July 2011 - Business Communication

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Business Communication with Cengage Learning

 

"Netflix Relief Fund" Video Parody

07-28-2011 2:18 PM

"Netflix has raised their prices. This is literally the worst thing that has ever happened to White people."

Jason Alexander stars in "Netflix Relief Fund," a video poking fun at customers' reactions to Netflix's recent price increase. (See story.) Comparing Netflix to Hitler, Alexander says that "tears are falling all over MacBook Pros and Pier One throw pillows all across this country today."

Discussion Starters:

  • How do you think this video came about? Who would have a stake in creating a parody like this?
  • If you were Netflix's VP of corporate communication, what, if anything, would you do in response to this video? Before you answer, consider the heated customer reaction to the price increases over the past two weeks.

Posted by Amy Newman

Using Amy Winehouse's Death for Small Business Advice

07-28-2011 11:40 AM

Amy-winehouseThe Huffington Post is under fire for an article, "Amy Winehouse's Untimely Death Is a Wake Up Call for Small Business Owners." According to blogger Tricia Fox, the 27-year-old British singer's death offers business lessons:

"For small business owners there is, however, a lot to be learned from Amy's untimely death.

"Although rarely referred to as such, most musical artists and celebrities are businesses in their own right. In fact, for all those detractors out there that say that being 'self-employed' is not a 'proper' business, think again. This successful business model is one that has been proven time and time again.

"But whether you are a pop star, a plumber or a business consultant, the same rules still apply: you are the product. And if that's the case, you are going to need to take really good care for yourself if you want your business to succeed."

Critics found little in common between Winehouse's death and running a small business and accused Fox of using the pop star's death for personal gain. Fox responded to criticism partly by citing cultural differences between the U.K. and the U.S.:

"For those of you who have been offended by my use of Amy Winehouse as an example, please accept my sincere apologies. Offence was never my intent. . . . Response to this blog in the U.K. has been positive. Response from the USA has been negative. I'm not sure why different nationalities have recieved [sic] the blog differently."

Discussion Starters:

  • What is your reaction to the blogger's article? Do you agree with the criticism?
  • Do you buy Fox's explanation of cultural differences? Why or why not?
  • How could Fox have responded differently to the criticism?

Posted by Amy Newman

"Gigs for Grads" Are Looking Up

07-26-2011 6:57 PM

Course Hero created this infographic to summarize recent research about college graduates' job prospects. You'll see quite a lot of good news according to the National Association for Colleges and Employers, including an average salary offer increase of 4.8% for 2011 grads. Also, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics has identified several areas for large growth by 2018: education, business, multimedia and web design, nursing, and software engineering.

GigsforGrads 2011 Infographic

Discussion Starters:

  • The infographic shows a discrepancy between growing fields and students' chosen majors. Does knowing that a particular area is expected to grow affect your choice of major? Why or why not?
  • Eight of the ten highest paying jobs are in Engineering, but only 8.2% of undergraduates have chosen this major. Does knowing that you could have more income potential in Engineering than in your chosen field affect your career choice? Why or why not?

Posted by Amy Newman

Layoffs to Begin This Week at RIM, Maker of BlackBerry

07-26-2011 2:40 PM

Research in Motion will begin laying off 10% of its workforce this week. This comes as no surprise to people watching the company: the BlackBerry has been losing smartphone market share and has dropped to second place after Google's Android. Also, RIM warned of lower revenues and announced layoffs (their "cost optimization program") last month.

Skeptics doubt that the layoffs will be an effective long-term solution for RIM:

RIM layoffs
Video source.

In a press release dated July 25, 2011, this is how the company explained the decision:

Cost Optimization Program
In addition to the management changes outlined above, RIM today provided further details on its cost optimization program, which is focused on eliminating redundancies and reallocating resources to focus on areas that offer the highest growth opportunities and alignment with RIM’s strategic objectives.  The workforce reduction is believed to be a prudent and necessary step for the long term success of the company and it follows an extended period of rapid growth within the company whereby the workforce had nearly quadrupled in the last five years alone.

As part of this broad effort, RIM is reducing its global workforce across all functions by approximately 2,000 employees. RIM intends to notify impacted employees in North America and certain other countries this week. The remainder of the global workforce reductions will occur at a later date subject to local laws and regulations.  All impacted employees will receive severance packages and outplacement support. 

The size of this workforce reduction is in line with the preliminary estimate that was factored into RIM’s full year financial guidance on June 16, 2011.  Following the completion of the workforce reduction, RIM’s global workforce is expected to be approximately 17,000 people.  Additional information about the financial impact of this workforce reduction and other operating expense reductions will be communicated when the company reports Q2 results on September 15, 2011. As explained on June 16, 2011, any one-time charges associated with the cost optimization program are not included in RIM’s Q2 and full year outlook, but will be identified and disclosed on September 15, 2011.

Discussion Starter and Assignment Idea:

  • What type of language is used in RIM's press release? What examples can you find of verbal barriers to communication?
  • Rewrite this segment of the press release for employees. What would you say differently to internal staff who may be affected by the decision? When you're finished, exchange drafts with a partner. Which version do you prefer and why?

Posted by Amy Newman

Filed under:

Bad News at Borders: All Stores Will Close

07-21-2011 10:43 AM

After filing for bankruptcy and failing to find a buyer, Borders will start liquidation. Currently the second-largest bookstore, employing 10,700 people, the company will close its remaining 399 stores. At its peak, Borders operated 1,000 stores and employed nearly 20,000 people. In the company's press release, Borders Group president Mike Edwards explained the decision: "We were all working hard towards a different outcome, but the headwinds we have been facing for quite some time, including the rapidly changing book industry, eReader revolution, and turbulent economy, have brought us to where we are now."

Discussion Starters:

  • Read Borders' full press release. How do you assess the company's statement? Is this an effective bad-news message?
  • On an open blog for Borders employees, we can read about employees' frustrations. If you were the VP of communication for Borders, what if anything, would you do in response to these comments?

Posted by Amy Newman

Filed under:

Murdochs Testify Before British Lawmakers

07-19-2011 2:10 PM

During three hours of testimony, Rupert and James Murdoch responded to questions by UK parliamentary committee members. Questions focused on the phone-hacking scandal at a subsidiary of News Corp, the Murdochs' media empire. The questioning became tense at times, with lawmakers repeatedly asking the senior Murdoch questions, while his son attempted to respond, saying that he was more familiar with the situation.

At the beginning of the hearing, Mr. Murdoch senior said, “This is the most humble day of my life." Toward the end, the questioning was interrupted by a protester who threw a pie of shaving cream in Mr. Murdoch's face. (His wife sprung into action!) Clearly this is a difficult time for the chief executive.

Discussion Starters:

  • After watching a few minutes of the hearings, what is your impression of the Murdochs' responses to questions? Compare and contrast the father's and the son's responses. How do you account for the differences?
  • Read one analyst's perspective of the testimony (LA Times). After doing your own analysis, do you agree with this writer's summary?

Posted by Amy Newman

How to Get People to Respond to Your Emails

07-18-2011 11:22 AM

The New York Times published an article yesterday, "Is Anyone There?" voicing the frustration that many of us feel when our emails go unanswered. There are no guarantees, but here are a few ideas for getting a response to your email:

  • Use a catchy, specific subject line. These can be full sentences, for example, "Can you come to the meeting on Friday?" Consider including your entire message in the subject line and adding "[EOM]," meaning "end of message." This saves people having to open your message. (See SEND by Shipley and Schwable.)
  • Make responding easy. Ask specific, easy questions that don't require a lot of reading or a complex answer. If you need more, schedule a meeting -- there's just so much email can do.
  • Put your main point in the first sentence. Don't ramble with two paragraphs of background information before you ask for what you need.
  • Focus on the reader. Consider what's important to the receiver -- why should he or she respond? "Please let me know whether I can contact Maryann directly. I want to save you the trouble, but I don't want to overstep either."
  • Give a time frame for a response. "ASAP" means within 5 minutes to me, but may mean a week and a half to you. Try, "Will you please let me know by Tuesday, 7/16, whether this outline is on track, so I can finish the report by Friday?"
  • Use short paragraphs and write concisely. Edit ruthlessly.
  • Consider different colors and fonts to make your email skimmable -- within reason.
  • Pick up the phone. Either as follow-up or {gasp!} in lieu of an email, trying calling someone instead. Email is the default medium for most business communication, but it's not the only choice.
  • Send an IM instead. For quick questions, try for a quick answer.

Here are some more ideas, but reserve these for when you don't care too much about maintaining a relationship with the receiver:

  • Send emails with a receipt. This is sure to annoy anyone into either responding or never opening another email from you.
  • Send "Second Request" in the subject line. Truly overwhelmed emailers may appreciate this, but others will consider it an insult (particularly if sent 3 hours after the original email).
  • Copy someone important. This may inspire someone to jump in your behalf but also may embarrass someone into further non-response.

Sometimes, a non-answer is, in fact, an answer. If you don't hear back after an interview, yes, the recruiter is rude, but after a week or so, you probably have your response.

Discussion Starters:

  • Have you sent email that didn't get a response? In retrospect, what could you have done differently?
  • Have you ever ignored email sent to you? Do you consider it rude? Why or why not?

Posted by Amy Newman

"Dear Netflix" Is Trending Because of a $6 Price Hike

07-14-2011 4:39 PM

Poor Netflix has been called a "manipulative greaseball pig" and worse. "Dear Netflix" is a popular topic on Twitter because of a substantial price hike -- from $10 to $16 for one DVD per month and unlimited streaming. Netflix has been overwhelmed with complaints, and at one point, could not handle the call volume (listen to the outgoing message). Apparently, Netflix is trying to kill its expensive DVD business.

In response to Netflix's plan change announcement, more than 11,000 customers within two days have posted comments like this one, which received 922 "Likes."

Netflix comments
Discussion Starters:

  • What is your reaction to the news? Is a 60% price increase reasonable in this case?
  • Could Netflix have handled the announcement differently? What, if anything, could the company have done to make the news more palatable?
  • How could Netflix handle the commentary at this point? If you were Reed Hastings, Jr., the company's CEO, what would you do to try to manage the situation?

Posted by Amy Newman

Future Doctors Tested for People Skills

07-14-2011 4:08 PM

Medical schools are finally seeing the importance of a good "bedside manner" and are testing applicants for people skills. The "M.M.I." or multiple mini interview is now in place in at least eight medical schools in the United States and 13 in Canada. Applicants face ethical questions, such as circumcision and alternative remedies, and have to discuss their views in nine brief interviews. A New York Times article explains:

"Candidates who jump to improper conclusions, fail to listen or are overly opinionated fare poorly because such behavior undermines teams. Those who respond appropriately to the emotional tenor of the interviewer or ask for more information do well in the new admissions process because such tendencies are helpful not only with colleagues but also with patients."

MMI for aspiring doctors

Discussion Starters:

  • What is your opinion about this new selection technique? In what ways is this similar to employment interviews for corporate jobs?
  • What do you think about the emphasis on people skills for medical school students? Is this important, or should doctors just be good scientists?
  • What is your experience with doctors and their people skills? Do you see room for improvement that this selection process might help?

Posted by Amy Newman

Filed under:

Dr Pepper Sues Its Bottler

07-12-2011 9:54 PM

A family-owned company in Dublin, TX, has been bottling Dr Pepper since 1891 but is now being sued by Dr Pepper Snapple Group Inc., which owns the brand. The parent company wants the bottler to stop using "Dublin" on its label and to stop selling its bottles via the Internet. The Dublin bottler uses cane sugar rather than high fructose corn syrup.

Video link.

Discussion Starter and Assignment Idea:

  • How do you think this news reflects on the Dr Pepper brand? Could this damage its reputation, or will this blow over quickly?
  • Write a bad-news message from the parent company's management team to its employees. How will you explain the lawsuit internally?

Posted by Amy Newman

Filed under:

Move over Myspace: LinkedIn

07-12-2011 6:06 PM

LinkedIn, the business social networking site, has surpassed Myspace in number of visitors each month. LinkedIn is now the second most popular social network, behind Facebook. The news is interesting considering that LinkedIn offers a focus on careers and job search. Myspace, in contrast, may be too close to Facebook, as a general social network. For business communicators, the news is no surprise: only consumer product companies seem to have much use for Myspace. A Burson-Marsteller Fortune Global 100 Social Media Study focuses on Facebook fan pages, Twitter, YouTube, and blogs.

Discussion Starters:

  • What is your experience with Myspace? Why do you believe that LinkedIn is more popular?
  • Are you on LinkedIn? What do you see as the value of joining? How do you use the site?

Posted by Amy Newman

When Twitter Becomes Triage

07-09-2011 11:00 PM

On the heels of Business Insider's "Most Hated Companies" list, I am increasingly annoyed at companies that can't seem to fix core problems. Rather, they put their customer service staff on the front line to appease people through Twitter and other channels.

A look at DirectTV's recent tweets, for example, reveals a company in distress: "DM us," "Have you called," "I'm sorry," "We need to escalate." Too many apologies for one day of work. Social media will do just so much to resolve systemic company issues, as this customer says:

DirectTV response
Discussion Starters:

  • How do you assess DirectTV's approach? Compare DirectTV's tweets to similar companies'.
  • What is your best experience with a company response to a complaint? When have you complained to a company and had good results?

Posted by Amy Newman

How Much Do You Hate PowerPoint?

07-08-2011 6:56 AM

If you're like a political group in Switzerland, you would ban PowerPoint forever. The Anti-PowerPoint Party (APPP) views PowerPoint "as a representative of all presentation software" (and clearly, pure evil). With rough calculations, the group claims that PowerPoint destroys 2.1 billion Swiss Francs each year and potentially 110 billion Euros; however, the group says that "the average number of participants may be umpteen times higher" (whatever "umpteen" is).

Of course, this isn't the first cry for help in the Days of PowerPoint. Many of us have been subjected to "death by PowerPoint" and have welcomed scathing articles such as the New York Times piece, "We Have Met the Enemy and He Is PowerPoint."

But one might ask: why not just improve how we use the software rather than throw out the tool entirely?

Discussion Starters:

  • As a viewer of PowerPoint presentations, what frustrates you? How have you seen people misuse the software?
  • What alternatives do you see for PowerPoint? What other ways can you engage an audience and help them visualize information?

Posted by Amy Newman

How "Awesome" Is Facebook + Skype?

07-06-2011 11:21 PM

Last week, in an Apple-style tease, Facebook promised an "awesome" announcement today.

The news is a video calling feature that Facebook users can access without a separate Skype account. The response seems to be excitement, indifference, and a little anger laced with betrayal:

Facebook, you can’t do this to us. I have been loyal to you for years because you held out a tantalizing future where my only interaction would be with one-inch-square boxes that vaguely resembled my memory of what people once looked like. You promised me that I would never have to talk to anyone ever again.

According to the Washington Post, CEO Mark Zuckerberg no longer considers growth a metric of social networking. Rather, Facebook will focus on apps and mobile technology. This shift is convenient following some reports that Facebook is losing users.

Discussion Starters:

  • What do you think of Facebook's pre-announcement? Is this a clever marketing approach or just annoying?
  • In Chapter 1, we discuss the pending convergence of communication technologies. Do you see this announcement as a move towards convergence or something else?

Posted by Amy Newman

Most Hated Companies

07-06-2011 2:21 AM

Business Insider has posted a list of the 19 most hated companies, based on the American Customer Satisfaction Index. Large banks, airlines, and power and telecom companies seem to be most hated according to thousands of customer satisfaction surveys. Weighing in at number 6, US Airways received 61/100 points from customers.

US Air #6

Discussion Starters:

  • Does this list surprise you? Why or why not? Does the list match your own experience with these companies?
  • According to one analyst at the American Consumer Satisfaction Index, large banks, airlines, and communication firms represent "not terribly competitive industries, as the switching barriers for most of them are quite high... In other industries, like the food or clothing sector, the competition is huge. They bend over backwards to make customers happy, because they have to." How does this rationale explain the customer service failures? Does it excuse them?

Posted by Amy Newman

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