selectively share different kinds of information with each group, on Facebook, it is all one big pool. If just one friend posts something inappropriate, whether about you or about them, you could alienate contacts instantly that may have taken years to build. Many people view this downside as outweighing any benefit to Facebook and simply opt out of the process.

2. Intimidation by the online popularity contest. Popularity contests are only fun for popular people. Facebook and Twitter give you the “benefit” of numerically calculating exactly how many friends and followers you have. Who wants to go on the record publicly saying, “Hello, World! I have exactly 2 friends.” I have learned not to assign any value, however to the number of online friends a person has. When I did a quick inventory of my own Facebook friends, I was surprised to find that the people I know who are incredibly popular in real life didn’t have the most online friends while some of my less popular friends had enormous numbers of online friends.

3. It’s uncool. There seems to be a bit of a generation gap (or maybe a personality gap) between my generation and the younger generations that built Facebook and Twitter into the powerhouses they are today. Many of my peers think it is tremendously uncool to join a big group for any reason. They want to be individuals. Fanning a business or joining a cause is something they only do because they have to for some other reason (a relative owns it or they are raising money for a cause). They also think it is geeky to spend so much time on the Internet. The whole concept of social networking is unpleasing to them. Take for example the quotes below:

“So it came to pass that I started logging on to Facebook. And, like seemingly everyone else I’d ever met, eventually S “friended” me. My policy has been always to accept whoever asks, no question, and never to friend anyone myself. (In this way I maintain the fiction that I’m not an active user.)”

–Kate Bolick, “A Death on Facebook,” The Atlantic, September 2010

“I am still trying to keep my daily screen-time to the absolute minimum. Those of you who are trying to find me on Facebook, please be warned that I will probably never find the time to become your friend. But I do love you.”

–Artist Alex Martin of The Little Brown Dress Project fame.

I seem to meet a lot of these individualistic friends. Even when I have tried to friend them on Facebook, I run into that awkward privacy screen where Facebook basically says, “Yes, this person is a user but no you cannot contact them even to ask whether they will be your friend. They are in the Facebook void.”

Even if you do manage to friend someone, there is always the chance they are “ignoring” you electronically without your knowledge. The Washington Post recently wrote about new technologies to block Twitter communications from unwanted users:

“The problem with one big water cooler is that you don’t always want to be at the water cooler with everyone all the time,” said Bretton MacLean, a Toronto developer of a popular iPhone app called TweetAgora, which lets users block unwanted tweets without the tweeter ever knowing. As the company puts it, “Some people are great in real life but just plain suck at Twitter.”

–Michael S. Rosenwald, “Too much Tweeting from Twitter friends? There’s an iPhone app for that — and some other ways to get anti-social on networks.” The Washington Post, August 29, 2010.

And yet even if these three objections speak loudly and clearly to you and Facebook and Twitter seem like too much drama, I don’t think any of us, particularly those in business, can ignore social networking entirely. Just like those who don’t want to learn the Internet and want everything mailed or telephoned, you can’t expect that everyone else is going to cater your needs.

It seems that social networking is here to stay although I am sure it will probably continue to evolve and improve over time. The number of people we can connect with is truly incredible. I do sense a little social fatigue setting in, though. Sometimes we don’t want key life events shared in one mass mailing. We miss the intimacy of the slow-moving social grapevine–being the first to know rather than just “one of the friends.”  This may be something we see addressed in future versions of social networks.

How do you communicate with your friends, family and business associates? Do you have a suggestion for me to improve Ruly’s communication strategy? Please share in the comments. And if you want to guest blog this month, please contact me at info@beruly.com.

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