Professional knowledge and the use of different perspectives

Have you ever noticed how some people can completely erase your desire to have a discussion with them? David Gurteen recently drew my attention to Nancy Dixon’s blog post about the negative impact of speaking with conviction. In this post I’ll review the pros and cons of considering many perspectives versus limiting yourself to a single point of view.

Cloud Gate. Different perspectives.

Cloud Gate. Different perspectives. [Click to view Mike Warot’s photo on Flickr]

In all the heaps and piles of information before you, what is valuable depends on your purpose.

Professional knowledge lends purpose to your actions

Anyone who has a very specific purpose for the information (or objects) available to them will use their perspective to sieve the gold from the dirt:

  • As an information specialist – and in a number of other professions – you analyze and filter information according to what other people need at a particular time. Going in with a strictly utilitarian viewpoint, narrowed down to one specific purpose, combined with (re)search skills, means you’ll end up with the right set of information sooner rather than later.
  • As an archivist, you put together archives – structures – that will serve the needs of the team, department, or organization. There’s limited room for your own preferences – and that’s fine. You’re not supposed to keep every file you like.

Different perspectives urge different actions. If your perspective is “anything can be useful, depending on what you’re looking for” you don’t see gold or dirt, but copper, iron, gold, and lots of other stuff that could be useful to someone. Although at this point the word ‘hoarding’ comes to mind.

Professional knowledge and different perspectives in conversations

In conversations, taking one perspective and pushing it to the exclusion of every other point of view means you effectively kill the conversation. That seems convenient, but people may stop trying to change your opinion and focus on implementing their ideas without your valuable input.

  • If you want to keep your conversations going – and the exchange of professional knowledge with it – taking a leaf from the ‘many perspectives’ book may be just what you need.
  • On the other hand, if you’re reasonable to a fault, self-proclaimed holders of strong opinions may think you lack a personal own point of view.

Aiming for balance is probably your best bet.

The limits of your knowledge

It’s relatively easy to become an expert and out-know everybody else. The true art lies in letting go of your preferred point of view and trying a different perspective. Doing so makes you realize that there is always room for a smidgen of doubt.

  1. Your reasoning may be faulty.
  2. The information you have is incomplete, therefore your knowledge is likely to be flawed in some part.
  3. The mere fact that you’re better informed than the others doesn’t mean you’re also right.

Trying to convince people to trade the opinion they’ve voiced for yours may not work. Pointing out that the object they see looks different from another angle may be all you can do.
We’re all walking the tightrope of knowledge over the chasm of inadequate information. Meet you halfway?

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Online conversations: is automation worth your while?

A while ago there were plenty of blogs, including my own, reporting on the ways (fake) Likes, fans and followers on social media were at the heart of a commercial industry. Bloggers and heavy users of social media tend to automate or streamline at least part of their interactions.

Can you automate part of your actions without appearing – or being – ‘fake’ in the human sense? Should you?

Levels of engagement in conversations

Visitors and commenters: to automate - or not?The level of engagement involved in an online conversation can differ enormously. Dealing with online conversations can cost you hours upon hours. ‘Likes’ don’t seem to get a lot of follow-up by companies. However try to check up once a week or so – getting zero response is discouraging.

Related posts: Twitter automation, and A Clone War.

The role of automation in online conversations

What actions can you safely automate?

  1. Standard replies like “Thank you for the follow!”, “Thanks for the RT”, “Thanks for the mention”. This category was hit by Twitter’s decision to make automated actions by tools like IFTTT difficult. Meanwhile tools like Commun.it still collect new followers and interactions and compose standard messages for you to send. My advice: edit them.
  2. Messages on repeat thanks to tools like Buffer, like “Read my post on subject X” for the umpteenth time. My main problem is with people who quote at me when they’re not even online 🙂

Automating your responses to questions

While it’s up to you to decide what to automate, here’s my tip:

Try not to fool people into thinking they have a personal and meaningful relation with you when they don’t.

Answering questions literally on autopilot is tricky and that’s why not many businesses are doing it (yet). I once asked a new follower who had sent an automated “Thanks for the follow” tweet if they’d had a busy week, and the response was something like “Busy week! Check my FB page…”

I can’t tell you how to do this type of automation on Twitter without IFTTT but it’s probably either down to your budget or your technical abilities. But that’s beside the point.

Questions indicate a sincere interest in a topic or in you. Personally I would say never automate this type of action. Not even to seem polite.

Comments – the life blood of conversations

This is what you can’t yet leave to an automation tool (unless you have a really big budget). You don’t need me to point out that all comments are not equal. I suppose you could automate replies to really short “Great Post!” comments but is saying “thanks” really that much of a time waster?

For the more relevant comments: if you’re used to putting yourself on the stage through blogging or on social media, don’t forget others are not. The important thing here is to have a heart 🙂

Stuck like glue: how knowledge powers business relationships

How does knowledge affect business relationships? It’s a matter Ross Dawson has written a whole book about. In this post I’d like to share my thoughts on knowledge in business relationships and related matters like advising (internal) clients, or even friends for that matter.

What do you bring to the table in your (business) relationships?

Knowledge needs food to grow

Tree of knowledge? Image HikingArtist.com

  • Knowledge. By this I mean your personal set of experiences. Not just your education, because your peers share much the same background.
  • Time – which may seem in short supply so you’d rather spend it on activities that add value than on stuff that really isn’t that important but “management say they want it so go do it”.
  • Social skills (if I’m being presumptuous please let me know).

It makes sense to invest your time in building a good relationship with your (potential) clients and allies. Apart from your subject matter expertise (SME), focus on extending the knowledge you have about your client:

  1. Listen carefully to what’s being said.
  2. Listen even more carefully to what’s not being said.
  3. Ask away.
  4. Keep asking.
  5. Be open about the way you work (from the start), and
  6. ask for structural feedback to help finetune your actions. When you plan your activities for a client, include a continuous feedback loop from and to your client. If that’s not possible, plan regular feedback moments.

Focusing on the interaction, on the knowledge you and your client need from each other and produce as a result of your conversations, steers you away from ‘just’ delivering your service or product.

What does this advisory role demand from you?

The interaction with your clients demands that you take the conscious decision and then muster the patience to get genuinely involved. Getting involved also means sharing knowledge, and that may lead to the following situation:

  • If you’re a veteran in your branche, you may have grown used to skipping steps. It’s been so long since you wondered why you do what you do in this specific way. But to the non-expert there is no “obviously”. There is no obvious reason for doing anything. Or for doing it in this way. So add all the steps your client needs.
  • Having someone ask you questions and giving you feedback may well point you toward things you had overseen! Listening to your clients’ questions may well teach you a lot about yourself as well as about your client. Once you’ve learned anything you need to review what you thought you knew. Improve, tweak. Review. Learn, and unlearn! Knowledge building will guide you and your client by showing you should stop doing one thing and start doing the other.

How does knowledge power your business relationships?

By getting involved and being open about your methods you will:

  1. learn a lot about your client. You’ll understand better than anyone else what makes them tick. What worries them. What stumps them.
  2. build trust. Your client gets a genuine sense of what you know, how you think, who you are as a professional and as a person.
  3. get feedback from your client about details in their particular situation that might affect the results of your efforts.
  4. have a chance to review your own business
  5. improve your own skills as an advisor
  6. accumulate heaps of richly detailed cases you can use as examples with other clients.

There’s just one thing to watch out for. And that is getting too comfortable knowing what you know about your clients. Knowledge needs to be fed regularly if you’re to reap its fruits. Neglect your knowledge and it will lose its connection with reality. Your reality. And your clients’ reality. If you find that your attitude stands in the way of really listening to your clients – if it prevents you from being a good advisor, tell yourself to stop being a [fill in appropriate noun here].

And two (this point occurred to me thanks to this picture): remember to harvest the fruits of your labor. The point of knowledge is not having it – but using it.

Read more:

How would you describe the relationship you have with your (business) connections? Leave your thoughts about knowledge, business, clients and relationships (and possibly about glue and apples) in a comment – I will reply to anything non-spammy 😉

Blogging impressions: audience matters

Understanding your audience can be a major issue if you own a blog. Do you ever wonder what your audience is telling you by ‘liking’ your blog? Do you have posts that are loved and posts that seem to be completely ignored?

Mark Schaefer recently wrote about the importance of comments on his {grow} blog. I completely get this. It can be hard to interpret (a lack of) likes. In this post I’ll explore how your particular audience affects your pattern of likes, the pros and cons of likes (not necessarily in that order), and next steps.

Audience categories and blog results

I’ve been building a little theory (okay, officially it’s a hypothesis – I know), and my latest two posts seem to confirm it – so far, so good I guess ;):

Blogging impressions: audience matters

Audience matters: Who’s here
– and why? [OCAL picture]

  • We get different kinds of people on our blogs, obviously.
  • Different people like different posts and topics, so multi-topic blogs get likes from people depending on whether they like the subject matter (and tone of voice) in a particular post.
  • Many people on WordPress.com are mainly interested in non-businessy topics. You can blog about business, but you’d better inject a healthy dose of humor and not get into detailed stuff that nobody wants to read unless it’s their job. Um, that could be me… although not between 10 PM and my first dose of coffee 😉

Here’s what you get if you try out different kinds of posts.

  1. Humor and personal touch 60% or over – business content 40% but preferably less: you get likes from quite a few WP users. They’re a friendly audience. And yes, I did make those numbers up 🙂
  2. Business content up, humor down: no likes or perhaps one from a fellow blogger who’s commiserating with you for having un unloved post. Or who actually likes it because they’re interested in businessy stuff too. Which makes them part of a minority within the WP community as far as I can tell.
  3. What may happen is that you don’t get likes on WordPress but your content does get shared thanks to your social media connections. In my case that’s Twitter.
  4. As bloggers, WordPress inhabitants like to read tips about blogging.
  5. Obviously, once you think about it, posts about content curation get snapped up and curated by people who are interested in content curation. I got ‘scooped’ a while ago with this post. Which also got some likes because it’s about blogging. Wish I could blog about that on a weekly basis but I do have other interests too 😉

A Lack Of Likes

If you have something like Facebook likes, the same problem you might otherwise have with WordPress likes occurs: you don’t know if they like you – or your blog. It’s nice to get noticed – I’m not questioning that – but if you’re looking for solid stats to check how your blog is actually doing in terms of ‘business’ it blurs a picture that’s hazy to begin with.

You could leave out Facebook likes and even turn off WordPress likes. But that basically means you have less ways left to get feedback. If you leave only comments, you depend on people to actually write something. To keep the level of spam down, you may well choose to have people add their email address. Let’s face it – you’re making it really difficult for people who are not on WordPress.com to leave any kind of response.

Your blog’s audience in business terms

Confusion on the matter of what a like means is something you get no matter where you blog. There will always be people who can’t comment or like unless they are on some shared platform. The people who tend to comment are often those who are used to publishing their stuff anyway, AND who are familiar enough with the subject to feel confident of not getting laughed off. That narrows down the number of comments you’ll get.

This means likes are potentially a valuable way to announce to new readers that you’re actually getting readers on your blog. What they are NOT, is proof that your readers are actually part of a selected audience that is sensitive to any kind of sales process you might be tempted to unleash on them.

Is the focus on personal stuff a reason to skip the WordPress.com experience?

That depends on your own take on these matters.

  • If you are completely sure you’ll be able to lift your blog from the ground in no time at all – if you’re an experienced blogger/writer, you don’t need to be in a blogging community;
  • Same thing if you’re the kind of person who can keep going for a long time without getting any kind of feedback at all;
  • Or if you have carefully built an audience – not necessarily a crowd of friends – on Facebook before starting your blog.

If, on the other hand, you’re just getting started and you don’t have a clue whether this experiment of yours is going to work out, I think .com is a great place to start. If you want your posts about business topics to get noticed, you’ll need to share those posts on social media. Which you need to do no matter where you blog – unless you don’t want readers?

If you’re feeling that you’re not really making any progress at all and you’re wondering what you got yourself into, you can blog about that too – and find that you’re not alone. As far as I’m concerned that is one big bonus in any audience – even though I prefer to think of them as ‘you’.

Note: I’ve just made a Facebook page and added a box to my blog. Good idea or bad? I’m not quite sure. I’ve been too active on Twitter and here on my blog to spend time on Facebook, so I don’t have a Facebook audience 😉

What do you think? After all, on this blog you’re the audience watching me perform. Let me know how you feel about ‘audience matters’!

A Day In Tweets: as seen from the Netherlands

Have you seen any infographics or other stats about Twitter usage lately? If you’re on Twitter or in the habit of reading blogs, or both, the answer is probably yes. Are any of these stats true? Again, the answer could be yes – but…

The truth is that Twitter usage (when, for what) has similarities no matter where you are. But there are some outside influences on why we do what we do when we do it

A day in tweets is not just about Twitter

Twitter usage through the day

  1. The timezone issue (certainly);
  2. Cultural differences (possibly);
  3. Corporate culture (no comment);
  4. Family life (if you value it).

I could start by giving you some theory on these three causes, but I think it’ll be more helpful if I just show you what I mean. What kind of tweets do I see on my screen during the day? For an overview I’ll stick to the homepage with ALL the tweets of all the accounts I follow.

A Dutch Twitter morning

7 AM. Pretty quiet. I’m offline, for one!

7.30-9 AM in the Netherlands. Dutch tweets start coming in. I ignore most of them – or read them for amusement during my commute (trains are wonderful things):

On my way to a workshop in Z. #excited (Dutch: #zinin)

Train 15 min. late. Why? Leaves are still on trees. #ns #fail

Stuck in traffic jam. 6 Miles of parked cars. #typical (Dutch: #hebikweer or #lekkerdan)

Of course people respond to some of these messages, and scheduled tweets from heavy users in other timezones roll in as well. This lasts throughout the morning.

Afternoon on Twitter

A bit after noon, my first scheduled tweet (if I have anything to share) is published. I may check up on Twitter around lunch time.

Somewhere around 2 PM Twitter starts to come alive…

… a storm is gathering…

3 PM

… Boom.

If I happen to have a Twitter tab open on my laptop, I will notice at some point after 3 PM that I have 47 new messages. Click to show them, scroll down a bit… the page shifts down an inch which means a new notification has appeared at the top of the page.In the past few seconds, 4, 6 or 11 new tweets have been sent.

My Twitter homepage explodes.

In fact I’ve watched my screen a couple of times at this time of day (a perfect coffee break moment) and I can confidently say I refresh the page at least every 30 seconds to view 20 new tweets every time. Mind you, I only follow about 400 accounts at the moment. So what does this mean?

This means the East coast of the US are awake. It’s now 9 AM over there.

It just so happens that I tweet mainly in English, and many of the people I follow are in the US.

What does it mean for the tweets I get?

  • Around 2 PM I may receive the odd tweet wishing me a “Good morning everyone!”
  • Then prescheduled tweets aimed at US Twitter users kick in.
  • From about 3 PM people who ‘do social media’ start sharing and retweeting new articles. I’m talking about social media marketeers, search engine optimization experts, business bloggers, and the like.
  • My ‘morning in the US’ scheduled tweet goes out (if I found anything useful earlier in the day).

Between 5 and 6 PM my trip home (if I’ve been at the office) by train gives me a chance to catch up with the news. Every now and then I’ll run into a website that just doesn’t get mobile. I skip those. Retweet, thank, add to buffer, look up Twitter handles or skip the exercise and just add the author’s name. This gets me through at least half an hour of my trip home.

6.15 PM depending what day it is, I’m either entertaining our son or cooking dinner. Combining either of those activities with checking tweets or news feeds on a phone is tricky. Spilled sweet pepper bits on my phone once (don’t ask how, I just did. I can be clumsy at times). This has made me more cautious. I may risk a quick update once everything is simmering quietly: after 6.30. My scheduled ‘US lunch time’ tweet is already out there.

9 PM at home, our little man is in his bed upstairs, I’m either on the couch with my phone and a book or at the table with my laptop to get some blogging done. It is 3 PM on the East coast now so people are apparently taking things easy, or it’s their job to be on social networks part of the time. On the West coast, it’s lunch time. People are chatting, following, retweeting and thanking one another. My last scheduled tweet goes out.

Around 10 PM I may have my last conversation of the evening, but for the sake of relaxation I may also turn off my phone completely before that. I don’t post at night, not even scheduled tweets. Tried it once but:

  1. The stats say people (in the US) retweet less after 3 PM so I’ve decided not to bother. If I get any reactions I won’t be able to reply anyway.
  2. Besides, I might confuse some people into believing I’m still online and purposely not responding. I’m pretty sure a few early unfollowers acted the way they did precisely for that reason!

If we’re all in the same timezone, this kind of thing may go unnoticed because we’re awake at roughly the same time, we have lunch some time around noon…

I hope you have enjoyed my Twitter sight-seeing trip!

How do timezones and the like affect your Twitter experience? Have you ever wondered why fellow ‘tweeps’ reacted differently from what you expected?

Forget about ‘social media’: get on the conversation train!

We all have products and brands we love. Whether it is the jeans we wear or the marmelade we eat. Experience may give us a good feeling about a brand because its products suit our taste, do what they’re supposed to do, and help make our lives run smoothly.

Engaging with a brand, on the other hand, is another matter. Engaging is something people do naturally, but companies seem to have a hard time understanding what is expected from them. They’re blaring their commercials into our ears in any place they can find, including every social network they can access. In several places, notably in “The Conversation Company” by Steven van Belleghem, you will find the notion that this has to do with companies’ view of social networks as another channel for their messages. Where we see networks, they see media.

If you’ve read “The Conversation Company” it’s entirely possible that the content of this post will not surprise you. As it happens, I’ve just started reading it (finally!). Before I really dig into this book – just in case it fundamentally alters my view – I would like to share where I stand now.

Put Your Heart In The Conversation

Put Your Heart Into The Conversation

Why is engagement a problem for businesses?

We may be “engaged in conversation” or in fact “engaged to be married”. This points to a mutual interest on a personal level. Businesses are primarily interested in customer engagement. Which sounds like: let them know you’ve got great stuff and discounts and your customers will be interested.

If your business decided in the past that only the marketing and communications people were allowed to talk to customers, that decision formed the basis of today’s problems with engagement on social networks. At some point, communication was restricted to the point where employees who wanted the rest of the company to know what their department was up to, had to send their text to the internal communications team for approval before it could be published on the intranet. A lot of companies are still at that stage.

Now picture companies where that mindset prevails on a social network… People in the marketing department are in over their heads the moment they start to engage on social networks. Much of their education has been focused on sending the right message to the right people. Personal contact – conversations – with potentially thousands of brand enthousiasts is not what they were trained for. Simply adding employees with the necessary skills will only lead to them doing all the work.

3 ways for marketing departments to get social media results with limited resources

One way to max your return-on-invested time and money is by finding people who are already talking about subjects that are relevant to you. You can, simply put, add to a couple of conversations to get people’s interest, start a few of your own, and upload the latest for an interested group of potential customers who have decided to follow your activities.

Or you can engage in conversation with a limited number of product enthousiasts. This may influence people when they are online looking for information about a product which you and your competitors sell.

A third option is complete or partial automation of your social network activities. Complete automation misses the point – see my earlier post in which I describe a few types of ‘fake’ accounts I’m sure you have come across too. The bottom line of complete automation is: you’re not at home, and that may have serious side-effects. You could end up with the ‘social’ equivalent of online ads for flying vacations next to an article about a plane crash.

If you use partial automation you need to consider which parts you will do yourself:

  • Like the robots in the factory, you need to supervise what your online tools actually do, and what they may be doing wrong.
  • And you need to make sure you do your bit.

You cannot afford to take human intelligence out of the equation and expect everything to run smoothly while you’re not watching.

Check your organisation for conversation artists

The main issue is that the people who were once hired to take care of ‘communication’ have part of what you need on social networks, but not everything you need.

  • Your marketing people are traditionally good at making plans and following up on them. Viewed from such a department, the dynamics involved with social networks probably look a lot like call center dynamics: they play havoc with any kind of schedule.
  • On the other hand, your customer service employees know how to talk with people who have a complaint. Unless they’re trained to stick to customer-unfriendly protocols to the point of forgetting any other way of working, they will jump at the chance to help customers with questions.
  • Do you know who else is good with conversations within your company? You’ll need good listeners.
  • Somewhere down the line you’ll get software in to help you deal with online communication in all forms in a structured way. Before that time, however, it’s important to take inventory of what you have so you’ll know what you need.

It is time we start looking for conversation talent within our businesses. I’m convinced we’ll find it everywhere!