Wander the halls of Twitter’s San Francisco headquarters and ask random employees in a black T-shirt with a little blue bird and they will give you a different answer, too. I’ve heard people tell me it’s a place for real-time communication, a second screen for television, a live-events vertical, a place for brands to connect with people and a media communications platform.
The conflicting vision about Twitter may be the company’s biggest flaw and may explain why Twitter has failed to grow beyond its 300 million users (compared with Facebook’s 1.4 billion).
It may also explain why the social media platform hasn’t changed much in nearly a decade.
It’s utterly insane that you still need to put a period before a person’s Twitter handle, such as “.@twitter,” if you want everyone to see it. Could you imagine Facebook doing that? Twitter still uses “favorite” instead of the more universal “like.” And Twitter still expects people to use Boolean search commands.
As a user experience, the product is still a drip-drip-drip stream of seemingly random tweets. It feels like a deranged video game, where players are blindfolded and win only if they accidentally come across a good tweet among a mudslide of drivel.
I started using Twitter — extremely reluctantly — about a year ago. I usually tweet five to 15 times a day when I have time, and I probably re-tweet 55 percent of the time, although less than I once did.
I have a love-hate relationship with it. I hate feeling like I’m spitting into the wind; as Sree Sreenivasan — who tweets as @sree — and who is the digital officer for the Metropolitan Museum in New York told my blogging students this year: Expect to be ignored!
Now that’s encouraging…
What I have come to enjoy most about Twitter are the weekly Twitterchats that create community, allow me to be as playful and/or as serious as I wish — knowing that each tweet is public and permanent — and connect me quickly and easily with some fun and interesting peers.
Every Wednesday night at 8:00 pm ET is #wjchat, which focuses each week on a topic of interest to journalists. Those who show up range from 30-year award-winning veterans like me to radio and digital journos worldwide to young, naive students who mostly lurk.
People who choose self-employment often focus on the freedom — No office! No boss! No politics! No commute!
But successfully running your own show requires a wide range of skills beyond the specific product or service — dog-walking, gluten-free cupcakes, general contracting, writing — you’re hoping to sell.
Here’s a great post from one of my favorite blogs, Freelance Folder, on this topic, which lists 17 separate skills with a link to even more:
Communication skills. Freelancing is all about clear communication. As a freelancer, you must express your ideas and requirements to prospective clients, current clients, and other freelancers.
The first one can be a real toughie.
Once you’ve established a good working relationship, and a track record, with your clients, you’re usually good to go. You probably speak the same language, emotionally, so you click naturally in your communication style.
But to steadily earn a good living will also mean working with many people quite different in their style.
Would-be clients are busy with competing demands and may not communicate quickly, clearly — or at all! I see many emails from fellow freelancers asking when, if and how often to follow up with a pitched idea so we can close the sale (or not), find out the fee and budget our time for the work and the income for our expenses.
Follow up too often and you’re a stalker. Not often enough and you’ll starve because you can’t keep enough work coming in.
Whenever I start working with a new client, I ask a few questions about their communication style: do they prefer phone or email? Are specific days or hours in the day off-limits? How long, typically, does a pitch take to get approved?
When I work with The New York Times — which is almost weekly — I know from experience that my emails often end up in their spam filter due to my email address. So I know to call and leave a voicemail message to follow up.
Estimating skills. How long will a project take? Successful freelancers need to be able to answer this question so that they can schedule their time effectively and still earn a profit.
This is also a difficult one, no matter what you do for a living.
I recently blogged about knowing your CODB, your cost of doing business. So you know what you must make to cover your expenses — but what about short and long-term savings, retirement savings, attending a few conferences every year to upgrade your skills and meet new contacts?
So when someone quotes you a price, or vice versa, never forget all those other costs, not just the short-term gain of that payment.
The challenge of estimating is that it’s one-sided! We know how long we might need to do the work…but what about your client?
Does the work require reviews/edits/approval from several other people? How long will that take? (Can you negotiate partial payment up front?) Are they known in the industry as challenging or difficult?
Ask around so your “estimate” isn’t naively and stupidly optimistic.
Interpersonal skills. The stereotype is that freelancers work alone and don’t need interpersonal skills, but that’s a myth. Freelancers interact with prospects, clients, and other freelancers.
Oddly enough, this might be the most essential skill of all. The (mis) perception of freelance or self-employed people is that we “don’t play well with others.” Which isn’t true at all — if we didn’t, we’d never find or retain satisfied clients!
From the very start of your freelance life, you’re going to need other people to help you: for advice, insight, feedback, moral support, sometimes a shoulder to cry on or to toast your latest coup. Almost every single day, by phone, email or social media, I’m asking for, or giving, advice to someone.
At this point in my career, 30 years into it, virtually all my work comes from established clients or personal referrals to new ones from people they know, like and trust.
So play nicely, ladies and gentlemen! Never steal ideas, backbite, gossip.
And don’t be nasty, even if you’re feeling really shaky and insecure.
So, go out often — at least once every month — to industry parties and events and panels and conferences. Bring a genuine smile, a well-designed business card and a generous spirit.
And look professional! At a recent NYC roof-top event I attended, a woman around my age was wearing chipped red nail polish. Seriously? You need a great/recent haircut (and/or color), polished shoes, fresh mani/pedi (do it yourself, but do it!)
We make snap decisions about people within seconds of meeting one another. Make sure they’re positive.
Do not — I beg you — use the phrase “I’d love to pick your brain”. Ever!
Of course you would.
You think it’s flattering. It’s not, really. Because our brains are already spoken for. Instead, be classy: offer to pay us a consulting fee, make a useful professional introduction or buy us a good meal. Don’t be cheap and assume it’s our job to mentor you because you’re needy. It’s not!
And don’t become the whiny/negative/raggedy/sloppy person whose calls we dodge and emails we delete.
If you’re self-employed, what skills do you find most essential to your success?
This New York Times story makes me want to throw a chair:
Some people are so rude. Really, who sends an e-mail or text message that just says “Thank you”? Who leaves a voice mail message when you don’t answer, rather than texting you? Who asks for a fact easily found on Google?
Don’t these people realize that they’re wasting your time?
Of course, some people might think me the rude one for not appreciating life’s little courtesies. But many social norms just don’t make sense to people drowning in digital communication.
And, in case this didn’t piss you off quite enough — here’s some more wisdom from the Boy Wonder of techno-communication:
Now, with Google and online maps at our fingertips, what was once normal can be seen as uncivilized — like asking someone for directions to a house, restaurant or office, when they can easily be found on Google Maps.
I once asked a friend something easily discovered on the Internet, and he responded with a link to lmgtfy.com, which stands for Let Me Google That For You.
In the age of the smartphone, there is no reason to ask once-acceptable questions: the weather forecast, a business phone number, a store’s hours. But some people still do. And when you answer them, they respond with a thank-you e-mail.
Pardon my intemperate tone, but for fuck’s sake!
If someone asks me for directions, which is rare because I generally offer them, unless I am in a huge rush, I’m happy to help. The weather forecast is also available (fogey alert!) on the front page of the Times, on television and usually on the radio.
But God forbid we should waste one another’s time. Because the time you waste reading my tedious thank-you email is exactly the time you were planning to spend playing Angry Birds curing cancer.
This sort of pretentiousness makes me want to vomit.
If you want to communicate with other people, try to understand a basic concept — we do not all communicate in the exact same way, nor using the exact same language nor the exact same tools. If you text me, you’ve just wasted your time. I don’t read texts, ever.
Is this rude of me? Quite probably. It also marks me as someone who prefers to use email, far more than telephone. If someone texts me, I won’t even see it. Not because I think I’m so important, but because I’m so goddamned busy that an email is, for me, the easiest way for me get on with things. I generally reply to emails promptly and I also reply to phone messages. I even make phone calls. (Feel free to face-palm in horror.)
I don’t wish to communicate in syllables, so I don’t tweet either.
Yet, somehow, I’m able to maintain friendships and business relationships with people in their 20s, 30s and 40s, all younger than I. Maybe because they get the basic premise — we’re here to have relationships, not hand-flap our Huge Importance at one another and tell others exactly how they must communicate with us or risk their wrath.
How do you communicate: text, email, phone?
Do you alter your communication style for people older or younger who may do it differently?
Seriously, kids, this is what I recently read on the side of my toothpaste:
For best results, squeeze from the bottom of the tube and flatten as you go.
A few thoughts on this:
Someone earned a handsome wage for conceiving of/overseeing/commissioning/writing and editing that sentence.
As opposed to? The sides? The top?
Who, truly among us, does not know how to squeeze a freaking tube of toothpaste?
But then I thought some more…Wouldn’t it be awesome if life came with similarly clear and gently helpful instructions?
I began imagining a stream of them that might well have given me so much better results, had I only heard them in time…
For best results:
— That cute boyfriend who speaks Russian, with the alluringly thick mustache? Not a great choice. Although extremely skilled on the horizontal, he’s actually gay.
— That other cute boyfriend, the soulful one who became a photographer, ditto.
— When you decide to describe someone, (entirely accurately), as “a total bitch”, best to recall that your new friend has been friends with her since childhood.
— If, as you start to walk down the aisle to get married, and your final whisper to your maid of honor is “Just be my friend if this doesn’t work out”, perhaps the wiser choice is to turn around and head for the bar instead. Say, in Bolivia.
— Before taking that cool new job in another province, the one (guess!) with insane-o tax rates, best to call an accountant there to see how much of that raise you’ll actually get to keep. Before you rent an expensive apartment and up-end your entire life.
— If you’re marrying someone who makes you a little nervous, spend a few bucks on a divorce attorney to see what you’d get if he bails. Nothing, you say? Pre-nup, stat!
— Small-town life looks so alluring: flannel, boots, long walks with the dog. Complete lack of friends/family/income/sources of income? Not so much.
— If it looks like a liar, sounds like a liar yet is utterly charming, stay with your first impression. A private detective is a wonderful thing, but not someone you want on speed-dial.
— If your boss routinely stands thisclose and shouts abuse at you, that anemic fuck-you fund, if fatter, would allow you to quit with dignity, not pop another Xanax to keep the bills paid.
What words of advice, if heard ahead of time, might have saved you some excess drama?
What struck me most was their management advice — that when you hire and manage people under 25, maybe younger, you have to gently coax them (!) into actually talking face to face to real people, i.e. clients and customers, which also involves (!) looking them in the eye, shaking their hand, listening and showing that you have heard them.
What a concept!
These two business owners learned the hard way they have to consciously and carefully train their young employees how to interact well and courteously face to face and by telephone using their voice with others, who are likely somewhat older and expect what they consider civility.
Sounds really basic to me but apparently not so much because so many young people (love that phrase!) now only communicate through texting. Not speaking by phone (LOL) or even face to face (ROFL.)
Sht Me. Srsly. (Fill in that first word as you see fit.)
Whatever tribal customs work well in high school or college, it must come as a terrible shock when not everyone communicates in the same fashion.
Some of us geezers actually enjoy face to face conversation instead of living attached to a piece of technology. So, entering the workforce, which often shows all the flexibility and willingness to accommodate your very own personal needs as, say, an I-beam, will also mean picking up some new, even uncomfortable social skills as well.
I got stood up last week by someone younger than 25. They did not telephone me, eschewing both cell and land-line. Nor did they email. They said they sent a message on Facebook, (I do not own a Blackberry), but there is none there to be seen. I drove an hour each way to meet this person, ate alone, then drove home, really annoyed.
No phone call? No email? I only found out this person wasn’t dead by emailing (after I made several calls and FB messages.)
The problem with Facebook? If you decide to blow someone off and are chatting away on FB shortly before and after, we know you aren’t bleeding arterially or lying anesthetized on an OR table. In geezerworld, those are the only two reasons I wouldn’t show up, or expect someone else to, possibly without letting the other person know you’re severely ill or injured.
When I asked some people older than 25, they said they’d experienced similar behaviors.
Have you done this? Or experienced this — a total mismatch of communication styles? How (if at all did you resolve it?)
Maybe this works really well for the younger set, but if or when they try to work with or be-friend others even a decade or so older than they, they need to remember that we don’t all communicate using the same tools anymore.
Signs are multiplying that the rate of growth of blogs has slowed in many parts of the world. In some countries growth has even stalled.
Blogs are a confection of several things that do not necessarily have to go together: easy-to-use publishing tools, reverse-chronological ordering, a breezy writing style and the ability to comment. But for maintaining an online journal or sharing links and photos with friends, services such as Facebook and Twitter (which broadcasts short messages) are quicker and simpler.
Charting the impact of these newcomers is difficult. Solid data about the blogosphere are hard to come by. Such signs as there are, however, all point in the same direction. Earlier in the decade, rates of growth for both the numbers of blogs and those visiting them approached the vertical. Now traffic to two of the most popular blog-hosting sites, Blogger and WordPress, is stagnating, according to Nielsen, a media-research firm. By contrast, Facebook’s traffic grew by 66% last year and Twitter’s by 47%. Growth in advertisements is slowing, too. Blogads, which sells them, says media buyers’ inquiries increased nearly tenfold between 2004 and 2008, but have grown by only 17% since then. Search engines show declining interest, too.
People are not tiring of the chance to publish and communicate on the internet easily and at almost no cost. Experimentation has brought innovations, such as comment threads, and the ability to mix thoughts, pictures and links in a stream, with the most recent on top. Yet Facebook, Twitter and the like have broken the blogs’ monopoly.
I am about to start a new blog, for an Australian website, on women and work (only twice a month, luckily) and have been sadly neglecting/ignoring the blog I began at theopencase.com, which covers crime.
How much can anyone have to say?
Blogging, for me, has a number of challenges:
1) I need to be paid for my work and most blogs don’t pay; 2) I need what I say to be intelligent, amusing, helpful. I don’t feel that everything I think is worth posting. That slows my production. 3) There is an insatiable quality to blogging, the feeling that you have to be on top of your issues all the time which (see point 1) is lovely if you’re independently wealthy and can take lots of unpaid time to opine on-line or you are OK shooting your mouth off and knowing it’s out there for all sorts of people to see; 4) people whose opinions can make a difference to my career are reading this stuff. Which is good. It’s very flattering indeed to see some of the links to major websites that analyze journalism, but it reminds me that I need to be thoughtful — not just fast or first.
This blog began July 1, 2009 and this is my 844th post. Crazy. I’m pooped!
I don’t think I’m that fascinating, so the frequency isn’t a reflection of my ego, and need to be heard (which it may well look like!) but my desire to hit the numbers I needed — 5,000 or 10,000 unique visitors per month — to reach my T/S bonuses. My best month was May, with more than 15,000. That was pocket change to people like Matt Taibbi, but a lot for me.
Today, more people are tweeting or using Facebook to communicate their own thoughts and personal data, while blogs are becoming niche or micro-niche areas of specialty, like the one referenced in that story from Sweden on how to paint your house.
Now I’m becoming even more of a dinosaur…if I used to be Stegosaurus (being a generalist in a hyper-specialized medium) I’m starting to feel like a trilobite…primordial ooze, even.
I still read very few blogs, but I do read Facebook several times a day, and have found many items I use here — like this one — from others’ posts there. I have FB friends in Bhutan, Paris, Atlanta, Los Angeles, and many of them are fellow journos or photographers, people traveling or noticing fun stuff. A few (sigh) are endless, tedious self-promoters.
I’ll soon start tweeting (saying what exactly?!) as instructed by the publicist for my book publisher. I need to (further) build a set of readers eager, one hopes, to reach for my retail book when it appears next spring. I wouldn’t tweet unless ordered to do so. But this is the new world. Many writers now spend as much time, sometimes more, publicizing their work than actually producing it.
Do you spend more time now on Facebook and Twitter than reading or writing blogs? Why?
Found this fascinating story in the New York Times — reminding us that we all have specific styles of communication and, if we’re ever going to really understand one another, it can help enormously to know what someone’s is, let alone your own, and behave accordingly.
Shayla McKnight describes her Livingston, Montana company:
When employees are hired here, they’re given a communications assessment, a commercial program that the company uses to pinpoint a person’s dominant communications style. The styles are linked to colors that identify how each employee likes to communicate.
If someone is a “red,” for example, he or she appreciates when others are direct and state the facts quickly. A person who’s a “blue” enjoys having all the details, and time to process them. A “yellow” is spontaneous and likes a personal connection.
I’m a “green.” That means I’m sensitive and like to be approached as courteously as possible; greens tend to be compassionate and supportive.
Nameplates on our desks have a color bar to identify our styles, or we can easily find them in a company database. This system lets everyone know how co-workers prefer to be approached, and it goes a long way in promoting harmony. If I don’t know someone’s style, I check before I visit his or her office or send an e-mail message.
How many times have you banged your head, or your career, against someone who literally tuned you out because you weren’t on their wavelength? It isn’t just being the only woman when the guys go on (and onandonandonandon) about the game or you’re the only man and it’s all mani/pedi’s and pregnancy predictions. If someone can’t hear you because of the style with which you’re speaking, or writing, how likely is it they have the self-awareness to even know why it’s happening? Or know how to calmly resolve those differences?
In journalism, an industry well-known for managing by sheer brutality, this sort of sensitivity would be laughed out of most newsrooms, where — working as professional communicators — you’d be forgiven for the fantasy such things matter.
I think so many workplaces blunder along with toxic levels of mis-communication, bruised feelings and seething resentments. This sort of shared knowledge, and an open-ness to communicating effectively in an individualized way, might be a really great idea.
Some people are most comfortable with facts and figures, other happier expressing (or suppressing) emotion or making snap decisions. Few of us use all these styles, or even know which our predominant style might be. I know I work best with people who are quick, direct and to the point. I hate emotion and drama. As a result, I tend to get along better with men, as this seems to be a common speaking style less favored by women for whom, it seems, direct = rude and unemotional = uncaring.
What’s your verbal style? Does your workplace care about such niceties? Has it helped?