Social media - as a business conversation - has been around now for a number of years. It's not new anymore, at least conceptually. There are still a lot of operational details to figure out in terms of how it integrates with an organization's current processes, structures, and resources but unless you've been under a rock, you've been hearing a lot about it for a while. You may be tired of it.
If you are a professional communications person and by that I mean you are in a role explicitly responsible for ensuring communications happens (that could mean you are in PR, marketing, customer support, project management, executive management, HR, etc.) you would be crazy by now not to be at least experimenting and educating yourself on how social tools and methods are changing the fundamentals of your job.
One issue that I've noticed that is a risk if you are a communications professional, is these new 'social' methods will expose your communication style pretty quickly and, frankly, for many that communication style is not particularly effective. It may be time to take a good hard look at how well you communicate in general (forget Twitter, etc).
Let me explain. Over the last few years I have interacted with a large range of communications professionals who are exploring this new social landscape (kudos to them). However, many immediately expose the fact that they could care less about who they are speaking with because they are on a mission to educate themselves and then figure out how to get their message out. While their focus may be admirable their efficacy in making an impact is very low. They use others for their own needs without offering anything in exchange. I've personally had a few experiences of spending hours of my time with groups and not even receiving the most basic 'thank you' in return. This leaves me feeling used and thinking they are extremely rude and don't understand the basics of good conversation - i.e. asking the other person questions, giving others recognition and thanks in exchange for something they need. The sources of these poor communication skills have been downright shocking to me. For those of you who know me, you know I love a good conversation, I love to help people, and I love seeing new technology so I'll talk to just about anyone but I don't really love being talked at or spending a lot of time only to feel like it went unrecognized. And it's a pretty good way of ensuring I won't come back to the table later.
The other interesting thing that I've noticed about many people who are professed 'communicators' is that they have very little ability to pick up on others' cues whether that consists of arm crossing, staring at the ceiling, or shifting their body weight in physical interactions or their completely dead silence from the other end of the phone, IM chat, or Twitter conversation. It is actually fascinating to me because part of the hallmark of a great communicator is an intuitive understanding of the reaction they are getting and the ability to adjust their own technique to that. This is admittedly a hard skill to learn in a classroom and it requires a level of self-awareness that takes time to attain but it is absolutely critical if you want to be an effective communicator. The irony is that for the last few decades, communications degrees can be earned without really being a good communicator, leaving people looking like great communications professionals on paper who don't have the skills necessary to be effective.
So here is my plea. Please consider the following when trying to influence someone:
- If you ask for someone's time or attention, say thank you.
- Before you start speaking about what you do, ask others what they are interested in.
- Tailor your conversation to the other person's interests.
- Pause occasionally to check in and get reaction... if they don't have much, they are likely not that engaged... so ask again what they find most interesting about the topic and adjust.
- Ask the other person about their business/goals.
- Don't ask for more than is reasonable to get for free. If you use someone's deep expertise, pay them for it either in exposure, money, or referrals.