Leave your phones on – How social media is changing business etiquette

imageAs a software start-up building on the Azure cloud, we’re part of the Microsoft BizSpark community. At their last event, there was live video streaming and Twitter interaction throughout. You didn’t need to be in the room to be part of the event and its conversations.

A fitting example of how insights could be shared in real time was given by Loic Le Meur who wrote and posted a blog inspired by his morning keynote during an afternoon panel discussion (if you look closely at Loic’s photos you can see Mark and I on the front row).

Compare this with a recent IoD event, where a glowing introduction to the event’s guest speaker was preceded by an instruction for attendees to switch off their phones. Ironically the central message of the event was that businesses need to be more open about sharing insights and make them more accessible. It was an excellent interactive workshop, but it completely missed that there are new tools for these (old) rules!

It frustrated me that I’d been asked to switch my phone off. I like to share real time insights and appreciate when Twitter friends (those I follow) do the same, especially when there’s an event of interest that I can’t physically join. Tweets widen the reach of conversations and add depth and perspective – real time responses add to my experience of events and it’s not unusual for me to ask a question to the room that has been put to me by someone outside of it.

When I raised these points to the guest speaker he was quick to see the irony and the benefits – especially when I mentioned that my tweets had caught the eye of a committee member at another IoD branch and might result in an additional speaking engagement.

Being a relatively new committee member of the IoD’s Young Directors Forum (YDF) I wasn’t sure how this comparison/feedback would be taken… I’m pleased to report there is now a commitment to request mobiles are left on (switched to silent) before future speaker introductions and the hashtag #YDF will be used for any related tweets.

I think good manners are very important and I’m not suggesting that it’s acceptable to text during dinner or use a laptop while driving (thanks Ajeet). Equally though, be aware that those tapping away on their phones may actually be listening more intently than those who aren’t, and increasing the reach of your meeting.

(Photo Credit: Laughing Squid)

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    • http://www.peninsulawyer.com Peninsulawyer

      Seems like more and more events are embracing this now… and it disappoints me that for some reason the Society for Computers & Law meetings always seem to be held in London or Manchester with no facility for them to be live-blogged, live-streamed etc. to members who are further afield.

      I’m not convinced about the use of monitors / screens behind the presenter broadcasting the “back channel” which is being tweeted using the event hashtag as this can be a bit distracting… also rather intimidating if you are the speaker – at one event I went to somebody was tweeting disparaging remarks about the speaker whilst he was giving his talk, which then flashed up on the huge screen behind him!

      Generally I just make sure the phone is on silent rather than switching it off anyway… never really had any objections provided it isn’t making a noise!

    • http://twitter.com/LindaCheungUK Linda Cheung

      Thanks Jon. Great comments. The tide is turning… I’d just like it to speed up and lose some of its attitude! While objections are rare, I think phone usage can frequently be misconstrued. It’s been interesting to be at events where disparaging looks have changed into wonderment at what the tapping was for…

    • http://www.markbower.com Mark Bower

      Company culture can have a huge impact too. I remember a business meeting (not an event) with Vodafone folks a few years ago. They were constantly on their phones.

      When asked what they were doing they explained that they were group messaging each other, discussing our sales pitch in real time while we were delivering it.

      Is it rude? Maybe. Is it valuable? Definitely.

      It meant their questions were pointed, and they were able to drive the meeting to a more pointed close more quickly. Whatever you think of the approach, it had real business value for them.

    • http://twitter.com/RichardMaybury Richard Maybury

      Totally agree Linda. New tools have always impacted society – economically, socially and culturally.

      I can’t remember the last time I asked people to turn their phones off at any of my training or speaking events. I only ask that people put their phones on silent if we are in a meeting to work on a specific issue that needs a lot of combined focus and energy.

      People have been writing down their insights, interpretations, reminders, actions and to-dos from meetings since the first meeting was arranged. Often this collateral is then morphed into something else – a document, an email a task or whatever.

      It is just so useful for everyone concerned (the writers and the readers) to have access to insights from an event.

      There is very little ‘distraction’ difference between a person writing down an insight into their Black’n’Red notebook and tapping out the same thing on their phone – there is, though, a massive ‘attention’ difference in the sharing of that insight if it is tweeted though!

      ‘Phones on – brain engaged – fingers at the ready’ I say!

    • Harshad2456

      Linda, this is total bollocks! If I pay good money to hear a speaker in whom I am interested, the last thing I want is some narcissistic turd sitting next to me playing finger dexterity on their smart phone and waiting for a reply from some sad sack that pretends to be interested. Unfortunately at the IOD that does now seem to be the norm. As it happens I used to be a regular attender at many functions and I have never heard the presenter say to switch your mobile off. Perhaps if you spent less time annoying people sitting next to you and more time concentrating on what was being said, you would have heard the usual request when I used to go there which was to switch your mobile to mute. Not only good manners and respectful to the speaker, but you might just possibly take on board what the speaker was saying in the full context of their discourse. I now find more pleasure in going to venues where mobiles, or idiots using them in mid lecture are banned. I suggest, try The French or Dutch Chambers of Commerce. Sad, because the IOD used to be a good place to go.

    • http://twitter.com/LindaCheungUK Linda Cheung

      It’s often said that a strong reaction is better than none! Courtesy is incredibly important to me, which is why I didn’t tweet after the request. I approached the speaker and the person who introduced him after the event to query/explain – it was a light bulb moment for them. We’ve kept in touch since and they’ve sent their thumbs-up for this blog via a mixture of email and tweets – it’s not either-or, it’s about adding new tools to the mix. Thanks for contributing to the discussion.

    • http://twitter.com/jillney jillian ney

      I enjoyed reading this post and everyone’s comments. It certainly seems to be a talking point! As someone who presents a lot, I have become used to other using technology to take notes or spread knowledge through their networks while I present. There is a clear change in the way we choose to communicate and how technology impact on our daily lives.

      I think we should embrace this and be pleased that others are listening to what we are saying and want to share this knowledge through their networks – I know that I always am.
      I have to say while I present at university (tutor/lecture) I am aware of students using smartphones which I do get them to put away, and if there is a lot of attention around one laptop I get this closed down – clearly these students are not taking notes etc, they are surfing the web or texting friends. It can come down to confidence while you present. If you see other typing or using phones you may think that they are not interested in what you are saying.

      I once presented my PhD thesis to a panel and one member took out his Blackberry and battered the keys all the way through – off putting to say the least! When it came time to make comments he gave the most constructive. He was listening and taking notes in a different way. It takes a bit of getting used to but now I welcome those using technology while I speak.

      I don’t think it will be off putting for speakers to see the use of technology once they are exposed to it – they may even be doing the same thing when others are speaking! The conference can be easily followed through social networks and our knowledge is disseminated further.

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    • Ajeet (Minhas & Dixon LLP)

      Perceptions are certainly mixed with regard to the correctness of engaging in social media activity, like Twitter and Facebook, during ‘formal’ proceedings versus ‘informal’ events. This blog is timely as it forces the spotlight on matters of business etiquette that are seemingly undergoing some adjustment to house the growing interplay of technology in our ever-busy daily lives.

      The issue arises not from the use of social media per se, but the use of the enabling tool such as a smartphone handset. Using this whilst being spoken to, has a propensity to cause distraction to the speaker and/or offence if construed as signalling disinterest in whatever the speaker has to say. From the speaker’s standpoint, it is virtually impossible to ‘know’ what matter is preoccupying the listener’s attention without either asking or being told, and in face-to-face situations technological devices could be regarded as barriers to human interaction (reduced eye contact making it arduous to gauge feedback, etc.) depending on the frequency of use . If you remove the technology from the equation and substitute it with an event programme or other event-related literature for example, perusing this material during the currency of an event would likely attract less controversy since its relevancy to proceedings is common between all those in attendance.

      Mark raises a very interesting point concerning small-group meetings and is evocative of my own experiences. I would find it somewhat discourteous if during a meeting comprised of a small group of participants, a member deemed it appropriate to use their smartphone for any purpose other than to add value to an item under discussion. Interestingly, I would probably be less concerned if it was (without limitation) a laptop, netbook or tablet….

      I can empathise with someone who considers their neighbour’s frequent ‘tapping away’ as an unwanted distraction. Depending on the device and whether or not it creates a ‘tapping sound’ during usage, this will not always be a problem for all as much as the complainant’s (deeply) entrenched dislike of seeing someone ‘tap away’. Again, provided the exercise of one’s independent free-will in ‘tapping’ causes no actual harm or wide offence/annoyance, the ethical argument is negligible on balance.

      The parameters of acceptability can be significantly widened if there is a case-by-case relaxed policy/house-rule as regards use of technology for social media reasons in the course of physical sessions. As Linda astutely mentions, genuine social media engagement by those in attendance offers potential benefits to the host(s) in non-exhaustive terms of free publicity reaching those whom the organiser would otherwise probably not have.

      We should be less conservative in our readiness to evolve from traditional ‘rules’ of business etiquette. I distinctly remember a chat with a businessman in Washington DC last summer who said the use of social media during business conferences is becoming increasingly pervasive reality, but subject to keeping phones and other similar devices on silent throughout. If English courts (arguably one of the most fastidious of institutions) can signal a green light to journalists to report in real time, then why should business not spearhead the accommodation of new marketing trends? After all, good, progressive business necessitates an entrepreneurial stance whatever the forum.

      La regola numero uno: “Please ensure all phones are on ‘silent’, (but feel free tweet a little mention about me, too!).

    • Ajeet (Minhas & Dixon LLP)

      Perceptions are certainly mixed with regard to the correctness of engaging in social media activity, like Twitter and Facebook, during ‘formal’ proceedings versus ‘informal’ events. This blog is timely as it forces the spotlight on matters of business etiquette that are seemingly undergoing some adjustment to house the growing interplay of technology in our ever-busy daily lives.

      The issue arises not from the use of social media per se, but the use of the enabling tool such as a smartphone handset. Using this whilst being spoken to, has a propensity to cause distraction to the speaker and/or offence if construed as signalling disinterest in whatever the speaker has to say. From the speaker’s standpoint, it is virtually impossible to ‘know’ what matter is preoccupying the listener’s attention without either asking or being told, and in face-to-face situations technological devices could be regarded as barriers to human interaction (reduced eye contact making it arduous to gauge feedback, etc.) depending on the frequency of use . If you remove the technology from the equation and substitute it with an event programme or other event-related literature for example, perusing this material during the currency of an event would likely attract less controversy since its relevancy to proceedings is common between all those in attendance.

      Mark raises a very interesting point concerning small-group meetings and is evocative of my own experiences. I would find it somewhat discourteous if during a meeting comprised of a small group of participants, a member deemed it appropriate to use their smartphone for any purpose other than to add value to an item under discussion. Interestingly, I would probably be less concerned if it was (without limitation) a laptop, netbook or tablet….

      I can empathise with someone who considers their neighbour’s frequent ‘tapping away’ as an unwanted distraction. Depending on the device and whether or not it creates a ‘tapping sound’ during usage, this will not always be a problem for all as much as the complainant’s (deeply) entrenched dislike of seeing someone ‘tap away’. Again, provided the exercise of one’s independent free-will in ‘tapping’ causes no actual harm or wide offence/annoyance, the ethical argument is negligible on balance.

      The parameters of acceptability can be significantly widened if there is a case-by-case relaxed policy/house-rule as regards use of technology for social media reasons in the course of physical sessions. As Linda astutely mentions, genuine social media engagement by those in attendance offers potential benefits to the host(s) in non-exhaustive terms of free publicity reaching those whom the organiser would otherwise probably not have.

      We should be less conservative in our readiness to evolve from traditional ‘rules’ of business etiquette. I distinctly remember a chat with a businessman in Washington DC last summer who said the use of social media during business conferences is becoming increasingly pervasive reality, but subject to keeping phones and other similar devices on silent throughout. If English courts (arguably one of the most fastidious of institutions) can signal a green light to journalists to report in real time, then why should business not spearhead the accommodation of new marketing trends? After all, good, progressive business necessitates an entrepreneurial stance whatever the forum.

      La regola numero uno: “Please ensure all phones are on ‘silent’, (but feel free tweet a little mention about me, too!).

    • Ajeet (Minhas & Dixon LLP)

      Perceptions are certainly mixed with regard to the correctness of engaging in social media activity, like Twitter and Facebook, during ‘formal’ proceedings versus ‘informal’ events. This blog is timely as it forces the spotlight on matters of business etiquette that are seemingly undergoing some adjustment to house the growing interplay of technology in our ever-busy daily lives.

      The issue arises not from the use of social media per se, but the use of the enabling tool such as a smartphone handset. Using this whilst being spoken to, has a propensity to cause distraction to the speaker and/or offence if construed as signalling disinterest in whatever the speaker has to say. From the speaker’s standpoint, it is virtually impossible to ‘know’ what matter is preoccupying the listener’s attention without either asking or being told, and in face-to-face situations technological devices could be regarded as barriers to human interaction (reduced eye contact making it arduous to gauge feedback, etc.) depending on the frequency of use . If you remove the technology from the equation and substitute it with an event programme or other event-related literature for example, perusing this material during the currency of an event would likely attract less controversy since its relevancy to proceedings is common between all those in attendance.

      Mark raises a very interesting point concerning small-group meetings and is evocative of my own experiences. I would find it somewhat discourteous if during a meeting comprised of a small group of participants, a member deemed it appropriate to use their smartphone for any purpose other than to add value to an item under discussion. Interestingly, I would probably be less concerned if it was (without limitation) a laptop, netbook or tablet….

      I can empathise with someone who considers their neighbour’s frequent ‘tapping away’ as an unwanted distraction. Depending on the device and whether or not it creates a ‘tapping sound’ during usage, this will not always be a problem for all as much as the complainant’s (deeply) entrenched dislike of seeing someone ‘tap away’. Again, provided the exercise of one’s independent free-will in ‘tapping’ causes no actual harm or wide offence/annoyance, the ethical argument is negligible on balance.

      The parameters of acceptability can be significantly widened if there is a case-by-case relaxed policy/house-rule as regards use of technology for social media reasons in the course of physical sessions. As Linda astutely mentions, genuine social media engagement by those in attendance offers potential benefits to the host(s) in non-exhaustive terms of free publicity reaching those whom the organiser would otherwise probably not have.

      We should be less conservative in our readiness to evolve from traditional ‘rules’ of business etiquette. I distinctly remember a chat with a businessman in Washington DC last summer who said the use of social media during business conferences is becoming increasingly pervasive reality, but subject to keeping phones and other similar devices on silent throughout. If English courts (arguably one of the most fastidious of institutions) can signal a green light to journalists to report in real time, then why should business not spearhead the accommodation of new marketing trends? After all, good, progressive business necessitates an entrepreneurial stance whatever the forum.

      La regola numero uno: “Please ensure all phones are on ‘silent’, (but feel free tweet a little mention about me, too!).

    • Jo_clarke1969

      Good to see that #YDF are helping to change business etiquette … and indeed I think the more socially acceptable Twitter/blogging becomes the more likely we are to see this sort of thing being the norm.

      Just how much difference is there from someone using their phone to making notes and posting it afterwards – after all to get anywhere these days you have to effectively multi task!!!

      Maybe some organisers could be upset if they thought that material was being communicated to the “non paying” public BUT generally most would accept that the only thing you cannot avoid is change and advancement and surely the use tools such as Twitter should be regarded as advancement???

      I have found it most useful while studying especially once I had set up my *lists* so I could pool together sources of information for relevant areas in my life, which effectively saved me time – I even read the news through Twitter now to save flicking from one on line news site to another – the headlines are summarised and I can choose what I wish to read in more detail.

      Twitter IS the way forward – I am a massive fan.