Sunday, March 15, 2015

Are You :-) or :-( with all those Emoticons at Work?

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Are emoticons making social media communicating easier or easier to avoid real emotions?

How do you feel about emoticons?
Well, maybe I should first ask, did you now that those punctuation marks that look like faces on their sides actually had a name? And that they have different names for the style type depending upon the expression orientation and where in the world they were developed or what software you're using? There's even documentation on the first known use of the original smiley-face emoticon and a kickstarter for an emoji keyboard. But like casual Fridays and Holiday parties, those collection of silly faces have become an accepted part of business communications despite their non-business like nature.

It seems that emotion icons, (better known by the portmanteau emoticon), and their pictograph close cousin emoji are part of every communication, built into email clients, Facebook, and many other platforms. Some applications will even turn your emoticons into emoji automatically like a picture auto-correct. And when dictating a message, my mobile phone will turn the words "smiley-face" first into an emoticon then into an emoji when I hit send. Like it or not.

Of course like many things in pop culture, the business world has embraced the practice and I see social media hieroglyphs on everything from elevators to smart phones. Emoticons are world-business friendly, right? -- or is it just cheaper to print a universal icon than in multiple languages? And in correspondence, emoticons humanize and add personality, right?  -- particularly when the sender doesn't possess much of any.

Some admonish the emoticon craze as another dumbing down of society: by lessening the need to read or write. I use emoticons because in this world of 140 characters or less, every space counts. "Thanks," "I agree," "I received your message and I understand" can all be replaced with a smiley face. I use them in my personal correspondence. I admit I've even found myself guilty of emoji envy: "Damn! Were did they find a wedding cake emoji?" What can I say? Let he who does not find those dog viral videos cute cast the first stone, I say.

What bothers me about pictographs replacing words is that it's often an emotional avoidance or even a passive-aggressive use that the emoticon replaces. Rather than convey feelings, people will express frustration, sadness, remorse and even anger through a small yellow or blue icon. Non-confrontational management types can now not only replace face-to-face employee meetings and phone calls with emails, they can avoid repercussions and consequence by sending reprimands and warnings by ending them with a wink! 
Uhm, no.
So to answer the question the headline poses, I haven't decided whether I'm happy or sad about the prevalence of emoticons, or in other words... :-/

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Sunday, March 8, 2015

When You Don't Fit the Corporate Culture

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As part of a clever promotion for the movie "Unfinished Business" with Vince Vaughn and Dave Franco (pictured above), the stars were Photoshopped into some iStockphotos of "realistic business" shots. The result is that those stock photos we see and use on Websites and emails which always appear awkward at best, never looked more out of place. Nor have their new "models".

It reminded me of my own foray into the business world. Fresh from the ivy covered collegiate world into a New York Wall Street firm, I spent whatever money I had saved from graduation gifts on suits and ties from the discount men's store. The weekend before I started I sprained my ankle playing basketball and that first month I greeted my new coworkers with a bushy black beard, pinstripes, and a cane, looking like a hipster version of DeCaprio's Wolf of Wall Street. I stood out like a sore thumb - or sprained ankle as it were. And it didn't get much better until I reconciled with the corporate culture.

My article on Tattoos in the Workplace created quite a stir for those who felt discrimination due to the ink on their skin. But what if there's some intangible aspects that make you feel like you just don't gel with the corporate culture?

Don't be too quick to blame the company or your coworkers. Maybe it's not that you hate your lousy job, you may just regret your lousy choices. Ask yourself: "Am I in the right field?" We choose a major in college, get a job in our chosen field (or not) only to realize reality doesn't match perception. Since the average person changes careers at least once in their life, this can happen at any stage in your career. 

Or maybe we begrudgingly took our job to pay the bills and feel like a sell out. If you work for a family-owned company you're dealing with another business dynamic as well. Not much you can do about getting that promotion if your last name isn't the same as the sign on the front door. (But that's a subject I'll address in an upcoming article.)

So if you're in the right career and nepotism isn't an issue and you still don't fit in with corporate culture, try the following:
  1. Dress the part. It's not just the UPS man who wears a uniform. Yours might be left to interpretation -- but it exists. Wear what the others wear. Even facial hair, hair cuts, shoes, make up, play a part in it. I'm not saying to mimic the boss, but if you want to be one of "the suits," then wear one. (Or for the flip side, when's the last time you saw the software engineers in suits?)
  2. Socialize in and out of work. Go out to lunch with the others or bring it and suggest eating in the break room rather than at your desk. That's when you learn the nuances of fitting in and working around the red tape that every company has.
  3. Realize that your job doesn't define you. Define yourself outside the 9 to 5. When I first graduated, I fought being part of corporate culture feeling that the stuffy business world wasn't me. It wasn't but it wasn't many of my co-workers either. They just knew how the game was played.
It's often what's not written in the company handbook. IBM used to "suggest" executives wore a blue or gray suit. Period. I never felt part of the financial conservative institutions yet at the same time I think the Borg-like atmosphere of some of those progressive tech companies would drive me up a wall. Not fitting in at some companies made me realize I needed to move on. It all comes down to how individualism and conformity is viewed within your company and how important it is for your future growth.  Fitting in -- or not -- is really your choice.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Have Social Media Grammar Police Gone Too Far?

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Full disclosure: Every thing I've written has had at least one comma or apostrophe out of place...

Maybe a letter or word omitted in haste when meeting a tight deadline. I'm not proud of the fact, but it goes with the territory. It's not that I'm careless, or couldn't care less as it were, but like many writers I "see" the finished product in my head. I've always known about this shortcoming and praise copy editors as unsung heroes who make us better while preserving the sanctity of the written word in our increasingly video-obsessed society. 

Like the make up artists and camera operators are to the actor, editors and copy editors make us writers look good -- or at least better. (Heck, I even married my copy editor years ago, and not surprisingly, my column and scripts haven't read so messy since we split.)  So in short, writers need copy editors and we should all strive to be grammatically correct when we speak and write. Copy editors value the writer's creativity and are never condescending. That said,...

It's the self-proclaimed social media grammar police with whom I take exception.

That's because they're not actual copy editors - but there is an assumption on their part that correcting the world is their duty. Common abbreviations get a pass as do the unfortunate typos and poorly chosen auto-corrects when sending texts. They find other errors annoying, infuriating, and maybe even relationship deal breakers like this article's comic illustration. The errors somehow seem to negate the message. Just reread the first sentence of this paragraph if you'd like proof that I know the difference of when to use there, their, and they're. It's that often my fingers do not, so cut them a break, they're just poor helpless digits who at times lose their way.

In social media, we'd all love to have flawless Facebook posts, Twitter feeds, blogs and emails, but that's rare. More importantly, it's really not the point. It's called "sharing" for a reason. Don't belittle the point that someone is trying to communicate their thoughts, emotions and opinions (unsolicited or otherwise) to you. And they should be able to express whatever they can as best as they can. 

I'm one of a fortunate few who has made a career at essentially writing. Granting me the courage to do so was a college professor who sat me down after reading a few of my essays in her office that overlooked the Charles River.

"These are exceptional. Why aren't you majoring in writing?," she asked. I looked down, sheepishly.

"I'm a horrible speller and my grammar is atrocious."

"Don't worry about that for now. That will come," she said. "You're a writer."

She was right for the most part. As I write this article, I still struggle with quotation and comma placement or when to use an em- or en-dash. But social media has breathed new life in the written word which before the Internet was all but extinct. We are all writers now.  Imperfect as we are. But we all have a voice. So listen, don't condemn your friends and your children. Otherwise it's you who are guilty of poor etiquette.

Let's applaud and promote good grammar, demand it in our books and articles, but be forgiving of it in our social media. 

The enforcement of social media "netiquette" has gotten so out of hand that their is nothing I enjoy more then to occasionally use grammar ironically too help those who distract to easily to remember: focus on the thoughts and sentiments, as well as the words.

Follow Frank Bocchino, a digital marketing consultant who helps brands exceed their business goals using the latest tools for marketing automation, SEO, and social media.

Or contact Frank Bocchino for media opportunities.