The need for conversational skills


A big disruption brought about by social media and online social networks has been in the transition of power in a conversation from the organisation to the individual. Effective conversations are more important than ever.

Whilst many organisations are taking social media seriously for business, there can be a tendency or desire to focus on deploying readily available technologies without appreciating the importance of the human role in the process.

Salesforce recently wrote an article about four sales and technology trends nobody is talking about. Three of the four centred on the importance of developing effective communications skills. Not just what you say, but how you convey it:

  1. Young sales reps lack traditional skills

     Whilst today’s graduates are very sophisticated when it comes to using technology, they are often not so smart when it comes to people skills and a nose for sales

  2. Buyers are making decisions without human help

    The sales person’s role is no longer to provide information about a product. Their role now is to add value by understanding the needs of a customer

  3. Video sales enablement is in and phones are out

    Only so much can be understood through words, while body language is much more effective

Tim Brown, CEO at IDEO, recently wrote about the need to improve communications in an increasingly complicated and interconnected world. He quotes Peter Drucker:

The most important thing in communication is to hear what isn’t being said

That quote, pardon the pun, says it all! You can’t just recruit people to manage social media channels based on their knowledge of modern technologies and having grown up surrounded by social media meaning they ‘get it’. In most cases, there are still real humans behind every online account. A good conversation requires being able to relate to the other person, the individual.

To give an example. Guy Stephens recently asked if the @NHSDirect account lacked empathy:


It wasn’t the most sensitive of responses to a distressing situation.

Whilst the information may have been accurate, the response takes no notice of the emotions conveyed behind the message. Scanning through the past two weeks of tweets, the tone is consistently efficient delivered in a light-hearted and friendly manner. In most cases, that approach works works very well. But here’s another example where it falls flat:


When somebody includes the hashtags ‘so ill, ‘need advice’ and ‘please’, I’m not sure ending your response with a smiley face is the best choice. There is no variation in the tone of the @NHSDirect conversation. No adjustment based on the sensitivity or severity of the question or comment. A novice mistake.

In comparison, a local police Twitter account manages to combine serious and useful updates with light-hearted banter, as demonstrated in the images below:


A serious question is given a serious response that they can act upon, immediatley. The @NHSDirect version would have probably been along the lines ‘Sorry, we can’t give out legal advice, you could try this page <link>. Take care.’

For the light-hearted approach from @SolihullPolice, this still remains one of my favourites:


It’s a fine line between what works and what doesn’t. Varying the tone based on the situation can play a big part in determining how people react to information. Investing in conversational skills is a must for organisations to be effective in social media channels. And I suspect many organisations will fail to recognise the natural talent they already employ, as demonstrated in a related article – Networks need individuals who care.


Related articles

p.s. If you’re wondering why an image of a horse was used for this post. Horses can’t talk but that doesn’t stop them from communicating…

Loyalty, control and terms of service

Laptop secure but not

If you want to protect your intellectual property, worry less about online security controls and more about loyalty. If your employees care, they are less likely to share with outsiders.

In the past week, Microsoft has changed its standard terms of service agreements. As reported by The Verge:

Microsoft’s revised policy allows the company to access and display user content across all of its cloud properties. Whereas the previous version of the TOS granted Microsoft the right to appropriate user content “solely to the extent necessary to provide the service,” the terms now state that this content can be used to “provide, protect and improve Microsoft products and services.”

Commentors on the article noted that this was a somewhat hypocritical move. When Google made a similar change to their terms of service just 6 months ago, Microsoft took out adverts in major newspapers to spread a little FUD*. Covered by the IdeaLab at the time, Microsoft felt the need to advise everyone:

Google is in the midst of making some unpopular changes to some of their most popular products. Those changes, cloaked in language like “transparency,” “simplicity,” and “consistency,” are really about one thing: making it easier for Google to connect the dots between everything you search, send, say or stream while using one of their services.

But, the way they’re doing it is making it harder for you to maintain control of your personal information. Why are they so interested in doing this that they would risk this kind of backlash? One logical point: Every data point they collect and connect to you increases how valuable you are to an advertiser.


Hypocracy aside, and pity the Microsoftie that has to keep a straight face explaining the about-turn, the changes in terms of service are no surprise. Enabling content to be integrated across services does offer the potential to improve the services and yes, also the potential to earn more money from advertising. A necessary factor when offering ‘free’ services to consumers. Somebody always pays.

Dropbox is a popular online file sharing tool and has also come in for criticism. A recent article by Varonis highlighted that Dropbox holds the keys to encrypt and decrypt to your data on their servers (their emphasis, not mine). They have to, both for feature reasons – the file sharing element – and for legal reasons. What does this mean?

This means that a Dropbox employee could theoretically view (or steal) your data

O! M! G!*

Before you start worrrying abut Dropbox’s employees, look closer to home… A recent study by the Ponemon Institute found: (my comments in brackets…)

  • 90% of organisations in the study had experienced leakage or loss of sensitive or confidential documents over the past 12 months
  • 71% of respondents say that controlling sensitive or confidential documents is more difficult than controlling records in databases (surprised it wasn’t higher than that)
  • 70% of respondents say that employees, contractor or business partners have access to sensitive or confidential documents even when access is not a job or role-related requirement
  • 63% of respondents do not believe they are effective at assigning privilege (permissions) to [manage] access to sensitive or confidential documents


So to summarise, most organisations do not have adequate controls to manage their intellectual property when it is in document form, regardless of where it is stored. If that’s the case, accept a simple fact. If a document exists, at some point you may lose control of it.  The terms of service for online storage are the least of your worries.

So what’s a business to do?

Whilst I would not suggest throwing out the security controls and it sounds like some organisations could do with improving them, I would encourage putting more effort (and investment) into making sure employees care. People who feel loyal to a cause will protect that cause.

Over this last weekend, Lewis Hamilton grumpily shared an Instagram picture of the McLaren Formula 1 team telemetry sheet, showing his and his team mate Jensen Button’s performance during qualifying. Reported today in The Times:

Christian Horner, the Red Bull team principal, could not contain his mirth as he claimed his engineers were poring over data that is usually restricted only to McLaren’s drivers and race engineers. Hamilton deleted the tweet but it was too late.


What security system could have prevented that? A photo of a print-out shared via Twitter by someone paid an awful lot of money to win races in part based on the intellectual property held in said photo. But who was having a particularly crappy weekend with the team, again… Naturally the PR machine is now in full throttle (pun intended) and McLaren claims the data loss is no big deal.

How employees feel about the company will have a far bigger influence on maintaining control of your data than any security system, digital or physical. The ‘vibe’ of the office matters more than most people realise, for so many different reasons – productivity gains, collaborative working, knowledge sharing and yes, protecting intellectual property from prying eyes.


* FUD = Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt. What competitors like to create about rivals in customers’ minds
* OMG = Oh My God/Goodness, depending on your religious slant, often delivered with a twist of sarcasm.