The value of plain language in government communications

This is important. The Plain Language Action and Information Network (PLAIN) are federal employees working to integrate simpler language into otherwise complicated legislation and policy.Based on the premise that the best content is the clearest content, the group provides a lot of resources on the value of plain language communications.

Especially of interest are the Before and After documents.

I’m currently writing about the role of social media in tearing down the corporate firewall between products, markets and customers, and I think plain language is a major component of that movement, as well. I’ll post the story as it’s available in the coming weeks.

In the meantime, discover the value of plain language by reading Beth Mazur’s May 2000 article for Technical Communication, Revisiting Plain Language.

Wells Fargo extends the olive branch, tweaks Twitter feed

A few days ago I pointed out a few issues I had with Wells Fargo and their presence on Twitter. Namely, that their primary feed appeared to be abandoned and that their customer service feed seemed pretty repetitive and insincere.

Wells Fargo’s Vice President of Social Media Ed Terpening (they have VPs of social media now?) heard my gripe and took to the comments to explain:

As you know, Twitter is a limited domain system (eg, there can only be one, so we felt it was important to claim our trademarked name early on, to prevent our name use by fraudsters That’s why the most recent tweet was to point customers to our pilot channel. We didn’t launch service on @WellsFargo, because use of that name implies expectations that we were not prepared to meet (eg everything about Wells Fargo). Instead, we decided to launch a more limited test channel with a focus on service, @Ask_WellsFargo.

We were one of the first large banks to launch a Twitter page. We refer to it as a test, because we’re only supporting a limited number of products at this time (eg online banking, checking, savings, etc) Wells Fargo is in many different financial businesses (Eg, Insurance, Brokerage, Mortgage, etc), and are not yet prepared to support the full scope of products on Twitter. We hope to, but it will take us some time.

And later …

Thanks to your input, I did just make changes to @WellsFargo bio and tweets, trying to make it clear what we’re doing. The bio was especially off, so I appreciate your bringing that to my attention. I can’t pre-announce any new products, but you can imagine that launching @WellsFargo as a central part of our Twitter strategy is important. It’s just that with a company our size and complexity, I want to ensure we can meet the broad expectations customers will have with that name.

I’m satisfied with Ed’s response, and I’m glad he replied thoughtfully and considerately and took action to fix the issue.

I think many companies can take a lesson from Wells Fargo on this one: Good communication and execution is good customer service. They heard a complaint, informed the customer, and reached out to resolve the issue. Very well done.

Texas Gulf fishermen recover from oil spill, misperception

Not long ago I went down to the Texas coast and spent some time with fishermen and seafood distributors who were recovering from the BP Gulf oil spill. My story from that trip was just published in Fiscal Notes. Check it out.
Texas Gulf fishermen, seafood distributors recover from the BP oil spill

Wells Fargo uses its Twitter to tell customers they’re not on Twitter

This is odd. A Wells Fargo ATM declined my Wells Fargo Visa debit card over the weekend. I wasn’t allowed to access my accounts and the machine didn’t provide a specific explanation of the problem. The card was issued to me in August and it doesn’t expire until May 2013, according to the date printed on the card.

I called the Wells Fargo phone bank and was told that Wells Fargo debit cards occasionally expire before the date published on the card. The customer service rep was hesitant to talk about it, and I could tell he probably didn’t have a good answer. The rep ordered a new card for me, and I went to Twitter to complain about the issue.

Even stranger than the mystery of the randomly expiring debit card, Twitter hasn’t updated its primary feed (@wellsfargo) since March 2009. The feed is littered with explanations that say the company is not yet on Twitter.
But it’s most recent tweet points users to a separate “test” account, (@Ask_WellsFargo), where a rep responds to customer service issues. The “test” account, as it’s referred to on the @wellsfargo feed, is a monotonous stream of apologies for bad service and “Thx 4 the mention!” tweets. It’s all incredibly insincere.

There’s very little value here for anyone, and it raises the awkward situation many companies put themselves in when they approach online communities in an unsure, clumsy and unhelpful manner.

As I’ve said before, social media is about customer service and conversations. If you cannot serve customers, please don’t barge into their communities and pretend to do so.

A quick look at the Goodwill Computer Museum

I spent a solid part of the 1980s huddled over Apple IIs in Mr. Zimmerman’s 5th grade classroom at Thomas Paine Elementary in Urbana, Illinois.

Mr Z didn’t think of computers as things that children should be timid around. As with the bullfrogs and piranha in our classroom, these little machines were to be explored with reckless abandon. They were, even then, extensions of our own worlds that allowed us to project our interests and passions onto electronic canvases.

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