Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Why Do Not Call Does Not Work

From a business etiquette point of view, I would categorize SPAM as any communication that is unsolicited, unwanted and impersonal.  And it's not limited to e-mail.  Telemarketing calls are a particularly invasive form of SPAM, which are, by all accounts, universally hated.  

When I heard that the federal government was instituting a National Do Not Call Registry (NDNC) I was hopeful because our government was taking steps to protect the privacy of its citizens but concerned that it would end up being a toothless tiger due to the public sector's inability to take a hard line on things and the fact that it turned management of the list over to a Telecom giant with a spotty customer service record.

So, it was with mixed emotions that, I added our household to the list 16 months ago.  Could it possibly be that after the requisite 30-day clearance period, we could enjoy relaxing evenings free of interruptions from charities, newspapers and politicians?  Alas, no! For reasons not readily apparent, these groups are exempt from the NDNC registry.  Since they represented at least 75 per cent of the telemarketing calls we received before registering, things were not looking good.  I called the Canadian Radio & Television Commission to ask why they had chosen to allow some of the most prodigious telemarketers to continue their shenanigans but a recorded message informed me that all of their lines were busy and to leave a message.  I gave up. 

But it's important to stay positive right?  At least I'd finally be free of those endless calls from my bank and credit card providers with their "amazing, limited-time offers" to buy cheap life insurance or that pesky lawn aeration company I hired a year ago and didn't like.  Woops, wrong again! Frustratingly, organizations that I have done business with at any point in the past 18 months are also exempt from the list.  That meant I would continue to hear from any number of companies that I have a relationship with because, as a person participating in society, I need to have credit cards, put money in a bank, stay in  hotels, etc.

That second list of exemptions were responsible for another 20 per cent of our pre-NDNC registration calls, bringing the quantity of unwelcome calls I would continue to receive to around 95 per cent of the calls I was already receiving. It turns out the only calls that would truly disappear, were those from a random group of moving companies, landscapers and telephone fraudsters.  While those have decreased since we registered, we continue to receive a nightly call from an organization calling "on behalf of Microsoft" informing us that our computer is at risk and we need to immediately download $400 worth of software to protect our network from impending doom.  A quick Google search, revealed unsurprisingly, that this is a huge fraud and suprisingly that it has actually worked on many Canadians.

With this knowledge, I called the NDNC office to file a complaint.  Foiled again!  The nice person who answered the phone asked for the name and phone number of the telemarketer.  The funny thing about people operating telephone fraud scams is that they usually don't share this info.  I gave him the limited details I had and he told me that he would submit the complaint on my behalf but could not guarantee anything since it was likely outside of their jurisdiction. He suggested I call Phonebusters, the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre.  I called six times over the course of one day and got a busy signal every time.  Not, an opportunity to be placed on hold while waiting for a representative but an actual, old-fashioned busy signal.  Again, I gave up.

While fraud schemes seem to operate outside legal boundaries, I don't see why the Do Not Call registry can't provide Canadians with the option to eliminate all unwanted calls.  Since I haven't been able to get an answer from the CRTC, can anyone shed light on why so many organizations are exempt from the process? 

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Seven Secrets of Holiday Shopping Etiquette

Another Black Friday has come and gone in the U.S. and, as usual, the annual festive shopping spree was marred by unfortunate incidents.  At a Los Angeles Wal-Mart, an overzealous woman pepper-sprayed twenty other customers to "protect her purchases" from prying hands. In Little Rock, a screaming mob tussled over a $2 waffle maker and across the country, gun-toting thugs took advantage of the situation to hold up and threaten shoppers in parking lots.

I'm not going to comment on the economic realities and misplaced priorities that drive humans to hurt each other so they can have cheap, indented pancakes. But the disgraceful behaviour of these bargain-happy shoppers got me thinking about our own festive shopping season. Thankfully, we rarely have incidents of this magnitude but roasting hot malls, too few parking spots and increasing stress levels can cause even the most polite of us to forget it's the season of goodwill to all men (and women).  So, while there's still time, here are my seven secrets for holiday shopping etiquette:

Accept reality - Face it.  If you leave shopping until the last couple of weeks, you will not be able to avoid crowds and lineups.  Accept that before you go, arrive as early as possible, leave the kids at home, bring snacks and dress comfortably to mitigate the effects of holiday shopping syndrome.  Fighting against the inevitable is only going to make you cranky.

Don't expect special treatment - Keep in mind, everyone else is there for the same reason as you.  Despite what you may think, you are not busier, more frantic or more stressed than anyone else.  When it's time to pay for your purchases, get in line and brace yourself for a long wait.  Don't butt in or ask people if you can go ahead of them because you are due back in the office or because you have children, are old, are sick, etc.

Focus on the task at hand - Long lineups can be boring but please resist the urge to use the time for a loud cell phone conversation.   Customers who are already feeling frazzled don't need to hear you droning on about how busy the store is (they know) to your friends and family.  Plus, it usually means you will still be on the phone when it's your turn to pay.  This is not only disrespectful to the cashier, but it usually results in a longer wait for the people behind you as you try to load your purchases on the counter and fish out your wallet with one hand.

Keep it simple - I once fumed in a line-up as the person in front of me decided that December 23 was a good day to return and exchange a boatload of merchandise, all of which had been purchased at different times and on different credit cards.  Out of respect for your fellow shoppers, keep it simple, buy your stuff and move on.  Leave the complicated transactions for January and don't agree to sign up for the store credit card.  Be pleasant and offer seasonal good wishes but keep the unnecessary chit chat for a less frantic time.

Don't fuel parking lot rage - In the days leading up to Christmas, there are officially more drivers than parking spots so good parking manners are essential.  If you see a spot about to open up, pull off to the side of the aisle and turn on your indicator.  Try not to block the entire aisle.  If you see that someone has done this, don't swoop in and steal the spot out from under them. Bad manners and bad karma. Don't tailgate people as they come out of stores, creepily following them to their parking spots.  If you are leaving a parking spot, make it snappy. There's nothing worse than a person who takes ten minutes to arrange their shopping bags in the trunk while you're waiting to get into their spot. And, unless you want expletive-laden messages left on your vehicle, don't ever take up more than one spot.

Vent your anger where it belongs - Did you arrive at Toys R Us only to discover that location doesn't carry the thingamabob that was advertised in the flyer?  Is the 50 per cent off price not showing up after the item was scanned?  That's horrible luck but don't take it out on the store staff. They are not usually responsible for supply chain management or cash register coding and can offer nothing more than sympathy.  If you feel it's worth pursuing, ask to speak to the store manager or call the head office once you get home.  Or, vote with your feet and shop somewhere else.

Smile - Remember that the reason you're there is to buy gifts for people that you love and celebrate friends and family.  Regardless of your opinion on the 'consumerization' of the holidays, if you've chosen to participate, do it with a smile.  Say please and thank you and everything will be better.  This also applies to cashiers and other retail staff.  Yes, it's a busy time and the customers are frazzled but it's your job to make their lives easier so be pleasant about it.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Does Someone You Know Need a Facebook Intervention?

This commercial is part of a new campaign for Visit Las Vegas which I just love.  It's one of a series of videos in which people are shunned by their friends for excessive tweeting and Facebook posting of their activities while in Las Vegas.  The idea, of course, is that broadcasting updates from Sin City goes against the code of "What happens in Vegas, Stays in Vegas".

One of the spots includes an intervention where a group of friends encourage a social media addict to own up to his problems.  They talk about how his actions have affected their own lives and promise that they'll help him get through the recovery process.  The campaign got me thinking about the whole concept of oversharing on social media sites and how much that phrase is open to interpretation.

As someone who works fiercely to protect my privacy, oversharing for me encompasses a much wider net than it would for most people.  I understand the importance of social media in our society and use it often for business but you will never see photos of my kids on the Internet or tales of how I partied with my girlfriends till 2 a.m. (assuming I would have the energy to do such a thing). When I tell people this, their reaction ranges from shock at my lack of social media savvy to begrudging agreement that it's a topic worth discussing to proclaiming that we luddites must band together to preserve the nostalgia of the good old days.  Everyone has their own privacy threshold and that's okay.  The brave new world enables us all to write our own rules, in theory anyway. One person's extremely inappropriate content is de rigueur for someone else.

My assumptions about oversharing were challenged recently when I had the opportunity to hear Jeff Jarvis speak at Third Tuesday Toronto. A veteran journalist, Jarvis is an associate professor at City College New York and an author who is frequently asked to comment on the role of social media.  Jeff's latest book, Public Parts: How Sharing in the Digital Age Improves the Way We Work and Live, makes a case of increased "publicness" in our lives.  An Internet optimist, Jarvis feels that if we become too obsessed with online privacy and protection of information, we will miss out on all the valuable opportunities offered by the social web. Fortune magazine's review of Public Parts says his book is "not so much a rallying cry for tweeting your breakfast choices and blogging your company financials as it is a field guide for how to navigate the Internet with optimism rather than fear"

His talk was provocative - he argues his point elegantly and deals with detractors swiftly.  But, as I am an Internet pragmaticist rather than an Internet optimist, I found myself feeling squeamish at times, even when those around me were nodding and smiling in agreement.  One of Jeff's boldest statements was, "if you think people are oversharing, maybe you're overlistening".  I'm not sure what to make of this.  On the one hand, it's quite simple - if you don't like what you see and don't embrace the new sharing, then turn off and tune out.  On the other hand, can any of us with a significant number of pre-retirement years left really afford to tune out?  Probably not.  If we want to stay abreast of trends, feel current, promote our products and services and build our "personal brand", we have to "participate in the conversation" as they say.  That opens us up to all manner of oversharing - friends who post daily photos of the fun they're having, colleagues who tweet their every movement, family members who broadcast compromising photos of us without our permission.  And if you think breaking up with someone is hard, try telling a loved one that you think it would be better if they posted less updates on Facebook.

That said, I have a great capacity for self-preservation, so I will continue to explore the possibilities of the Internet, one of which is obviously the opportunity to share my musings on this blog.  I have Public Parts on my bedside table and as soon as I finish No Bullshit Social Media, I'll get into it.  I don't want to be left out of the loop after all.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

How to Stay Polite in 140 Characters or Less

A recent celebrity case of TWI (tweeting while idiotic) got me thinking that it's time to dust off my Twitter etiquette tips. Ashton Kutcher, a "prolific" user of social media with 8 million Twitter followers experienced an epic fail when he tweeted his anger at the firing of Penn State University coach Joe Paterno.  Problem is, Ashton dashed off his tweet without having any of the background information (the coach was fired for his role in a child sexual abuse scandal at the university).  Compounding his screw-up is the fact that Ashton and his wife run a charity with a mission of ending sexual slavery among children.  Ouch!

Luckily, most of us ordinary folks are smarter, more responsible and less subject to public scrutiny than Mr. Kutcher and his ilk.  But that doesn't mean we shouldn't practice good Twitter etiquette.  So here are my guidelines to help you prevent your own mini Twitter fails:

1. Post only when you have something to say - and by that I mean something meaningful. Whether it's your take on a major news story or a retweet (RT) of someone else's insights, unless it adds to the conversation, leave it out.  I used to follow someone who regularly tweeted "hi world, I'm up" in the morning and "going to bed now" at night.  I try to tweet every day but there are days when I really don't have anything to add and so I stay silent until I do.

2. Don't over-promote yourself - Twitter can be a great and subtle way to announce that you finally got your book published, share your latest blog post or express your excitement about your promotion. But constantly selling yourself and your services is a huge turn-off guaranteed to get you unfollowed.  Chris Brogan suggests you follow a 12:1 ratio - for every 12 promotions of someone else, you can promote yourself once.

3. Please stop the auto-DMs - For me, nothing is more annoying than following someone (usually someone who followed me first) and immediately receiving a direct message telling me that if I like them on Twitter, I'll love them on Facebook or that they can get me 100,000 followers in a week.  Every social media expert on the planet advises against these things and yet people keep using them. They are the telemarketers of the social media world.

4. Value quality over quantity - I've been on Twitter for about two-and-a-half years and in that time, I have accumulated about 1100 followers and I'm following the same amount.  This might seem paltry in comparison to many who have been in the game for the same amount of time or a shorter time but it's fine with me.  Even though I have "Toronto" embedded in my Twitter handle (@TorontoLouise), it's not unusual for me to be followed by real estate agents in Phoenix or event listings in Dublin.  There's no point for us to be connected.  Gathering followers should be a positive side effect of your Twitter activity, not an end unto itself.  Besides, many of the people with the most followers have the least to say (e.g. Kim Kardashian)

5. Mix up your content - If you want to be interesting on Twitter, tweet a blend of content.  Mix up your own observations with RTs of others' tweets, some links to interesting blog posts or news stories, the occasional picture, and just a smidge of self-promotion.

6. Be careful with scheduled tweets - Some Twitter apps like Tweetdeck allow you to schedule tweets throughout the day.  If you know you'll be away from your computer all day but you've come across an interesting article at 6 a.m., you can schedule a tweet to go "live" at 10 a.m., when you know your followers are at their desks.  This is an easy way to keep your voice heard even when you're not there but watch out for breaking news.  A scheduled tweet about how cute your cat is will look pretty ridiculous if it comes out 30 minutes after an earthquake has struck your town.

7. Don't RT compliments - In real life, if someone tells you that you're fabulous, do you go around repeating it to everyone? Why would you do it on Twitter?  It's a wonderful feeling when someone takes the time to praise you to all their Twitter followers.  In my view, immediately retweeting that praise with no context is too self-serving.  A simple thank you will suffice.

8. Don't make personal stuff public - Chances are you have have some friends on Twitter and occasionally, it might seem like a good idea to use the medium to make plans or discuss something private.  This is okay once in a while but for the rest of your followers, it can look like they're stumbled into a whispered discussion.  Use the DM feature to keep it private, or better yet, use another method of conversation like e-mail or even the telephone.

9. Create a profile - It takes just a few minutes to upload a photo and write two sentences about yourself on Twitter and doing so will increase your credibility.  I never follow anyone without a profile for a couple of reasons - first, I don't know if you are a real person and I don't want to increase my vulnerability to spam by following a robot and second, if you can't even be bothered telling me a little about yourself, I assume you have nothing interesting to say. On a personal note, I think the photo should be you and not your adorable toddler or cute puppy but that's a matter of preference, not etiquette.

10. Think before you tweet - It goes without saying but if you're angry at a certain person or situation, resist the urge to take to Twitter immediately. People have been fired, sued and just plain embarrassed by letting their frustration get the better of them (see intro above).  You can remove the inflammatory tweet later but by that time, others will have retweeted it and linked it to their blogs.  As we all know, nothing is really ever gone from the Internet.

Those are just a few of the Twitter etiquette tips you can follow to make your experience (and those of your followers) more pleasant.  And, I have to say, it's my personal list.  I've heard from some tweeters I trust that some of the things I consider to be faux pas are acceptable in other communities.  What's your take?  What's your biggest Twitter etiquette gaffe?  I'd love to hear from you.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Etiquette tips for volunteers and those who manage them

I managed to live out fifteen years of my adult life without volunteering. It's not that I never did anything for free.  I frequently drove family members to the airport, brought side dishes to Thanksgiving and helped friends move (albeit begrudgingly).  But, due to work and later, child-rearing pressures (or so I told myself), I did not commit to any kind of formal volunteering and I liked it that way.

Three years ago, it suddenly dawned on me that I had been missing something.  I signed up for my first official volunteer role, and have been making up for lost time ever since.  I can't pinpoint the reason for my change of heart but I can admit that it wasn't pure altruism.  A need to network for business due to a global recession, my kids starting school and my 40th birthday combined to create the right time and the right environment for volunteering.

Since then I've sat on the board of a professional organization, helped to run a major school fundraising event and offered my PR skills to charitable groups.  I've realized that, while most people who volunteer do so willingly, others are dragged or tricked into it with assurances that they will "only have to spend a few hours".  There is a subtle etiquette required for the process to run smoothly and to ensure that people return to help again.  Here are my tips for keeping the process civil.

Tips for Volunteers

Do it willingly - Although it's hard to say "no" sometimes, there's really no point in agreeing to volunteer for something if you will regret it.  Before you commit, make sure that you have the time to follow through and be clear about the tasks you are taking on. It's better to be honest now than to be resentful later.

Honour your commitment -A volunteer role is not a suggestion.  It's a commitment that you have agreed to honour.  While genuine emergencies might force you to bail on your promise, it's not acceptable to flake out of volunteer work just because you got busy in other parts of your life.  People are counting on you and dropping out causes a lot of extra work for organizers and other volunteers.

Take it seriously - You're not getting paid but that doesn't mean it's not important - to you, to the organization and to the people who benefit from your efforts.  While you will not (and should not) be held accountable for the success of the whole venture, you should give it your best and do everything you can to make a first-class contribution.  Show up on time, meet deadlines and be prepared to report on your progress at status meetings.

Remember why you're there - We all expect to be thanked for our efforts.  But when you volunteer, it should be because you believe in the cause and want to make a difference.  In many cases, the people who are supervising you are volunteers themselves and don't have time to constantly check in on you and show their gratitude.

Be a friend - For many people, volunteering is a way to meet new people and to become part of a community.  Although it's tempting to chat and gossip with the people you already know at meetings or events, make an effort to reach out to new volunteers and introduce them to others. If they feel welcome, they'll come back.

Tips for Volunteer Managers

Be professional - Have proper role descriptions, including expected time commitment for each volunteer role you have available.  The more clarity volunteers have at the beginning, the better the experience for everyone.  Make sure all volunteers understand the expectations and deadlines involved in their project, give them the tools they need for success and keep them up to date on any changes in the plan.

Listen - When volunteers are up-front about what they can and cannot do, listen to them.  Don't agree with them in the hopes that they will change their mind.  If a volunteer comes up with a great idea, don't automatically assign it to them to execute.  That just makes people reluctant to ever suggest ideas. And if past, current, or potential volunteers say "no" to a request for help, don't pester them. They'll be more likely to come back when they have more time if the relationship is pleasant.

Say thank you - If coordinating volunteers is part of your paid job, it's your role to acknowledge and thank volunteers personally and publicly.  On the other hand, if you are also a volunteer in the project, remember to say "thank you" whenever possible and listen to concerns, but you shouldn't be judged if you're not "grateful enough".

Play to their strengths - Everyone has different skills and the project will be more successful if volunteers aren't forced into roles outside of their comfort zones.  Some people are born salespersons and others are great at organizing lists.  One might relish the idea of serving as the official spokesperson while another breaks into a sweat at the thought of public speaking.  Let them do what they're good at and they'll shine.

Learn how to chair a meeting - Grievances abound in volunteer work and status meetings can quickly turn into a bitch-fest if you don't stay focused.  Give everyone a set amount of floor time to share updates and table concerns and then move on to the next person.  Schedule off-line discussions to deal with major issues.