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For when I need more than 140 characters to finish a thought on marketing, media or message.


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How to not totally suck at email

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Copyright 2013. Jacqui Barrineau.

You would think in 2013 that we as an evolved society wouldn’t have to have discussions about how to write an effective workplace email.

And you’d be wrong.

We get so many emails, IMs and other messages every day that we’re dying from technostress. “Technostress” is not a new term – it’s an old ailment. The theory is the more technology we humans are introduced to, the more we freak out. Perhaps not screaming-and-kicking freaking out, but as message after message pummels us, the stress builds and takes a toll on us mentally and physically. Crying when you get five IMs at EXACTLY the same time is a good example of this First-World problem.

Aw, c’mon, is it really that bad?

Well, think about how many messages we have to respond to in a day – and then think about how much information we have to process. In their 2009 study, UC-San Diego researchers Roger Bohn and James Short estimated in that 2008 that the average person consumes 100,500 words a day. 100,500 words. And that was in 2008. With the explosion of social media and mobile devices over the past five years, we have to wonder how many are we consuming in 2013?

The bad news is there seems to be no end in sight. Until society begins to place more value on calm, effective listening – and no, we have ZERO idea when that unicorn of a utopia will emerge – we’ll continue to suffer as we try to interpret and digest ineffective IMs and emails that fail to inform and only distract.

Ohmigod! I just realized I’m a terrible communicator! How can I change?

While the first step is admitting the problem — “My emails really suck!” — here are five tips to help you change your evil email ways:

  1.  Use the subject field! Indicate why this email is important. There is nothing helpful about no subject line or a subject line that says “Hi!” or “Tuesday.” Tell the reader what this is about, why they should care. Indicate the email’s purpose.
  2. Don’t write in huge chunks of texts. Your reader won’t have time to read it all. Think in bullets. Who, what, when, where, how. There’s a lot of power in brevity. We’re a nation of overstressed people who are skimmers – not careful readers. (If we were still careful readers, there wouldn’t be Twitter.)
  3. Find an effective email font. How about one that was created in the past 10-15 years? Sans serifs are good, but for the love of all that’s 21st century, stay away from Arial that’s larger than 11 points. The white space and lines blur together, making your huge chunks of type even more difficult to read.
  4. Don’t use email as a way to avoid someone. They’ll just find you anyway, and when they do, whatever conflict that’s between you two will only be worse.
  5. Think before you hit “forward” or “cc.”

 
Do you really need to tell us this?

Yes.

An exchange that may seem boring and innocuous between two participants may be interpreted differently by a third. Furthermore, the person you’re communicating with may not want you to share their communication!


To: Manager McButterPants
From: Sad Gal Sally

Subject: Wednesday – doc appt

Hi McButterPants,

I just wanted to let you know that I have a doctor’s appointment on Wednesday for that small insect that has burrowed itself into my left leg and threatens to give me flesh-eating disease. I should be in before noon.

Thanks,

Sad Gal Sally

* * *

 

To: Sad Gal Sally
From: Manager McButterPants
cc: Loser in Cube 3772
Subject: Wednesday – doc appt

Hi Sad Gal,

That sounds fine. Good luck with that insect removal from your leg! Hope you don’t get flesh-eating disease!

Loser in Cube 3772: Sad Gal won’t be in until noon Wednesday. You can follow up on your sales meeting then. FYI.

Thanks,

McButterPants

These five tips may seem silly, but there is serious advice here: If we don’t become more mindful of our messages and how we craft them, we’re just screaming into the hurricane of information — and we will never be heard.


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Sweet nothings: Valentine’s messages come and go

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USA TODAY’s new “partner,” Newser, submitted blog post about Atlantic‘s roundup of retired candy heart messages.

FAX ME

 

LET’S READ

 

HEP CAT

 

WHY NOT

 
I remember “WHY NOT” and “GROOVY,” but not the others. Which ones do you remember?

Click the photo featuring my awesome headline to read the story.


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News roundup: On silence, message and strategy

UDPATE 12-21-12: The NRA held a press conference today calling for armed guards in schools. Read the transcript here.

5:17 p.m. UPDATE: The NRA has released a statement.

In explaining their silence, the pro-gun-rights group says:
 

Out of respect for the families, and as a matter of common decency, we have given time for mourning, prayer and a full investigation of the facts before commenting.

 
A news conference is set for Dec. 21. USA TODAY has a story here.
 
BEGIN ORIGINAL POST: As the National Rifle Association remains conspicuous in absence following the Sandy Hook shootings, more media are dissecting the pro-gun-rights group’s strategy of silence as calls for more gun regulations mount.

From USA TODAY’s Chuck Raasch and Kevin Johnson: NRA is mum amid calls for change after Newtown shootings.

(Disclosure: I worked on this story prior to publication.)

The Associated Press (via the Christian Science Monitor) has their own take, asking: No NRA tweets or comments: A savvy tactic or mistake?

Finally, the NPR looks at what we the media got wrong in the first horrific hours of the unfolding tragedy, a series of mistakes that can be partly blamed on the speed-to-market directives that power digital journalism but may also have been rooted in sloppy sourcing and a failure to adhere to the journalistic basics of who, what, where, when and why.

 

EDITOR’S NOTE: The views expressed here are mine and not my employer’s.


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Shut up and grieve

The news was mind-numbingly horrifying.

At least 27 dead at an elementary school. Or maybe it was 26. No, some networks were reporting 28.

At least 18 children dead. No, it’s 20. At least 20 children dead.

The shooter has been identified as –. No, the shooter has been incorrectly identified. It’s another guy, a guy who is defending himself on Facebook. (“IT WASN’T ME!”)
 

There’s been a lot of miscommunication on this and we need to correct that.

 

~ FBI source,
Los Angeles Times

 
Yeah, somebody needs to correct that. There were lots of corrections yesterday. Like the rest of the nation, I spent much of Dec. 14 trying — and failing — to make sense of the senseless slaughter in Newtown, Conn. The more I sought answers, the fewer I found. The mainstream media was of no help, but we were doing the best we could. I was off yesterday so I had the luxury of playing armchair media critic, tallying the hits and misses. One of the early — and few — hits came from my USA TODAY colleague Susan Page. Page was on MSNBC, I suppose to comment on something less horrifying, and when Andrea Mitchell tried to turn the conversation to gun control, Page rightfully responded with: “Today is not the day to talk about the politics.”
 

Today is not the day to talk about the politics.

 

~ Susan Page,
USA TODAY Washington bureau chief

 

Indeed, it wasn’t. It was a day to grieve. A goddamn awful day to mourn the loss of little children who still believed in Santa Claus; a heartbreaking day to pray for the mothers and fathers who will bury their babies.

There were scores of prayers on Twitter — and the rumblings of a brewing debate. It would be best to ignore Twitter this day, an exercise in futility for me. On Facebook, the social media network I love to hate, a handful of idiot friends started politicizing the murders before the bodies were cold. Less than two hours after the news broke, arguments for gun rights and gun control filled my newsfeed. Between the news reports attempting to detail the day’s horror and the rapid-fire copy-and-paste activism, I was grateful for a friend’s report from Disney World and another friend’s sighting of Dave Grohl. Tiny bright moments on a dim, dark, damnable day.

I needed to log off, but I was curious to read the official statements from the NRA and the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence. What were their messages? One of the idiot Facebook friends commented on my husband’s Wall that he had been forwarded an email from the NRA promoting gun rights as the tragedy unfolded. I smelled a lie. The NRA is a lot of things, but it’s not stupid. In fact, the pro-gun-rights organization was quiet yesterday, conspicuous in absence. Their Twitter feed fell silent; I could not find a news release about Newtown on the website. Keeping quiet is wise. Now is not the time to convince or persuade.

The Brady Campaign seemed to understand this, too — or at least their messenger did. The gun-control group was, not surprisingly, at the forefront of the commentary, with Virginia Tech survivor and gun-control advocate Colin Goddard appearing on MSNBC, visibly distressed and with a plea for compassion, not debate. It was a position not popular with the conflict-hungry media.
 

How do I feel?
I want to scream at the top of my lungs.
I want to cry.
How the hell do you think I feel? It’s horrible.

 

~ Colin Goddard,
Virginia Tech survivor to the New York Daily News

 

I’m a member of the media, and I understand why we jackals want the gun debate to rage: Conflict is interesting. In news or novels, conflict is the key to a great story. I also understand there are no easy answers in the debate over guns. There is only so much legislation can solve. And legislation will never eradicate pure evil and it can’t fix crazy. And arming every man, woman and child to the teeth won’t solve anything, either. These are all points that will be debated in the following months as the conversation turns to the nation’s laws, personal freedoms, the Constitution. But in this sorrowful here and now, in a holiday season that shines less bright, it’s time to mourn the loss of little children who still believed in Santa; time to pray for the mothers and fathers who will bury their babies.

It’s a time to shut up and grieve.
 
 
EDITOR’S NOTE: The views expressed here are mine and not my employer’s.