Watch the Language!

From the "sad but true" category, PR Daily reports on the trend of texting language now appearing in places it shouldn’t, like business writing and e-mails, or students’ schoolwork — or pretty much anywhere else that’s not a phone. This is one of those things that probably won’t change any time soon, so we should all probably get used to it and find something else to get irritated about. (If you want it, I’ve started a list.) PR Daily reports:

Sadly, it doesn’t seem to be a passing fad. According to a recent poll of high school educators, 54 percent claim the “mobile phone text message language” is now creeping into teenagers’ schoolwork.

Even worse, a few years ago New Zealand officials allegedly began allowing high school students to use “text speak” in their written national exams. A local newspaper provided some tongue-in-cheek (I think) examples: “We shal fite dem on d beaches” (Sir Winston Churchill) and “2b or nt 2b” (Shakespeare’s Hamlet). Yikes!

Look, I get it. We live in an increasingly online world that’s populated with buzzwords, acronyms, and slang. But as someone who specializes in communications, I can’t stress how important it is to act like a professional, regardless of your chosen field. And that goes for your writing.

Experts warn that “casual communication” such as text message lingo, instant message abbreviations, emoticons, or even a quickly dashed off (and often misspelled) message from your iPhone or BlackBerry can shatter your chances of landing a new customer, making a potential sale, or winning a certain position.

While clients may forgive the occasional typo, frequent mistakes and ongoing casual communication could give them the idea that you’re sloppy and not to be taken seriously. Those types of misunderstandings can be costly when it comes to business. As one of my colleagues recently pointed out, people should try being more direct, use plain language, and be clear when communicating.

Remember, there is a time and place for casual chatter. After the close of business, customers are not your friends, so save the LOLs for a non-work acquaintance. You don’t know what might annoy someone, so the best plan is to keep it formal and professional. Craft thoughtful sentences and support your written communications with a polished verbal or personal presentation.

U can thnk me 4 this advice l8tr.

Here are a few more examples of the most hated “text talk” lingo, courtesy of a lunchtime poll of my colleagues.

• “Perf” instead of perfect. I don’t know why, but it bothers me.
• In emails, anything that has a hashtag annoys me. #lame
• LOL. Also: vacay and ROFL.
• Please spell out “pls” and “thx.” Thanks.
• In speech, I think “B.T. dubs” drives me slightly insane.

Noticed any text lingo creeping into business communications where you work?

How First Dates are Like Work Life

A nice piece here from Ragan’s PR Daily should remind us to be considerate at the office. These are great lessons that will get you far in any endeavor. I’d also add, "don’t forget to smile." There’s nothing worse than taking someone out — or working with them — and see them displaying all the emotive fervor of Ben Stein on quaaludes:

In relationships, we tend to get so comfortable that we let go of some of the behaviors we display on a first date. I am no expert on relationships, but I do know that a second date depends on the “success” of the first date.

This is much like the workplace—think how much more successful we could be if we employed first-date habits in our work environment. Below are some widely accepted first-date rules that we should incorporate into our workdays.

1. Be punctual. Showing up late to a first date, even just five minutes, shows that the other person is not a priority. The same message is sent to your employers when you arrive late.

2. Be kind to the server. Acting in a rude manner to people you wrongly think don’t matter (for example, the waiter) will ruin any chance of a second date. Be considerate to everyone: the secretary, the intern, the nerdy co-worker. It’s the Golden Rule. If that is not reason enough, just realize that those people might be a valuable connection in your future.

3. Don’t complain. I don’t want to hear how horrible your day was; I want to hear why it was fabulous. Be positive, and look at problems as challenges. Your first date and your bosses will appreciate the high morale and energy. The only time anyone wants to see Debbie Downer is in an “SNL” sketch.

4. Listen to me! Men, I know you hear this all the time, but it is true. We all just want to be heard. Basic guideline: If you are talking more than 50 percent of the time, then you are talking too much. This is also true for meetings. And it’s a two-way street. Listening is half of communication, which leads to my next point.

5. Communicate. Oh, so you don’t like “chick flicks”? You should have told me that before I bored you with a double feature of “Titanic” and “The Notebook.” I think that sums up this tip.

6. Dress the part. Put some effort into a first date, or at least look like you did. I didn’t spend two hours 30 minutes getting ready for you, just so you could show up looking disheveled. For work: Be presentable enough for your calendar demands, such as meetings with clients and drinks after work.

7. Don’t order the most expensive thing on the menu. If you’re not picking up the check, don’t go for the Surf and Turf. This is an important lesson for all of us at work; don’t take advantage just because it’s not on your credit card. We are bound to get comfortable in relationships and at work. Comfort is great, but sometimes we need a reminder to put our best foot forward—and not in our mouth.

How to Respond if Media Asks You Something Outside Your Comfort Zone

Good advice here from PR Daily about how to respond to a tough question about your business or organization:

Recently, I received an email from Nicole, a reader who works for a local Chamber of Commerce. Her boss was on the radio expecting to face questions about one topic—but the host had a different idea. She writes:

“We had a recent experience where our Chamber president was asked to participate in a live radio interview about our economic development program. Instead, he was asked numerous questions about a proposed rate hike by our city-owned utility—an issue which we are not the appropriate spokesperson for. Ultimately, our president did a good job not speaking on behalf of the utility and there was no fallout, but it was an uncomfortable situation that was particularly difficult since it was happening live. I was just curious as to how you would handle that type of situation?”

It sounds like Nicole’s president handled it perfectly. But to elaborate on her question a bit more, spokespersons generally have three options when a reporter asks a question that falls outside of their realm of expertise.

Option No. 1: Answer the question

The most straightforward option is to answer the question, even if it’s outside of the spokesperson’s expertise. This approach is fraught with danger, since the spokesperson is now on the record speaking on behalf of a different agency.

Even if the spokesperson handles the question well, what good will it do if the headline of the interview becomes about that other topic? It means that your main messages—the things you most wanted the public to know about you—got lost in the shuffle.

Option No. 2: Answer the question, but within your own context

Occasionally, you might choose to answer questions about unrelated topics, but only within the specific context of how that topic affects you or your work. This approach allows you to “stay in your lane” while offering the audience (and reporter) something of value.

For example, the Chamber president might have said:

“I can’t comment on the rate increase broadly, but let me tell you what our members have said. They’ve said that increases in energy costs will lead to either laying people off or freezing hiring. We all understand that energy prices have to go up on occasion, but local businesses have told me they believe this is a bad time to do it.”

This option isn’t fraught with as much danger as the first one, and it may occasionally be the right approach. But it also increases your odds that the quote the audience remembers from your interview will be about a utility increase—which may or may not be the headline you wanted.

Option No. 3: Deflect and refuse the question

This one is pretty straightforward. You can just tell the reporter:

“You know, that’s really a question that’s more appropriate for the utility company to answer. I haven’t had the opportunity to study their full proposal yet, and would be uncomfortable commenting on the rate increase. What I can discuss today is rising costs for local businesses in general, and how it’s affecting their hiring practices. Those rising costs may include energy prices, but they also include tax increases, increasing fuel costs, and many other items businesses need to purchase to succeed…”

This option is often the safest, but the audience may hold your president’s refusal to answer basic questions against him. Ultimately, options two or three are the best bets, depending on the question and its relevance to the Chamber’s work.

Are Fridays Getting Less Casual?

We’re all familiar with the concept of "casual Friday." In fact, on most Fridays here at the Chamber, we’re allowed to wear jeans if we donate a few dollars to our designated charity of the month. But here’s an intriguing post from Ragan’s PR Daily revealing that workers may be less apt to dress down for fear of seeming unprofessional. Obviously, it depends upon one’s industry and employer, but here’s some news that may disappoint the people at Guess (tight-rolled Guess jeans are still cool for guys to wear, right? Just asking because they go really well with my I.O.U. sweatshirts):

Lately, however, when I look around the train on a Friday morning, the commuters no longer appear to be dressing down; in the age of the economic downturn and increased job insecurity it seems that “casual Fridays” are becoming a thing of the past.

This is due not to businesses’ formally restricting the uniform of employees, but rather to employees’ making the decision themselves that dressing more casually on a Friday—or any given day—might affect their performance and job security.

A survey by U.K. work wear provider Alexandra found that 94 percent of respondents say that the way they dress can influence the outcome of the economy.

More than 90 percent of respondents said a person’s attire determines how professional and trustworthy they look. Nearly 40 percent said “scruffy clothing” at work hurts performance.

The results demonstrate that employees prefer to wear the same sort of clothing on a Friday as they would any other day of the workweek because they think it will help them win more business and increase sales. In “The Devil Wears Prada,” Anne Hathaway’s character isn’t taken seriously until she conforms to the image of a budding fashionista. Alexandra’s study suggests that image isn’t limited to the fashion industry and can be very important for other sectors, such as professional services.

Dress For Success shows exactly how important image is to securing a job. This global organization provides disadvantaged women with a suit prior to an interview to help boost their confidence and give them the tools to thrive in work and life.

Disadvantaged women are referred to Dress For Success by a diverse group of not-for-profit and government agencies, and in 2011 up to 3,000 organizations sent women for the professional apparel and career development services that it offered.

Once a woman has secured the job, she is invited back for additional clothing, which she can use to build a professional wardrobe. It shows the importance of our apparel on our employment status and on our performance once we’ve landed a job.

PR Lesson: FedEx Wastes No Time Addressing Embarrassing Video

Over the holidays, a video went viral showing complete negligence by a FedEx employee, just tossing a computer monitor over a fence rather than properly delivering the item. See that video below, as well as the company’s response, which has been viewed rather positively by communications critics.

San Diego Newspaper Tries to Shape Up

The San Diego Union-Tribune has new ownership. And the new owners appear to have arrived with some steel-toed boots, looking to kick some rear ends. In a memo to staff, the company announced it’s changing its working hours from 37.5 to 40 each week at no additional pay, and then the real kicker — mandating required business attire for those who work with the public.

Now, the hours worked issue would likely grate on my nerves if you’re not giving people more money. You’ve basically just told them they’re getting a decrease in pay, and if you do that across the board you’d better have a remarkably good reason.

But, as someone whose main critique of my fellow 20-40 somethings is that they dress like rubbish (also, they’re largely undependable and unaccountable — and say "like" way too often), I’m rather on board with the new dress code. Every time I watch a movie set in the 1920s – 1950s, I get downright jealous of the fellas in those pictures. Because if I were to dress that classily at just about any bar I frequent today, people would think I was coming from a funeral or I forgot when Halloween was (or I got lost on the "Road to Perdition"). Thanks to Ragan’s PR Daily, here’s some text from the Union-Tribune’s memo:

Appropriate Appearance – While we are upgrading the appearance of the workplace for everyone, we would like employees who work with the public to dress in sharp business attire. Again, individual supervisors will detail what is expected. Employees who do not work directly with the public, should keep in mind that we always have visitors, government officials/dignitaries in and out of our building, and the desire is to have a professional workplace appearance. ‘Casual Friday’ will continue, but should be only slightly less business oriented than Monday through Thursday.

So what do you think? Is this a case of ownership oppressing its workforce, or a commendable attempt to turn around a business in a struggling industry?

Hamburglin’: Steal Some Beefy Social Media Tips from McDonald’s

Despite your position on the merits of the Big Mac, you may be able to benefit from some social media tips from the king of fast food chains. PR Daily reports:

As one of the most successful businesses and most recognizable brands in the world, McDonald’s is no stranger to the particulars of marketing and PR.

But how does the company manage social media?

Rick Wion, director of social media for McDonald’s, spoke with PR Daily about the ways the Golden Arches manages the wide world of social media. From that conversation, here are seven tips for social media success, including how you can take action at your organization:

1. Determine why your company is using social media.

Wion said that McDonald’s uses social media for three main purposes:

  1. To sell products;
  2. To build the brand;
  3. To engage with customers and manage issues as they emerge.

Take action: Sit down with your communications, marketing, and PR departments (and whoever else you think should be involved) and determine your objectives for social media. This way, your team will understand its goals and have structure.

2. Employ different strategies for different platforms.

The social media team doesn’t have a one-size-fits-all approach to social media. It has different strategies for the various platforms on which it operates. “People want to see videos, polls, and brand entertainment,” Wion said of the McDonald’s Facebook presence.

Instead of posting nothing more than updates (or, God forbid, linking your Twitter feed to your Facebook page), set out to entertain your audience, Wion advised. Poll them about current events, post funny pictures and videos, and share stories about your brand.

Wion and his team use Twitter for “general communication, customer satisfaction, and building awareness.”

Take action: Which social media platforms make the most sense for your business? How do you plan to use each platform? When posting, keep the purpose of the platform in mind.

3. Make sure measurement jibes with your strategic goals.

“The blessing and the curse of social media is that you can measure in dozens, if not hundreds of ways,” said Wion. “The problem is that there aren’t any standards for what success looks like.”

As a result, McDonald’s has found that the best way to measure is to do so by campaign, because what is being measured varies by product and brand.

Take action: Don’t measure just for the sake of measuring. Have specific objectives in mind. Figure out what you want to see.

4. Entertain people.

Would you visit a boring Facebook page or regularly check a mundane, repetitive Twitter account? No? Your fans don’t want to, either.

Wion suggests publishing “unexpected posts” on your social media channels. From sharing posts that provide little-known information to drafting humorous updates, you can surprise and delight people and separate yourself from the millions of other updates.

Take action: See what other people are doing on social media and then experiment with your own content. What time of the day do people tend to engage with your page? What kind of posts does your audience respond to most? Respond accordingly.

5. Get organized.

Though there’s something to be said for spur-of-the-moment creativity, it’s not always sustainable or practical to live by the seat of your pants. Wion and his team use an editorial calendar, created using Excel, to manage posts and stories. Your team can use one to ensure that posts are relevant to upcoming holidays, events, and times of the year.

Take action: Create a calendar with your team. Mark important dates and ensure your team is aware and on top of the schedule.

6. Give your social media content some personality.

Wion knows that different social media platforms call for different social media “voices.” On Twitter, the McDonald’s team lets the personality of the Twitter team shine through because “people want to connect with actual people on Twitter,” he says.

The official McDonald’s Twitter feed features a link with the bios of its social media team. On Facebook, McDonald’s understands that people want to connect with their brand, so they use a “voice” that best represents the McDonald’s brand.

Take action: Determine your brand’s target audience. Use the voice most appropriate for that audience and the channels on which you’ve chosen to promote your brand.

7. Provide opportunities for consumers to ask questions.

McDonald’s hosts Twitter chats under the hashtag #MCDChanging to give fans the opportunity to speak with people like the company’s vice president of sustainability and, most recently, its chief marketing officer.

Take action: Find opportunities for your fan base to connect with decision-makers. Show them that they have a voice and that you’re listening to them. You can easily create a Twitter hashtag and promote your chat on your blog, on your Facebook page, and through your Twitter account. Follow other chats first to get a feel for the format and what to expect.

Canada to Misleading Marketers: Get That Junk Ote-a Here!

I like Canada, and not just because of the walleye fishing. The people are really dang nice. Turns out, they may also have higher standards of decorum than us, too. (Considering the popularity of "Jersey Shore" in America, this shouldn’t exactly blow you away.) PR Daily comments on a Vancouver Sun/PostMedia article:

Note to companies operating in Canada or thinking of expanding north of the 49 parallel: Do like momma told you, and tell the truth.

A whopping 89 percent of Canucks are “very likely” or “somewhat likely” to stop buying a product if advertising around it is untruthful, according to a new poll by the Gandalf Group on behalf of the Canadian Advertising Standards Council.

The study noted that 57 percent of Canadians report having followed through on this promise. Conversely, according to the survey, only 36 percent of Americans claim to have stopped buying a product because of untruthful advertising.

Canadians are also a moderately cynical bunch regarding advertising, only 50 percent said they found most ads to be truthful, a figure that drops dramatically when it comes to political ads.

Don’t Let Perception Make You Seem Insincere

Now as much as ever, it’s critical for all American businesses to convey one characteristic — integrity. If people don’t believe your communicators when they speak, your days as a profitable business are numbered. Michael Sebastian of offers a few key phrases to avoid when speaking with reporters or the public, lest you seem like you’re hiding something:

Ever prefaced a statement with, “To be perfectly honest, I …”?

Look out. That’s a verbal crutch—sometimes called a throat-clearing statement—and when speaking to the media it could hurt a spokesperson’s credibility.

Barbara Gibson, a social media trainer and former chair of the International Association of Business Communicators (IABC), discovered this phenomenon while assessing the strengths and weaknesses of corporate spokespeople.

To perform the analysis, a journalist interviewed individual spokespeople for 40 minutes, then the journalist and a PR assessor rated their abilities across 12 key skills. Among the areas she examined was whether journalists considered the spokesperson “open and honest.”

“We found there is a very big difference between being open and honest and seeming so,” Gibson explained in an email to PR Daily.

She began by analyzing various aspects of spokespeople’s performances to learn why journalists think they’re not truthful when they are, in fact, telling the truth.

“I found that the higher the number of uses of verbal crutches within an interview, the lower the score in this area,” she said. “Then I also realized that those spokespeople [who use] what I identified as ‘honesty-related’ verbal crutches … almost always had lower scores.”

Four of these “honesty-related” crutches are:

1. “Let’s be clear”;
2. “To be perfectly honest”;
3. “Frankly”;
4. “Just between you and me.”

Businesses & Politicos, Keep Those Statements Grounded

Anyone following politics knows former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich had a bumpy go of it last week. In response, his press secretary gave a rather "epic" statement to the Huffington Post. To be frank, it was a tad dramatic and a little… I don’t know… Spartanesque? While the commentary is remarkable in itself, it became downright poetic when read by actor John Lithgow on Comedy Central’s "The Colbert Report." (Hat tip to Ragan’s PR Daily.)