The one promotional tee I am fond of

Light grey polo with a discrete logo bottom rightI suppose we all have received our fair share of promotional t-shirts. I suppose that most of them rarely get used, at least not for their original purpose. Mine usually end up as pajamas or for when I work in the garden or do paint work.

Except for one. Probably the oldest one. It was given to me by Wildeco, a communication agency in Sweden, specialized in financial and strategic communications in the mid nineties, i.e. about two decades ago!

So, what makes this different?

  • Usually they are poor quality. This one is of great quality. (as you can tell from its’ age)
  • Often they are in bright colours. This is in a discrete, versatile light grey.
  • Usually they are full of BIG logos or other promotional messages, on the chest, the back or the sleeves. This has a very discrete logo that you end up tucking into your trousers.  (bottom left in the picture)

Because this polo has a target audience of one: the bearer.

Other promotional t-shirts try to use us to broadcast promotion to people around us. But since they often are of poor quality and usually ugly, they end up in the drawer or in our garden where their purpose is completely lost.

This one is intended to remind me, the person wearing it, about Wildeco. The quality of the polo supposedly reflects the quality of their work. And it works. I use it more than any of the others, each time I do I recall Wildeco and now I even end up promoting them in this blog.

They thought carefully and differently when creating this polo. And they succeeded. Cudos to Wildeco for putting some extra thought behind such a mundane thing as a t-shirt giveaway.

The ideal advertising client – NOT

Facepalm from Wikipedia

Ohhh not again!

Vacation and lousy weather often result in sorting out old files and drawers. This summer is no exception.

In one of those piles of papers I found a list which I must have created in a moment of frustration during my days as an Account and Project Manager at an Advertising and Communications Agency a decade and a half ago. I just couldn’t throw it away without sharing it in a blog post to see if others recognise some of these too frequent behaviours of advertising clients. Do you?

  1. Always ask for a bigger logo
  2. Always as for the product to be presented on page 1
  3. Always list three or more product characteristics that all have to be included in the headline
  4. If there’s something in the suggestions from the agency that you don’t like, say so. But don’t tell them why.
  5. Ask for advice but do something else
  6. Approve substantial costs without blinking an eyelid, but scrutinise all studio and courier costs in detail
  7. Obtain creative briefs, time plans and quotes only to later decide to do it all in-house, using said creative briefs, time plans and quotes
  8. Give feedback three weeks behind schedule but still get upset when the project runs late
  9. Always question why the copywriter should take part in the initial idea phase
  10. Always and every time, surprise the agency with panic jobs at five to five, preferably on Fridays.

On the other hand, I learned that the cardinal mistake by advertising and communications agencies was… lack of communications. A lesson I have brought with me to everything I’ve worked with subsequently. Projects usually start of very intensively. Lots of communications, briefings, quotes, ideas, suggestions, planning and other interactions. Later, you usually enter a phase of research, production or similar desk work. Even if everything runs just smoothly and according to plan, it’s easy to go silent. “Busy working. Don’t disturb”. But after that phase of intensive communications, it’s easy that clients get “withdrawal symptoms”. If they don’t hear from you, their mind starts generating all kinds of fantasies of what might have gone wrong. And “no news is good news” becomes “no news means the agency is busy working on a new pitch for another client” (which may be true from time to time, unfortunately).

So, just keep communicating. Even if it’s just a message of “We’re on schedule”, “All’s working as planned”, “Here’s an example of where we are right now” or something else comforting the troubled mind. Just don’t go silent.

Helping out while chilling out

Helping out while chilling out

Credit: Franklin Pi, Flickr. Published under Creative Commons

At the end of today, I will switch on my out of office message and leave for three weeks of vacation. But colleagues who reach out to me will still have a fair chance to get the help they need and their questions answered.

Not by me, though. By my internal network.

In IBM, where I work, we have a huge internal social network. Like here on LinkedIn but within the firewall (plus blogs, easy web publishing, social bookmarks, forums, ideation and some other things that you have to combine from different providers on the public web). It’s called IBM Connections and is my major source for work efficiency, effectiveness, inspiration …. and help.

So, instead of the usual OOO telling you that I’m gone, that I’ll be back on 14 August and leaving you waiting until then, my message says: “I’m on vacation until 14 August. If you post your question on my board in IBM Connections instead <link>, my helpful network of about 1800 IBM’ers will have a chance to help you in the meantime (unless it’s about something sensitive or confidential of course. If it is, and urgent too, please send me a text message and I will try to get back to you.)”

This way, colleagues in need of help have a good chance of getting it and there will be fewer urgent things overloading my inbox on my return. Win-win!

And OOO that not only tells you when people will return, but that actually solves problems too! How’s that for a personal and business benefit of having and using an #ESN, Enterprise Social Network?

I have three accounts on Twitter. Should I?

I use three different accounts on Twitter. It’s not too much trouble, since I can handle them all in the free version of Hootsuite, but it would be easier with just one, of course.

Some people argue that you should use one twitter handle only, because you are one person and your handle is your Twitter representation of that single person.

My reason is simple: I don’t expect Twitter audiences to be overly interested in me as a person, but hopefully in the content I share. Therefore I use:

@thesocialswede for content primarily on communications, marketing, user experience, transparent ways of working, social tools and intranets – in English only

@Bjebeje for the same topics but sometimes in Swedish or for content I don’t expect to be relevant for non-Swedes

@peterbjellerup for more personal or random content

As I expect people to follow me on Twitter because they appreciate my tweets, I don’t want to disappoint or surprise them by suddenly mixing in stuff that is completely irrelevant for them. I don’t want to contribute to the chaotic noise on Twitter. My separation of Twitter handles is intended to provide my followers with interesting content on topics they care about, not to force them to get the full Peter Bjellerup story.

Relations with personal friends and acquaintances, I manage through Facebook, rather.

What do you think on this? Is Twitter about us as persons or about our content? (with the exception of celebrities, of course. But for us normal folks)

Tags – the DNA of working transparently

Of the many tags that have been attributed to my profile on IBM Connections, our internal collaboration platform, one of my favourites is “tag-o-phile”.

We all structure information differently. We think differently. And the way we think and structure information may very well depend on the moment and the context. Just look at these three examples from a training session in Japan where we asked teams to create a logical structure of 15 foodstuffs.

One way of organizing foodstuffs Another way to organize foodstuffs Yet another way to organize foodstuffsWhich team is right?

I’d say “they all are, in their own way. But the top two teams would have a hard time in the kitchen of the bottom team.”

I have written more about this in a blog post a few years back, Folders is where knowledge goes to hide, but I’ll focus here on a specific aspect of tags which often is overlooked – tags can be applied to anything.

Tags can be applied to anything. Only files can be put in folders.

It doesn’t sound like much, but it brings big benefits to users who have a good social intranet (or Enterprise Social Network, ESN, if you prefer). Searching for the tag “collaboration” will produce all kinds of content and people that have been assigned that tag; People, Files, Blogs, Forum discussions, Wikis, Pictures, Ideas, Communities. Instead of just finding either files in folders or people in the corporate directory, you find all of the above and can filter either by type of content or on people or you can refine your search with additional tags, irrespective of type of content. This way you get a much fuller picture of the breadth of content and knowledge available on any tagged topic.

But, for tags and tagging to reach the full potential, there are a few conditions:

  • Tagging has to be transparent – If tags are not visible to others than the people who assigned them in the first place, they are of little value
  • Tagging has to be flexible – To be useful, taxonomies should be used to establish a minimum level of tagging, not to control which tags may be used. Taxonomies can never capture the richness of characteristics and contexts relevant to all users and they hardly ever keep up with development and changing priorities
  • Tagging has to be widespread – As with so many other aspects of collaboration, it’s a matter of the more, the merrier. The more people tag, the more different tags will be used, giving a wider view on topics and people. But also, the more people tag, the more will re-use the same tag for content or people, improving the differentiation between tagged items

Does your social intranet offer proper tagging or is it just a facade?

Tags 101:

Simply put, tags are nothing more than “Characteristics – to me – of someone or something – expressed in single or few words”. If many people agree on a characteristic of someone or something, that characteristic will show up stronger and the “someone or something” will rate higher on that characteristic than others with fewer instances of the same tag. If person A has been tagged with “collaboration” 25 times and person B only “10”, we assume that person A has more expertise or experience on the topic of collaboration. Or, possibly, a greater and more tag-happy network.

In many ways, tags applied by people can be seen as a supplement to the machine algorithms used in standard search engines. You search for a tag and then filter on additional tags to refine your search results.

Tags vs #Hashtags

So what’s the difference? #Hashtags are used within conversations (be they in text or in images), helping to identify conversations on the same topic. Often, they are part of the message, usually a status update. Tags, as discussed in this post, are “labels”, used to characterize less fluid content or profiles in an online environment. The conceptual alternative to #hashtags would be discussion threads. The conceptual alternative to tags would be folders (but which only works with uploaded files, as described above).

IRL, AFK – Aren’t those acronyms anachronistic?

The other morning, my wife sat tapping away intensely on her phone. (Why do we still call it a phone, by the way. Making calls is one of my least common activities on my handheld device. The German expression “Handy” is actually more adequate than either “mobile phone” or “cellphone”)

Anyway, I wanted to discuss something with her, opened my mouth to start talking, but stopped in my tracks, shut it again and returned to whatever I was doing.

The episode had me thinking though. In our connected world of today, connected both Man wearing a plastic collar (like dogs sometimes do) to prevent himself from checking his mobile phone every two minutestechnically and through umpteen online social networks, many of us get reprimanded for not “being present”, not listening or even for interrupting conversations to check our phones. (Guilty as charged.) In Real Life (IRL) is supposed to take precedence. Often I agree and try to impose a rule at home of “No phones within reach while we eat together”. In vain, I may add.

So why did I choose to save that discussion for later?

My wife was already engaged in conversation. But it was a written conversation, a chat in WhatsApp with our daughter, currently in France. I would have caused an interruption. That conversation was as “In Real Life” as a conversation in our house would have been.

What is “Real Life” really? I’m sure that I’m not the only one who has come to better know and understand the thoughts, values and actions of some acquaintances via online social networks than I ever did before though our rare interactions live or via voice conversation on the phone. Their life is more real to me via Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram or WhatsApp than it has ever been before! Being a family where two daughters of three have moved out, the family group on WhatsApp is the first thing I check for updates in the morning.

Just how real and alive is a relation with acquaintances who you meet in the street once every two years, exchange a couple of phrases of courtesy only to subsequently rush off to where you were going? Compared with the old friend who you haven’t met in ten years, but whose updates offer you ongoing insight into their life events and thoughts about what’s happening around them or around us all?

So I don’t buy the IRL thing. The differentiator for me is rather about synchronous or asynchronous interaction and about keeping focus on what you do.

My wife’s conversation with our daughter was as synchronous as our discussion in our living room would have been, although through a different medium. Interrupting their conversation would have been as impolite as talking over them in the same room.  Also, some – or many, actually – of the things you write online should be written with great care, with focus and with a complete thought process before. When you’re in that mode, you’ll be as unhappy about somebody interrupting you as you would have been if sitting with a fountain pen, writing on paper. A broken chain of thought is broken in your mind, independent of which medium you use to document it.

Still, checking your phone for asynchronous updates on online social networks, interrupting an ongoing, synchronous conversation is still as impolite, irrespective of the medium used for that conversation. The only difference is that it’s less obvious if it is a chat you happen to be engaged in. Still, we should be as present and in the moment together with the people we happen to be with. What we need to consider is how we define “happen to be with”.

All in all: IRL is no longer a valid expression, since online is often as real and close as on-site.

What about AFK (Away From Keyboard, that is)? Well, some time has passed since the device we carry in our pocket took the pole position as our primary screen. And when did you last use a phone with a keyboard?

So what should it be instead? On Prem? In The Flesh? NoD (No Device)? Or what?

Do you help your employees not to create social media debacles?

Photo credit Marc Smith, flickr

Photo credit Marc Smith, flickr

Maybe you don’t think you need social media marketing.
Maybe you don’t think you need a social intranet.
Maybe you don’t think you need social analytics.
Maybe you are right.
Are your employees active on public social platforms?
Can they be identified as employees of yours?
A rough guess is that at least every second employee is represented on Facebook and just as many on LinkedIn. Probably about as many on Instagram. Somewhere between 10-25% on Twitter and maybe 5-10% even publish their own blog. If my numbers are right or wrong is secondary. The bottom line is that it would be surprising if not a majority of your employees are represented on public social networking platforms and that many of them can be identified as your employees.

Just imagine how many people they can influence. A wet dream for a marketing person. But a nightmare for people concerned with risk management and legal matters.

Just how do you help them to stay out of creating a mess? (for themselves and for you, that is.) Do you have a social media policy? Have you provided any training? Please don’t reply “We don’t allow our employees to use Facebook at work”! Ever heard of mobile internet, have you? If they can’t access their favourite social media network via the computer you provide, you can be pretty sure that they will do so using their mobile phone. And, anyway, this is not about what they do during office hours only. It’s about how they can positively represent your company ate any time of day or night. Or to misrepresent it. Even creating solid reputational catastrophes for you to deal with.

Without a social media policy, how can you tell employees off for creating a mess? How can you support them in representing the organization in the best possible way?

A great example of a social media policy is the IBM Social Computing Guidelines; developed by a group of insightful employees almost a decade ago, vetted by the legal team and made into company policy (the clearest and easiest to understand of them all, by the way).

But, policies are just the start. Unless they have been properly communicated and employees have been properly trained, they remain a rule to hold people against – not a help to do good for the company.

You need all three: Policy, Communication, Training. Irrespective of you doing any social media marketing or nothing at all, irrespective of your organization having a page on Facebook, on or a hundred accounts on Twitter, Instagram, Pinteres, Tumbler or whatever. It’s not about what you do. It’s about what your employees may do, in your favour or to your detriment, consciously or by mistake.