All posts by Glen Gonzalez

About Glen Gonzalez

Glen is a Partner and Senior Consultant at Smith. Contact the author directly

Struggling With the “Me” in Social Media

Lessons learned from writing for Smith’s Ideas page

As a communications consultant, I sometimes feel like a rock band roadie. 

My job is to understand what my client is trying to get across to their audience and then figure out how to do that in their voice. I craft the message, set up the equipment, attract a crowd, and crank things up to 11. (And, of course, my clients are all rock stars.)

But, when Smith launched its social media strategy in 2016, I was asked to share my thoughts, my experiences and my knowledge — all in my own voice. The mic was suddenly shoved into my face, and I froze.

It took a year of battling self-doubt before I could stop hiding behind endless revisions and actually publish my first article. That’s a strange thing to admit given that I write all the time and the content I’ve created for clients has been read by millions of people. But writing under a by-line is different than writing under someone else’s logo. When social media is about me, I don’t do so well.

Here are a few things that I did to shake off the stage fright and write articles more regularly. If your goal is to publish more of your own original content online, maybe you’ll find some of these tips helpful. 

Describe Your Audience

Knowing your audience will answer a lot of questions regarding what you write about and how. It will give you clarity and focus. Even if you’re publishing on a platform that gives near global access to your content, you are not writing for everyone. Choose who you’re speaking to. Your audience might be a demographic, a group or just one person. For me, I write like I’m writing to my best client, not my friends and not an anonymous “HR professional.” That puts me in a state of mind from which the words flow more easily.

State Your Goal

For some bloggers, the goal is to keep readers scrolling through ads. For others, it’s to sell a product or service. For others, it’s a form of activism. Know why you’re spending time on your blog — and write it down. Having a clear purpose will prod you forward.

Write from a Place of Authority

Whenever I start typing, this nagging voice in my head asks, “Why would anyone listen to you on this topic?” To silence this inner critic, I focus on things I know about and things that I’ve done. I avoid making unsupported generalizations and back claims with data or links to authoritative sources. This not only sharpens my copy, it builds trust with readers. 

Give Away Something Valuable

That nagging voice I mentioned above has another favorite question: “Why should anyone take the time to read this?”

I think the answer is in one of my previous posts: 

“The phrase “pay attention” tells you what you need to know. Attention is like money. It’s our cognitive currency. We only have so much of it to spend, and when we spend it, we expect something in return.”

From “People Don’t Read.”

What you give away will depend on your goal, but try to make it tangible and/or practical. It could be product samples, discounts, recipes, tips, checklists, instructions, recommendations, etc. Your readers will appreciate and remember you for it. 

Don’t Not Be You

Finding a unique voice is something many, if not all, writers struggle with. For me, a more authentic voice began to emerge in my posts when I wrote regularly in this format, stuck to things I cared about, and let my personality shine through. 

There is one thing each of us has to offer that no one else does: our unique perspective and life experience. With that in mind I simply do my best to share personal experiences that I think my clients could benefit from. Maybe not everyone sees an obvious link between guitar tablature and employee communication, but I do. And maybe sharing that idea will give a client a different perspective, or at least amuse them intellectually for a few minutes. Your peculiarities will help you hone your voice and find an audience.

Sharing Is Caring

As that big purple dinosaur Barney says, Sharing is caring. That’s a handy way to sum up the advice above. Share what you care about, and care about your audience’s time and needs. Let your content flow from there.

Let’s Connect

Do you have any lessons you’ve learned from writing a blog? Are you looking for help getting your ideas into words? We’d love to hear from you. 

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Constructing Memory

A few tips for making important everyday information more memorable.

Just like your organization tries to attract and retain talent, good communication should attract attention and help the audience retain important information. 

In a previous post, I offered some tips for attracting attention. 

Here, I focus on helping your audience retain the information you send them and then retrieve that information for later use. 

Dual-Process Theory

To design communications that improve the retention and retrieval of information, a little understanding of how memory works can help.

In short, memory relies on two types of thinking: System 1 and System 2. This is known as the dual-process theory.

System 1 is where more routine, unconscious thinking happens. It’s fast, automatic, everyday.

System 2 is more conscious and problem-based. It’s slow, intentional, complex.

When I was learning to play guitar, forming a chord was like a Twister game for my fingers. It required conscious thought, focus and effort. That’s System 2. Once I mastered a chord, playing it became effortless (cognitively speaking). That’s System 1. Once a chord was handled by System 1 thinking, I could weave it naturally into a song or do other intellectually demanding things simultaneously, like read lyrics. 

To make information you deliver today useful in the future, think of that information as though it were a skill, like learning to play guitar or ride a bike. The right information has to be mastered so it can be woven later into the audience’s thoughts and actions.

What Do We Want Where?

If you think across the employee experience, you might be able to pick out which steps or behaviors should be System 1 (what people need to remember) and which should be System 2 (what or how people ought to think).

Here are a few examples. 

 System 1 (automatic, from memory)System 2 (analytical, critical, deliberate)
I need to make changes to my 401(k) account.Knowing what app to use.Selecting investment options. 
I need to complete a performance review.Knowing what website or form to access.Providing constructive feedback. 
I’m stressed out.My company offers mental health services.Reaching out to the appropriate service.

How to Make it Memorable

Knowing certain types of information by rote can help employees be more self-reliant, cutting down on confusion, phone calls and wasted time. This can be measurably valuable to both the employee and the employer. 

Here are some tips for making everyday information more memorable. 

  1. Involve the senses. Clients often ask us to help make their information “more visual.” That’s good. How something looks is important to the way it is perceived, understood and retrieved. But the brain uses all of the body’s senses to gather information, so how something sounds, what it means and how it feels are also important to forming strong, useful memories. (And, don’t forget about our sense of smell.)
  2. Make your audience practice. Our short-term memory can usually hold 5 to 9 things for 15 to 30 seconds. You can help your audience remember something for a longer period of time by making them practice it. For example, if you’re trying to acquaint users with a new website, don’t rely on a single email with a link to do the trick. Parse out information and details over time and give your audience numerous valid and relevant reasons to access that site.
  3. Use consistent verbal and visual cues. According to psychology research, retrieval of information is generally better given similar contextual clues. The context can include the person’s surroundings, mood and emotions. You can provide the right clues by repeatedly presenting the same information in a consistent way. This is why we generally stress the importance of establishing visual and verbal guidelines for communications. They promote recognition and, hence, recall. 
  4. Frame the information. In communication, framing is packaging a message in a way that encourages certain interpretations over others. This can help your audience process information quickly by winnowing the number of possible interpretations they consider before reaching a conclusion. Consider how the following statements, though similar, provide different frames and how these distinct perspectives might influence one’s behaviors.

“We have inherited the earth from our ancestors.”

“We have been loaned the earth by our children.”

Let’s Connect

Are you struggling to create communication that attracts attention and helps your employees retain important information? Maybe we can help. We’d love to hear from you. 

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Your Employee Benefits Aren’t Benefits, They’re Features

Don’t drone on about what benefits you have, emphasize how these programs make employees’ lives better.

It’s easy to assume that phrases like “health care plan” and “long-term disability” will draw great people to your company like a power outlet at a Starbucks. But, to the average person, employee benefit program names are jargon. Insurance is boring, few people understand it and health care gets a bad wrap anyway.

Don’t lose your audience by droning on about what benefits you have. Instead, connect with your employees by emphasizing how these programs make their lives better. 

How does she think about your benefits?

Benefits vs. Features

Your employee benefits are not really benefits of working for your organization. They’re features of working for your organization.

Technically, yes, a “benefit” can be defined as “a service (such as health insurance) or right (as to take vacation time) provided by an employer in addition to wages or salary.” 

But, if we take more of a marketing perspective, a “benefit” is really something that improves your life while a feature is more like a fact. 

For example, the triple-camera is a feature of the iPhone. Being able to capture beautiful images in low light is one benefit of that feature. 

Now, let’s say a recruiter is chatting with a potential candidate about working for your company …

Candidate: “What kind of benefits do you offer?”

Recruiter: “We offer three health care plan options, prescription drug coverage, a health savings account, dental, vision, disability insurance, life insurance, paid time off and a 401(k) plan with a generous company match.” 

While the recruiter thinks she just gave a list of “benefits,” she actually just relayed a list of features.

To get to the actual benefits, you have to answer some questions:

  • Why does your organization offer each benefit plan in the first place? (The answer shouldn’t solely be “to compete with other employers for talent.”)
  • How do these offerings connect with your employees’ hopes and dreams? In what ways do they make the individual’s life better?

Once you’ve answered these questions, the recruiter’s response to that recruit might be more like this …

Recruiter: “We have many affordable ways to help you and your family get and stay healthy, a number of programs that protect your income if you get sick or hurt, paid time off so you can relax and recharge, and a generous plan to help you build wealth for retirement.”

This response is still a bit generic but isn’t it a little more appealing? 

When you think about your organization’s overall benefits package, there may be more distinctive benefits you can elucidate. Maybe you have an innovative package of voluntary benefits or a plan that helps with student debt. The trick is to get past the plan names, understand your audience, and restate your results in a way that connects on an emotional level.

Let’s Connect

Do you have a unique way of highlighting the real benefits of working for your organization? Are you looking for a little help? We’d love to hear from you. 


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A Quick Trip Through Employee Experience

Thinking in terms of the employee experience can help you improve communications.

Recently, a longtime client asked me, “What is employee experience and how does it make a difference when it comes to communications?” 

After we hung up, I reached out to one of my fellow partners here at Smith, Scott Walters, to explore ways we might summarize and capture that conversation. “A Quick Trip Through Employee Experience” is the result.

At the outset, we wanted the document itself to be an experience for both the audience and the creators alike. So, we took the opportunity to experiment with the design and format. Allow me to geek out a little …

Much of the graphic design work we do for our clients is based on grids. An underlying grid helps ensure a familiar composition across the various elements of a campaign, and they make it easy to position and size content. But, grids also result in a lot of sameness within a single visual identity system and across the many visual identity systems we work within. Bottom line (pun intended) … grids are great, but we needed a break!

“A Quick Trip Through Employee Experience” showcases a distinct painterly style uncommon in the visual identity systems we typically worth within. In an increasingly digital world, we thought something with a freer, more “hands-on” feel would help reinforce the human element of the story.  

This document is a PDF and it is best viewed through the Acrobat desktop application. We hope you’ll download it and enjoy the ride.

View Downloadable Map

Let’s Connect

Are you wondering how thinking in terms of the employee experience can make a difference in your communications? Are you looking for some unique graphic design? We’d love to hear from you. 

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