The Worldwide Connection

dreamstime_xs_42729484There appears to be an unfortunate trend happening in how we communicate. It’s the “you’re wrong” approach, typically followed by “and I am right.” It is an incredibly ineffective, divisive approach to authentic and engaging communication, yet it is one that is growing – particularly when it comes to public discussion and discourse. The challenge is that once this type of approach becomes “normal” or typical, it bleeds into how we communicate in other ways.

The recent Canadian federal election and the upcoming U.S. presidential election appear to be key contributors to this fast-growing trend – as do many of the challenging social and political situations that we are facing in the world. Recently, on Facebook, I watched a discussion on something that Donald Trump, the Republican presidential nominee, said. And, the fact is, it really wasn’t a discussion – it was a series of smart, educated, caring people stating things like:

  • “Americans are so stupid. Why can’t you see how evil he is?”
  • “I can’t believe that people are dumb enough to be fooled by him.”
  • “The U.S. is full of idiots and fools.”

In my experience, this isn’t the way to get someone to actually listen to you. If someone spoke to me in this way, I don’t think I would feel encouraged to have a respectful dialogue with them. And a respectful dialogue might lead to both of us learning something and opening our minds.

Now, this post isn’t about Trump, the U.S. election or any specific event or situation. It is about understanding a more strategic, respectful and inclusive approach to sharing an opinion, idea or ideology – even when you are passionate and truly believe that you are right. The declarations about Trump and the U.S. could have been about coffee (“I can’t believe you don’t drink coffee in the morning; you are stupid not to see how good it is.”) or anything else.

Many of our clients often have to put forward information that stakeholders don’t want to hear, might not agree with, or that just makes them feel frustrated or angry. In order to do this, it is always crucial to understand what it will feel like for the stakeholder (employee, partner, customer, etc.) to hear this news or information. It is important to listen to why they feel a certain way and what their perspective is – even if you don’t agree with it or understand it.

This is an active listening approach – where you actually listen to what is being said. The how, why and, often, what isn’t being said are important here too. It is why authentic public consultation has become an integral part of any large-scale change by both public and private sector organizations. Respectful, authentic engagement is at the heart of effective communications – and a solid, well-functioning society.

We have worked with countless clients on stakeholder communications, managing public consultation initiatives and organizational change, where engagement was key. Anytime we have experienced real challenges, we could trace a direct line back to the stakeholder group feeling unheard, disrespected or disconnected.

What happens when absolute and insulting statements, like the ones I saw on Facebook, are put forward? It pushes people farther away from finding any common ground, from working to understand the situation from a different perspective, and from engaging so that they can learn more. Unfortunately, it appears that we are losing sight of that, especially in the world of social media.

Author and communications professional Jim Hoggan has written a great book, I’m Right and You’re an Idiot: The Toxic State of Public Discourse and How to Clean it Up on this subject. I am about one-third of the way through the book and I think it’s worth a read for everyone – not just communications professionals.

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Timmies SignToday, I had the honour of doing another AHA Random Act of Kindness. This is the third time I have been given this opportunity and I have to tell you it is very hard to commit to an idea. After much deliberation, I received a tip (thank you Paul) that I could leave money at a Tim Hortons’ drive-thru, which would pay for many coffee drinkers’ orders. Perfect!

So, after purchasing a $50 gift card, I knocked on the drive-thru window and told the ladies working what I was up to. I would be sitting in my van in the parking space directly in front of the window, watching people’s reactions as they found out they didn’t have to pay for their order.

I don’t know who was more excited about this – them or me! Honestly, one of the ladies working was having so much fun with this, she was shouting out the reactions to me as people drove away. “That guy wants to make sure he’s in your will!” It was awesome!

You’re probably wondering what I observed. Well… I saw many smiles and much confusion. I saw a man pay for his order anyway (which one of the employees had told me people often do in this situation – they don’t feel right taking it for free when someone else might need it more). I think I saw one or two customers leave a tip. Many people just looked completely confused as they were trying to figure out what was happening. Someone mentioned that it might be a Just for Laughs gag and was looking for the hidden camera. The biggest smiles came from the older generation, and oh – we got a horn honk or two!

This experience left me feeling amazing. I think it really made the employees’ day as well.

Something I notice every time I do a Random Act of Kindness for AHA is that we all seem to have a real need for connection. I didn’t want anyone to know that I was the one who had bought the coffees, but I did want to see how it affected the recipients. And the employees said that many desperately wanted to know who had done this. Where is she? Who is she? But they kept it top secret. No one had any idea that I was sitting right there in front of them, in the old Dodge Caravan.

In doing something nice for someone, I think the only thing we really want in return is to feel something… to know we’ve made a difference. We aren’t looking for a pat on the back, but we do need to feel the impact of what we have done. I was craving those smiles! And people seem to have a real need to give back and to say thank you. It’s been a constant theme each time I’ve done this and I’m very thankful to AHA for once again giving me the wonderful gift of giving.

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http://www.dreamstime.com/stock-photography-d-chat-bubbles-storm-cloud-blue-background-bubble-gradient-image34914082One of the latest tools being used by organizations is the social chat – an online dialogue via social media channels. A social chat can happen through a range of social channels including Twitter, Reddit, Facebook, Instagram and many others. Any channel with an interactive component can host a social chat, and which tool you use will depend on your objectives and where your stakeholder group or audience gathers.

We have been speaking with several clients about social chats, and our approach is always to take a good look at what we want to achieve with this type of outreach and to identify both the risks and the opportunities.

There have recently been several high profile social chats – and a few that have backfired – including a Twitter chat by the New York City Police Dept that created a huge backlash online.

The NYPD asked Twitter followers to post photos of themselves posing with officers – unfortunately, that’s not what followers posted. This campaign went sideways almost immediately. According to NYDailyNews.com, more than 70,000 people posted negative images. To their credit, the NYPD responded to this by saying that they were engaging in new ways of communicating with the community and that Twitter provided “an open forum for an uncensored exchange” that was “good for our city.”

If you Google “failed social chats” – you can see many examples of the failures.

If you think a social chat is something that would benefit your organization or brand, you need to ask yourself some hard questions that include:

  • Do you have an engaged social media community? You can’t just jump into social media and hold a chat without first building relationships and creating a following and a community. If you only have 50 followers on Twitter, is that enough for an engaging dialogue?
  • What is your relationship with this community – has it been contentious or hostile? Have you authentically built up this relationship so that there will be a dialogue or discussion?
  • Have you reviewed what could be challenging, what the tough questions might be, and how you will respond? Expect tough questions and be ready to provide information in these areas. If you open the door to questions, you need to answer what is being asked – even if the questions are challenging.
  • What is the objective of this initiative? You need to be clear on what you want to achieve. Do you want to share information, get feedback, and engage on certain issues or topics? Why are you doing it? Who else in your industry has done this or are you the first? Understanding what you want to achieve is crucial. While social chats can be an excellent way to connect with your audience, they can also be risky – even for organizations with a good reputation.

Realize that as much as you can try to manage the direction of the conversation – online, you can’t control it. If even a small group of people want to derail the discussion and move it to their own agenda, they may be able to do that. You need to see that as a possibility and put something in place should this happen. You need to be prepared. And you need to have a plan in place about how you will authentically and respectfully engage with both supporters and detractors.

I realize that in this blog post I have been focused quite a bit on the negatives – social chats can be valuable when they are done right and when they are properly planned out. Not only does a social chat build relationships with your community, it also provides insight into the public perception of your brand. If you listen to both the positive and negative, you will have a real time perception of what your customers, clients or community think about your organization or brand.

One of the challenges we have seen is that sometimes a client wants to hold a social chat or engage in some other outreach via social media because they read about another organization that did it. It is important to take a step back and decide to do something like this because it will support your overall business goals – not just because you can. Engaging on social media can provide excellent results, but you need to strategically plan it out and make sure you cover all bases – including what could go wrong.

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photoI left the house very early this morning and I forgot my cell phone and my Internet hotspot. Forgetting both has never happened to me before and I have to admit it threw me into a mini anxiety attack when I realized it. Holy doodle – I have an incredibly important (and exciting) conference call with a client this morning. I have things to do and deadlines to meet. Facebook status updates to make and tweets to Twitter. What will I do without my iPhone – the center of my very existence (and what I use to tell time!)?

Then I realized that I had my laptop. I had my iPad. There are many coffee shops in Vancouver that I can access and use Skype to make my call and get my e-mail. It’s not quite as convenient as the portable and uber-connected office I have set up in my Jeep, but it will do.

We live in a wired world, whether you have embraced all the technology and this new culture or not. There is always a way to connect and communicate. And that means this is what your stakeholders are doing 24/7. They might not be as “wired in” as I am, but many are – and they are out there having public conversations about topics that are relevant to your brand, your products and services, and your organization. How are you participating or contributing to those discussions? Do you know where they are happening? Do you know how often? Do you know who the leaders and influencers are in your stakeholder groups? Have you transparently and authentically joined the conversation?

At the very least, you need to know what is being discussed. These are public conversations – you aren’t eavesdropping and you aren’t violating anyone’s privacy. These are mini focus groups that provide insight into your stakeholders’ perspectives, needs and expectations. It is hugely valuable information and it is sitting right there – out in the open for you.

We often do environmental scans on current stakeholder perceptions, via social media, for clients. We also do scans of media coverage, journalist social media content and comments, and provide a report on what is being said, by whom. We provide an analysis of the perception and information on whether there has been a shift in that perception over a specific time period. It also enables us to identify potential or emerging issues before they become something bigger. For many clients who have this done, it helps to inform how they can more fully engage and participate with their stakeholder groups.

Being disconnected today reminded me how important it is for you to be connected. It’s funny how it works like that.

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dreamstime_xs_25327121Happy New Year. On behalf of the AHA crew, we want to take this opportunity to wish you much happiness and success for 2014.

I had several interactions throughout the holiday season that made me think about how many levels and approaches there are in the world of communication (and in the world!).

I had the good fortune to travel to South Africa in December and, while there, I met several people I will keep in touch with. In our conversations about how to keep in touch, the response was split pretty evenly – half of the people were on social media (especially Facebook and Twitter) and half weren’t.

Some of these people are senior people in organizations; they are the decision makers and influencers. I learned that, for the most part, their preference for staying connected with others is by e-mail, telephone or in-person meetings. But, being curious, I had to ask – where do they get their news and day-to-day information, and how do they stay connected? The answers included reading the newspaper (hard copy), reading the newspaper online, listening to news radio, and watching the morning and/or evening news. It is interesting to note that when I asked about providing their opinions and feedback – or seeing the opinions and feedback in others – there really wasn’t as much interest as I thought there would be. One person responded: “Have you seen some of the comments on news articles? Not only are they uninformed, but they can be nasty, racist and border on bullying. I am not interested in getting into that kind of discussion.”

It’s important to remember that, for a range of reasons, not everyone gets their information or connects on social media. Here at AHA, we spend a fair amount of time in the social media arena – for our clients, for AHA and personally. It’s always good to remind ourselves that not everyone is as engaged on social media as we are. When it comes to planning out a campaign, initiative or project – while social media should always be on the table – it’s also important to identify where the target audience or community gets their news and information. Being clear about this will help you to build an effective plan for where, how and when to reach out with what you want to communicate.

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