Wet floor signs, in a fountain

Some things should be obvious.

Get Stuff Done Tuesday will be back next week. Today I’d like to share some notes I made for a presentation. I spoke to a small but enthusiastic group at the Frederick Chamber EXPO (always a fantastic event!) this morning about modern business communication.

When I signed on to give this presentation, I thought I would talk more about things like grammar and tone, but as I started creating the slides, a different theme emerged. In the 15 years I’ve been a communications professional, and even the last 8 in my current job, what I do day-to-day has changed. The reason for my job hasn’t, but the ways I accomplish it are vastly different.

The rules below are a collection of things that stuck with me as I read various books and posts, and that I’ve tried to implement in my own work. They represent trends and advice from a lot of smart people, including Frederick’s own social media trend-spotter Beth Schillaci of VillageWorks Communications, event-planner and communicator extraordinaire Jessica Hibbard (if you’re near Frederick, Maryland, don’t miss her Spectra Show!), and authors including Scott Stratten, Phil Simon and Amber Naslund.

The rules, as I see them:

Be a real person.

Don’t hide who you are. People root for small businesses, and they expect transparency, especially for online-only businesses. Personality encouraged.

Don’t forget the obvious.

Common courtesy is still required. Please, thank you and excuse me go a long way. Customer service is still critical. People still judge by appearance, including your writing and website.

Don’t just broadcast.

Communication is—more than ever—a two-way street. If you only broadcast (that is, talk about “me me me”), you get tuned out. Engage. Ask questions. Get to know your audience.

Be helpful.

Skip the hard sell. Offer useful information. Help people, and when they need your product or service, they’ll remember you.

Don’t take shortcuts.

Building relationships—even virtual ones—takes time. Services that claim to net you thousands of social media fans or followers are most likely scams. Offer helpful content, and earn them instead.

Automate with caution.

Tailor your message to the platform. Never send automated direct messages on Twitter. If you automate posts to help with time management, remember to check comments/replies.

Don’t steal. Or spam.

If it’s on the Internet, assume it’s copyrighted. If they didn’t sign up for your email newsletter, it’s spam. And it’s illegal. $16K per violation illegal.

Do the right thing.

Make your website accessible, even if you aren’t required to by law.

Ask for help.

You (probably) wouldn’t try to fix a major electrical issue yourself. Consider your website a digital extension of your building. Work with professionals to make it your best possible window to the world.

Make your own rules.

One size does not fit all in the digital economy. Figure out what you want to accomplish, set a strategy and get started. Mistakes happen. Learn from them, and move on.

What are your rules?

Frederick Chamber EXPO materials:

Presentation (PDF): Modern Communication: Professional Writing for Your Business, and Why it Matters

Handout (PDF): The Rules of Modern Business Communication