Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Can we talk?

Though I don't blog as often as some (ok, as often as most) bloggers -- I do believe blogs are a great tool for businesses. I've come around to this conclusion both through personal experience and as a result of the arguments and ideas put forth by others who've been at this long enough to truly understand the nature -- and therefore the power -- of business blogging.

I'm compelled to write about this now because of an insight about business blogging I gained from: Naked Conversations: how blogs are changing the way businesses talk with customers, by Robert Scobel and Shel Israel.

You may recall that I commented on Naked Conversations in an earlier posting about why jargon should be avoided. Despite being turned off by Chapter 2 of the book, I got over my irritation and continued reading. I must say, I'm glad I did because it drove home a point about business blogging that I had previously overlooked.

The most important point I took away from the book was that the power of business blogging is the ability to have a conversation with clients, customers and others in your field. Though there are many good reasons to do a business blog (for example, it's a place where you can showcase your passion and expertise), the idea of a blog as a tool for engaging in conversation is quite a revelation, I think.

Anyone who has been in business for any length of time knows that conversations are the building block of relationships -- and relationships are the foundation on which businesses are built. For example, though I might have an idea of what types of communications services someone might benefit from, it's through conversation I actually learn about their needs and at the same time explain to them how what I do might help them. But to build a long-lasting business relationship conversations have to be on-going and their underlying purpose must be about getting to know and trust the other person. When you think about it, blogging is all about on-going conversations.

Another way of looking at it is that business blogging is a cost efficient -- and effective -- way of developing rapport with people you might never have had the opportunity to meet (in person) through traditional channels and to engage in conversation. Looked at like that, how can you not find blogging an amazing business tool?

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Top 5 Reasons to Avoid Jargon: Reason #3

I thought it time to return to my Top 5 reasons for avoiding jargon. So, here's Reason #3: using jargon can alienate your audience.

When you're communicating with someone for business purposes -- whether you're writing, making a presentation, or just speaking -- you consciously and subconsciously make an assessment of the audience's intellect and level of expertise. Indeed, to create "reader-focused" writing (or listener-focused speaking), which should always be one of your business communication goals, you must make such assessments.

But, even when you think your audience is very bright or highly educated, it's a good idea to avoid using jargon because if folks don't understand what you're saying, you risk alienating, or irritating, them.

I can share a recent experience I had with something I read that left me feeling stupid and, ultimately, irritated. On Sandy Kemsley's recommendation (Sandy's blamed -- or credited -- with being the friend who persuaded me that business blogging's a good thing), I decided to read Naked conversations: how blogs are changing the way businesses talk with customers, by Robert Scoble and Shel Israel.

While I found most of the book quite interesting, I nearly stopped reading after Chapter 2, which is titled, "Everything never changes". I don't mind admitting that when I'm reading, I often gloss over chapter titles -- especially when they don't say much to me. I usually don't get too bothered by a title I "don't get", because I figure it's just a title.

So, though the title didn't make much sense to me, I continued reading. It quickly became apparent that the title refers to a conversation Shel Israel had with futurist-philosopher John Naisbitt (author of Megatrends). Israel had commented to Naisbitt that he felt that as a result of September 11th, everything had changed. To this statement, Naisbitt apparently replied:

"Everything never changes," he said. "Something has changed and it impacts everything else. Your life is the same. People go to the same jobs, in the same places. They go home to the same families and watch the same TV programs. Everything never changes. Something changed and that something will impact a great deal. But life as we know it will continue".

My initial reaction was "say what?" I had to reread the quote and the chapter a number of times before I even got a sense that I might have an inkling of what Naisbitt was saying.

Though the words themselves are pretty ordinary, the statement "everything never changes" basically amounts to jargon because it's intended as a short-hand way of making a particular point. In this case, it seems the author coined this seemingly clever catchphrase in hopes it will ring true and be memorable.

Unfortunately, my reaction to the cleverness was not particularly warm. Indeed, the need to reread it and puzzle over it irritated me to the point that I almost put down the entire book. In such cases, I figure either the authors don't care enough about the audience to explain things in such a way that an otherwise interest reader (me) had a hope of getting through it in one read, or, worse, that the authors hadn't refined their thoughts to the point that they could make it understandable.

Fortunately, Chapter 2 is one of the shorter chapters in the book. I soldiered on and finished the book, the rest of which was straightforward and interesting. Maybe in future editions the authors will re-think that chapter, realizing that yielding to Naisbitt's jargon is a strategy that could backfire.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Newsletter elements

When you read the newspaper, do you start on the front page and go page-by-page, section to section? If you're like most people, you don't. But, you probably do approach the newspaper the same way every day. You may start with the sports section, then scan the front page headlines, maybe reading one of the articles. At some point you look for your favourite columnist, the horoscopes, the editorials, or maybe the death notices.

My point is, there are likely things you routinely look for in the paper. And, at the risk of making you feel like Pavlov's dog -- there's a reason for this: newspapers put a lot of effort into packaging the information so that, day-after-day, readers can find the topics, items, writers, etc., they find interesting.

A good business newsletter should be constructed the same way, with features and items that readers look for in each issue.

So, when creating a newsletter, think about the types of information you'd like to regularly feature and come up with a name or heading under which to showcase the different types of information. By creating broad sections and features, you're adding structure for the reader and for the writers, while creating possible branding opportunities. An added bonus of having discrete sections is that it imposes discipline, making you think about the news and information you should be getting out there with every issue.

Here's an example of what I'm talking about. Let's say you plan to feature a comment or letter by a senior executive, information about new products the company sells, and information about what your employees are doing in the community. Given these topics, the newsletter sections might be called:

  • From the Corner Office -- for the commentary by the senior exec(s).
  • New and Nifty (or perhaps: Great Gadgets) -- for new product info.
  • Out and About: Our Employees Making a Difference in the Community -- for info on what employees are doing.

Loyal readers make loyal customers. A well thought-out, carefully crafted business newsletter that offers readers information and ideas is an invaluable communication tool for your business.