Amy Newman is a senior lecturer of management communication at the Cornell SC Johnson College of Business, School of Hotel Administration. She teaches undergraduate and graduate courses in business writing, persuasive speaking, and corporate communication. Amy is author of Business Communication: In Person, In Print, Online, 10e and Building Leadership Character: Lessons from Communication Failures. Prior to joining Cornell, Amy taught at Ithaca College, eCornell, and Milano. She also has 20 years of corporate and external consulting experience for Reuters, Canon, Scholastic, and other companies.
A Missouri School of Journalism study found that Facebook posts improved how people perceived organizations during a crisis. A doctoral candidate showed study participants two fictional stories about universities in crisis. Then, participants read Facebook posts by each university and were asked how the felt about the crisis. Attitudes about the organizations improved, and participants thought the crisis was less severe.
Seoyeon Hong also found that a narrative, or storytelling, type of writing in the Facebook posts was more effective than a style that wasn't narrative:
"This indicates that the effect of narrative tone in organizational statements during crises increases perceived conversational human voice, which represents a high level of engagement and best communicates trust, satisfaction, and commitment to the audience. This is an important practice for public relations professionals because perceptions that an organization is sincerely trying to provide timely and accurate information during a crisis can lead to not only more favorable attitudes toward the organization, but also perceptions of less responsibility the organization has for causing the crisis."
Yale University had a communication challenge after a threatening phone call caused a campus lockdown. A student reported that his roommate was planning to go to campus with a gun. Later, the police interviewed a witness who saw someone with a "long gun." The call turned out to be a hoax, and reports of someone with a gun could have been a police officer, who were making their way to the scene.
Still, the university sprung into action, possibly with concerns about another Virginia Tech or Sandy Hook shooting. The university policy department provided updates on its Facebook Page.
Appropriate for crisis communications, these bad-news messages use the direct style: the main point is right up front.
Now, on Yale's Emergency Management site, we see no mention of a potential gunman. Likely the university would like to see the entire incident go away.
Walmart Foundation has initiated a campaign against hunger, but an internal effort to help Walmart associates is getting more attention. In this video produced by Walmart Corporate, an executive explains the $2 billion effort, which includes a food drive.
The sign, below, taped to a table inside an employee breakroom at Walmart store, isn't getting such a welcome response. A Walmart employee in Canton, Ohio, photographed the sign as an indication that the company pays insufficient wages.
Spokesperson Kory Lundberg told Yahoo Finance,
"That store has set up a bin for associates to help out other associates. These are people that have had some unforeseen hardship in the last year. Maybe their spouse lost a job, or they experienced the death of a loved one, or a natural disaster impacted their home—things you just can’t plan for. It’s a chance for associates to look out for and help each other."
Our Walmart, an organization of employees, is planning a strike on Friday, November 29, Black Friday. On its website, Our Walmart conveys the group's mission:
We envision a future in which our company treats us, the Associates of Walmart, with respect and dignity. We envision a world where we succeed in our careers, our company succeeds in business, our customers receive great service and value, and Walmart and Associates share all of these goals.
Called "Black Friday Walmart Protests," the strike is planned across the U.S. This map shows locations where associates have requested a strike.
To some, using a period in a text message changes the tone. Because few people use any punctuation in texts, the period, according to one article, is taking new meaning.
Mark Liberman, professor of linguistics at the University of Pennsylvania, explains how a period may be intepreted by a reader:
"In the world of texting and IMing … the default is to end just by stopping, with no punctuation mark at all. In that situation, choosing to add a period also adds meaning because the reader(s) need to figure out why you did it. And what they infer, plausibly enough, is something like 'This is final, this is the end of the discussion or at least the end of what I have to contribute to it.'"
Instead, paragraph breaks are more common to start new sentences, presumably because the return key is easier to access than the period. (On the iPhone, the return key is on the same screen as the alphabet, while the period requires a keyboard change to access.)
The article author claims that the question mark also has "outgrown its traditional purpose," now used to downplay an otherwise "cocky" statement, such as "I think he likes me?"
Image source (from article).
The Department of Education is trying a new approach to get top students to become teachers. With help from Teach for America, Microsoft, State Farm, the teachers' unions, "Make More. Teach," videos feature teachers doing interesting work and show teaching as a rewarding profession.
Taylor Mali narrates the videos. Mali became associated with teaching after his comedy bit, "What Teachers Make." His commentary responded to criticism from someone asking the question about a teacher's salary.
The recruiting campaign is important, considering how the U.S. lags behind other countries in recruiting the best students. The comparison is clear in a McKinsey report, "Closing the Talent Gap: Attracting and Retaining Top-third Graduates to Careers in Teaching," which is featured in of Business Communication: In Person, In Print Online, Chapter 10.
Here's another video brought to us by Low Pay Is Not OK, the organization promoting higher wages for fast-food workers. The last video was a captioned telephone call from McDonald's employee Nancy Salgado, asking about health and other benefits. This one takes issue with advice from the company to its employees.
In an email, the video was advertised with this introductory text:
Don't they read this stuff before they post it on the web?
McDonald's knows they don't pay their employees like me enough to make ends meet. But instead of paying us enough to get by, their "help" consists of a website that's chock full of CLUELESS (and offensive!) tips. You have to see it to believe it.
Titled, "McDonald's Really Told Their Employees to Quit Complaining," the video refers to documentation for employees:
A customer who didn't receive what she ordered from KlearGear wrote a negative review on a complaint site and was charged $3,500. KlearGear sells desk toys such as an LED shoelaces and something called a Splat Stan Coaster—a figure squashed by a coffee mug (not on my Christmas wish list).
Three years after the customer posted on the site RipoffReport, KlearGear contacted her husband and requested $3,500, based on a clause in the company's terms of service (which apparently wasn't included at the time):
In an effort to ensure fair and honest public feedback, and to prevent the publishing of libelous content in any form, your acceptance of this sales contract prohibits you from taking any action that negatively impacts KlearGear.com, its reputation, products, services, management or employees.
Should you violate this clause, as determined by KlearGear.com in its sole discretion, you will be provided a seventy-two (72) hour opportunity to retract the content in question. If the content remains, in whole or in part, you will immediately be billed $3,500.00 USD for legal fees and court costs until such complete costs are determined in litigation. Should these charges remain unpaid for 30 calendar days from the billing date, your unpaid invoice will be forwarded to our third party collection firm and will be reported to consumer credit reporting agencies until paid.
The clause, of course, is ridiculous. Trying to control social media conversation is a fool's game and can only hurt a company in the long-run. KlearGear made the situation worse when it closed its Twitter and Facebook accounts.
Bloggers who are paid by companies to advertise a product or service must come clean about the relationship, according to the U.K. Advertising Standards Authority (ASA). This should be just a reminder to bloggers because the rules aren't new—but apparently they aren't followed consistently.
The ASA article indicates that bloggers asked for clarification:
"Why are we doing this? We’ve received a steady stream of enquiries from bloggers wanting clarity on this issue and how the rules apply to their blogs."
Below are the rules:
2.1 Marketing communications must be obviously identifiable as such.
2.2 Unsolicited e-mail marketing communications must be obviously identifiable as marketing communications without the need to open them (see rule 10.6).
2.3 Marketing communications must not falsely claim or imply that the marketer is acting as a consumer or for purposes outside its trade, business, craft or profession; marketing communications must make clear their commercial intent, if that is not obvious from the context.
2.4 Marketers and publishers must make clear that advertorials are marketing communications; for example, by heading them "advertisement feature."
Part of the issue may be that bloggers are paid but asked by companies not to disclose the relationship. Although this puts bloggers in a difficult position, the rules—and ethics—are clear. Perhaps companies need the reminder, not bloggers.
In an email to employees, Microsoft management announced the elimination of an employee performance ranking system. (Probably coincidentally, Yahoo just announced the implementation of a similar system.)
Ranking systems force managers to place their employees' performance on a bell curve, comparing each within a department or division. In the strictest systems, employees who are in, for example, the bottom 5%, are terminated. According to The Institute of Corporate Productivity, cited in a BusinessWeek article, these systems are falling out of favor, with only 5% of high-performing companies using the process in 2011.
At best, ranking employees encourages managers to differentiate performance, rewarding top performers and paying attention to underperformers. At worst, ranking may focus too much on data and fails to acknowledge that some departments simply perform better than others. Managers argue that they lose control with such rigid systems.
Here's the beginning of the Microsoft email to employees:
To Global Employees,
I am pleased to announce that we are changing our performance review program to better align with the goals of our One Microsoft strategy. The changes we are making are important and necessary as we work to deliver innovation and value to customers through more connected engagement across the company.
This is a fundamentally new approach to performance and development designed to promote new levels of teamwork and agility for breakthrough business impact. We have taken feedback from thousands of employees over the past few years, we have reviewed numerous external programs and practices, and have sought to determine the best way to make sure our feedback mechanisms support our company goals and objectives. This change is an important step in continuing to create the best possible environment for our world-class talent to take on the toughest challenges and do world-changing work.
Imagine a newspaper dismissing Lincoln's Gettysburg Address as insignificant. This week, a Harriburg, Pennsylvania paper retracted a 1863 editorial:
"We pass over the silly remarks of the President. For the credit of the nation we are willing that the veil of oblivion shall be dropped over them, and that they shall be no more repeated or thought of."
Patriot & Union Editorial, 1863: On the Gettysburg Address
It's a little late, but the timing is appropriate: on Tuesday, we'll celebrate the 150th anniversary of the Gettysburg Address.
JPMorgan Chase had good intentions when scheduling a Twitter Q&A with students about career advice, but the strategy backfired. The company encouraged questions of executive James B. Lee under the hashtag #AskJPM.
Of course, curious students weren't the only ones who used the hashtag. Plenty of snarky comments piled in.
It's a delicate time for JPMorganChase to expose itself on social media. Just last month, the company agreed to pay a $13 billion settlement because of misleading mortgage practices (the fourth multi-million-dollar settlement in 2013). A Wall Street Journal article two weeks ago explored CEO Jamie Dimon's "Complicated Relationship with Washington." And today, Reuters reported an investigation into the company's practices in China, including potentially widespread bribery and a questionable decision to pay "$1.8 million over two years to a small consulting firm run by the daughter of former Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao."
In the end, JPMorgan Chase cancelled the Q&A:
PR Daily offers sound advice for companies considering similar customer engagement activities:
"Social media is about interacting with people, but it’s also about occasionally sticking a finger in the air and seeing which way the wind is blowing."
It probably sounded like a good idea at the time: ask people to retweet messages as an incentive to donate food to hungry kids. But the gimmick sounded harsh.
The tweet was part of Kellogg's campaign, "Give a Child a Breakfast." The company also promised to donate when people watched a video on the website or shared the message on Facebook or YouTube.
But reactions were strong, and Kellogg's posted a brief apology.
A Wall Street Journal article reminds us to tell stories to engage our audiences. The article isn't new for business communication students, but the advice is sound:
"Move beyond facts and figures, which aren't as memorable as narratives, says
a communications consultant from Kensington, Calif., and author of 'Beyond Bullet Points.'
people in business think raw data is persuasive. But when you're
dealing with people from other departments and in different fields who
don't understand how you got that data, you can lose them pretty
"'You have to step back and put
yourself into their shoes and take them through the process of
understanding,' says Mr. Atkinson. 'That requires you to distill the
most important facts and wrap them in an engaging story.'"
Technology problems abound. For weeks, the new health care system has been criticized for causing enrollment issues. Now, the new college Common Application system is causing universities, such as Georgia Tech, to extend the review process for prospective students.
Students have reported that they can't log into the system or upload documents, while universities can't download applications. Jason Locke, interim associate vice provost for enrollment at Cornell, blamed the problems on inadequate testing: "Many aspects of the system simply weren’t thoroughly tested and should not have been launched."
Yes, we see a theme.
A Huffington Post article identified three major problems with the Common App system:
Once again, Lululemon is facing an angry crowd. Earlier this week, the company poked fun at a not-for-profit organization. Now, after many, many complaints of declining quality of its high-end yoga clothes, the founder seems to be blaming customers. In an interview with Bloomberg TV, Chip Wilson said, "Frankly, some women's bodies just don't actually work [for the yoga pants]," and "It's more really about the rubbing through the thighs, how much pressure is there over a period of time, how much they use it."
He didn't quite say that some women were too big for the pants, but he seemed to imply that women choose sizes that are too small. Comments on Lululemon's Facebook page called Wilson's comments "insensitive" and more:
Update: Founder Chip Wilson posted this apology video:
Guns & Ammo editor Jim Bequette is stepping down after publishing an editorial, "All Constitutional Rights Need Regulation, Even 2nd Amendment." As a firearms magazine, Guns & Ammo doesn't typically include articles about regulation.
Bequette's apology was posted to the website:
"As editor of Guns & Ammo, I owe each and every reader a personal apology.
"No excuses, no backtracking.
"...Metcalf’s 'Backstop' column in the December issue has aroused
unprecedented controversy. Readers are hopping mad about it, and some
are questioning Guns & Ammo's commitment to the Second Amendment. I
Continue reading the apology.
Walmart U.S. CEO Bill Simon presented questionable data about employee wages. During the Goldman Sachs 2013 Annual Global Retailing Conference, Simon showed a slide, "It all starts with an opportunity." A bullet point says that 475,000 employees earn more than $25,000 per year (excluding benefits).
Here's the entire presentation.
The trouble is that Walmart employs 1.3 million employees in the U.S. (2.2 million worldwide). That leaves 825,000 earning less than $25,000 a year. A Walmart representative clarified that only store employees (about 1 million) were considered for this point. Still, that leaves roughly half of them earning below $25,000 a year.
After months of controversy over Lululemon's declining yoga-wear quality, the company is in the news for a new issue: mocking a shelter's fundraising strategy.
Reflecting what a Dallas website calls an "oddly aggressive stance against Dallas charity," Lululemon posted a sign on a local store window that reads, "We do partners yoga, not partners card." "Partners Card" refers to the work of The Family Place, a Dallas-based not-for-profit organization that provides housing, counseling, and other resources for people in abusive situations.
The Family Place website describes the Partners Card:
"Partners Card is the signature fundraiser for The Family Place,
Dallas’ largest domestic violence agency. 100% of your Partners Card
purchase goes directly to supporting survivors of family violence."
People who buy a $70 Partners Card through the organization receive a 20% discount at hundreds of local stores—a list that doesn't include Lululemon.
Responding to the criticism, Lululemon posted this message on its Facebook page:
"The intention behind the window decal was to share our love for yoga,
not to offend our community. Although we choose not to participate in
Partner's Card, we choose to give back in a different way. We are
working in collaboration with Family Place to offer the gift of yoga,
and what we can create together."
In another post—this one from the corporate headquarters in Canada—the company seemed to be taking action:
In response to an inquiry from Dallas Culture Map, The Family Place expressed appreciation to its supporters:
"Every Partners Card we sell at the Family Place provides a night of
safety and shelter for victims of family violence. We understand that
not every retailer can give the 20% discount, but we are thankful for
the hundreds who do and for the thousands of donors who buy a card. We
look forward to working out a way Lululemon can join our important
mission to end violence in the homes of Dallas County."
Pete Cashmore, founder of technology news website Mashable, announced a new executive. In his email to staff, Cashmore used the direct organization plan (as we would expect) and put the news up front:
Today we are announcing an important and exciting addition to our family – Jim Roberts. Jim joins our team as Executive Editor and Chief Content Officer.
Many of you may know Jim from Twitter as @nycjim,
from his work as Executive Editor of Reuters Digital, and from his
years at The New York Times where he was most recently Assistant
Managing Editor, overseeing the digital newsroom including video, social
media and breaking news.
Read the entire email.
To complement the internal annoucement, Jim Roberts, the new hire, wrote an article on LinkedIn about joining the company. Here are the first two paragraphs:
Today is an exciting day for me. I’m joining a new family, as executive editor and chief content officer at Mashable.To some it might seem a bit of a departure. You might imagine a headline like: "Longtime New York Times and Reuters veteran forsakes legacy media for digital upstart."
Read the full article.
(Side note: Although the story on LinkedIn refers to the communication as a "Memo to Staff," it is highly unlikely that Mashable is sending printed memos rather than email. [In his introduction, Cashman refers to it as a "message."] Using "memo" as a generic term was part of my presentation topic at ABC 2013 in New Orleans: "The Memo Is Dead.")
After denying reports of young teens forgoing Facebook, company officials have finally admitted the decline. On a third-quarter earnings call, CFO David Ebersman told analysts,
"Our best analysis on youth engagement in the US reveals that usage of
Facebook among US teens overall was stable from Q2 to Q3, but we did see
a decrease in daily users, specifically among younger teens."
This drop seemed to shake investors' confidence. The stock dropped 2% on the news.
According to the CNET article, Ebersman also admitted that it's difficult to determine teen activity becauses this group often fabricates dates of birth.
Earlier reports claimed that Facebook isn't cool now that mom and dad (and grandma) have accounts. Some statistics show that young teens are flocking to sites such as Twitter and Tumblr instead.
Accused of taking the "gay" out of Christmas, Hallmark has changed traditional song lyrics on a sweater ornament. The "Holiday Sweater" reads, "Don we now our fun apparel."
Comments, like this one, have been harsh on the company's Facebook page: "Your ugly sweater ornament is offensive and just another reason why I will look for another company to use for greeting cards!"
The company posted a statement and an update in response to the controversy:
We've been surprised at the wide range of reactions expressed about
the change of lyrics on this ornament, and we're sorry to have caused so
much concern. We never intend to offend or make political statements
with our products and in hindsight, we realize we shouldn't have changed
the lyrics on the ornament.
Statement originally posted 10/30/2013
Hallmark created this year's Holiday Sweater ornament in the spirit
of fun. When the lyrics to "Deck the Halls" were translated from Gaelic
and published in English back in the 1800s, the word "gay" meant festive
or merry. Today it has multiple meanings, which we thought could leave
our intent open to misinterpretation.
The trend of wearing festively decorated Christmas sweaters to
parties is all about fun, and this ornament is intended to play into
that, so the planning team decided to say what we meant: "fun." That's
the spirit we intended and the spirit in which we hope ornament buyers
will take it.