All posts by Louise McGregor

I am the founder of Fantail Consultancy, created to help companies, NGOs and individuals improve their online presence. I've worked in digital at the intersection of communications, technology and business for more than a decade. And I'm still crazy about digital.

Take the Survey

surveyCreating a good survey, one that gives you robust results, takes skill. In a former life I worked for a data analytics company where a team worked on creating surveys for consumers where I gained an appreciation of the skill. I have sincere worked with online surveys. Here are some aspects of survey design to consider.

Sample Size

Imagine you want to know whether Dutch people prefer dark or milk chocolate. The population of the Netherlands is 16.8 million. How many of them do you need to ask?

It turns out, not that many. If I collected data from 1067 people I could be 95% sure that my answer as correct with a margin of error of 3%. That means that if 70% choose milk chocolate the answer in the general population will lie between 67 and 73%. So if you’re a chocolate manufacturer you now know to make most of your flavours based on milk chocolate.

You can be more sure of the answer the further the outcome is from 50%. For the chocolate maker an answer of 47-53% would still be useful, but it’s problematic if you’re predicting political outcomes.

Once upon a time I knew the maths behind these calculations, now I just use an online calculator

Sample Selection

Your sample should reflect your target population as much as possible. This may involve excluding some people from  participating – if you are researching hair care products you don’t need bald men in your sample. For wider. issues it is more likely that you will try to construct a sample that mirrors the total population in terms of gender, race, age, income, family status, religion, location, gender identity and sexuality. That’s not easy. The further you are from your target group the less reliable the outcome of your survey.

Method Bias

Your method of collecting data may introduce bias, if you are collecting data by calling domestic numbers during working hours you exclude working people. If you collect data online you exclude those not on the Internet, and limit respondents to the small group that find your website.

If you are collecting data online you need to control for bots, and you may want to limit the number of times a respondent can answer.

Question construction

To get useful data from your survey you need to construct your questions to be neutral, unambiguous, not leading and specific.

Neutral

“Do you smoke cigarettes?” Is neutral

“Are you a filthy smoker?” Is not.

Unambiguous

It should be clear what information you ar seeking in your question; there are two traps to avoid here.

  • Asking two things in one question

“how friendly and helpful was your customer agent today?” Asks two things, and it’s impossible to decide how to answer if your customer agent solved the problem but was grumpy on the phone with you. You need to split this into two questions.

  • Using negatives

“Do you disagree that raising taxes won’t create jobs?” Is confusing. Rewrite this to ask “Do you agree that…  ?” to simplify it

Avoid Leading Questions

Leading questions contain details that indicate the expected answer.

“When will you start offering free upgrades?” assumes that you will offer free upgrades.

Specific

You will get more accurate and useful data if you ask specifics.

“Do you eat chocolate regularly?” doesn’t tell you much since ‘regularly’ means different things. Much better to ask “how often do you eat chocolate?” and give people a series of ranges to choose from.

What led to this post? A friend posted a strange survey from the President of the United States that breaks every single one of these rules, and a few others.

Here’s the title page of the survey, given that it was sent out after the press conference where the press was repeatedly called “Fake news” the title is clearly priming you to doubt the accountability of the media.

screen-shot-2017-02-20-at-16-45-37

The survey was sent to known Republican supporters, yet the President represents all Americans. The questions are certainly not neutral, and some are just confusing. Here’s the most confusing;
screen-shot-2017-02-21-at-16-05-14

And here’s the most ironic, given that we have already seen that the President uses “alternative facts“, misleading statements and untruths.

screen-shot-2017-02-20-at-16-41-47
 All of which is to say that when the Presidential PR machine talks about having data showing how people don’t trust mainstream media remember his data collection is flawed and the results cannot be trusted.

Images; What?  |  Véronique Debord-Lazaro  |   CC BY-SA 2.0

7 Ways to Get Inspired this Weekend

get inspired

With so many people working such crazy hours how do we get inspiration? Here are ten ways you can get some inspiration this weekend.

1 Learn Something New

I’ve become a big fan of podcasts lately, partly because I can listen while I do domestic tasks. Here are a few of my favourites;

  • The Infinite Monkey Cage; a witty take on big science questions, the panel includes experts in the theme of the programme.
  • Click; ranging widely over topics in the digital world, including social and ethical issues.
  • Hidden Brain; more science, more on the human or psychological side.
  • The Broad Experience; women in business, partly discussion on the realities of the gender divide in business and some coaching style advice.

2 Break from Digital

Do something, anything, that doesn’t involve a screen. No TV, computer, phone, or kindle for at least an hour.  Leave your phone at home and go out. Read a book, one made with paper. Bake a cake – get the recipe from a book not a website.

It’s easy to get so absorbed online, there are always more posts to read, more videos to watch, more photos to see. But it is a time sink and it can be bad for our health.

If you struggle to stay off the screen try “gamifying” it, either give yourself a real life reward or try the Forest app, it’s designed as a productivity aid to monitor the time you’re not checking your phone and reward you with virtual trees. But you can also use it to break your phone-checking habit.

screen-shot-2017-02-16-at-18-06-18

3 Be Creative

And that’s Creative, with a capital C. Take a pottery class, write poetry, paint a portrait, write, paint, pottery, play music, photography find a creative hobby. It does our brains good to use them for something creative and it’s a stress reducer.

One easy way for me to feel a little bit creative is to go for a walk and take photos for Instagram, I love this city and have fun finding new views of it. Plus the walking is exercise. And you can be surprisingly bad at taking photos and it’s all OK on Instagram.

4 Exercise

You knew this was coming! It doesn’t really matter what form the exercise takes, but exercise has benefits beyond physical health. It improves your immunity, lowers your stress, improves your sleep. You know all this. What you might not know is that regular exercise improves your thinking.

5 Music

Years ago I had a neighbour who played the piano after work, somehow it was always Beethoven when he’d had a really tough day. It was Beethoven quite often.  Music can be a de-stressor and it’s good for us in multiple ways.  Listening to some music outside your usual collection – search on YouTube for “classical music for exercise” for playlists of energetic tracks for example.

6 Change Your Surroundings

Best option is a city break; one of the joys of living in Amsterdam is that I’m a train trip away from Cologne, Brussels and Paris, and a short flight from any European city. A couple of days exploring a new city can give you a mental boost. I love Budapest for this – it’s a surprising city, lots to do but somehow not too touristy.

If going away is not an option trying changing up where you do things, take a book to a cafe, take your lap top to the library. Change it up for a new view on your world.

7 Laugh

Every day. Every day.

Laughing can relieve stress, among other health benefits.

For me there are four options;

What’s your “restart” button for new inspiration this weekend?

Image: Idea   |   Daniele Marlenek   |   CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

So it’s Valentine’s Day

valentineSo it’s Valentine’s Day, and I’m going to talk about sex. This post may be NSFW, and the same caveat goes for the links.

I was watching Grace and Frankie,  one of the few TV (OK Netflix) shows to star post-menopausal women at the centre of the story. In the final episode of season two Grace finds that sex toys aren’t made for older women, they aggravate her arthritis. The two resolve to start a business making sex aids for older women.

Yep sextech has made it to tv.

Sextech is the attempts to bring the adult entertainment industry into modern life via technology. My first exposure to the sextech industry was a presentation at one of the WebSummits, where a startup had created an app that allowed separated couples to give each other intimate good vibrations. The presenters managed to explain exactly how it worked in PG-rated terms, quite a feat.

As you might guess it’s a male dominated industry. But there are some women working to change that, often by focusing new devices.  In fact the sextech industry has focused on devices, from artificially intelligent vibrators, to men’s pleasure training tools, to an orgasm tracker – a fitbit for sex. And who knows what VR will bring to the bedroom.

There is one notable exception to the device trend; Cindy Gallop is addressing the impact of the pervasive story-line of porn. In this TED talk she explains how bad we are at discussing sex, and asks us to be better at it.  (And the video is NSFW)

Cindy Gallop is driving a social sex revolution, where we become better at talking about sex, more honest about what does turn us on, less reliant on a single-story-line-porn version of sex. She’s gone from being annoyed at the limited view of sex offered by porn to inviting everyone to join the social sex revolution via a documentary.

screen-shot-2017-02-14-at-14-57-50I know Valentine’s day is supposed to be about romance rather than sex, but isn’t romance just foreplay to the foreplay?

To be honest I’m not really on board with the Valentine’s day thing. It’s true that I’m female and single so you can go ahead and label me as a bitter spinster for that but even when in a relationship I hated the forced feel of Valentine’s Day. One memorable Valentine’s Day the man-du-jour gave me a cactus. Not at all romantic; I appreciated the political commentary of the gift.

Images:

 14th Feb: Happy Birthday to me  |  Helen Taylor  |  CC BY-NC 2.0

Cactus  |  Sue Kellerman  |  CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Diversity Works

diversity

Diversity works. I know this from personal experience, I’ve always sought to hire people from a range of backgrounds. I know I don’t have all the skills needed in my team so there’s no point hiring more of me. To be specific I’m not great at fine detail; I can go through massive ugly spreadsheets but it’s not my strength. I hire people into my team who have those skills and I value them – partly because I admire the skills and partly because I’m so grateful. In addition for me it’s more fun to hear about Romanian culture, Spanish idioms and Turkish cuisine over lunch than all Dutch stories.

But you don’t have to take my word for it. McKinsey’s research reports a “diversity dividend” of 15% for companies that are gender diverse, and a rocking 35% for companies with ethnic diversity. Correlation does not equate to causation; it may be that high performing companies choose diverse workforces and executive teams rather than diverse teams causing improved performance.

Harvard Business Review unpacks behaviours around diversity a little further and reports on some behaviours that point to diverse teams being smarter. Apparently diverse teams focus more on facts, which contributes to better decision making. Diversity also contributes to innovation.

The studies mentioned so far focus on gender and cultural diversity, but we should look at other personal characteristics such as national origin, age, gender identity, sexual orientation, and ability/disability. I’ve also heard one argument that the NASA team responsible for the first moon landing was more diverse than today’s team; back then there weren’t specialised astronautical studies programmes so the team was the best they could find from a range of fields. Which suggests we should be open to different training and work experience backgrounds (when the role allows it; don’t hire a plumber to a medical team!)

Global PillageFor a very light-hearted look at diversity, in fact an experiment in diversity, listen to the Global Pillage podcast. Each episode takes on a theme and opens with contestants identifying the ways they are diverse – gay, transgender, brown, immigrant, multi-lingual, vegan, left-handed all get a mention. The format is then a quiz between two teams of two people, with the audience able to give their answer. Spoiler alert; the audience (a bigger and presumably more diverse group) usually wins.

To get a more diverse team you have to change how you hire and how you work. Here are some ideas to get you started.

  1. Writing the vacancy notice
    Use gender neutral words, define the role in human language, state your diversity policy (don’t have one? write one). More tips here.
  2. Place the vacancy where it will be visible to diverse groups
    Look for publications, online communities and organisations associated with a range of groups. Reach out to Women in Tech groups for example.
  3. Interviewing across cultures
    Take some time to understand what cultural differences might exist between you and your interviewees. Habits of eye-contact may differ, some cultures show more deference which may seem like a weakness through an anglo-saxon filter.
  4. Flexible working environment
    Are you ready to accommodate someone with disability needs? What about someone who observes Ramadan? Or who celebrates Easter a week later than your company does? Are you able to allow people flexible hours and working from home options? The more you can answer “yes” to these hypotheticals the easier it will be to hire a diverse team.
  5. Culture of inclusion
    It’s not enough to just hire a cast of diverse colleagues, you need a workplace culture that is inclusive – where, as a colleague put it, “everyone can be their best selves”. The more widespread this is, the better. But you can have it in place in your own team, after all, you’ve got to start somewhere.

I’ve lived in several different countries, I’ve learnt several languages, my influences are from different sources. For me diversity is an important part of the work environment and yet from the outside I appear to be of the majority. Maybe diversity practices are good for us all.

 

Image: WOCinTech Chat  |  WOCinTech  | CC BY 2.0 

 

At the going down of the sun and in the morning We will remember them.

Holocaust MemorialSo in amongst the one hundred and ninety eleven crazy things coming out of the White House was the President’s statement regarding Holocaust Remembrance Day. (I’d link to the official version but it seems to be removed from the White House site). The statement managed to omit any mention of Jews, genocide or anti-semitism. This is not an “honest mistake”, and no Trump spokesperson has since corrected the error. As Deborah Lipstadt wrote in the Atlantic;

The de-Judaization of the Holocaust, as exemplified by the White House statement, is what I term softcore Holocaust denial.

(It’s worth reading the whole of her article)

Indeed the White House statement refers to “innocent people”, here’s a screen grab I took from the video in the Times article linked above.

screen-shot-2017-02-01-at-16-03-28

We all know that Jews were not the only people the Nazis sought to persecute and kill, the list of victims includes Roma, journalists, trade unionists, homosexuals, anarchists, priests, intellectuals, the disabled, and many others.  The total death toll of the Holocaust is usually given as 11 million; roughly equivalent to the combined population of New York and Chicago.  The White House seems to be trying to whitewash its message as more “inclusive”, but it cannot be beyond the abilities of White House staffers to write an inclusive message of remembrance and mention Jews. This was a conscious attempt to remove Jews from Holocaust Remembrance Day.

I write this sitting in Amsterdam, a city with a nickname “Mokum” that comes directly from Yiddish.  The legacy of the World War II Nazi occupation of Amsterdam is visible throughout the city. Of the approximately 80,000 Jews living in Amsterdam in 1941 an estimated 80% were killed in Nazi death camps. I am a five minute walk from the house of the most famous resident to share that history; Anne Frank. The National Holocaust Museum is in this city, housed in a former theatre that the Nazis used as a holding centre for Jews about to be deported. There are monuments and subtle memorials around the city, on the Nieuwe Keizersgracht the names of those removed from their homes on the opposite side of the canal are set into the pavement. This is known as the “Schaduwkade”or Shadow Quay, alongside each name is the name of where they died; Auschwitz, Sobibor, Buchenwald. Places famous for their terror.

The near complete destruction of Amsterdam’s Jewish community is so well etched into the city’s history that I give a silent cheer when I see a menorah, or lights at Hannukah.

There is no forgetting here.

If the White House wants to remind us to remember other victims we can do that.

Under the Third Reich the Nazis;

  •  controlled the media
  • censored the arts
  • burnt books
  • implemented a police state in which arrests were arbitrary.
  • eliminated freedom of speech
  • eliminated freedom of the press
  • removed the functioning judicial system and established a court system that would deliver verdicts as instructed.
  • arrested and killed those who opposed them, often without a fair trail (yeah, that happens in a police state).
  • incarcerated millions of people and forced those they didn’t kill to live in starvation.
  • labelled those incarcerated with a coded triangle to represent their “crime”.
  • saw a mass exodus of Jews and other minorities who felt at risk from every territory they invaded, (and the world did not always accept those refugees, those who worked to get people to safety are remembered as heroes)

So yes Mr Trump and your cronies, on Holocaust Memorial Day we remember what was destroyed under the Nazi regime. All of it.

There will be other memorial days, most countries have their own war memorials and many Jewish communities around the world observe Yom HaShoah. The world is watching the US right now, in horror. I watch and hope that our descendants do not need to create new memorials for the outcomes of this current regime.

 

Post Script; I usually avoid politics and religion, but as I sat down to write a serious post on communication and technology this was the only thing that I could write about. Normal posting will resume next week. Maybe. 

 

Image: Holocaust Memorial 2  |  Ian Southwell  |  CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Privacy and Data Protection

2016June Privacy

There are no surviving letters from Captain Cook to his wife, she burnt them saying they were “too personal and sacred”. We’re losing the idea that some things might be worth holding as personal and sacred. Part of that is our own doing, we’re sharing more images, texts and posts than ever (today’s count = 2 blog posts, 5 images, 4 links, spread across seven accounts). But a bigger part, a scary part, is from the technologies we use and the changing government rules.

Governments are taking more and more of our data. Last year the UK government expanded its surveillance powers last year with the passing of the Investigatory Powers Bill, which creates a government database to store the web history of every citizen in the country.

But perhaps the most insidious increase in data collection is via our mobile phones. I don’t share personal information on Facebook itself (I lied about my date of birth), but if I leave the application permissions on default then I grant Facebook the right to data from my calendar, camera, contacts, location, microphone, phone, sms, and storage. The location data means that Facebook knows where I live, where I work, and where my favourite cafe is. The contact data means they potentially know my mother’s home phone number.

Your phone knows more than you realise, health data from your fitbit, stored passwords for your banking account, your exact location – either via the location app or via wifi pings. And beyond Facebook we install dozens of apps and grant them permissions, in this edition of the BBC’s “Click” programme they report on an app that collects a frightening amount of data, which happens to have been downloaded 50M downloads.

In general it doesn’t really matter if someone knows where I work,  I publish that information on LinkedIn anyway, and it probably doesn’t matter much that someone finds out where I live. But it might. For vulnerable people – those escaping domestic violence, refugees, protesters – this is information that they definitely want to keep private.  (Here are some practical tips to secure your phone, from encryption to app management. )

In fact the EU Charter on Human Rights asserts that data protection is a human right with the words “Everyone has the right to the protection of personal data concerning him or her” and there is debate on whether this should be a global human right.  If you think we have a right to privacy then it’s a pretty short step to thinking data protection must be an important part of that.

Tomorrow is Data Protection Day, celebrate by adding two factor authentication to your accounts, checking app permissions and adding encryption to your phone.

Image: Occhiata   |  Franco   |   CC BY 2.0

 

Brand Story

brandstory

Ben & Jerry’s, the ice cream company, was founded by two guys; Ben and Jerry in 1978.  They ran the company until it was bought by Unilever in 2000. They come across as a couple of regular guys, and they were the authentic face of the company for more than 20 years.

In contrast Häagen-Dazs is a name invented to sound Danish, and included maps of Denmark in its original branding.  They’re not the only company to hijack a nationality for their products, Australian Homemade, a chocolate company, was founded in the Netherlands by a Belgian.

Other companies have invented a company backstory to give their company a nostalgic veneer to their company’s branding. The Hollister clothing company rests on a fictitious founder John Hollister Snr, and uses a date of 1922. The company promotes a hippy-ish nostalgia and encourages employees with stories of the founder’s adventures “He and Meta sailed around the South Pacific, treasuring ‘the works of the artisans that lived there,’ and eventually settled in Los Angeles, in 1919.” The only problem? The guy apparently never existed and the company was only founded in 2009. Does it matter? Teen-aged shoppers don’t seem to care.

Liberty's of LondonIn the 1920s Liberty’s of London built a wonderful mock tudor department store in the heart of London. I’m sure that anyone who thinks about it realises the building is 500 years old, but it does give the company an air of age and stability beyond its establishment in 1875. As creative backstories go it less explicit than creating a founder with an adventurous past.

All the best business books talk about authenticity, all the communications and branding talks about authentic stories. Yet customers are buying a feeling not a truth. So do the brand stories need to feel true or be literally true?

Image: Dave Gutter; Rustic Overtones  |  Todd Heft  |  BY NC 2.0

 

Community Manager Appreciation Day

cmad

Your online presence is often the first “place” customers go to talk to your company, and the first “place” potential customers meet you. The people managing those communities fulfil a very important role for your company, and there are lots of reasons (I wrote about five) to show your appreciation for them, and Monday is the day to do it.

It’s Community Manager Appreciation Day (CMAD) on Monday so if you manage community managers here are some ways you could show your appreciation.

1 Say Thank You

Include some specific examples of posts that have been important, significant discussions/events or initiatives that have helped the company. You could, particularly in internal communities, post in your thanks to the community.  You could also make a public notice to go on the water cooler/coffee machine. If you don’t want to do this publicly, an email of face to face thanks also works.

2 High Level Recognition

You community is delivering value to business, find a business leader who can say this in email to your community managers. Many community managers take on the role as an “add on” to their usual job, if this is the case include their managers in the email list.

3 Buy coffee/tea

Not every company has free coffee on tap, your social media/community managers will appreciate the coffee/tea of their choice. Ask the barista to write “thank you” on the cup.

4 Invite them to join the CMAD webathon

The group behind CMAD has a day long programme of speeches and lectures all relevant to the role of a community manager. You can see the whole agenda and sign up on the site.

5 Run Your Own Web Event for Community Managers

I have done this, we ran an online meeting in two sessions (to cover Asian and American time zones), we had expert sessions on webcare, content calendars, and examples from round the world on local challenges (this was the most popular session).  If it’s too late to pull this together for this year how about announcing it on Monday, and making it a showcase for other colleagues to understand the role of the Community Manager.

6 Bring Cake

Yes, I have done this. It might be my colleague’s favourite  😉

If you make a small occasion of cake with coffee and say a formal thank you it’ll be a very personal way of showing your appreciation.

7 Small Gift

Put a card on the community manager’s desk with gift or an appropriate gift voucher inside, your thanks will have more impact if you add a written acknowledgement of specific achievements. If you’re not in the same place look for an email option – there are plenty of online gift voucher options.

8 Join the Community Manager Roundtable

The Community Manager Roundtable has a wealth of resources, training and research that can help your community managers improve their work, and professionalise their role. They can also contribute to the annual survey on the state of community management.

 

If you’re a member of a community you value take time to post a message thanking your community manager. If you can, ‘@’ their manager in the message to increase the recognition for their hard work.

If you’re a community manager pat  yourself on the back, and take a moment to reflect on how your community has evolved and grown in the last year, then plan one thing you want to improve in your own arsenal of awesome community manager skills.

Big personal thank you to the wonderful community managers I’ve worked with, it’s been a pleasure and I’ve learnt from you all!

Image: thanks  |  ren_7

Social Media Fails (again)

2016march_social

We’re all on social media all the time, and the social media platforms are stretching into new areas of our lives – Facebook now has an “at work” option called Workplace.  So how good are we at using it? Back in 2013 I looked at some Social Media fails (and one brilliant response), now I’m looking again. Are companies making the same sorts of mistakes? Have we got better at using social media?

Some of the same mistakes occurred.

Confuse private and public accounts

Justice Department tweet errorThis tweet came from the US Justice Department, clearly not something a US Justice Department employee should ever be saying, so what happened? The twitter app lets you switch easily between accounts, and many people use the app to access their personal and professional accounts. In this case the staffer’s access to the twitter account was revoked, the tweet deleted and an apology issued.

We’re still making this mistake. I advocated keeping accounts separate, or even using separate devices, but I think that this error has become so common that people understand the error and it doesn’t seem to result in lasting damage to the organisation. If this happens to you apologise, delete tweet and move on.

Misuse of  Sensitive Hashtag/Event

Cinnabon failed Carrie Fisher

Carrie Fisher died, and the internet mourned. Cinnabon tried to gate-crash the wake with this image, recycled from their May-the-fourth post. The geeks of the internet were not impressed, many pointing out that she was much more than Princess Leia, that she’d hated this hair style, and anyway it’s crass to use someone’s death to promote your product.

As a best practice do not comment on a celebrity death unless they had a direct tie with your company or organisation.  If there’s an emergency or an event where people are in danger only comment on the event in ways that are offering practical support.

Some Social Media Fails were more prominent in 2016.

Geography is Hard

Coca cola geography

Social media posts almost always have images now, and that opens up a whole new world of pain, as Coca Cola found out when they used a map of Russia in their Christmas promotion. They managed to annoy Russia by not including Crimea, and then Ukraine by adding it.

There are a surprising number of tricky borders around the world and a surprising number of sharp-eyed people ready to comment on it. You’re in a no-win situation, you’re bound to annoy someone so avoid maps of contested areas in your imagery if you can.

Artificial Intelligence

Artificial intelligence got a bit hyped in 2016, if Microsoft’s experiment with “Tay Tweets” is anything to go by humans aren’t ready for it. In just 24 hours twitter taught Tay to be a racist bully.

Within days Microsoft ceased the experiment.

Social Media Amplifies Your Bad Decision

UN hires and then fires Wonder Woman

The UN has a whole organisation devoted to gender equality which states that “UN Women is the global champion for gender equality”. But the UN’s track record isn’t so convincing; just three of the 71 presidents of the UN General Assembly have been women, and all of the Secretaries General have been men.

So when they announced that the new Honorary Ambassador for the Empowerment of Women and Girls was a fictional character, specifically Wonder Woman, it didn’t go well.  There were protests within the UN, negative feedback in the mainstream media, and across social media.

This is a case of a bad decision being amplified in social media, and it seemed to lead to a change at the UN.

Racism Isn’t a Joke

Racism isn't a joke

Maybe the people running the MTV Australia twitter account on the night of the Golden Globes thought the humour would work since America Ferrera and Eva Longoria were making fun of how Latina actresses are often mistaken for each other. But it’s one thing to make a joke about your own race/nationality and very different for a company to make a joke about someone else’s. Just don’t.

On the same theme; know whom you’re talking about. Total Beauty confused Whoopi Goldberg and Oprah Winfrey.

Oprah and Whoopi confused

Fake News

Fake news reached a whole new level in 2016, and is set to reach new depths in 2017. There are thousands of US examples out there but I’m going to choose a less contentious example from the UK.

The Grim Reaper was busy in 2016, and with Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds dying within days of each other we were primed for more bad news. So when Queen Elizabeth II stayed home from Church with a cold a fake BBC account reported that she had died and people fell for it.  The report was quickly debunked, leaving twitter embarrassed but relieved.

Which leads to a prediction for 2017; this will be the year we get smart about our news sources. Once I’m earning again I’ll be supporting one or two sources of good journalism.

So what’s changed?

I didn’t find examples of people jumping on trending hashtags any more, or of people sharing information that shouldn’t be made public, so we’ve got smarter. The errors now seem to be more in the area of content creation, social media managers need to understand how their promotional content might land in a global market.

We’ve got better, but the job has got tougher.

Blamestorming

Blamestorming

“How was the meeting?”

“Total blamestorm”

I think we’ve all been in those meetings where the whole point seems to be finding someone to blame; what might start as a reasonable question can become acrimonious, with accusations hurled across the room. This is blamestorming.

Here’s why it’s a waste of time.

When we spend time focusing on who did it, and how to punish them we do not solve the problem for the customer. So there is an immediate impact on one customer, and the longer their issue remains unresolved the more people they’re likely to tell.

But there’s a bigger downside.

Every time we focus on blaming someone we put all team members on the defensive, we make them cautious – even suspicious. Individuals are far less likely to come forward following future “screw ups”. Errors become something to be hushed up, hidden, and suppressed. Potentially they remain unsolved. The culture in the team or organisation becomes increasingly vicious over time.

When we focus on errors made, and punishing those errors, we lessen chance of initiative taking, and chances of innovation.

I can remember going into my boss and saying “I have made a mistake – here’s how I want to fix it, are you happy with that approach?”  Boss’s reaction was to ask a couple of questions, pledge support, and thank me for telling her – perfect response and I’ve modelled my approach on hers.

My working assumption, and it applies to more issues than this, people want to do the right thing. When something big goes wrong at work the first thing we should do is fix it for the customer, then examine what went wrong – with the goal of preventing it happening again. If there are legal repercussions we need to find out who was responsible, but most often “how do we fix this” is far more important than “who did this”. Obviously if your working assumption turns out to be wrong, and you do have a colleague who is deliberately doing the wrong thing you must escalate, and go into investigation mode – and work through appropriate HR and legal processes.

I’m not suggesting that we should abdicate responsibility for our actions, I’m stating that looking for someone to blame as your starting point is counterproductive and bad for the work culture. Go for trusting your colleagues, and working towards solutions.

Image; Storm Clouds Gathering  |  Zooey  |  CC BY SA 2.0