How to spot an online narcissist

Narcissistic behaviour appears to be increasing online. What problems can that cause for you and how do you deal with it?

Putin and trump (courtesy

A narcissist on the Internet is a problem, because just as they are difficult to deal with in the real world, they become an issue online. Narcissists lack empathy, and that means they can cause problems with teams as well as lead to issues with communication and support. Online, this can lead to problems with email, team communication systems such as Slack, as well as difficulties with group tasks, such as content production. Narcissists disrupt and can instil conflict. As a result, spotting and dealing with online narcissists is essential.

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Sometimes, it is easy to spot an online narcissist. You only have to look at Donald Trump’s Twitter account to see that it has a significant level of “me, me, me” in it. One of the key indicators of a narcissistic personality is that the individual is effectively saying in their communications “I love myself and I know you love me too”. That sentiment is clear within Donald Trump’s Twitter activity.

However, when you look at the Twitter account of the President of Russia, you will find it difficult to see anything that suggests Vladimir Putin is a narcissist. This Twitter account is limited to official announcements and diary engagements. Maybe that could be why it has less than 1.5% of the followers that Donald Trump gets. We apparently love a personality, when it comes to social media.

Even so, some would argue that to be a world leader you need a degree of narcissism anyway.  So how come one world leader openly displays narcissistic personality characteristics online, and another does not do so? After all, one study of the personality characteristics of Vladimir Putin says that he does have narcissistic tendencies. So, how come we cannot spot these easily online?

The reason is that one of these world leaders has a high degree of extroversion and the other is an introvert. There is a clear link between extroversion and the desire to be on social media. Most of the people who are regular posters on social networks have high levels of extroversion in their personality. Trump is an extrovert, but Putin is an introvert. Hence, online it is easier to spot an extroverted narcissist than an introverted narcissist. As a result, if you spot narcissists online you are generally only finding the extroverted ones; there could be several introverted narcissists you miss.

Spotting online narcissists

Narcissism isn’t new; it’s just easier to spot these days. Indeed, a decade ago I wrote a post pointing out that social networking had brought about a significant increase in narcissistic behaviour online.  This activity can be distracting and disruptive, so it is essential to spot who is an online narcissist so that you can determine in advance your potential response to what they are doing on social networks or in an email.

Here are several factors that are used by narcissists online:

  • Positive self- statements, showing a degree of supremacy over others
  • Repetitive posts showing supposed intellectual superiority
  • Regular criticism of others
  • Demands for loyalty
  • Requests for re-tweets and shares, but almost never shares or recommends others
  • Frequent posts associating themselves with others in senior positions

These kinds of social media posts are indicative of someone who has narcissistic tendencies, so they suggest you need to take care with such individuals.

What to do with online narcissists

A narcissist is attempting to trigger a reaction, and it is easy to get provoked by what they say in emails and in social media posts. So, it might seem sensible to ignore them. The problem is, in many cases that just seems to prompt them into ever-more outrageous behaviour in a further attempt to get you to react.

However, if you react, that also encourages them to repeat their online behaviour as, to them, it just confirms they were right all the time. So they carry on, in the belief that what they are doing is right.

It seems as though the recipients of messages from narcissists are in a lose-lose position.

However, it does not need to be like that. There are things you can do to minimise the disruption of narcissistic behaviour online. Ignoring the messages will not make them go away, so you do need to react. But it is the way that you respond which is crucial.

Research suggests that narcissists are either “vulnerable” or “grandiose”. The way that you react depends on what kind of narcissist they are. A vulnerable narcissist doesn’t feel good about themselves, so your reaction could be to be supportive and demonstrate they are OK. However, the grandiose narcissist would take this as confirmation of their superiority, so your reaction to these individuals could be about encouraging their support for your ideas.

In essence, regardless of the type of narcissist, one of the best ways of dealing with them appears to be in confirming, in a small way, that they are indeed good people with good ideas. Don’t go overboard on praise, but a simple acknowledgement of their goodness will help.

The next thing is to think about yourself. Consider your own reactions and decide to set-aside any negativity. Talk to others on your team about your response to messages and social media posts from narcissistic people. In other words, put their messages into context – and other people can help you do this. Otherwise, you react – perhaps over-react – and the narcissist has thereby achieved what they wanted, which only provokes them into doing more.

You will, though, at some stage need to change the views of a narcissist or get them on your side to help you. All you have to do is praise them in a small way and then demonstrate how much the ideas you are suggesting are in their favour, show them off in a good light and support their position. In other words, make all your proposed changes about them.

Narcissism may well be on the increase online because social media technologies appear to encourage it. So it is wise to be able to spot such behaviour and deal with it before it disrupts your workplace.

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Can you create a consumer subculture?

If you can create a consumer subculture for what you sell, then you are on to a surefire winner

Harley-Davidson bikers are a consumer subculture

There are two types of motorcycle riders in the world: Harley-Davidson owners and “the rest”. That’s no joke. That is the finding of a three-year ethnographic study of the Harley-Davidson community. The people who own a Harley-Davidson see themselves as different and set apart from other motorcyclists. They consider themselves to be unique; they are a consumer subculture.

This is not a peculiarity of hairy bikers. You find the same feeling among serious skateboarders, for instance. Or you can find such feelings within fashion groupings, such as those who love the “goth” look. Back in the 1970s, you found a similar notion with “punk rockers”. In the 1960s it was the “mods”. These are all groupings of people who perceive themselves to be different to the rest of society; they are “subcultures”.

Hersham Boys coverHowever, often those people in subcultures do not realise how much commercial stimulation there is of their beliefs. Punk rockers believed they were rebels, fighting against the establishment. Yet ensuring those individuals in the punk scene got what they wanted to stimulate those feelings were multi-million-pound record companies and fashion brands. It was the establishment that was enabling the punk rock subculture. And I know that, because I worked for a record company at the time, promoting punk bands like Sham 69 and Siouxsie and the Banshees.

Subcultures are significant commercial successes

Some might argue that if you can tap into, or even create, a subculture you are on to a surefire commercial winner; ask Harley Davidson. This is known as a “consumption subculture” where everyone buying the products or services have shared ideals and common interests. They see themselves as part of “the gang” or a “tribe”. No-one else is quite like them.

This commercial success often happens with pop stars. The followers of Justin Bieber even have a name for their tribe; they are “Beliebers”. For Harley-Davidson owners, if you are not a “HOG” you are no-one. (HOG is the Harley Owners Group – created by Harley-Davidson itself.)

User communities are not subcultures

One of the main confusions within many businesses is believing that they have a “community” of users, which makes some kind of “fan-base” or consumer subculture. This simply isn’t true. Your local supermarket has a community of shoppers, but they only exist as a group out of necessity. Similarly, there is a community of owners of the Ford Ka, but it is hardly a subculture. In Europe, there have been 1.9m units sold since 1997. Yet the Ford Ka’s Facebook Page has a mere 197,000 followers – just 10% of the “community”.

It is a mistake to think that just because a group of people have bought the same thing, or shop at the same place that they are a “community”. Do Ford Ka users have common goals and shared interests directly related to the vehicle? Hardly. They may have a common goal and the shared interest of having a low-cost car that gets them from A to B. But that’s not specifically about the Ford Ka. After all, a Harley-Davidson user could buy any two-wheeled motorised device. But they wouldn’t dream of it.

Subcultures change your business

If you can create a consumer subculture, you need to be prepared to act differently within your company. For a community of users, you are much more in charge. Ford does not really have to respond to the likes and dislikes of their “community” of users. They can always attract new buyers who need a cheap vehicle – any cheap car.

However, if your business has a subculture associated with it, you need to respond to what those people do and want. Harley-Davidson cannot do anything that would upset the HOGs, for instance. Justin Bieber has been learning over the past couple of years that upsetting the Beliebers has consequences.

Even so, having a consumer subculture can work wonders, if you use it wisely. Data from Nielsen show that 84% of people say that the most influential aspect of what they will buy is what their friends and colleagues say about an item. In other words, people trust their community more than they trust your business. That means if you can get the community to talk about your products and services, you are more likely to gain further sales or more leads. But that means you have to trust the community to do your selling. And that’s the hard part for many businesses. They feel as though they are giving up control.

How to create a subculture for your business

The first step in creating a subculture is in changing attitudes within your industry. You need to ensure that everyone in the company buys-in to the notion that the customers can be in control.

The next thing is to provide those customers with a means of being in control. You can create a user group or a membership system of some kind. However, if it is “your” membership group, then it will not be perceived as an independent culture. All your business has to do is provide the means, but the membership does the rest.

You also need to provide your fledgeling consumer subculture with some means of identification. This can be a badge or be identifying clothing. Your members need to “stand out” and look different to other kinds of buyers of similar products and services. Having a simple loyalty scheme or an online membership group is not enough. Members of a consumer subculture are seeking to use their membership as part of their self-identity. They need to stand out and look different to “the rest”. If you can do something to help that, you can stimulate the development of a subculture.

If you take these steps, the rest is over to the customers themselves. But they will be the biggest advocates for your business, providing you with the best word of mouth marketing you can imagine.

Excessive video gaming is a mental disorder and that could affect your business

The World Health Organisation has classified excess video gaming as a mental disorder. This has real implications for online businesses.

A tired video gamer

There are two organisations in the world who decide whether something is a psychological condition. One is the American Psychiatric Association which publishes the “Diagnostic and Statistical Manual” (the DSM), and the other is The World Health Organisation, which produces the “International Classification of Diseases” (the ICD). The World Health Organisation has announced that the next edition of ICD, due out in June, will contain “Excessive Video Gaming” as a mental disorder. The American Psychiatric Association will probably not be far behind. When they published the most recent edition of DSM, there was a section on the possibility of “Internet Gaming Disorder” as a psychological condition. The Association said that the potential condition was worthy of further study. That’s probably a code for “we think it’s a real condition, but we don’t have enough data yet”.

Researchers and clinicians are agreed; online activity is affecting our health. As yet, there are no specific disorders, such as “online dependent depression”, but they are probably on their way for an official classification. Already there is a condition called “Illness Anxiety Disorder”, and one of the diagnostic criteria of that is frequent searches for disease-related subjects on the Internet. What’s clear from a growing body of evidence is that the Internet does have an impact on our mental health.  Indeed, the UK Children’s commissioner recently said that social media is harmful to some children’s emotional development.

It is now evident that the Internet has a particular power over many people, leading to the potential for addiction and obsession. It can seemingly cause compulsive behaviour as well. And that’s before you even consider the possibility for people to become abusive and vindictive. When social media “trolls” are confronted by their victims and the impact their comments have had on them, they are mortified. Few online “trolls” appreciate the impact of their words. They are just lashing out “in the moment”, thinking they are just talking to a friend in private, not realising they are broadcasting to the world and upsetting a real person. Once they are aware of this, they are frequently repentant. It is an indication that online technology can affect everyone’s behaviour, turning nice, rational individuals, into abusive hate-mongers.

In the office, this means that you could well have individuals who are obsessed with specific online activities, eating into their productive time at work. There could be people who are more depressed, their mental health affected by being online. You could also have people in the office who become more compulsive online, leading to issues such as reputational damage. Accepting that your workforce is affected by the Internet and that it changes their behaviour, as well as their mental health, is essential for business owners these days. And if you are in a business of one, it is even more critical that you get to grips with this. The Internet could be affecting your entire performance and psychological state.

What to do about the Internet mental health issue

Once you have accepted that the Internet does affect the minds of your workforce, and yourself, it’s time to set up a plan as to what to do so you can minimise that impact. If you employ people, getting them to accept the issue is an excellent first step. Making people aware of the issues and encouraging them to discuss the way they use the Internet and how it affects them is a good place to start.

You might also have regular ideas sessions where people discuss ways they can achieve specific tasks without the Internet, reducing any dependence that your business has on it. For instance, studies show that “corporate memory” is disappearing. This is where knowledge is shared within the workforce, residing in their brains. When an issue arises, or a solution is needed a team with shared corporate memory can frequently come up with the answer based on their prior knowledge. However, these days people are not bothering to remember things in the first place because they think that whatever the problem, Google will come up with the answer. Except it doesn’t. Companies are losing hours and hours of productivity each week because of the decreasing size of “corporate memory”. Getting suggestions on how individuals can find alternatives to the Internet could, in this instance, help your business as well as improving the mental health of your employees by making them realise there are other things they can use, besides the Internet.

Maybe you or your Human Resources team need to re-write policies and procedures that take in to account the impact of the Internet on mental health. Perhaps you also need to think about support programmes for staff too.

One thing is for sure. The Internet is psychologically affecting your employees and yourself. It’s time to think what you are you going to do about that.

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Do you know your ABC from your LBC? You should

The broadcaster Nick Ferrari has launched a campaign on the radio station LBC to improve the education of children about online bullying. Here’s why you need to support that campaign.

A victim of cyberbullyingBy the time you have finished reading this article at least two children will have been bullied online. When you go to bed tonight, around 11,000 youngsters in the UK will have suffered some kind of online abuse. And that’s just today. It is happening every day, and by the time we are all wishing each other “Happy New Year” in 12 months time, around four million children will have been the victims of cyberbullying.

It has to stop.

But there are two main problems. Firstly, our education system is woefully behind the times. The curriculum doesn’t even include anything about how to use social media. That’s bonkers, considering the first online social networks were available in 1978 (before the web was invented); social media is not new. Secondly, parents are also out-of-date. Most of them wouldn’t know a “snap” from a “poke”, yet they allow their children to wander around the social media world without any real attention.

One excellent step in the right direction is the “ABC” campaign from the radio station, LBC. Broadcaster Nick Ferrari is Leading Britain’s Conversation on bullying through the “Anti-Bullying Charter“. This campaign aims to provide ideas to schools so that children can learn how to avoid problems online and deal with them if they arise. The ABC campaign deserves our support. Otherwise millions of children will miss out on vital education to help them gain the massive benefits of the Internet without the problems. And as shown on the Nick Ferrari programme this week, cyberbullying is sometimes fatal.


Various studies on cyberbullying make grim reading yet action by governments has been tepid. Seven years ago, the American Academy of Pediatrics pointed out that this was a growing problem and needed attention. Three years before that in 2010, researchers pointed out the issue was important and subject to rapid alteration as technology changed quickly. Many governments don’t appear to have listened, as legislation is patchy, even if it exists. One study in Sweden suggested that only 4% of online attacks end up in a prosecution. In other words, the vast majority of online bullying goes on without being dealt with, the perpetrators undeterred.

However, we can not just blame intransigent or slow-acting governments; parents also haven’t adequately dealt with the problems raised by social media. Millions of children are using social networks that their parents have no experience of using. So, how can those parents advise youngsters on how to stay safe or use the networks to deal with bullying when it arises?

Think of it this way. As a parent, you probably played in a park when you were a child. You understand what it is like playing in a park from your own experience. Now, as an adult, you can comprehend the dangers in the park, and you can use your grown-up thinking and your childhood experience to support your children and advise them on how to use the local park without much risk. If you have no knowledge of a network, like Snapchat for instance, allowing your children to use it would be like sending them alone to the local park which you had never used, and never visited. In that kind of situation, most parents would say their child could not attend the local park until Mum and Dad had been to see what it was like. Yet, those same mums and dads allow their children to wander around social networks of which they have no knowledge.

Extending the ABC campaign with D and E

I am adding “D” and “E” to the Nick Ferrari campaign – “Desire Experience”. Parents should have a deep desire to experience the social networks that their children use. That way you can help them when youngsters are victims of bullying. This is important as one study has shown that around 50% of children have little idea of how to change privacy settings on the networks they use. If parents understand the networks themselves, they can help their children deal with problems. But if mums and dads don’t even use the networks their children use, how can they possibly advise and support them when things go wrong?

Parents need to take action because, according to one study, many teachers do not know how to deal with the problem of cyberbullying. That’s why parents need to get involved and is also why LBC’s ABC campaign is vital as it will provide the education system with guidance on what can be done. At the moment, schools are pretty much on their own, and research shows that much of what schools are currently doing only works in the short-term. We need a longer-term solution to cyberbullying, and that’s why the Anti-Bullying Charter from LBC could be so important as it will focus the education system on methods that work.

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[box type=”shadow”] If you think your child may get bullied online, check out the warning signs provided by the NSPCC. Cyberbullying signs and symptoms[/box]


Social media is harmful to your children

Social media is harmful to children. Numerous studies now point to emotional damage, particularly for younger children. Here’s what you can do about it.

Child taking selfie

The Children’s Commissioner in the UK, Anne Longfield, has said that considerable emotional harm is being done to young children as a result of social media. She made the claims in launching a report on the impact of social media on primary school children.

Almost seven years ago, Mark Zuckerberg suggested that under-13s should be granted access to Facebook.  The fact that it is illegal in some countries (not the UK) for under-13s to be given access to social media hasn’t stopped millions of children using such sites. Besides, when the CEO of Facebook suggested children should get access, it was technically challenging for most of them to do so. The iPhone was only three years old itself. Nowadays, smartphones are an essential add-on for the playground; if you don’t have a smartphone in your pocket at school you risk being seen as an “outsider” or “not normal”.

Concerns about the impact of smartphones and social media on children are not new. Back in 2008, for instance, a review of European research showed that there had already been 235 studies about children’s use of Internet technologies in just 18 countries investigated. Four years ago, the Daily Mail, suggested that the heavy use of the Internet was a mental health issue for children.

It’s not just the Daily Mail, though. Medical News recently reported a study showing that smartphone use can damage mental health leading to depression and anxiety. Plus, almost a year ago, the Royal Society for Public Health published a league table of social networks and their impact on child mental health, suggesting that Instagram was the most negative. And it’s not just children who suffer. A recent study found that long-term use of Facebook is associated with a reduction in mental health in adults too.

Mounting evidence like this shows one thing: social media is damaging to your mental health.

We know from many years of research that face-to-face social activity enhances psychological well-being. Indeed, a range of ill-health problems is linked to isolation and loneliness. Once you take people out of their single existence, putting them into social groups, for instance, their health issues frequently disappear altogether. Social activity is life-enhancing.

So, you might think that social activity online would also produce the same impact. However, the increasing amount of evidence shows that online social activity appears to have the reverse effect of a real-world social life. Rather than improving our mental health, it seems to lower it.

Why social media fools you into thinking you are feeling good

The problem is, social networks play a psychological trick on us. They provide a short-term “high” making us feel good “in the moment”. The burst of neurological activity that you get when you see someone has “liked” your post makes you feel good. Seeing images of friends and having people talk with you on Snapchat also provides the same kind of brain impact. Essentially, the social media activity we see causes our “reward pathway” in our brains to be stimulated. The only downside to that is that the reward doesn’t last long, so we seek another “fix”.

As yet there is no official diagnosis of “social media addiction” or, for that matter, “internet addiction”. But ask any therapist, and they’ll tell you that they see plenty of people with issues like this. Furthermore, the bodies that decide whether a psychological condition exists are the World Health Organisation and the American Psychiatric Association. They have rejected calls for technology addictions to be included in their diagnostic manuals. However, things appear to be changing. Just a few days ago, the World Health Organisation announced that it would now recognise “gaming disorder” where people could be given a diagnosis for excessive use of online games, for instance. Some experts have campaigned for “social media addiction” to be added to the diagnostic manuals too. So far, those calls have been rejected on the grounds of lack of evidence. But the evidence is mounting.

The fact that social media makes us feel good in the short term only makes the potential for addiction higher. We can – thanks to smartphones – quickly go back for another quick fix. And so the cycle gets repeated. Adults can manage this, to some extent. Work helps, for instance, as it gets in the way of continually checking social media. But children with a lower ability for independent thought and weaker emotional skills are more vulnerable. They cannot manage their social media activity as well as adults.

How to help your children

The time has come to accept that social media is harmful to children. True, it has some significant benefits too. However, many children use social media unchecked, unsupervised and without guidance. That’s like allowing them to roam the streets without ever giving them advice on crossing roads, dealing with strangers or how to find their way home. Yet, millions of children are using social networks that their parents do not use or understand. That cannot carry on.  If you have children, you need to use and understand their social networks. That’s step one.

The second step in helping is making a regular time for social media. Children will use it to stay part of their “in group”, but managing that brain impact is vital. Your brain wants another “hit” because it is never sure when it is going to get the required fix. But if you have a timetable then your brain can relax a bit, knowing it will be able to get another “high” at the appointed time. So, setting up a family “social media time” each day when the whole family uses social media is good for all of you. But parents also have to be good role models. That means as adults you also have to restrict social media usage to set times. Otherwise, your children will see that you can use social networks whenever you want, so they will do the same. Furthermore, by timetabling your own social media activity, you will gain psychological benefits too.

The third step is to talk about what we see and share. Get your children to see discussion of what is seen online and the impact it has on us as normal. Otherwise, they see something that affects them and clam up about it because it isn’t “normal” to discuss such things.

Social media and smartphones combine to provide a whole world of danger for children. As the Children’s Commissioner says, it can certainly be emotionally damaging to child mental health. The jury is no longer “out” on whether social media has problems. The data are in; social media can be harmful to your children. But there are steps you can take to minimise or even remove that danger entirely.

Why walking will improve your online business

New year, new you, new business? The desire to improve your fitness and health at this time of year will have significant benefits for your online business.

People exercising in gym

Happy New Year…! Welcome to 2018. At this time of year, many people turn their mind towards health and getting fit. They emerge from the sluggish Christmas break promising themselves that this year they will be fitter and healthier. More people join a gym in January than any other month of the year. Slimming clubs get most of their sign-ups around now. And the sales of healthy food rise in January just as the buying of alcohol goes down.

However, this is also the month when most people give up their gym membership and when alcohol sales rise rapidly again, as people find it hard to keep up with their desire to improve. Indeed, most New Year’s Resolutions fail to make it beyond 10th January.

There are a couple of psychological reasons for this. Most resolutions are about “removing” something – such as “losing” weight, “cutting down” on alcohol, or “stopping” smoking, for example. Our brain is geared more to what we gain, rather than what we lose. Hence, with resolutions focusing on loss, is it any wonder we give them up?

Another reason for the lack of permanence of resolutions is the issue of habit. It can take about 30 days of continuous activity for a new habit to sink in. So, given that most people give up on New Year Resolutions after just ten days, they haven’t actually given them a chance to become permanent changes.

What we need to do with resolutions is focus on the positive and maintain that focus for a minimum of 30 days. Then you have a chance of making them stick. Instead of trying to “lose weight” this year, for instance, instead try to “gain a better knowledge of your local area by walking around it every day”. The positive enjoyment that brings will make it easier to keep it up for 30 days and thereby make it into a new habit.

Indeed, taking a daily walk can have more benefits other than helping weight control. Regular walking for just 20-30 minutes each day is linked to a host of other benefits which will not only impact upon your personal well-being, they will help your business.

One recent study, for example, has shown that walking just 4,000 steps a day (less than half the recommended minimum) can improve cognitive performance. Indeed, this research in older adults with memory problems showed that walking more than 4,000 steps each day physically changed the structure of the brain positively. Overall, the researchers were able to show that even a small amount of walking can make you better able to recall things. In other words, walking changes your brain in a positive way to help your thinking. And at work, you need to think clearly. Vast numbers of people spend their entire working life sitting at a desk. The clarity of thought that is needed in business is potentially eroded. Indeed, there is the chance that the brains of sedentary workers are physically altered to make them less able to think clearly. That’s a problem for business.

Another study found back in 2014 that people who walk for just six minutes each day are more creative than people who do not walk. In most offices, creative thinking is required. We all need to come up with innovative solutions to a range of issues, from mundane things such as how can we arrange a meeting when everyone’s diary is full, to new product ideas. If you and your staff are sedentary, you are much less able to come up with ideas.

A few years ago I put this to the test in a workshop I ran for businesses. I set people a task to come up with ideas for a new online service for their business. They were given 30-minutes. At the end of that time, we reviewed the ideas they had produced. The participants all agreed they could not come up with any more ideas. I said I didn’t believe them. So I then gave them their next task. They had to leave the room and take part in a physical activity for the next 30 minutes. They had to do this alone, so they would not be distracted by chatting with each other. Some of them went for a walk; a couple went swimming, some went to the hotel gym. When they came back to the meeting room, I asked them to see if they could produce any more ideas for this online service that was proposed. Remember, before they went off on their physical break they all agreed they were “out of ideas”. On their return, the participants produced a second set of ideas which was longer than the first one. They instantly realised that physical activity has a significant impact on our brain’s capacity to think and to be creative.

For online businesses this is vital. E-business is sedentary. Millions of people sit in front of computer screens all day and do little else. That means the world of online business has two main problems. Firstly, the cognitive capacity of the staff is reduced due to the sedentary nature of the job. Secondly, these firms are not able to be as creative as they need.

Regular walking is all that is needed to solve these issues. It can be as simple as getting off the metro a stop early each day and walking the rest of the way to the office. Or it could be using the lunch break to walk up and down the road while eating your sandwich, instead of sitting at the desk reading social media.

There is also an added advantage for businesses if staff get walking. Walking reduces stress and anxiety. Just 20 minutes of walking a day can have a real impact on stress levels. These days, the incidence of work-related stress is at an all-time high. That level of stress is impacting on workers because they perform less well in the office and they have more days off sick, contributing to lowered productivity. If staff can be encouraged to take regular walks, it will have a real impact on their mental health, thereby helping the company.

A positive new year resolution for every online business could be to get the entire team walking each day. They’ll feel better and work better, and the company will reap the benefits.

Why your website must look like your visitors

People who land on your website expect it to say “this is for me”. They need to identify with your site in a second. New research confirms this is the case for word of mouth too.

Different kinds of people

When people land on a web page they take fractions of seconds to decide whether or not “this is for me”. Indeed, some studies have shown that this decision is made in around half a second, that’s before a visitor is even consciously aware of what is on the page.

What people appear to be doing is trying to confirm whether the page they are visiting is a “good fit”. Does the page offer what is wanted and does it offer it to the same people as me?

An example I often use to explain this is the problem faced by a hotel website. Hotels service a wide range of clients – business people, wedding guests, party-goers, conference organisers and so on. A few years ago my new neighbour was chatting about her forthcoming wedding and, being new to the area, wanted to know of suitable venues. I mentioned one to her which is a highly popular country house wedding venue. She picked up her iPad, went to the website and said, “Oh no, I’m not going there, it’s a business hotel”. She had been put off within one second by the image on the front page of the hotel’s website which was of a man walking into the door, whilst carrying a business briefcase.

The hotel is not just for business people; it hosts many weddings and corporate events. Even though my neighbour’s dream venue for her wedding was a country house, she dismissed a nearby hotel simply because of the first image she saw. In less than a couple of seconds, she had decided not go there – and she didn’t…! Instead, she went to a venue almost 100 miles away. When I went to their website I could see why. The first image on this wedding venue website was of a woman, aged about 30, clearly taken on an Autumn day. My neighbour was in her mid-30s and her wedding was going to be in October. Bingo. Perfect match. The image meant she could easily see herself there.

But the problem for the venue is that not everyone is in their mid-30s nor do they all want a wedding in the Autumn. Therefore to match each visitor you would need thousands of combinations of ages and situations so that the visitor could go “that’s me”.

Therein lies the problem for website owners. If you are to show people who visit your site that this is “for them”, how can you do so when there are so many different “thems”? In the real world, you would do this by picking up on the conversation and feeding back only the material that matched. For instance, if you were sitting with a hotel owner talking about your wedding in the Autumn, they’d quickly flick through a photo album to other Autumn weddings and you would think “this is the place for me” because you could see yourself in that situation. Doing that kind of reflecting on what the individual is saying and then feeding back the relevant material so that you match your offer to the individual is almost impossible online.

Now, new research from the USA confirms this problem is probably going to get worse. That’s because for many website owners they rely on social media to help produce the “this is for people like me” effect. Yet the new study shows that people only believe electronic word of mouth through social media if the website has “homophily” (the technical name for “this is like me”). In other words, people are becoming more sceptical about reviews and recommendations unless the particular website demonstrates homophily. That means if a company is using social media for recommendations it is going to be increasingly vital that the website mentioned in such reviews demonstrates that it is precisely like the visitor. Far from making homophily less necessary (through social proof), it appears that electronic word of mouth is making it even more important that you show your website is like your visitor.

This now means that multiple landing pages targeted at specific types of individuals are essential. That also means that you need separate marketing campaigns for each kind of individual. Plus it means you need multiple persona analysis to make it all work.

This is what you do in the real world, by listening to people and responding in a way that is personalised to them. Most websites don’t do anything like that and as a result lose considerable amounts of custom because there is little “fit” with the variety of individuals visiting.

It’s time to stop thinking of websites, but of web pages aimed at tiny, tiny, tiny groups of individuals – and you’ll therefore probably need hundreds of such pages. It’s either that, or continue to lose business from thousands of people within seconds.

[Tweet “It’s time to stop thinking of websites, but of web pages aimed at tiny, tiny, tiny groups of individuals – and you’ll therefore probably need hundreds of such pages. It’s either that, or continue to lose business from thousands of people within seconds.”]

Has digital delivery had its day?

Physical items are really important to people, even in this digital age. Don’t ignore the potential for physicality

Digital “stuff” is all around you. No longer do you buy records; now you stream music on Spotify. No longer do you buy books; now you add them to your Kindle. No longer do you get software in a box; now you download it. We live in a digital world; and therein lies the problem.

Human beings need to assess their sense of self continually. If we do not have a constant update of who we are, then we find it difficult to engage with the world around us. You wouldn’t know if you were a tea drinker or a coffee aficionado. You wouldn’t know if you liked football or cricket. You wouldn’t know how to react to the people around you. A sense of self is essential to operate successfully in the world.

However, our sense of self requires regular input and it appears we get a lot of that from the world around us. Indeed, it is our physical possessions that help establish and strengthen our sense of self. If you think of yourself as a music fan, the chances are you have tangible reminders of that. It might be records and CDs, or it could be tour T-shirts and other memorabilia. Similarly, if you love reading and think of yourself as “bookish”, the chances are that your home has several bookshelves.

New research shows that our sense of self is linked to our physical possessions, which is why we don’t value digital goods as much as we do physical ones.

The study found that for items that could be bought digitally, such as a photograph, people were prepared to pay more for the physical image than for the digital one. Other studies have found similar effects. We value tangible items more than digital ones because of the connection to self.

Is it any wonder that digital book sales are falling having peaked a couple of years ago? Vinyl record sales are dramatically increasing, particularly among people who do not own a record player…! It is not the utility of the record that matters but the value it brings to the owner regarding sense of self.

For many businesses, this is a problem. They have sped full steam ahead into the digital world to enable them to cut costs in the production and delivery of physical items. You even see it in the business-to-business sector where companies will provide PDF versions of reports they would have previously had printed and bound. This inevitably means that those digital consultancy reports are now seen as less valuable than their physical counterparts.

Digital delivery may have cut costs, but it also reduces the connection we have to the physical world.

When tablet computers were first produced, there was a lot of criticism due to the lack of a keyboard. There are now more mobile devices with touch screens in circulation than there are people on the planet. We love them. Why? Because the keyboard on a standard computer is a disconnect between ownership of the letters we see on the screen. We bash away at the keyboard, and in front of us, items appear on the screen. With a tablet there is a much greater physical connection, our fingers are connected to the letters on the screen in a way that doesn’t happen with a traditional keyboard. It is further evidence of the importance of physicality.

Using digital delivery to reduce costs may help the bottom line, in the short-term. But it could impact on a business in the longer term as people search for physicality. If you produce reports, PDF delivery may be useful for speed, but getting the same document printed out and handed to your client will work wonders for the value they place on the item.

Similarly, if you sell digital items consider ways you can turn them into physical objects. The “experiences” sector does this very well. They sell vouchers for a weekend in a spa, for instance. But that’s not physical – unless you create a beautiful box for the coupon, put that into a plastic case and then shrinkwrap it. Suddenly, the physicality of a digital voucher code becomes much more appealing to people. People will – and do – pay more for those vouchers than for ones they can download from a website. Yet it’s the same thing…!

Don’t ignore the physical possibilities for what you do in your business. Your customers will value what you do much more if you make your items tangible in some way.



Here’s why you don’t get comments on your website

Many people worry they do not get comments on web pages and blog posts. However, research suggests that’s a good thing as it shows what you write is valued.

Blog comments

You won’t get comments on your website if you are seen as an expert, providing what people want and not causing any trouble. That’s because of a psychological issue that is known as “the bystander effect”. You can see this happen when an accident has occurred. People stand back, unwilling to help unless someone appears to be making a hash of it when other people will decide to step in. If someone is helping the accident victim and seems to know what they are doing, then people remain as bystanders. It seems that we are only willing to jump in and help if the situation is likely to get worse.

The same is true on blogs. People tend not to comment – unless there are already some negative comments. Then, other individuals dive in to try and correct the negativity to restore the balance. Occasionally, of course, there will be a positive blog comment, but the bystander effect takes place in that situation. People perceive the commenter as an expert and therefore do not “dive in”.

What this all suggests is there is some doubt as to the real value of comments.

Now, there is new research which looks at online discussions which further emphasises the bystander effect in online discussions.

You would think that the rule of reciprocity would take place when it comes to receiving useful information online. When someone offers you something useful, you find it hard to accept unless you can reciprocate. Socially, we tend to want to repay people for doing something helpful for us.

So, when someone provided you with an excellent blog post, the reciprocity impact would suggest that you want to repay them with some kind of positive comment, or a “thumbs up” or something that enables you to feel you have repaid the debt. However, this latest research confirms studies from several years ago showing that online the bystander effect trumps reciprocity.

What happens is this. You read something you enjoy, that you like and that you gain a benefit from, but you don’t want to comment because what you are witnessing is expertise and so the bystander effect means you do not intervene. If, though, you are also an expert on the topic, you may add a comment, but then no-one else will comment because they are “leaving it to the experts”, which is classic bystander mode.

This latest research looked at discussions on the forum Stack Overflow, which is an online community of technology developers. The study found that when someone made a positive contribution to knowledge, this decreased the input from other users. However, as more knowledge was introduced, more people sought help but did not contribute.

In other words, most people are bystanders, soaking up the expert information and not actually taking part. The term used by many forum operators for that kind of behaviour is “lurking”.

It would seem that comments and discussions online rarely happen when the quality of information is high and apparently from an expert. However, blogs and forum posts can attract lots of comments when some of the earlier comments are negative – people weigh in to redress the balance.

If your blog doesn’t get many comments two things are happening. Firstly, most of your readers are bystanders. Secondly, most of your readers are positive, not adding any negativity, which would encourage a larger number of comments.

Comments, of course, will occur. Some people will want to show off their similar expertise. If you are controversial, people will want to disagree with you.

Ultimately, though, lack of comments may actually be a positive indicator of the value of your blog or website. It shows that people are happy to stand back and gain the benefits from your expertise.

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Is your website personality attractive enough?

As soon as someone lands on a web page, they get a “feel” for your site. But are you showing the most preferred personality traits?

Individuality or personality conceptWhen you land on a web page you instantly see what type of website is being presented. You will notice, within fractions of a second, whether it is serious, or fun. You can see whether it is simple or complex. You might also spot that the website is exciting.

These are all elements of personality and every one of us has a combination of various characteristics that make us unique as individuals. The same happens with websites. The “personality” of Twitter is entirely different to the “personality” of Google or the “personality” of Amazon. They each are built with the same website coding, they each have the same basic structures, yet they are all different.

In the human world, there are some personality characteristics we prefer. The same is true with websites. There are some key personality indicators which jump out at us from a web page which makes visitors like the site. Remarkably, or perhaps not, what we like as the “personality” of a web page, appears to match what we prefer with people.

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Attractive personality features we love

There are several different personality traits, of course, however, research conducted a couple of years ago provided some insight into which characteristics feature highly in what we like about other people.

It turns out that there are several personality traits which make other people attractive to us. Across four different psychological studies, the clear winner as the “number one” feature is kindness and understanding. Next on the list is intelligence, followed by a sense of humour. In other words, we are attracted to bright, happy people who have our interests at heart.

The personality of top websites

When you consider what we are attracted to, it is easy to see why the world’s most popular websites get our attention. The websites that we are most keen on using are the ones that are kind to us and understand us. They provide what we want, in the way we want it when we want it. They understand our every need and cater to our whims.

Those top websites are also clever. They do things in such a way that the complex functions are hidden from us, but they clearly know what they are talking about. The websites that are hugely attractive to us demonstrate knowledge and intelligence to us, without bragging about it.

Furthermore, these websites have a sense of humour with a bit of fun. They don’t take themselves or us too seriously.

Translating personality to your website

If you want your website to attract more visitors, then it needs to demonstrate a personality that people tend to like. You need to show that you are caring, intelligent and fun. But how can you do that?

  1. The first step is to make sure that you truly understand your audience. Provide precisely what they want and deliver that, focused entirely on their needs. This will demonstrate that you have the first element of a preferred personality which is kindness and understanding. If you don’t provide exactly what your audience wants, how kind do they think you are?
  2. The second thing to do is to show off your intelligence. You don’t need clever software to do this. Instead, you need great content. The more knowledge of your subject you demonstrate, the more attractive your site will become because people like intelligence. Furthermore, content that demonstrates your knowledge of your sector improves the trust that people have in your website.
  3. Finally, have a bit of fun. Use cartoons or snazzy images, add infographics and contests or write with a bit of pizzazz. One of the main issues with most business websites is that they are just dull. We are not attracted by the boring personality on show from many websites.

There is one other feature shown by the research on personality and what makes people attractive. It turns out that physical features are not very important. They appear 11th on the researchers’ list of 16 factors.  To human beings, physical attractiveness is less important than what’s inside.

The same is true for websites. The design is less important than the features and what the site does for visitors. Yet, when companies come to think about updating their website they focus on design, rather than what it can do for their visitors. That’s like going on a date and focusing solely on your clothes, hair and make-up, and not having anything to talk about.

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Five reasons you don’t need mobile access on The Tube (or any metro or subway)

Transport for London is talking to communications companies so mobile phone coverage can be extended throughout London Underground.

Man using phone on underground trainTransport For London is in discussions with mobile phone firms in a bid to get full telephone coverage throughout the Underground. At the moment, it is possible to get mobile phone coverage in many stations and on parts of the network that are above ground. Many stations also have Wi-Fi. However, getting calls between stations is not possible. Often you see people mid-conversation as they leave a station, getting cut off as soon as they are a few yards into the next tunnel. Their frustration is obvious.

London is rather late to the underground phone party. You can make calls underground in Hong Kong, Sydney, Berlin and Paris, amongst others. Even Glasgow had the capability to make and receive calls in its subway system before London. Tokyo, though, is the most interesting. It has full subterranean mobile phone access for commuters, but the politeness of the Japanese people means that generally they switch their phones onto silent when travelling and don’t make calls between stations. Plus, it appears that we are increasingly shunning the use of mobile phones.

But why is Transport for London pushing ahead with this multi-million-pound scheme? Clearly, they face competition for transport – people can use taxis, take an Uber, or a bus and get mobile phone coverage above ground. Goodness me, they can even walk around the streets of London and use their phone. So, to tempt people underground, there is the possibility that having mobile phone coverage between stations removes the competitive advantage of other forms of transport. There is also the image and PR side, where the London Underground can be seen as something which is technically advanced, at the leading edge (in spite of being more than 150 years old).

Underground sign

However, there could be a backlash. Passengers might begin to avoid the tube if they have to endure journeys with people around them chattering on the phone all the time. It’s much easier to avoid annoying phone users on the London Underground than it is on surface trains because journey times are much shorter and there are more alternative forms of transport. Furthermore, it will reduce the number of people looking at advertising inside tube trains. That could lead to advertisers pulling out due to lack of impact, thereby reducing the income for Transport For London.

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There are, though, five psychological and biological reasons why we don’t need mobile phone access on the underground.

1 Your brain needs a break

Constant communication is simply not good for you. Your brain needs a break. It needs the space in which to process things that have been going on before. Constantly being in touch means your brain has less time to do that processing, which leads to cognitive inefficiency. In other words, you become less mentally capable.

2 Your hormones get disrupted

The regular use of mobile phones provides you with an ever-rising amount of “blue light”. This fools your body into a hormone cycle of wakefulness. In turn, this disrupts your sleep patterns. The more you look at your mobile phone, the lower the quality of sleep you get. People are becoming more sleep-deprived, leading to inefficiency in their work. An opportunity to use your mobile phone more will merely add to poorer sleep quality.

3 Your muscles need a break

People constantly using their mobile phones are suffering from a variety of musculoskeletal conditions. Having your arm permenantly bent and holding a weight is not good for it. Your muscles, ligaments, tendons and the circulation need more variety. Providing people with an opportunity to keep their phone glued to their head as they travel will add to the possibility of increased physical problems in phone users.

4 You never know when to stop – and that is stressful

When you read a book you know there is an end. When you watch a movie, you know there is a finish. When you travel on a plane you know there is a final destination. Much of what we do has a defined end point. That helps our brains which prefer certainty. Constant mobile phone usage, that never-ending communication, doesn’t have a clear end. We will enter the tube system knowing that mobile phone usage is still possible – compared with the current situation of a clear end when we go into a tunnel. This never-ending ability to receive communication means our brains become less certain. Lack of certainty raises stress hormones. The “always on” world of communication means reduced certainty and that just raises stress at work.

5 You can’t relax

Knowing that you can always be contacted means you don’t relax. Going into a tube train nowadays means you know you cannot be contacted and that helps you relax. Relaxation, even for short spells, is vital. It helps in a variety of biological and psychological ways including raising pleasure endorphins.

Even if you think you need to make calls whilst hurtling between stations, you are mistaken. The average journey time between London Underground stations is less than two minutes. Even if someone had a major artery severed you’d have the ability to travel between two stations before it was a real problem. Nothing is so “life and death” that it cannot wait two minutes, no matter what your boss says…! You don’t need mobile phone access between stations on the underground, no matter what the phone companies or Transport for London might tell you.

[Tweet “Constant communication has psychological issues so you don’t need mobile access on the tube.”]

You too could be an Internet Troll

Research shows that “trolling” is contagious. You can become an online troll if other people around you are negative and you are in a bad mood.

Keyboard saying "do not feed the troll"

Internet trolls are nasty. According to Wikipedia, trolls like “starting arguments or upsetting people, by posting inflammatory, extraneous, or off-topic messages in an online community (such as a newsgroup, forum, chat room, or blog) with the intent of provoking readers into an emotional response or of otherwise disrupting normal, on-topic discussion.”

There are several reasons why people behave like this. One explanation is that online discussion doesn’t have any of the usual communications cues, such as tone of voice or facial expression. As a result, it is easy for people to misinterpret and therefore say the wrong thing. Another potential reason for trolling is the impact of perceived distance. When people are far apart, their communication tends to be less empathetic. So, online, people tend to find it easier to be rude to each other than would be the case in the “real world”, face-to-face.

However, a new study provides an alternative explanation for trolling behaviour – and it is not necessarily good news because it means any of us could easily become an online troll.

The researchers found that trolling is contagious. In an analysis of over 16m online posts, the study discovered that negative commentary was catching. When someone provided negative comments early on in a discussion, it was much more likely that other people became negative too.

The researchers also looked at the impact of mood in an experiment where they used techniques to create a low mood in participants by providing different kinds of personal feedback. When people were placed in a low mood as a result of negative feedback they were more likely to place negative comments in a discussion group.

In other words, if you are not in a good mood and an online forum or social network already has negative comments on it, you are going to be prone to being a troll. That means trolls are not necessarily nasty people, out to do damage, but ordinary folks who just happen to be subconsciously influenced.

This is likely when you consider the reaction of trolls when their impact is pointed out to them. Four years ago, Professor Mary Beard from the University of Cambridge was abused online by a troll. However, when the impact of his comments was explained to him, the perpetrator was contrite and apologetic. Other instances like this have been documented and it would appear that people can easily become trolls.

The combination of low mood, other negative comments and the lack of non-verbal communications cues, together with the impact of perceived distance all combine in a potent mix where any of us could easily become a nasty troll.

How to avoid being a troll yourself

What this all means is that we need to take special care ourselves to avoid inadvertent trolling.

  1. The first step is to avoid taking part in online discussions when you are not feeling your best. Go for a walk, do some mindfulness techniques, or listen to some music – anything that will make you more cheerful. Then you can take part in some social activity online.
  2. If you are already in a good mood, then the next step is to make sure that you take a break before you respond. Read the comments, then do something else, preferably on a separate topic. This will act as an “interference task” for your memory, helping to remove the impact of any negative comments you have already seen.
  3. Finally, write your comments and then either save them for review later or go to another tab, do something else and then come back to your comments. This will give your brain a chance to reflect on what you intend saying before you press the submit button.

In other words, the way to avoid trolling online is what we all do in the real world in face-to-face communication. We stop. think and reflect on what others might be thinking before we comment. Instant commenting online is the route to becoming a troll. If you don’t want to be a troll – slow down.

How to select the right profile picture

Don’t choose your own profile picture. Science shows you’ll make the wrong choice.

Let’s face it, your profile picture says a lot about you. As soon as someone lands on your Facebook page or your Twitter account, they see a snapshot of how you see yourself. And it is not a pretty picture.

It turns out that we are particularly poor at selecting the best image for our profiles.

Profile pictures

Take a look at any social network, and you see a vast array of different images. Some are professional, some look like police mugshots, and some are clearly cropped from amateur snaps. Others show the person doing their favourite activity, such as snowboarding or surfing, so you cannot actually see them; they are just a blip.

Yet the human face – particularly the eyes and the mouth – are what we are most interested in looking at. Eye tracking studies show that when we look at a photo, we spend the vast majority of our time looking at the eyes of the people in the image. When you watch TV, it’s the eyes of the characters or newsreaders that you look at the most. Even in the real world, when you are in meetings, it is eyes that get the most attention.

So, one thing is for sure, if your profile picture is to work and people will want to connect with you, then the image needs to show your eyes clearly. No more “on the surfboard” images – but close-ups of your face. That’s what people want.

However, a new study from the University of New South Wales shows that you shouldn’t choose the picture yourself, even if it is a professionally taken close-up showing your eyes off brilliantly.

The research revealed that the pictures we think are the best images of ourselves are not what other people think. The study also found that what individuals thought was the worst picture of themselves was not what other people thought either. In other words, we are pretty dumb in choosing good or bad photos of ourselves.

The reason for this is context. The study asked people to rate images according to different kinds of online situations – such as for a professional network or a dating site. The study found that other people are better at gauging what image of an individual works best in a particular context. You might think that picture of you smiling looks great and makes you attractive, but other people know better as to what would work best for you on a dating site, for instance.

So, what does this mean for your social networking activity?

Firstly, it tells us that one image is not right. You need different pictures of yourself for particular online contexts – one image for LinkedIn and another for Facebook, for instance. This goes against the grain of much online advice which suggests you should have one photo that is consistent across the web. It seems that internet users disagree and want different kinds of profile pictures dependent upon context.

The second thing to discover from this study is to give the choice of images over to someone else. Instead of choosing your own image to use in your profiles, get other people on that network to tell you which one works best. You might not agree, but you’re not the one who has to look at the photos. Hence, go with their suggestions and use the profile images selected for you.

Doing so will connect you more easily with more people online. Of course, if you don’t want people to engage with you, then carry on with that grainy, image of you with that palm tree in the foreground and you, lazing underneath it as some kind of blob. That’s bound to put people off…!

How to deliberately avoid vital information

People naturally avoid information they disagree with or do not like. People are attracted to information that confirms their beliefs.

Woman trying to read book whilst blindfolded

Why would you want to avoid vital information deliberately? That makes no sense. However, it is precisely what each of us does, every day. We set about ensuring we take all the necessary steps to avoid useful information.

We have never lived in a world with so much information. Indeed, one study suggests that before too long the entire extent of all human knowledge will be doubling every 12 hours…! You are not going to be short of information.

However, we are extremely selective with the information we choose to use.

Consider Donald Trump. Or Nigel Farage. Or Marine Le Pen. It doesn’t matter which. These people have raving fans as well as individuals who detest them. They are “Marmite” characters. But take a look at their followers, the people who love them. They devour information about their idols. If anyone says anything negative, or against their hero, the whole arena of “confirmation bias” opens up because they look for “cracks” in what other people are saying to prove their viewpoint is right. When someone is wedded to a particular perspective, such as the position of Donald Trump, anything that suggests the opposite is a threat. And humans do everything they can to avoid risks; it’s a survival instinct.

Think also about the Daily Mail. Millions of people read it every day and love it. However, the newspaper itself is “preaching to the choir” – in other words, it publishes views and information which matches the opinion of the readers. The millions of people who hate the Daily Mail, almost certainly never read it. In reality, they cannot possibly know what the newspaper contains or what it says, yet they know they are vehemently opposed to its viewpoint, so they avoid it.

Here’s the problem. If you are a fan of Donald Trump information provided by one of his detractors might actually be very useful to you. But your confirmation bias prevents you from gaining full access to that information. Similarly, if you hate the Daily Mail, you will never read the excellent health coverage, for instance, which could save your life.

A recent analysis of the kind of information we choose to read shows that we avoid material that we are unlikely to agree with. In fact, if you disagree with what I am saying you probably haven’t read this far. The researchers show that we are highly adept at diverting our attention towards information that confirms our pre-existing views and away from information that is not aligned with our thinking. So, people who are overweight might avoid seeing the calorific value on a food label if they do not believe there is a link between calorie intake and obesity. These individuals might claim, for instance, that their issue is “glandular”.

You can see this across the Internet too. The search engine “experts” who talk about a “duplicate content penalty” and often make money from helping companies overcome it, are unable to pay attention to the information from the search engines that say this penalty is a myth (as explained by Google themselves in this video and in more detail in this help file). You could also be one of the people who is convinced of the value of online video, in spite of research that suggests that video has little value for online businesses.

One of the authors of the research analysis, George Lowenstein, put it this way, “people often avoid information that could help them to make better decisions if they think the information might be painful to receive. Bad teachers, for example, could benefit from feedback from students but are much less likely to pore over teaching ratings than skilled teachers.”

There are several psychological reasons why we seek out information that agrees with our own perspective or avoid material that clashes with our viewpoint. Alternative views to our own threaten our sense of self. We need a stable sense of self to operate effectively day-to-day. If our view of ourself is altered, we do not know how to cope with particular situations as we don’t know how “we” would react. So, we continually seek out information that confirms our sense of self. That’s why we have confirmation bias; it helps us reinforce our view of ourselves.

Another reason why we avoid information that is divergent from our own thinking is that it interrupts our categorisation of things around us. Our brains depend upon categorising things so that we can operate effectively with the world around us. We build up “schemas” and “prototypes” of myriads of objects and processes so that we can easily function without having to learn about every single thing we encounter each time we see something new. You know what a table is, even if you have never encountered a three-legged table made of pewter with a hole in the middle. You just “know” it is a table, instantly. If information challenges our views of the world around us, it interrupts all those schemas and prototypes you have in your head, making life tougher than normal.

The result of all this is avoidance of information that takes us away from our own reality, our own normal.

So, how can you deliberately avoid vital information on the Internet? That’s easy. Just follow these rules:

  1. Never read anything from a publication you think might be politically different to your own perspective
  2. Stick to reading information from the handful of trusted sources you have always used
  3. Confirm your existing beliefs by only connecting with people who share the same beliefs as you
  4. Only follow people on Twitter who Tweet the kind of things you would say
  5. Only join membership sites that have people just like you inside.

It’s really easy to avoid information. But that means it is also really easy to avoid progress.

Is your business ready for being instant?

Retailers are moving ever closer to instant delivery. This is making the need for instant gratification even more important. Is your business ready for that?

A couple of months ago, Amazon completed its first delivery by drone in the UK. From the time the order was placed to the customer having the box in their hands was a mere 13 minutes. You couldn’t get it any quicker unless the shop was next door.

When Amazon began, it could deliver in a few days, then it became 48 hours, then “next day”, and nowadays in many areas, you can get a delivery from Amazon “same day”. Argos in the UK can even deliver over 9,000 different product lines within an hour, almost anywhere in the country. The demand for getting our goods fast is increasing, and retailers are doing nothing to stem that requirement; rather, they are fueling it with their increasingly speedy delivery systems.

Stopwatch on white computer keyboardIt all taps into the “I want it now” phenomenon, which the Internet itself has helped create. Just think what it must be like with a mere 2Mbps broadband, when you are speeding along with 24Mbps or more. Even at that speed, it will take you half an hour to download a movie. That frustrates you when you know that if you had 100Mbps you’d get the movie in less than a couple of minutes. Yet, 20 years ago if you wanted the same movie, you would have had to wait a whole week before it arrived at your nearby cinema. The faster we can get things, the faster we want them. Even people with 100Mbps broadband are annoyed with the 2-minute download for a movie when they know people with 1,000Mbps broadband can get the same thing in a handful of seconds.

There is plenty of other evidence that people want more speed online. In my book, Click.ology, I discuss a study from Kissmetrics that shows for a one-second delay in loading of a web page, there is a 7% decrease in sales conversions. That’s seven out of every 100 visitors who cannot wait a second. A single second. Several studies also show that people expect almost instant replies to emails. One survey discovered that one in every 50 people who email a company expect a response within 60 seconds.

Wherever you look, we want things fast. And the Internet is making us want things even faster. Even with increased download speeds, these days the average time we spend looking at a web page is just three seconds. Ten years ago it was 20 seconds. If we cannot find what we want NOW, then we move on. We have become butterflies.

So what can be done about it? No matter what your business, the Amazon “Prime Air Delivery” will have an impact on your customers. They will expect you to be able to do things more quickly than before. They will want email response times to fall. They will demand faster delivery. Are you ready for that?

There are three steps you can take to ensure that you are ready for the inevitable increased demand for speed:

  1. Get the speediest website hosting you can afford. Check the speed of your website at GTMetrix and take any actions they suggest.
  2. Set in place an email system and processes. Instead of just responding randomly, you need a system that is productive, uses templates and which provides you the time to respond quickly as a result.
  3. Become more organised generally. The slowness of most business activities is down to lack of planning, the absence of processes and poor time organisation. You can no longer afford to get away with this.

As more and more people use the Internet, they will be gathering more and more ammunition for the possibility that not only do they “want it now” but also that they can “get it now”. The desire for speed is an inbuilt psychological instinct to enable your body to process things with the least amount of energy so that you can store excess amounts for use in an emergency. It is part of our survival mechanism. So, people don’t just want speedy service and delivery from you because they want it; their brain is constantly driving them to need it.

Active website users want even more from your business

The more people engage with the Internet, the more they want from you in the “real world”. Businesses need to provide even more customer communication.

Person engaged with blog

People are increasingly engaging with the Internet. That seems obvious, of course, but we are turning to the Internet for information which we used to get from specialists and experts. No longer are we turning to a consultant for help. Instead, we head straight to Google. Indeed, even in the most personal field of all – our health – more people are now turning to the Internet for advice, rather than to their own physician.

Why has the anonymous web become so trusted, whereas a highly qualified and experienced doctor is someone we no longer turn to for advice?

And if we are prepared to turn our backs on the medical experts for something as personal as our own health, you can be pretty sure that whatever business you work in, your customers are heading straight to the web, rather than giving you a call. Your expertise in your sector is of little value, it would seem.

However, all is not lost. An interesting study in the way people relate to their doctor, even if they use the Internet for medical information, reveals what businesses need to do so that they can carry on making profits.

The research was conducted in California and showed that several factors were interlinked when considering the amount of online healthcare information people used and their perceptions and use of their own doctor. The study found that the more that people accessed online information on health, the more they wanted to meet their doctor. Far from reducing reliance on medics, the online health consumer is one of the biggest users of offline healthcare. Furthermore, the more the doctors provided patient-centric communications of all kinds, the greater that people felt positive about their whole healthcare experiences.

What this all suggests is that far from the web replacing experts, instead it is making people want more access to them. However, their views about such expertise are affected by how well those experts communicate.

The study implies that if you want to gain benefits from the web, you need to ensure you provide highly specific customer-centered communications as a follow-up to Internet activity.

How to benefit from increased web usage

More and more of your customers and potential clients will be using the Internet on a greater basis. Each one of us is using the web in increasingly large amounts. The information that your business provides is being looked for first, online.


So, make sure you provide lots and lots and lots and lots of information on the web. The kind of material that you talk to customers about, the typical questions they ask and the documents you provide should all be online. The more information you provide, the better – humans “weigh by the pound” as far as information is concerned. The greater the amount, the more we believe it and trust it. So, fill the web with your information. And then add some more…!

The next thing to do is to appreciate that once you have more information online, people who engage with it are more likely to want to meet you and discuss things with you. So, have you got meeting capability? Can you arrange plenty of appointments? Do you have the capacity for more real world engagement? The healthcare study showed that people who engage with material online want interaction with their medical providers. Is it any wonder that getting an appointment with your doctor is tough? The Internet is helping to fuel the demand. Can your business cope with the increased demand that the increased us of the web will stimulate?

If you are geared up for the extra work that you’ll create, how will you follow-up with all the people who will meet you? That’s where a communications programme comes in – newsletters, phone calls, emails and so on – but crucially they need to be highly personalised and centred on customer needs. The healthcare study showed that the focus of the communications was an important factor.

At first sight, the Internet looks like it could be replacing company expertise with an endless array of online information. But the healthcare study suggests that as we engage with more material online, we seek out more real-world connection with the experts. However, our perception of that real-world expertise is dependent upon the follow-up communication being focused on the individual.

This means that your business can benefit even more than it already does from the Internet. But to do that you need three things:

  1. A significant content production system that increases the amount of information you provide
  2. An increase in capacity for real-world engagement with your online visitors
  3. A follow-up communications programme that is tightly focused on precise customer needs

Do those three things, and your business could benefit even more from the web.

Blue Monday…? The answer? Give up the Internet…!

Today is Blue Monday and you can radically change that by giving up using the Internet for several hours today. You will notice the change in mood.

frustrated young business man

Today is “Blue Monday“, the day in the year when depression levels are greatest and when more people feel down than on any other day of the year. It all happens because of a combination of factors, including several weeks without income and large bills after Christmas, as well as short, dismal days without much sunlight.

Typically, January also sees the highest rate of divorce applications, as well as the largest monthly proportion of suicide attempts. Frankly, it is not a good month. This year we have the worries over Brexit and the Trump Presidency to contend with too. This could make today’s “Blue Monday” the worst ever, according to the psychologist who initially came up with the concept.

You will, of course, find plenty of tips online as to how you can overcome the “blues” today. You’ll see things like “10 tips to beat Blue Monday” or “7 steps to rid yourself of Monday Blues” and so on. Many will have good ideas, however, there is one simple thing that will work without you having to think about a list of things to do.


[typography font=”Open Sans” size=”24″ size_format=”px” color=”#27699e”]Stop using the Internet….![/typography] 

That’s it. That alone will help cure your Blue Monday depression. Here’s how.

People who use the Internet tend to be rather static. They are sat at computer screens much of the day or they are lounging around on their mobiles. Either way, Internet users tend to be rather inactive, leading sedentary lifestyles.

That’s not good for your brain. Recent research investigating 10,000 individuals showed that positive mood is directly linked to physical activity. The less physically active that you are, the lower your mood.

Importantly, the researchers said, “our analyses also indicated that periods of physical activity led to increased positive mood, regardless of individuals’ baseline happiness.” In other words, even if you are pretty low today, just getting up from your desk and going for a walk will automatically make you feel better. Indeed, it will even make you more creative when you do come back to your computer – and your work error rate goes down too.

Give up social media too

Internet users spend around a third of their time using social media. There is now clear evidence that social media use is associated with increased levels of depression.

One study, for instance, showed that there was a clear link between the amount of social media people used and levels of depression. Another piece of research found that the more networks an individual used, the worse their mood. There is even evidence that what we see on social media is connected with post-traumatic stress.

If you have given up the Internet for a while today, you will also be cut-off from your social media activity. It’s a double whammy. Not only can you be more active but you will also remove the depressing effect of being on social media.

Three steps to a happier life online

The Internet is not something we can give up entirely. So we have to learn to manage it so that it does not affect our mental health. There are three ways of achieving this.

  1. Have clear goals. Know exactly what you are using the Internet for and what you are aiming to achieve. Once you have met those goals each day, or week, or month, you can put the Internet to one side.
  2. Use the Internet to arrange meet-ups. There is plenty of online technology – even humble email – which will help you arrange real meetings, face-to-face. Indeed, if you simply want to get out of the office and meet me you can do so using my appointments system. Get out of the office more.
  3. Have a clear “switch off” time. Internet use late at night is associated with poor sleep, which, in turn, impacts on your mental health.

Take these three steps and your life online will be a more positive experience. Indeed, tomorrow you could look forward to a Terrific Tuesday.

You can multitask online after all

Multitasking isn’t really possible – but new findings suggest that you can train yourself to multitask online activities

multitasking woman using tablet, laptop and cellphone, with blank screens, indoors on a tableThis is going to upset all my female readers, but multitasking isn’t possible. There I’ve said it; sorry ladies. Psychological research consistently shows that we think we can multitask, but our ability to do several things at once is not good. Sure, we can feed the children their breakfast, watch the TV news, catch up on our emails and get ourselves ready for work all at the same time. But the research shows that each of those things is performed worse than if we did them one at a time. Multitasking is an illusion. Indeed, as I suggested just over four years ago, multitasking can be harmful as it can increase stress.

However, we live in an increasingly multitask world. As you read this you may get a message on your phone, an alert to an email in the corner of the screen and a notification that someone is trying to connect with you on Twitter. And all that is happening while you probably also have a window open with that report you are trying to write.

[su_quote style=”flat-blue”]Multitasking is no longer an option; it is a requirement of the Internet world.[/su_quote]

But therein lies the problem. If the world we live in requires us to multitask yet we are ill-equipped to be able to do it, there is little hope that we will cope.

There is, though, a glimmer of hope. Fairly new research suggests that you can improve your ability to multitask by training your “working memory”.

Working memory is the kind of memory you use for storing things you need for the time being. As you read this your working memory will be holding the concepts and ideas I have discussed, the picture you have looked at, as well as other items such as the thought that flashed across your mind about the email you need to send in a while. Working memory is temporary material you need for a short while and can then forget – think of it as the RAM in a computer.

Studies show that there is a link between multitasking and working memory. The people who appear to perform better at several simultaneous tasks are those who have high capacity working memory. That makes logical sense. You can do more things at the same time if you have the ability to temporarily store a large amount of information. If you have low working memory capacity, then the chances are your multitasking efforts will be wasted as you will not do any of the tasks particularly well.

It would appear, therefore, that the answer to being able to perform better at multiple simultaneous tasks is to improve your working memory. And as the video below shows, it does seem that it is indeed possible to “upgrade” your working memory.

An investigation into the impact of working memory on multitasking has confirmed a link between the two.

One interesting consideration is that teenagers appear to be able to multitask whilst older adults cannot do so. Teens can check their Facebook page, watch Netflix, chat away on SnapChat, and Tweet all at the same time. Adults, though, find that difficult. One thing that we do know is that as we get older our working memory capacity fades. We are able to hold fewer items in our working memory when we are 60 compared with when we were 20. So, the working memory link to multitasking could explain why younger people can do several simultaneous tasks online, while older people struggle.

However, there is hope. As the video suggests, it is possible to train your working memory so that you can increase its capabilities. This would mean that even those individuals who have working memory limited by age could still cope in the rapid online world of multiple streams of information if they did a bit of brain training.

True multitasking may not be possible. But coping with the online demands of simultaneous activities could be easier than it seems providing you seek to improve your working memory.

Also, remember, there is plenty of evidence about memory capacity and movement. When we sit down at our computers for hours on end, our memory worsens. Regular exercise, even a daily walk, has been shown to improve your memory. So, if you want to be able to multitask online one of the best things you can do is stop using the Internet and go for a walk…!

Online impressions depend on what you do not say

Research shows that self-centred material on social media turns people off from you. You need to get other people talking about you instead.

Woman taking selfie

To one degree or another, everyone is concerned about what other people think of them. Of course, some people care less than others, whereas a proportion of individuals are focused entirely on what others think about them. But we all sit on this “spectrum” of wanting to know what others think of us.

It is a central part of our sense of self. We need to know who we are in order to function properly in the world. If you had no understanding of your “self”, you would not know each day whether you liked tea or coffee, for instance, or whether you enjoyed your job. It is your sense of self that is fundamental in helping you exist within the world around you.

Part of that feeling of self is derived from what other people think about us. It is their feedback which helps us confirm our sense of self. Some personality types are more focused on this than others. Extroverts, for instance, require a constant feed of information about them, whereas introverts need less frequent input to help with their sense of self. But every one of us needs that regular input from others – otherwise, we do not really know who “we” are.

The “selfie” is a significant part of this system. We take a picture of ourselves and others “like” it or comment on it or share it, all of which shows us that people think that we and the situation we are in are positive. That gives us the confidence to carry on in the way we are doing, heightening the sense of our self-identity.

However, there is a problem with all this. The more we share of our own lives, the less that others think of us, it appears.

A new study confirms that it is not what we say about ourselves that matters, but what others say about us.

The research was carried out in Scotland where psychologists wanted to find out whether the “warranting theory” existed on Facebook. This is a theory which proposes that individuals are more likely to misrepresent themselves, suggesting that third-party information is more reliable.

The new study found that when looking at Facebook profiles, more positive impressions about the individual were reported when their posts were general, rather than self-focused. With self-focused profiles, there were fewer positive thoughts about that person. The researchers also discovered that when the profiles included information about the individual posted by other people, then the positive impressions of that person increased.

In other words, if other people talk about you on social media then there is a much greater chance you will get positive feedback than if you speak about yourself. Rather than posting “selfies”, for instance, you really want your friends to post the pictures they have taken of you.

It appears that the inbuilt desire we have to gain feedback to help our sense of self is in conflict with the perception that people create of us. They are making a more negative view of us, compared with gaining the same information about us from other people.

So what does this mean in a practical sense for your use of social media? It suggests that if you want people to think nice things about you and thereby gain the positive feedback you need for your self-identity, then you need to get your friends posting things about you.

The more you talk about yourself, the less that people will like you and the more fragile your self-identity will become. The very tools that billions of people are using to help them confirm their sense of self could be the very tools that are destroying such a sense.

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Why should you change your job title right now?

Your web experience is being limited by your job title, which is largely a meaningless description of you work that is most relevant to an internal audience.

Woman holding a business cardMost people’s job titles are, frankly, meaningless. They either describe a position, such as “Human Resources Director” or they say something unfathomable such as “Chief Happiness Officer”. The fact of the matter is, most job titles are for internal purposes. They describe to people within an organisation where an individual sits within the hierarchy. Everyone inside a PR firm, for instance, knows the difference between an “Account Executive” and an “Account Director” or an “Executive Accountant”. But the outside world? Well, we couldn’t give a fig. Why? Well because what one company means by “Account Executive” is entirely different to what another business in the same sector means by that title. True, they are similar, but the jobs are frequently different.

When people are handed a business card they take a look at the job title and then say, “so, what do you do?” In other words, the business card’s job title hasn’t helped them in the slightest to understand what the person actually does.

This might not seem a real issue. After all, you can describe what you do when you speak with them. My job title is “Internet Psychologist” – it doesn’t say what I do, but it is certainly a conversation opener at events or on the phone when people ask, “it sounds intriguing, so what does that involve?”

However, new research suggests that our job titles – designed mainly for internal purposes and living in a face-to-face world – are no longer doing us any favours online. That’s because it appears that job titles are a significant item that marketers use to determine what kind of web experience we get delivered.

According to the “demand generation experts”, Annuitas, two-thirds of large corporate businesses are now using “personas” to work out how to deliver online material to their visitors and subscribers. And one of the top ways of calculating that persona is a person’s job title.

Chart showing buyer persona data

The kind of person that you are and the typical material that you consume online is hardly used, in comparison to job title. Yet, these two factors are amongst the most important in helping describe the “real you”. Your job title is just a convenient set of words to help a company decide how much to pay you and where you fit within the organisation.

Job titles could help explain bounce rates

Bounces rates are very high on most of the web. The vast majority of web pages that we visit tend to only keep us for a few seconds. We arrive, we realise it is not for us, and we disappear as quickly as we came.

One of the reasons for this rapid departure is that the web pages we visit do not match us as individuals. Those web pages are not providing what we want. One of the reasons for that is that the company building that page has a typical visitor in mind – and we do not fit that persona. Now, it appears, that one of the reasons could be your job title. If the page you are landing on has been focused on a different job title, then it isn’t for you. Yet it could be.

The job title you have may be the same as the job title for someone else in a different firm, yet the kind of work you do and the type of people you are could be vastly different. It is then a game of chance as to which kind of job title the website developers thought about when they built the page.

In other words, using job titles is a weak way of building a persona. Yet, it seems that this is one of the most significant things that people latch on to when building a website.

There are two options.

  1. Change your job title so that you get better web pages delivered to you
  2.  Stop using job titles as a determinant of buyer personas

What you need to do as a website owner

If you own a website and you are working with developers on personas, then it is best to ignore job titles as a factor. They mean nothing in terms of the kind of visitor you are attracting. Instead focus on them as individuals, as people, not as “titles” and “functions” which is what most large businesses appear to concentrate on when building a website.

But there is a reason for that. In the big, big corporate world, it is all about job titles. People aspire to move up the pecking order, to move from “executive” to “director” or “partner” to “principal partner”. In the massive corporate machines, it is all about status. The mistake is for these businesses to think that is what the web is about. It isn’t; it’s about delivering something that attracts and engages individual people, regardless of status.

I am sure I have said this before – focus on people. It works.

As for my job title – any suggestions…?

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