Responding with empathy online

I have recently been working on a project to help program a chat-bot’s auto-responses. A common concern about using artificial intelligence is whether their responses lack empathy in comparison to human responses and whether this will impact customer service. (I should say at this juncture that the sophistication and nuance of conversation that some chat bots have is truly excellent)

This project made me reflect on whether as humans we put enough thought into responding with empathy when we interact online. It’s so easy to forget the people behind the screens or be distracted by our own feelings or agendas. It can also be hard to respond appropriately when we feel awkward or ill-equipped to do so. I hope this guide will help you if you have ever felt this way.

  1. Are you minimising, comparing, arguing with or dismissing what people say?
    Try not to feel too defensive here, it’s such a common response to say – “oh I know how you feel…” which often segues into an anecdote about a similar experience that you or someone you know may have had.

Why is this so problematic?
The act of conversation is to listen and respond and what better way to respond than by making your response relevant to what they have said, right? Well… before you do this, please remember that unless you have had the exact same lived experience as that person, you probably don’t know exactly how they feel. Let me just say that a bit louder for those in the back. UNLESS YOU HAVE HAD THE SAME LIVED EXPERIENCE AS THAT PERSON, YOU PROBABLY DON’T KNOW HOW THEY FEEL.

Another side effect of responding with your own experience is that it may come across as invalidating or minimising their feelings – particularly if your experience seems worse by comparison. Even if you are tactful enough not to try to one-up them, please remember it is important that they know their feelings are valid, and relative.

How to respond with empathy instead
When somebody shares something with you, before you share something with them in return, please take the time to acknowledge what they have said, to thank them for sharing it with you, to encourage and support them. Good responses that make people feel heard are:
“That must be really hard”
“I’m sorry you are feeling this way”
“I can’t imagine how this feels for you”
“I wish this wasn’t happening.”

  1. Are you trying to help? Is it actually helping?
    Whether you are a person who is enthusiastic to share their knowledge, or just kindhearted enough to want to make a positive difference in someone’s life, chances are when someone tells you a problem, you focus more on trying to solve it than actually listening to them. I am this person. I have to work really hard to overcome my natural impulses and to remember that one of the absolute best ways to help someone is to just be there for them in that moment to listen, to allow them to be vulnerable and to help process their feelings and that if I am to have the honour of being able to help, this really does not need to be my first response.

How to respond with empathy instead
Don’t jump straight in to offer advice or talk about your own experience. Hold some space for them if they need it.

“My heart aches for you.”
“I feel so sad that you’re going through this.”

allow them time to respond before asking

“what would help to make you feel better?”
“I’m here for you whenever you want to talk about this and if you would like any suggestions, I’d be happy to try to help”

  1. Daring to distract or deflect
    Sometimes it does help to joke about it. Sometimes it does help to put a problem into perspective. If you choose either of these paths, it would be best to acknowledge that it might not be the right response.

How to do it if you are going to do it
“Oh dear, you just told me something really intense and the first place my mind went was this inappropriate joke…”

“thank you for telling me. This reminds me of something similar that happened, would you like to hear about it?”

They might ask to hear your joke or your anecdote. They might tell you that it might help.

Or it might give them the space to say “that’s not what I really need right now” without it being awkward for them.

  1. Do you still feel awkward in this situation and just don’t know what to say?
    It’s actually OK to say that. It’s OK to say “thank you for telling me. I really don’t know what to say.”

    There is a wonderful children’s book called The Rabbit Listened which reassures us that when you are in the room when someone is upset, the best response is often to just be there. To listen. To sit with the person so they know you are there and that perhaps it even lends a greater validation to their feelings if you don’t know what to do.

How to replicate this online?
Obviously just not responding isn’t going to work here! Try encouraging them. Repeat what they have told you back to them so they know they are heard

“I want to make sure I understand… is that right?”

“what I hear is you are feeling… is that right?”

I hope you find this helpful.


How to choose images for marketing

Recently, some of my clients have been getting snagged on one particular issue; taking or choosing images to use online for their marketing.

Say you are thinking of designing a marketing campaign for sharing on multiple platforms and need to look for the right stock image or take suitable product photos.

Say you wrote a blog and created a great cover image for it but now you need to share that blog and image on multiple social media platforms – tweet it, create a Facebook or Instagram post or story, a Pin, a Google My Business post…

Why might any of that be challenging, you might well ask?

Well because each different platform and post type requires different image dimensions so finding one image that works across all platforms and for all purposes can be less of a science and more of a black art.

See what I mean?

Different shapes and sizes mean that fitting all of the elements of the image that you want to include (particularly if it’s not just a photo, but an advert or infographic that contains text) requires some prior planning.

Say this is the image you had chosen – would you still choose it after seeing it used on each canvas size? It helps you to choose the right image in the first place if you consider the applications of it.

This disparity across various platforms doesn’t just mean you should carefully consider choosing an image that works for all platforms, it’s also why posting custom-sized images natively to each site instead of cross-posting between platforms or using sharing apps to share the same image makes a huge difference to the finished result.

Say you shared an image of a product and Facebook keeps nagging you to boost it or turn it into an advert.

Facebook hosts images in a library once you have uploaded them but don’t make the mistake of uploading one image and using it for various purposes, use graphic design tools such as Canva to create an image with the correct dimensions for each purpose before uploading it.

See below as an example – the image you uploaded for a post probably isn’t going to work once Facebook has warped and stretched it for an ad or event cover image.

Facebook images

I hope this gives you food for thought, but if you are already finding your marketing a bit labour intensive and could do with some support to create some great content, you know where to find me.

I rarely update my blog, and I’m fine with that

It’s 5:30 in the morning on a Monday and I am reading my second book of the night (Leonard Cohen’s The Flame, followed by City of Girls by Elizabeth Gilbert in case you were wondering) with a nagging thought in the back of my head. “You love writing, why do you never update your own blog?”

And it’s a valid question. I spend the majority of my working life here at Butterflump promoting my glorious clients, but I very rarely do any self-promotion for Butterflump. I spent some time today thinking about why that is.

It’s not because I don’t have the confidence to promote myself; I’m very effective at what I do and I have plenty of experience doing it.

It’s a little because I already give away 25% of my time for free to charities like Beechtree Steiner Initiative and Leeds Dads, so when I think of advice that would help a business, rather than write a blog about it and give it away for free, I give that advice to my clients who pay me for the privilege of having access to my knowledge.

It’s not because I don’t have the time – I rarely sleep after all and that combined with being very organised, loving what I do and having a strong work ethic means I can absolutely factor in the time to knock out a blog or update Instagram or Facebook or *gulp* my Google My Business which is looking very unloved right now…

It’s a little because I don’t really need to do it to attract clients – I get great referrals and by the time I come to the end of my current projects I usually find that I have plenty of enquiries lined up to take their place. I tell my clients to do things because it makes sense for their business, not for the sake of it and I do take my own advice too!

It’s not because I don’t have anything to say, I am the voice for most of my clients and as such, I weigh in on all kinds of issues. I did a swift French Exit on my business and personal Twitter accounts a couple of years ago because the quality content was so padded with bots and trolls that I no longer saw the value in joining the discussion.

It’s a little because at the end of the day I would rather elevate the voice of others than hear the sound of my own voice, and that’s exactly why I work in marketing!

If you would like me to help you champion your business, get in touch.

How to game Facebook in 2018

Ah planning season. A magical time devoted to changes in marketing strategy for the new year. Following Facebook’s latest revision of the mighty Edgerank algorithm, it has become clear that some brands will need to scrap their existing approach to social media and make some rather dramatic changes, or else increase their Facebook budget.

Mark Zuckerberg’s intention is for our timelines to reflect content that is meaningful rather than merely relevant with friends/family/groups being prioritised over business/brands/media. Unless of course the latter pay to boost the post or the engagement on these posts is superlative, you’re going to see much less of it. What Facebook intends to do is discourage mindless scrolling and passive sharing, and instead make the experience of Facebook more engaging, even if as a result we spend less time on the site. Yes it’s finally quality over quantity, people.
Personally I’d rather the evolution of Edgerank didn’t continue to polarise the internet and create bubbles of bigotry and ignorance, but don’t get me started on that.

So unless you as a page owner begin to pay for the privilege of having your content seen (a fine line to tread given that the more regularly you pay, the more you will eventually need to pay because Facebook knows where their bread is ultimately buttered) you are going to have to actively game the algorithm.

How to structure a successful Facebook post for free

Post media:
Until recently, natively hosted videos and images were the safest bet to ensure that your post was successful rather than links which are penalised by Edgerank. For good reason too; links to external content such as a blog or article are not in Facebook’s best interests to prioritise in the feed because they encourages people to leave the site. This is why Instagram don’t enable hyperlinks in their posts. If you want to share a link to Facebook without boosting the post, consider posting the link instead in the first comment of your post or better yet as part of the engagement your post generates.
Level up: Whilst Edgerank still likes images and videos, Facebook Live is by far the best way to get the attention of your audience. Take the plunge!

Post language: Also known as questions questions questions. If you want people to respond to your post, structuring it as a question is the logical way to achieve this result. In terms of language, clickbait continues to reign supreme and using “should, would, which and who” over “when, what, where, why and how” is one way to influence your audience. Yes/no questions are good, multiple choice questions with 3 options are better. Open ended questions are timeless classics, especially if you are asking your audience to share personal opinions or experiences.
Not right for your brand? Another good way to encourage responses is to tap into meme culture and ask your audience to caption a photo you have shared or create a fill in the blank post. Just be mindful of the information you ask for in case your audience mistakes you for a social engineer.
Level up: Pages used to game Edgerank by openly encouraging people to like/share/tag people in comments but Facebook now actively penalises this practise. It is possible to do it subtly though by asking your followers who they would like to buy a product for/tell about something. This will lead them to tag that person in the comments or share the post to them without you having used language that Facebook will detect and spank you for.

Post time: These days everybody is online virtually all the time and thanks to Edgerank their timeline is no organised by the most recent post but by the most popular or relevant. If Zuckerberg gets his way however, we will all be spending much less time on Facebook so familiarise yourself with your page analytics to calculate whether there is an ideal time for your scheduled posts based on the performance of similar ones. Your Insights tab is your friend, check out “when your fans are online.”
Level up: Don’t forget to compare yourself to your competition by making use of the “top posts from pages you watch” feature. You can add these to “pages to watch” in your overview.

Post engagement: Fact. If you like and respond to every comment, you will boost the rankings for your post. It really is that simple.
Level up: tag the person in your response and use an emoticon.
Yes emoticons are utterly cringeworthy and I am genuinely concerned that one day they will replace actual language in some Idiocracy-style future… but Edgerank loves them.

Bonus round
As a page, your post options are limited to the following with the bonus option of being able to schedule and backdate posts in your page timeline.

As a person however, you have a number of post formats to choose from and you can tag your page in these in order to encourage new likes and followers, and engage with groups and on other pages on behalf of your page or by tagging your page too.

As a result, when new people visit your page and hopefully engage, make sure you invite them to like your page by regularly checking the list of “others” who have commented on your post, identifying whether they like your page and inviting them if they do not.

Does this seem like a lot to take in or a lot of effort? Get in touch and I’ll do the hard work for you, or demystify it a little more over a cup of tea and a wodge of cake.

A data nerd’s perspective on Website Design

Recently I was working on a CRM data verification project which involved visiting close to two thousand websites over the period of a few days and it absolutely blew my mind. Not the scope and scale of the project itself, but what I learned about the value of good web design.

You had one job!
When it comes to designing your website, all of the fabulous plug ins, branding, corporate videos, advertising and search engine optimisation in the world are utterly wasted efforts if you have not considered the basic function of your website, which is to allow your customers to find out information about your company.
Whilst it is important to consider the journey of your customer to your site (via a tweet, a blog you shared on Facebook or LinkedIn, by Googling your business name – measuring the source of the visit empowers you to tailor your marketing activity accordingly) it is equally important to remember why they are there.

Are they there to find out what you do? Where you are? Are they there to find your contact information so they can call you with an enquiry? Look at your own website, are you meeting these basic requirements? Out of 1800 websites that I visited in order to check what the business did, find the postcode and phone number and their links to social media accounts only 22% of the websites allowed me to find this information easily. Seriously, 22%. That’s mind boggling.

We scrumpleswish your flibberts to provide value added burbleglumpfts and deliver visionglitter
So many of the companies had admittedly beautiful websites, but my experience was made so frustrating as a result of having to trawl through web copy which did not make it clear what the function of the business was. Jargon does not impress your audience, it alienates and frustrates them.

For the benefit of those who have learned from sales and marketing seminars or business books to “sell the benefits, not the features” (or rather to sell the sizzle not the steak…) your customers are not googling “I want to increase my business value proposition via the application of collaborative media integrations” they are googling a product or service in plain terms.

Navigation is key
However you choose to structure your site, it doesn’t matter whether the contact details are at the bottom, top, side of a page or whether they can be found via the menu – as long as they can easily be found. You should also consider the merits of a contact form versus giving your customer the option to call or email you directly.
Want an honest assessment of your website and constructive advice about how to make it more user friendly?
I offer a free hour of consultancy for small businesses so get in touch.