The Minds of Spammers


I get a fair number of spam comments. It’s been interesting to see different tactics. While quite a few are the usual gibberish (literally; I’m pretty sure they’re written in no language at all), a surprising number appear, at first glance, to be compliments on a particular post. They’re clumsily written, and a second glance often reveals them to be unrelated to the topic at hand. But if you weren’t paying attention, you might let them through. They’re quite calculated.

I do wonder, however, what the goal was with this comment that showed up today, allegedly in regard to my recent post about business communication:

The following time I learn a weblog, I hope that it doesnt disappoint me as a lot as this one. I imply, I know it was my choice to learn, however I actually thought youd have one thing fascinating to say. All I hear is a bunch of whining about something that you possibly can fix if you werent too busy in search of attention.

All I could think was, “Well, that’s new.”

Shut Up


Listen to your kids

Social media is not about “creating a narrative” and “delivering interesting stories to your audience.” And branding is not telling people what you stand for.

I take it back. Of course, both those are the case. But they’re far, far from the whole story. As marketers, we’ve always been able to create narratives, deliver interesting stories, and tell people what we stand for.

What social media does is let people tell us if we’re right. The best thing you can do with social media is not push, and not engage. It’s listen.

That doesn’t mean you don’t talk, that you don’t share content. Content is vital. Good content. But use that content as a starting point. How do people respond to it? How do they respond to you? And when do they initiate contact?

Your audience will tell you what your brand is. They’re the ones who see what you put out there, not what you think you put out there. They’ll tell you what that means. Listen to them.

Be their audience.

Photo by Bindaas Madhavi, via Flickr.

Basics of Business Communication



Guess why no one wants to read this book.

No matter what job we hold, all of us have occasion to share business information with others. It’s easy to get caught up in the moment, and forget what the overall purpose is: to make sure that someone gets the information they need. With that in mind, here are a few tips:

1) Know your audience. It’s the first rule of comedy, and it’s the first rule of pretty much everything else. Do not assume that the recipient is going to find your snarky comment funny. And don’t write to a company vice president as if he or she is your co-worker in the next cubicle.

2) Know why you’re writing. Do you want to provide a project summary? Commend a colleague? Point out issues that are arising? Focus on meeting your goals.

3) Keep it short. Everyone is busy, from that VP to that co-worker. Provide necessary context, but get to the point.

4) Check your spelling. Do not rely entirely on Word or Outlook. Get a dictionary, whether it’s in print or online. Use it.

And now, for a few related links:

Write a Complaint Letter Like a Pro: Good for more than complaint letters. (The Consumerist)

E-mail Etiquette 101: Things to keep in mind. (Michael Hyatt)

We’d All Be Better Off if the “Reply All” Button Just Went Away: Seriously, beware. It’s necessary, but it can get you into serious trouble if you don’t remember what “all” means. (Me)

Photo by romana klee, via Flickr.

Qwikster, We Hardly Knew Ye


Saturday Night Live now seems oddly prescient, if you ignore the details:

Dear Katharine,

It is clear that for many of our members two websites would make things more difficult, so we are going to keep Netflix as one place to go for streaming and DVDs.

This means no change: one website, one account, one password…in other words, no Qwikster.

While the July price change was necessary, we are now done with price changes.

We’re constantly improving our streaming selection. We’ve recently added hundreds of movies from Paramount, Sony, Universal, Fox, Warner Bros., Lionsgate, MGM and Miramax. Plus, in the last couple of weeks alone, we’ve added over 3,500 TV episodes from ABC, NBC, FOX, CBS, USA, E!, Nickelodeon, Disney Channel, ABC Family, Discovery Channel, TLC, SyFy, A&E, History, and PBS.

We value you as a member, and we are committed to making Netflix the best place to get your movies & TV shows.


The Netflix Team

We’d All Be Better Off if the “Reply All” Button Just Went Away


Seriously, it’s still causing trouble. You’d think by now we’d all have learned to be more careful, but no. Check out this post from Jenny Lawson, AKA The Bloggess (also available at @thebloggess).

I’ve had my own corporate run-ins, although not involving pitches. In the past few years I’ve gone to war with AT&T and TiVo over service and billing issues. I’ve won, and the reason I’ve won is that I was right, and I put social media tools to use. I even told the TiVo supervisor that I was going to do it. Fair warning, I say. So why would anyone broadcast that response regarding a blogger with a huge, devoted audience?

Don’t try to one-up snark with insults. It doesn’t work, and it’ll get out somehow. That’s how it works these days. More of us need to learn that. Yes, we’re all human, and yes, we all make mistakes. But maybe it’s time to retire “Reply All.”

Netflix: How Not to Communicate with Customers, Part 2


Bye Bye Netflix
In July, Netflix changed their service dramatically. Lots of people were unhappy, both with the change, and with how it was communicated.

Three months later, Netflix co-founder and CEO Reed Hastings posted an apology on the company’s blog. He also sent a condensed version of that apology to every Netflix customer (well, I got one–I assume everyone else did, too). In it, he says:

But now I see that given the huge changes we have been recently making, I should have personally given a full justification to our members of why we are separating DVD and streaming, and charging for both. It wouldn’t have changed the price increase, but it would have been the right thing to do.

So here is what we are doing and why:

Many members love our DVD service, as I do, because nearly every movie ever made is published on DVD, plus lots of TV series. We want to advertise the breadth of our incredible DVD offering so that as many people as possible know it still exists, and it is a great option for those who want the huge and comprehensive selection on DVD. DVD by mail may not last forever, but we want it to last as long as possible.

I also love our streaming service because it is integrated into my TV, and I can watch anytime I want. The benefits of our streaming service are really quite different from the benefits of DVD by mail. We feel we need to focus on rapid improvement as streaming technology and the market evolve, without having to maintain compatibility with our DVD by mail service.

So we realized that streaming and DVD by mail are becoming two quite different businesses, with very different cost structures, different benefits that need to be marketed differently, and we need to let each grow and operate independently.

Nowhere in this passage, or elsewhere in the apology, does he mention something crucial: the way they’ve been handling streaming has been wrong, and the reorganization is designed to let them keep that part of the business going. Bill Gurley does a great job of explaining how the laws regarding distribution rights for DVDs and streaming video are different.

And I think it’s worth noting that it took three months for them to figure this out. Three months and the loss of what I hear is a million customers–not to mention dwindling stock prices. All that, and an apology that doesn’t really explain the cause of the change (or indicate that they now realize that their method provided very little notice to existing customers).

The response I’ve seen has been overwhelmingly negative, which is not what you usually hope for with an apology.

Photo by ozcast, via Flickr.

How Much Privacy Do You Have?


You are here

What does privacy mean in an age where so many of us share everything in public? If you don’t want everyone to know everything, here are a few things to take a look at:

Geolocating and photos

First, check your camera. As this Webroot post explains, newer cameras include geolocation info in the metadata. If you don’t want people to know where you are, turn that feature off. And if you’ve got a smartphone, for these purposes I’m including that in the category “camera.”

Privacy settings

You’ve probably seen your Facebook friends (including me, if you’re friends with me) post status updates about changes to privacy settings. Go look at them again and make sure that what you share is going only to those people you want to see it. In the upper right-hand corner, you’ll see “Account” with a drop-down arrow. Select “Account Settings” and then go through each of the categories on the left to make sure that you’ve properly limited access to your account. Remember to remove apps you’re not using. Then go back to that drop-down menu and select “Privacy Settings.” If it seems like you’re repeating yourself, that’s okay–it’s good to be thorough. Do this on other sites you use, too. The organization may be a little different, but the overall issue is constant.


One of the circles on Google+ is “Public.” I think it might behoove Google to come up with another label for that circle, because any time you choose “Public” rather than “Friends” or “Acquaintances” or “People who also have lhasa apsos” (or whatever circle names you’ve invented), that post is going to wind up searchable via Google’s main page. What happens in Google+ may not stay in Google+, so don’t select “Public” unless you’re okay with the whole world seeing it. Because they just might.

Your whereabouts

Geolocation games and services like foursquare and SCVNGR can be a lot of fun, but pay attention to who knows where you are. It’s not that hard to track someone’s movements throughout the day. When that’s not just a pattern but real-time, it’s worth thinking about how much of that you really want to share, and with whom. Remember that kid in junior high who you thought was your friend, but turned out to be the jerk who stole things out of your backpack? Chances are good that many of us still have one of those friends–we just haven’t realized it yet. And do you know everyone they know? It’s not paranoid to keep in mind that you don’t actually know everything about everyone–so why does everyone need to know everything about you?

Start with the idea that it’s possible for people to find you and your words and photos. And then consider how much you want to hand to them directly. It’s a personal choice–just make an informed one.

Photo by Quasimondo, via Flickr.

Verizon Wireless and Twitter Success



I’ve been a Verizon Wireless customer for seven years. For most of that time (maybe all of it), I’ve had LG phones. They work well, and I really like the way they organize contacts so that I don’t have to scroll through every single number a person has.

When I started texting, I realized that I wanted a full-keyboard phone, and at my next “upgrade” I bought the LG EnV. I love this phone (see above for someone else’s picture of it). It’s compact, the keyboard is easy to use, and the screen, while small, is pretty clear. The downside is that getting to the camera functions is a little cumbersome, but I don’t use the camera on this phone that much anyhow.

But it was starting to get a little bedraggled, and it seemed like the battery wasn’t holding a charge for as long as it used to. And then Verizon Wireless started calling me about upgrading.

So I got the LG Cosmos Touch. And pretty much from Day One, I hated it. This is the LG Cosmos with a touch screen, and wow, is that one annoying touch screen. It was unresponsive, except for when it was hyper reactive. I never knew when it was ringing–I keep my phone on vibrate, and for the first time, I could neither hear nor feel it when it would go off in a bag I was holding. And it kept pushing things at me–buy this app, link to this site, use this function. That’s not what I want when I unlock my phone so I can make a call. I want to make a call, for crying out loud.

It probably won’t come as a big surprise that when I lost the phone, I wasn’t terribly sad about it. No, I just went to my nearest Verizon store to scope out replacements. And that’s when I realized that not only would I have to pay full price (because I’d already gotten my two-year upgrade with the hated Cosmos Touch), but the cheapest phone I could buy was the regular Cosmos. The sales rep said that the push marketing was “probably” because of the touch screen, and that shouldn’t be a problem with this one. Of course, he also said that the cheapest thing for me to do would be to add another line to the account, when a really basic round of division told me that doing that would be more than twice as expensive as replacing the phone.

So I snarked a bit on Twitter and went back to work. On the way home, I found that Verizon Wireless had found my tweet–which didn’t even contain a hashtag (so, nice searching, @VZWSupport!) and responded. An exchange or two later, and I had my solution: I charged and reactivated the EnV.

And now I like my phone again. I even know when I get a call or text. Imagine that!

Photo by tjshirey, via Flickr.

Yahoo! and Corporate Communications


Carol Bartz, CEO of Yahoo! was fired yesterday. The first widespread notice was an e-mail she sent to employees, which according to the New York Times read:

I am very sad to tell you that I’ve just been fired over the phone by Yahoo’s Chairman of the Board. It has been my pleasure to work with all of you and I wish you only the best going forward.

For starters, no one wants to be fired over the phone. Maybe it was the only feasible way, depending on where the parties were at the time, but it’s hardly ideal.

As The Consumerist points out, Bartz was hired to turn Yahoo! and its share price around, and that hasn’t happened. So the firing wasn’t necessarily shocking. Then, Yahoo! sent out its own message, in a press release that included the following paragraph:

Roy Bostock, Chairman of the Yahoo! Board, said, “The Board sees enormous growth opportunities on which Yahoo! can capitalize, and our primary objective is to leverage the Company’s leadership and current business assets and platforms to execute against these opportunities. We have talented teams and tremendous resources behind them and intend to return the Company to a path of robust growth and industry-leading innovation. We are committed to exploring and evaluating possibilities and opportunities that will put Yahoo! on a trajectory for growth and innovation and deliver value to shareholders.”

Does Roy Bostock really talk like that? I’m not sure anyone does–not when they’re actually trying to say something, that is. This reads more like someone trying to avoid saying anything. I think David Meerman Scott gets it right when he says, “Yahoo! missed an opportunity to communicate like humans and deliver some real information.”

A press release shouldn’t be in code. Tell people what they need to know in a way they can easily understand. We’re all busy. Show that you respect that. What have you got to lose?

Personal Brand: You Tell Me


Jim De Piante of the Voices on Project Management blog has a post on managing your personal brand.

Here’s the thing about branding: at its heart, your brand is how people perceive you. It’s not what you say you are, but what they say you are. So how you see yourself (or how you want to see yourself) is not necessarily the same as how others see you.

What do I see as key elements of my personal brand? Here’s a start:

1) I’ll get the job done. You have a problem, and I’ll help you solve it. You won’t have to worry about progress, because I’ll be on top of it, and I’ll let you know how things stand.

2) I’m great at asking for help when I need it. I don’t need (or want) handholding, but I know when I need support–and I’ll ask for it when I do. Your project is not going to take a nosedive because of my pride.

3) I pay attention to goals. A former boss told me that she could always count on me to know when something was good enough. She didn’t mean that I settled for adequacy; she meant that I knew what it took to complete the project and meet or exceed standards, and when a particular flourish might be cool–but would be too expensive, or too time-consuming, or inconsistent with the larger effort.

But that’s how I see myself, and that’s only part of the story. At least as important is this: How do you see me?

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