Wednesday Jan 14, 2015

Hacks to Corporate Systems expose the Social and Mobile business back channels we have all created.


How not to lose your job or reputation in the New Year from your new sense of unlimited mobility…

So sadly, it has come to my personal attention recently that as we move into a world of smarter smartphones, snappier IM messaging networks, very virtual conferences, and rich email threaded conversations, people feel the need to create parallel digital back channels especially during real in-person events.   

Chatting while meeting, working, and learning with other people is rarely acceptable in most occasions. As somebody who has been tasked over the years to create or manage chats, conversation threads, and live online events for major brands, here are some words of wisdom I have garnered beyond all the brand events and social media campaigns I have deployed. 

9 Rules to Professional Mobile-Social Communications

To be clear; this is advice on using mobile-social back channels in the real world of business. 

Sharing ideas about a topic around a business objective is almost always acceptable, and I will cover that in another post; “How to build great Enterprise Mobile-Social Collaboration Systems.” 

But, this post is about chatting behind someone’s back, which is never acceptable. I see it all the time in business. If the person you are chatting about is not present in the thread, then don’t.  This should be obvious but just in case… Why? 

a. IM, Chats, Threads are narrow band, they exclude nuances, gestures, facial expressions, and are thus highly interpretable to the subtext of each individual view of a conversation. 

b. Therefore everyone who is part of the back channel will interpret the communication subtext with either an incorrect interpretation or worse will express the messaging to any other person outside the chat in a way that cannot express the full context of the communication correctly. (See Telephone Game)

c. It is disruptive. People know when you are focused on the topic in a meeting or conference and when you are not. We all know. This can have side effects such as encouraging others to not pay attention if enough persons are not focused on the topic at hand. This is not productive.

d. Thus, by creating a new non-focused person(s) in a real world group, it may create a social “Carte-Blanche” for others to interpret that they can chat aloud, or worse do other work as they see others are not focused.

e. The apparent safety of the back channel is an illusion. If something is said that is interpretable as racist, sexist, or just plain cruel, most chat logs can be retrieved for court records. 

f. As the IM or Chat or threads are narrow band and by their nature limit natural human facial and gesture cues, there are no natural “human brakes” to the consequences of typing something mean or cruel especially when the person being discussed is not part of the current back channel discussion.  Which would stop a sarcastic comment faster frowny emoji or a tear you see on someone’s face? 

g. Thus, it is not unusual for real-time chats to get out of hand quickly. Individuals interpret the lack of real world feedback, and personally interpretable subtext to increasingly create more dramatic or outlandish comments so as to be part of an interesting conversation thread. 

h. If the group IM or Chat is large enough, this will create amplification effects where individuals who are not being responded to will jump into conversations with very little insight and exaggerate the current conversation so as to “Join-in”. 

i. Back Channels are very susceptible to cascade effects where seemingly a majority of people are chiming in criticizing and articulating feelings they would never ever express to a person’s face. 

For the 9 reasons above which cover the ethical, the legal, and the emotional reasons for not creating back channels, I generally believe it shows a true lack of professionalism, a low level of emotional maturity, and a narrow business focus. 

The pure entertainment factor of real-time or threaded chat is just that, entertainment, and in fact even entertainment properties pay people like me to oversee and manage conversations for precisely the reasons I have listed above. We have administrative controls, extended technical capabilities, and built in authority to stop or control emerging problems most ad hoc business back channels do not.  

But is there any occasion where back channels are appropriate in a business setting?  


When all parties are online or on a narrow band communication channel, in which two sides are competing or discussing two opposing needs or objectives.  Let’s share an example.  

Business Team A is trying to sell Business Team B a year’s supply of Digi-Widgets. As long as there are no team members of both teams in the same physical or virtual room, then adding channels to connect same team members by adding additional bandwidth to the intra-team communication is perfectly acceptable. 

In fact I recommend business back channels in the right scenarios. Adding bandwidth to team communication is what Enterprise Mobile-Social Collaboration is all about.  

This is especially useful during conference calls where all parties are in their own office or conference room. Again, as along as the team engaging in a back channel makes all members of the same team aware of the channel and does not have a member in the same room with the opposing or other side, creating increased communication is a decisive advantage. 

It is similar to being in the same room together but speaking through a single speaker phone. The team is on the same page, and here is where additional tools such as private collaboration screens and the use of a team scribe become especially effective. 

Also remember even in these scenarios, please do not forget the following rules listed above. The same rules apply to the emotional, ethical, and legal consequences. 

7 Rules for Proper & Professional Digital Communications

Just in case you are unsure how and when to use digital channels to communicate, here are my list of 7 rules that have always helped me.  

1) Are you emotional, upset, or angry? Do not express it digitally. Put the iPhone down… No digital medium has the impact to express the pathos you are feeling in the moment. Please wait until the feeling is fully processed otherwise contact authorities if you or your property has been physically damaged. 

2) 95% of the problems you have with people are with people from your past, not from the person you are having a problem with in an office setting. Therefore do not express “Problems with People” digitally. 

3) Document your feelings digitally on a system that you own completely. It will help you process the emotion. Know that once you create a digital copy of a “Problem” it becomes interpretable. 

4) Document your work, your production, and your research that supports concerns about business metrics at work and make a secure back-up of your work only. Business metrics are only the ones that have money attached in terms of profits or losses. Dresses, food, comments about style are not… 

5) Share Solutions, not problems. This is very broad but leaders solve, they don’t complain. Lead with solutions not critiques of others. This includes “Fixing Others”, unless you are tasked to be a professional human resource manager or Six Sigma operational management professional, do not solicit “fixing others” if not asked. 

6) Email is an official document. Chat is an official document. IM is an official document. A social post is an official document. Any digital comment can be traced and used in a court of law. If you would not want it stated or shown in a legal transcript so as to be interpreted by a jury of strangers of what they think your thoughts intents were, then don’t put it into any business communication.

7) When in doubt, do not send it. I have literally been seconds away from sending off incendiary emails about former employees…  Let it pass the Oprah Test.. If you write something very passionate or meaningful or hilariously sarcastic, think what are the consequences if this is interpreted incorrectly and moves to any other party? If the entire audience in your head applauds then let it go, but if some people are shocked, smirk, moan, or shake their heads when they hear your boss or CEO reads it then stop and delete it immediately…   

Your mobile phones, your tablets, or your Internet connected laptops are very powerful devices. Today’s mobile phones can multi-task and run several applications simultaneously. This does not mean you should try to keep your social life as active as a multi-core arm processor even when you are in business settings. 

The flip and loose conversations we have with trusted friends and spouses are not part of these rules, but if you have been given or digitally signed your mobile phone or tablet to corporate security, or you are using a corporate email service be sure that what you say, who you say it to, and when you say it are totally appropriate. 

Sunday Nov 24, 2013

The Polyglot of Social Data and the rise of the Social Media Revenue Officer

The rise of the Social Cloud has given rise to someone in charge of the Social Cloud. The role is very similar to the Social Media Manager, but has some unique challenges that trump the Social Media Manager's activities like the creation of a Facebook content calendar. 

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This is the working journal of Christopher David Kaufman a Senior Consultant working with Mobile Applications, Social Media Dynamics, IoT-Sensors and the big data that comes from collecting the small data from mobile tablets or phones, business contexts and crowd-sourced dynamics.


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