I listen to a lot of articles and audiobooks in the car. I don’t usually listen to podcasts.
My listening time dropped when I switched from walking in the neighborhood back to my treadmill (where I’ll watch shows off the DVR). So I haven’t had a pressing need to fill my iPhone with audio content.
Still, I want to know what you’re listening to regularly. Bonus points if it relates to communication.
Leave a comment below with your favorite podcasts (video podcasts are allowed, too), and tell me why you subscribe. Yes, you can promote your own podcast, too.
I love language, but I haven’t studied it formally. I want to understand it better as a writer and a speaker. It’s critical to persuasion and marketing.
Linguist George Lakoff wrote an 8,000-word post-mortem on the 2016 presidential election called “A Minority President: Why the Polls Failed, And What the Majority Can Do.” I’ve read it a couple of times and shared it on social media.
I’m going to re-read it and study it till it sticks in my brain.
One idea he explains is the limits of facts and rational arguments. They don’t always work, since everyone processes information differently. If we’re wired more for logic, those facts might be persuasive. If we’re wired more for values, these arguments are simply incompatible, almost as if speaking a foreign language.
I’m planning on reading Lakoff’s updated version of his 2004 book, [aff. link] “Don’t Think of an Elephant! Know Your Values and Frame the Debate” to better understand the psychology behind our language and how to reach more people.
Maybe I can rewire my brain to use language more engagingly and understand how others perceive my words.
- Salon interview with George Lakoff
- “A Minority President: Why the Polls Failed, And What the Majority Can Do”
- Watch George Lakoff on “Tavis Smiley.”
Video: George Lakoff on why facts don’t move all people
New bloggers often struggle with the most basic question: what to blog about. But even corporate blogs face this challenge.
This might strike fear into middle managers everywhere, but it shouldn’t. Plenty of marketing plans move forward with no defined goals and poorly conceived action steps.
A blog and a blogger can find their voice through practice. The most likely outcome is … nothing. The blogger runs out of steam, either from competing demands or lack of ideas or lack of institutional support. Why bother if no one in the organization can be bothered to contribute ideas, posts or promotion to a fledgling endeavor?
A lucky few will find that, after 6 months, the blog slowly comes into focus. It could be pure marketing. It could be recruiting and humanizing the company. It could be customer service, offering not only information and assistance, but a broader look at trends, best practices and one-on-one advice.
A different approach is to examine the marketing plan for the year ahead and determine how a blog can enhance those efforts. It could be to extend the brand and increase consumer awareness of a company’s products and services. It could be to drive traffic to the sales section of the site. It could be to kick-start lead generation with in-depth posts. It could be to build customer loyalty by preaching to the choir.
When we decide on the blog’s role, we can then determine topics and tactics. We want topics that are fresh and those that are done to death. Each post, done properly, enhances our search ranking and brings the right visitors to our site over and over.
The tactics should include regularly scheduled posts (at least once a month and ideally once a week); promotion of posts; networking with bloggers who work on similar topics; analysis of metrics; and fine-tuning content creation. It’s a lot of work, and most companies will either need to bring in more people or drop other less-effective strategies.
Finding the focus can be challenging, but it’s not impossible. It is impossible without actual blogging. But a sharp focus can not only bring more fans and customers along for the ride, but also keep out those who would never spend a dime or provide only drive-by traffic.
And the sooner we start, the sooner we find it.
• • •
Sign up for the free Birmingham Blogging Academy newsletter
for more help with blogging …
After a 2-year debut in Philadelphia, the nation’s largest WordCamp is headed to the South.
WordCamp US will be in Nashville for 2017 and 2018. This year’s event takes place Dec. 1-3, and tickets are $40. The first 2 days have three tracks of sessions all day long, while the third day is contributor day, allowing attendees to work with different teams on WordPress development.
For those interested in WordPress, site design, content and more, this conference is perfect. I’ve heard great things about WordCamp US, and I’m excited it’ll be so close to home through 2018.
December’s event brought 1,300 campers to Philadelphia to see nearly 60 speakers. My two regrets are missing the event and not having Birmingham selected as host.
Fortunately, I can watch all the talks for free at the WordCamp US 2016 section of WordPress.tv.
I’m marking my calendar now. (For those who can’t make the trip to Nashville, a virtual ticket will be available.) Maybe I’ll even be lucky enough to be selected as a speaker.
Hope to see you there in December.
VIDEO: WordPress founder Matt Mullenweg gives the
“State of the Word 2016” keynote at WordCamp US.
Great email management requires more than defensive tactics. It means having a solid offensive strategy.
Getting a permanent handle on email frees us to do productive work, removes the anxiety of facing the Inbox and assures colleagues and partners that we’re handling messages decisively. It works, but it requires us to take a few more aggressive steps.
1. The most important step forward is to set boundaries. This is straight outta “The 4-Hour Workweek” [aff. link].
One boundary should be expectations of timeliness. Email can’t be a dog whistle that anyone in the world can use to summon us at a moment’s notice. I can immediately tell when those expectations are out of alignment when someone responds to my email after a few weeks, but then sends me followup emails within an hour demanding a reply.
If it’s an emergency, call me. If it’s not an emergency, email me. (And trust me, I have a strict definition of what constitutes an emergency.) I’m perfectly fine letting calls go to voicemail 99 percent of the time.
Many questions magically resolve themselves without my intervention. And just about everyone receives a reply from me within 24 hours.
2. Another boundary to set is how many times a day we check email. I’m down to two times a day and should eventually get to once a day.
When email is the to-do list written by others, I prefer to keep that list as short as possible. Otherwise, it threatens to sap away all productivity and focus. We don’t check our snail mailboxes obsessively, and we really shouldn’t snatch our phone up for every notification for texts and social media.
We do this to ourselves.
We must rescue ourselves.
Checking work email in bed at night and first thing in the morning is counterproductive. It’s setting unrealistic expectations and burning us out. It’s allowing the tool to use us than the other way around.
3. Where many people fail is not in cleaning up their Inboxes. It’s not even in setting up auto-filtering rules.
The failure comes from having a working system in place.
What good is clearing 700 messages out of the Inbox if it’s overstuffed a week later?
It’s like having an organization system for clutter in the home. Mail goes here, keys go there, remote goes there. Otherwise, clutter.
Filtering rules can handle most of the incoming email. But we must still whittle down some pile of messages. “Getting Things Done” [aff. link] offers a solution: Reply, do later, archive or delete.
- If a reply can be written in 2 minutes or less, we take care of it on the spot. Then we archive it.
- If it takes more than 2 minutes, we put it in a To-Do folder.
- If we need to refer to it later, we archive it.
- Or delete it.
By putting total focus on the Inbox, we can manage it daily, without re-reading messages or struggling with indecision.
Quite a few posts can guide newbies through applying Getting Things Done to email, including this one that focuses on Gmail users. The Getting Things Done system is terrific, but applying it to email and other areas takes study and practice.
Without any system in place, email becomes a burden again, rather than a simple task to handle with a smile.
4. A big step to consider is email encryption. It’s technology that’s available to all of us at a reasonable cost, allowing only us and the recipient access to the message.
But why do it?
Email privacy is an illusion. Our mail can be read by government agencies, corporate spies, tween hackers, Russian hackers and nosy family members. Many of us have faced similar privacy concerns about our medical records, our financial statements, our phone data, our photos stored on the cloud and other sensitive material.
We lock our doors, try to hide our PINs at the ATM and supermarket checkout terminal and use two-factor authentication for site logins. Maybe we’re not thinking enough about securing our email.
Lifehacker put together a guide to email encryption in 2013 worth studying. For most people, having stronger passwords and better password management will be enough of a defense. But for a few, encryption will be a necessity.
Email offense ensures that we take charge of this communication tool. Our game plan is to free up time wasted on tracking messages and give ourselves ongoing peace of mind.
• • •
Sign up for the free Birmingham Blogging Academy newsletter
for more tips on effective communication …
Email is my favorite way to communicate, though I realize it’s out of fashion for many people. Some prefer the instant access of group chat apps such as Slack, or simply picking up the phone. And we have plenty of alternatives, including messaging apps (WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger), texting and ye olde Snail Mail (which I send when I want to complain about customer service or product defects — it’s fairly effective).
Using email can be a real pain, as users fight to keep their Inboxes tamed while having time to, you know, work. Not to mention all the security problems: phishing and other scams, hacked services, viruses, misrouted messages.
I’ve seen friends and clients struggle with email. It’s costing them time, customers and sanity — but it doesn’t have to be that way. They can win the email war in a few steps.
Let’s look at some options for email defense. These are tactics I use every day in keeping my Inbox clean and my goals on track.
1. I had to install a spam filter. Because I have public email addresses and multiple domain names, spammers spoof them to send out their junk. So I receive upwards of about 200 spam emails a day. This was driving me up the wall, trying to find a handful of legitimate messages in a sea of Viagra ads and unsafe links.
Apple’s Mail.app for my laptop wasn’t cutting it.
I found SpamSieve, a plugin that has saved my bacon. It filters out spam during my mail checks, and learns with each pass. I can train it for false positives and negatives. It’s only $30 and completely worth it.
2. Many, many years ago, I learned how to set rules for each email app I used. Because so much of my email is recurring, I wanted it to sort itself into neat piles: bills, friends, newsletters, media releases, urgent notices and so on.
It’s still a work in progress. But at least I’m not wasting time looking through all my emails in one endless list.
Filter emails by sender, by recipient email address (handy when I use different addresses for different purposes) and subject. Mark them by label or color, change them to already read, or trigger a sound for important messages.
It takes about an hour to set up filtering rules and testing them. They’ll save hours upon hours with each incoming message.
3. Many users do an annual cleanse by unsubscribing from old newsletters, promotional offers and any email blast that have outlived their usefulness. Doing it once a day for a week can drastically cut down on overall volume all year long.
I finally made myself do it in December, and having that cleaner Inbox made it worthwhile.
For those who need a shortcut, try Unroll.Me, a free service that works on major platforms including Gmail and Outlook.com (but sadly, not my humble Apple Mail). Not only does it offer mass unsubscribing, it also takes the remaining newsletters and puts them into one digest.
No more excuses: Drop the emails (even my newsletter, if need be) no longer needed or read.
4. Passwords remain one of our most vulnerable security areas. We use bad passwords (too common, too short, too simple). We leave them lying around. We leave them unchanged.
This makes little sense, since we rarely input our email passwords while checking them from our computers at home and work and our phones.
Email providers are making it too easy for the hackers: Many set a maximum limit of password characters — it’s crazy to have an eight-character password nowadays guarding our email accounts.
Let’s change our passwords today, using a mix of letters and numbers and punctuation. Try 20 to 30 characters for best security. (And use a password manager to track those new longer passwords: Try KeePassX for Mac desktops and MiniKeePass for iOS devices. MakeUseOf has more on this free solution.)
5. Perhaps the oldest rule of all applies even more in this age of social media and Internet shaming. If we wouldn’t want to see something on the front page of NYTimes.com, we shouldn’t send it in an email.
Email, for the most part, is not secure in its travels from server to server. We like to think of it as a direct transmission from our Outbox to the recipient’s Inbox, but emails travel a circuitous route over many vulnerable access points. While the likelihood that any one person’s single email message could be intercepted en route, the reality is that our systems are vulnerable at all points along the way, beyond our own devices.
Keeping sensitive info out of email may not be a practical solution. We must each weigh the benefits (convenience, compatibility, speed) and the risks of using email in each instance of transmitting that data.
Using these five steps can greatly enhance our email usage by keeping our accounts safe and secure, clean and efficient. Let’s make the most of our email through good maintenance.
Next week: Playing email offense
• • •
Want a heads up when that email offense post is ready?
Sign up for your free newsletter …
A friend and former colleague wrote me the other day that he had “made peace” with joining the dark side. He was referring to public relations.
Many journalists have long looked down on PR, perhaps spurred by bad encounters with PR professionals over the years. While I understand, I don’t share that sentiment. I know plenty of terrific PR experts and have found stories and ideas I would not have otherwise discovered. I’ve done my fair share of PR work and have advised clients on PR strategy time and again.
What’s rarely discussed is that journalism has a dark side, too. We’ve seen it many times this year.
Certainly, journalists have faced detractors from all corners with claims of biased reporting, ethical misconduct and sensationalism. The dark side of journalism should include five areas that damage the industry needlessly.
The first area is “pay-for-play,” when a media outlet expects businesses seeking coverage to pay up front for ads. Most might recognize it by a standard term: extortion. Owners and marketers often don’t realize that this is an unethical practice and not the industry norm. However, in limited media markets (such as Birmingham), we may not have many options beyond the outlet seeking payment.
Avoid pay-for-play at all costs. Patronize media outlets that keep their business interests and journalistic pursuits separate. Hire a professional or an agency to assist in obtaining earned media coverage.
The second area is media release journalism. I’ve seen it both traditional outlets and online outfits. With newsroom resources stretched beyond capacity, reporters and producers take shortcuts. One of the most egregious is taking media releases and using them virtually unchanged for print, online and on air.
For a PR pro, it’s a huge easy win: It puts the client’s message directly before the outlet’s audience without a filter but with the appearance of credibility. In the long run, it harms everyone. Journalists lose credibility, audience members lose trust, and story subjects lose another option in reaching people.
We don’t have many options to discourage this practice, other than to reward media outlets that avoid it with our clicks, our subscription dollars and our patronage of their advertisers.
The third area is a lack of innovation. The industry has been largely static, whether print, broadcast or this “new” age of digital. Essentially, the click-revenue model is similar to the emphasis on big numbers that worked for decades: readership for print, viewers/listeners for broadcast.
Have we seen any innovations that have made good journalism more robust and more profitable? Some have even made the argument that journalism should be divorced from the for-profit model, though the nonprofit ventures of late have been a mixed bag.
The fourth area is a lack of transparency. We have important questions to ask of news organizations:
- How are coverage decisions made?
- How are they carried out?
- When the budget is cut, what are the deciding factors?
- Do audience members have a say in decisions? Subscribers? Advertisers? Non-newsroom employees?
- What are the priorities in the newsroom? They could include speed, accuracy, potential metrics, cost, controversy, public service, brand alignment and so on.
A public that demands more of its media should expect more transparency than is currently and automatically offered. We want the same transparency from the media that the media asks of government, business and other institutions.
The fifth area is fake news. The first four areas have indirectly contributed to the fake news phenomenon. Any time established media outlets shoot themselves in their collective feet, it opens the door a little wider for the hucksters to slip through.
Fake news is extremely profitable and has repercussions far beyond which website, social media account or YouTube channel racks up the most hits.
- Fake news can lead to extreme voting results.
- Fake news can lead to violent actions.
- Fake news can lead to more of the same: duped consumers; wider ideological divisions; less critical thinking; more propaganda.
I wish I had a clear-cut solution on the fake news problem. It’s largely insular: People either take refuge within a fake news bubble, or they don’t. Gentle persuasion, empathy and skillful storytelling are likely not enough to entice them out of that bubble.
We can continue to make sure children have access to free robust public education, free Internet access and libraries in every community. Development of critical thinking skills should become a top priority for educators and citizens across America.
Having worked in journalism for 25 years, I know well its power for good. But I also know how it has declined in certain ways throughout my career.
I believe great journalism is essential for a great democracy. Whether we deserve either remains to be seen.
Consistency can make your brand stand out amidst fierce competition for attention. It matters not if you have limited time and limited budget — we all have those challenges.
But let’s avoid predictability. Let’s avoid dull. Let’s leave room for occasional surprises to delight and awaken fans and customers.
It’s not difficult to shake things up. Usually, the biggest hurdle is our own reticence to actually provoke our audience. We’re afraid of scaring them off.
(If they’re that easily frightened, they were never really ours to begin with, right?)
What are some ways we can surprise our online audience?
- Talk with people and call them by name. Social media, emphasis on social.
- Put the spotlight on others, including competing companies.
- Give them a gift. A real gift, not 10 percent off our stuff.
- A handwritten note on nice stationery.
- Use a different format: illustrations, charts, limericks, PDFs, anything that varies from your standard mode.
- Guest blogger, Snapchatter, Instagrammer. Someone with a distinct personality and voice who gets your audience.
- Empower colleagues to reach out online. Too often, we leave it to one or two ambassadors, when we have a company full of ambassadors itching to help others.
- Revisit past interactions. Y’all Connect speaker Ramon De Leon had his Domino’s franchise follow up with one customer annually with free pizzas, after a big screwup with her Super Bowl party order.
Whether you reach out to one or 100, you can make a splash by veering off your beaten path. Note: This isn’t license to become erratic in your online communication and marketing — only an opportunity to bolster your consistent message with a burst of fresh creativity.
First, be consistent. But then, shake things up. Your customers will appreciate you all the more.
When it comes to blogging, you and I have much to be thankful for.
- It’s easy. Most of us can have a site running within minutes, with custom domain, nice graphics and almost no cost. Help is available, and we’re free to go in any direction.
- It’s flexible. I can post as much or as little as I want. I can split into separate blogs, or delete and start over. I can post tweets and photos and links and videos and galleries and quizzes and PDFs and art and lists and sound clips and more.
- It’s collaborative. I’ve learned from commenters, sharers and guest bloggers over the years. I’ve connected with marketers, business owners, speakers, authors and more.
- It’s empowering. Blogging has helped me refine my voice and put myself out there. It’s led to speaking opportunities, books and media appearances. My work has been quoted and cited many times over on sites and in media outlets big and small.
- It’s forgiving. I can try and fail and come back the next day and knock one out of the park. I can screw up and have little wins and setbacks. I can teach others based on my years of mistakes.
After an acrimonious election year, we all need a break. Let me suggest a different approach.
When half the country is taken by surprise two presidential elections in a row, it means we’re not really listening well. We hear arguments that bolster our beliefs all too well, at the cost of understanding half of our neighbors. We think we know the score, and then face an ugly awakening.
This lack of listening cripples us in other areas: our personal relationships, our marketing campaigns, our rapport with colleagues, our clients and so on. No matter where we live, no matter where we work, we run into people with different points of view.
We can’t expect others to listen better. We need to work on ourselves.
I continue to practice my listening skills every day, knowing that strengthening it also helps my overall communication skills. I have a few oddball suggestions for interested students to try.
1. Take an improv class. Improvisational comedy isn’t about quick wit. It’s about careful listening. Scene partners rely on each other to build a world from scratch instantly, but those foundations can collapse in a wink.
A master improv performer understands that she must continue where her partner left off. She can try to think ahead, or surrender to the moment, studiously listening and watching what her partner has brought to the game.
I can’t count the number of times I’ve run through the arguments and counterarguments in my head while someone else was talking. I really missed out what they were trying to tell me, because I didn’t want to understand their viewpoint, merely one-up them.
The Positively Funny troupe offers classes in Birmingham.
2. Listen intently in short bursts. A meeting offers the perfect opportunity to go all in: no devices, no doodling, no distractions.
Can we listen to what each person has to contribute? Can we discover how others react to questions, opinions, requests and commands? Can we accurately summarize each colleague’s portion?
I would often get lost in my own thoughts during meetings and very rarely get called on it. I’ve seen plenty of people spend entire meetings and conference calls glued to their phones.
We pay a price for distracted meetings: lack of follow-through; confusion over action steps; poor service for colleagues and customers. Maybe we can’t be perfect listeners 24 hours a day, but how about for 1 hour?
3. Practice yoga. One primary skill in yoga is breathing. Through monitoring our breath, we become one with our bodies (if that makes sense). We listen to what our bodies are telling us: Mine usually tells me that ow my left leg is cramping up!
I know that when I do a better job of listening to my body, my mind and my spirit, I am better prepared to listen to the concerns of others. But if my stomach is rumbling, if my mind is stuck on negative thoughts, my listening suffers.
Yoga is a great way to tap into our noisy inner lives. It might make someone else’s noisy life a little easier.
4. See a therapist. I’m grateful when someone listens to me carefully. Therapy can be cathartic when I have so much I want to unload.
But it’s also a wonderful opportunity to see a pro at work, someone paid to listen to people’s woes. She isn’t taking calls or checking emails or scrolling through social media. She asks questions, watches my expressions, listens to my tone and participates as needed.
Not to mention that therapists can help patients learn listening skills. Marriage counselors guide couples through basic exercises so each one can practice talking less and taking in more.
Many of us are probably not in a listening mood, especially to “the other side.” We harm only ourselves in remaining inert. Who will be the first to reach out and give a warm, sincere listen?
We are most creative when facing limitations. Typically, those limits are time and money.
Fortunately for most of us, we’ll never have quite enough resources to do our jobs as we wish. Bloggers can always use nicer computers, faster Internet, better cameras, more hours in a day and so on.
But typically what separates one blogger from another is talent and how it is applied. A super-skilled blogger can grow complacent. A newbie can strive with each post to try something new. Where do each of us fall on that continuum?
Even arbitrary limits can create better results. Because blogging has no word limit, I read too many posts that ramble. No one is telling that blogger to rein it in, so we all suffer.
At one news site I managed, I set a limit of 500 words on every post, including my own. It was an arbitrary number, not based on some scientific study of attention spans or ideal SEO triggers — it could have just as easily been 300 or 750. Having that limit forced each writer to be concise. It made each post stronger than if every blogger had free rein.
This word limit forced bloggers to make choices, even under an artificial circumstance. No one says books must be shorter than so many pages, or TV shows must have fewer than so many episodes a year, or movies must run under so many minutes. But we have a word that describes creators who dare to heap on more for the sake of more: overindulgent.
Arbitrary limits aside, some of us face very real limits in our regular blogging lives. For example, we lack time to write posts, and when we get going, we have to stop for other urgent duties.
This constant time challenge can bring out our most creative sides, forcing us to tackle the problem in different ways. That could mean shorter posts, writing chunks on the go, using video, setting aside more blocks of time, imposing earlier deadlines or developing ideas that require less work. Many bloggers simply give up before trying alternate approaches.
But the best bloggers try something to make it work. We force ourselves to brainstorm, on our own or with colleagues, for a better solution. This is the creative problem solving that happens a million times a day in marketing departments, studios and on assignment.
For me, the best example has been Twitter. If I want to see creative writing with the most impact, I look at what’s tweeted about current events (debates, football) and from pithy personalities (comedians, peers, writers).
It’s why I’ll never get tired of reading best of Twitter posts or “Gameday” signs. It’s why I’ll never stop working on my writing, whether with a 140-character or 500-word or 10,000-word limit.
Limits don’t hamper us. They empower and unleash our creative minds.
• • •
Limited resources for blogging?
Let me help unlock the right ones for your company …