The survey says….

I have to admit that this is one blog post that might appear to be a bit of a rant. The reason is that I am sick of reading half-baked research and surveys about a whole range of things. But it is the ones that claim various things about social media that are the most frustrating.

There is one today in the tabloid newspapers about problems of low self-esteem and Facebook that used a survey of 300 people. Every day there is some kind of report claiming that social media is bad for us, or in a few rare cases that it is the best thing since sliced bread. I wonder what the purpose is of some of these small-scale inquiries?

My concerns are focused on how many people actually read these surveys and believe them. It is easy to get carried away on a sea of random statistics but we have to look behind the presentation to get to how the survey or research was undertaken. Was it from a particular viewpoint, does it have independence and who seeks to gain from the results? We all need to be a little more critical in our reading around survey reports.

It is increasingly clear that there are so many people now using social media that it will cover a whole range of human emotions, drives and experiences. Taking a small group and trying to define the experiences they have will only cover part of the story. For me, research on social media needs to be broad and deep which means it will take some time to clearly show results.

If we are going to conduct social psychology research on social media then it needs to stand up to scrutiny. It needs to be detailed, thorough and take place over a longer period of time or cover a much more significant number of users. There is still a lot to learn about social media but it is important to avoid the sweeping statements from the many surveys that are being reported.

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Are we in an era of the complainers?

Interesting to wake up to hear that customer satisfaction has fallen for the third year in a row according to the Institute of Customer Service. It made me wonder what was happening is it about the environment around us or about us as individuals?

There are a number of possible factors that I feel may be in play creating this rise in complaints about businesses.

Firstly, we have been in a recession or at least challenging financial situation for at least four years. Families and individuals are finding the cost of living rising and have been struggling to make ends meet. Wages have stagnated for many but prices have been continuing to increase. So, when we do spend any money we want to get the most for it and it has to be right. After all why should we accept second best when we spend our hard-earned pennies?

Secondly, there has been a huge growth in social media in the past four years and that gives people the means to be able to complain in a more direct way. In previous years you would need to make a trip to the shop or business to complain or post a letter or send an email. Now it is straightforward and swift. If you don’t like what has happened then you can tell the company on social media and not only do you tell them but you warn everybody else about the problems you have had.

Thirdly, are we living in a more angry and grumpy society? You could be mistaken for thinking this if you look at the activity on social media, or watch the vox pops on regional television news programmes. It could look as though things have to be perfect or we are going to make waves – loudly.

Finally, perhaps it is just that our expectations are continuing to rise. We don’t just expected the same for less outlay, we expected more. As businesses have been trying to reduce their overheads and outlay we as consumers are still wanting to receive the same product or service but not the same as we want it to be better, bigger, faster, smarter etc.

More importantly what can companies, organisations and businesses do in this ever more demanding world? I am not suggesting it is easy, because it is not. However, listening to complaints, developing on the basis of customer feedback, be swift to respond and adapt and ensure you provide a human experience.

For me, I think there are a number of factors happening at the moment and in the past few years that have created this situation. There is no quick fix or easy answer and companies have to be on top of their game all the time.

You can find out more about the report on the Institute of Customer Service website

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Speaking a different language

Every day we speak to many people. It may be at work, home, picking the children up from school or at the local shop, but we will have a conversation however brief. But how much are we getting from this interaction beyond the words that are spoken? Can we spot body language that is telling us much more?

This week, I had a couple of occasions when I found some body language shouting at me. The shocking thing was that many other people just hadn’t noticed it or had chosen to switch off to what was obvious.

In the most significant situation I met a work colleague in the canteen one lunchtime. I hadn’t seen him for a long time as we don’t work directly together. It was one of those brief lunch meetings. Most of the time it is a brief exchange ‘how are you’, ‘ok’, ‘and you?’, ‘not bad’, and then we would go our separate ways. But it was clear that something wasn’t quite right. I exchanged the usual pleasantries and then decided to have a further conversation. What was clear was this was a person in crisis and in need of help?

What did I do? Well, nothing really I just listened. That was probably the one thing that they wanted but hadn’t had. Giving him a chance to just talk without me judging, advising or giving my opinion was an important opportunity. It wasn’t much but I wondered why no-one else had spotted this person in crisis. I wondered what his colleagues were seeing and why they hadn’t helped.

Communication is an important thing. It is fundamental to everyday life and is also one of the things we take for granted. But this is not just about the things we say there is so much more being said through our body language.

Would you be able to spot a colleague in crisis and in need of help? If you did what would you do?

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Social as a shared experience

We all know that social media is a way of having two-way conversations and sharing details and information. It has been this since day one and the more people who join the networks the more social it becomes. Human beings are social creatures and want to share experiences, events and parts of their life. It struck me the other day that this is well and truly embedded in our lives.

Watching television will never be the same again.

I was watching highlights from Glastonbury on television while my other half was sharing a running commentary with one of his friends via text message. At the same time I was commenting on Twitter and Facebook. I don’t sit watching the television with friends in reality but it is an interesting experience when done via social media.

Programmes like The Apprentice, Bake Off and Masterchef are always enhanced when I can see other people’s views of what is happening. It becomes a shared experience and the same as having a discussion down the pub or on a night out with friends. The joy is that we can do it any night of the week.

The World Cup has been enhanced by the fact that social is much more part of daily life. Four years ago it wasn’t in the same league. Now it is as natural for many of us as having a conversation, making a phone call or sending an email. It is the little details that we all notice that allow us to share the experience through highs and lows. Recent reports claim the World Cup is the most social sporting event that there has ever been. That is until the next big event.

As I sit with my laptop or iPad watching television programmes and sharing my views and listening to the views of others, I can’t help but think that there is more that could be done with broadcasters to develop the engagement with the audience through social networks. When we start to exploit this we will hit the next stage of social media maturity.

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Students, a moan or two and brave officers

Being able to maintain staff morale is a huge challenge for most organisations particularly in the current difficult financial climate. People can quickly lose patience and become frustrated with many things, a lack of promotion opportunities, pay freeze, and increasing scrutiny of what they do. It all leads to a position where the potentially most valuable advocates of the organisation become the biggest critics.

It is easy to slip into a negative perspective and to focus on the things that are frustrating about work. So, how do we get people to see the positive in what they do at work? I don’t want them to ignore when things need to be changed, but it should be set in context of the whole job experience.

This week I had the pleasure of talking about a career within the police service to children at a local school who are in the final few years. I was supported to do this by a local police officer and police community support officer who I hadn’t met before we got together on the morning of the careers fair. After brief introductions the discussion quickly turned to questioning how they could provide details of the career in a neutral or positive light when they would like a good moan. We allowed ourselves to have that moaning time but then had to start talking about the work to the youngsters. We talked about all the positives as well as some of the challenges that have to be faced and very quickly were enthusing about the great elements of being part of a team and being able to make a real difference to communities. In the end it was quite an uplifting experience and great to speak to so many young people who were interested in the police as a career.

My second event that boosted morale was on Friday (27 June) at the Chief Constable’s Excellence Awards. An annual event that recognises the great work across teams, individuals, police officers, staff and volunteers. There were some amazing stories about the work that teams and individuals had done. Nominees and winners alike there was little to choose between stories of determination, commitment and professionalism.

But the most amazing element were the three pairs of officers who had been shortlisted for the bravery award. Each one was a story of heroism, professionalism, determination and personal sacrifice. A number of people in my team commented on how proud they felt working for an organisation where officers put themselves in such danger to protect others on a daily and hourly basis. They were right. After 13 years in Greater Manchester Police and 15 years in policing I remembered why I love the job I do as a small part of the force.

I know I will have a good moan next week about some of the difficulties, challenges and problems I face. But I need to hang onto the experiences I have had this week to remind me of the positives within the job. The key for communicators will be to be able to replicate this feeling for all staff through truly effective internal communication work.

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Code of ethics squared

When was the last time you looked at the code of conduct for public relations? The Chartered Institute of Public Relations have a 24 page document that sets out what is expected from members of the organisation. I have to confess it is a while since I read through the points. What brought it back to the front of my mind was the arrival of the code of ethics for policing which I discussed at length today with colleagues.

There are inevitably many similarities in what is covered in both codes and I am sure the same words appear in the many other codes for finance, health, teaching and other professions. But are we rushing from project to project and job to job without ever questioning what we are doing and why?

Now more than ever it is vital for public relations practitioners to demonstrate the elements within the code. For them to show what the profession does and what it achieves and how it does this in an ethical way. So what are the key elements?

1. Highest professional standards of professional endeavour – including reference to integrity, confidentiality, financial propriety and personal conduct. All really important foundations for professional life but do we challenge ourselves over the decisions we make and how it looks to other people? Do we stop before we act in our personal lives?

2. Dealing honestly and fairly in business with those around us – are we trying to undermine the work of fellow professionals or do we act less than honestly with members of the public? These are difficult questions to answer and challenge what we do on a daily basis.

3. Show respect – this has to be in every code. The simple message is always to treat people as you would expected to be treated, or if that doesn’t work treat them as you would a loved one or friend.

4. Don’t bring the industry into disrepute – which has to link with the professional standards and what decisions we make. The test in modern work is not just what would the media say but what would this look like if it played out on social media?

5. Respect the code and ensure accountability – there is no point having a code of conduct, ethics or standards if you don’t feel it matters to what you do on a daily basis. You have to be accountable for your actions and decision-making, and it is important to challenge others who you believe are acting outside the code.

6. Encourage training to raise professional standards – I like this as it is a very positive statement about how the code should drive the future development of the profession.

Other key words to remember are: integrity, honesty, capability, competence, transparency, and confidentiality.

We would all say we are doing these things on a daily basis in the decisions we make and the actions we take. But perhaps it is important to really think about what these elements mean and whether they really are part of our decision-making. And particularly do we challenge other professionals over their behaviour?

I now face the challenge of two codes one of conduct within my PR profession and a second of ethics for my link with policing. I sense a lot of questioning of my actions, behaviour and decision-making in coming months.

To read the full detail of the code check out the CIPR website or this link

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Taking time for my vision

I have written a few times about the courses that I have been taking with the help of Coursera. The latest one I am currently working on is about leadership and emotional intelligence and has had me doing a lot of self assessment and reflection. The latest one was to develop a personal vision statement and a list of 27 things I want to do before I die.

It was actually a more positive experience than it might sound. We all lead busy lives with work, home life, relationships etc, etc and we rarely, if ever, spend time reviewing where we are and where we want to be. Instead, we dash from work to home, juggle childcare or other commitments but don’t take time to reflect. To spend some time just thinking about where I am in life and what I want to do was really liberating. My mind was able to explore the vast array of things that exist in the world.

I found it easier to reach the 27th item than I thought I would. There were some easy short-term things that I could achieve within the next week. Alongside them were things that will take longer to achieve and need a significant investment of time. In short, I have just written the most important to do list of my life.

The development of this was to then write my personal vision statement. We all know that big organisations and companies will have a vision statement which sets out where they want to be in the next 10, 15 or 20 years. It is usually to be the best at X, or to be the most successful at Y. We need to inject a level of honesty into these vision statements and make them more about the values that we hold dear.

When I set about writing my personal vision statement it had to cover all aspects of my life from my health and well-being through to career, family and everything in between. It was my time to look at my dreams and reconnect with what is important to me. I can then positively question where I am in my life and what the next steps should be.

In a busy and hectic world this has been really cathartic and I strongly recommend taking some time out to do this. First write your own list of things you want to do before you die and follow it with a vision that will reflect where you want to be in 10 years. The challenge is then to start to be able to move closer towards that vision.

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