In yesterday’s London Evening Standard, Richard Godwin wrote about the changing culture of the ‘OOO’.
Godwin reckons the best OOOs go for brevity over personality. He says the last thing we want when we’re stuck behind our desk emailing someone for answers is a humblebrag, or half-hearted attempt at humour.
And we agree, to a point. The whole idea of the OOO is to let people know you’re not around to help them, but here’s what they can do instead. And if that message is getting garbled behind a load of info about your travel itinerary, then it’s not doing its job.
But our clients are always forwarding us examples of nice OOOs they’ve seen, because they were a little out of the ordinary or raised a smile. So as long as you tell people what they need to know, and aren’t too smug about the great time you’re off having, we think you’re missing a trick if you don’t show a little personality. It’s a little bit of extra thinking that really sticks in people’s minds.
If you’re jetting off halfway across the world, that’s exciting. ‘I am currently out of the office until August 18th with no access to emails. Contact Mr Brown on 54321 if you need assistance in the meantime’ might get the job done, but it makes you sound crushingly dull. You wouldn’t be so bland in real life, so why do it here?
Here are a few that people have sent us because they really hit the mark.
I fancied a curry so I’ve gone to India. If I don’t get spotted by a Bollywood film director, I’ll be back at my desk on Tuesday 20th April. Can’t wait till then? Get in touch with…
I’ll be experiencing one of life’s necessary evils until about 10.30am on Thursday morning, in the form of The Dentist (gulp).
It’s Friday. It’s Sports Day. So I’ve gone to cheer on the egg and spoon race. Be back after lunch.
I was in the big Kennington Tesco the other day (Tesco being the UK’s biggest supermarket, international friends), and over the cabinet with the sandwiches, crisps and cans of Coke was a big old sign:
What is snacking? It’s not something I’ve ever heard anyone say positively (‘ooh, I really fancy doing some snacking during my afternoon lull’). You do hear health campaigners talking about it, though (‘constant snacking is at the root of the obesity crisis’). Which makes that cabinet much less tempting.
But it’s part of a trend for businesses to –ing things into nouns in a way that feels distinctly unnatural to me. So our utilities talk about ‘billing’ (‘I’ll put you through to someone in billing’); I bought a shirt the other day that had a label in it that said ‘quality shirting’; and nigh-on all our clients talk about ‘messaging’.
It seems to me that the new versions shift the focus from the things you and me can touch or hear or eat (snacks, bills, shirts, messages) to the process that involves them. And because the process matters much more to the company (or maybe justifies the existence of a team within it) than to me, it feels weirdly corporate and remote.
But it looks like it’s on the rise. Tweet us @TheWriter if you spot more corporate –inging.
Shove in a hashtag. Plonk in a couple of capitals. Crowbar in a number or three. And you’ve got a secure password, right? Something like P4rR0t! (with a zero, of course).
Ugh. Coming up with one is enough to give you a migraine. Never mind remembering it.
Thing is, all that effort is a waste of time.
What’s wrong with these passwords?
They’re not actually very secure. Hackers might try and guess your password. But more often they’ll just get their computer to hash out every combination. And computers don’t care about the difference between the letter x or a question mark. So it’s length that really slows a computer down, not complexity.
And they’re a nightmare to remember. So you have to think of something like your favourite animal or number. (How many people probably have the password Dragon13?) Or you forget it over and over and have to faff and reset it.
The secret is stories
XKCD said it best. Use a few random words and you’ll make your password stronger, because it’ll be longer. And it’ll also be easier to remember.
The reason comes back to how we’re hardwired for stories. You don’t even need to try to give a password meaning and you’ll end up doing it anyway.
It’s like how you can’t watch a video of random shapes moving without assuming there’s some meaning behind it. Or how people remember the order of a deck of cards by imagining them around their house. If you pick a few random words, you’ll probably be able to think of a narrative to link them together. And it’s easy for us to remember stories.
So next time you need a new password: grab a dictionary, jab a pencil into it a few times, and think of a story.
You might have noticed there’s a bit of football on the telly at the moment.
Yes, the World Cup’s here, bringing with it hundreds of analysts, bloggers, commentators, pundits and podcasters.
TV punditry is dominated by ex-pros, fond of telling people that ‘the Pirlos of the world’ (pretty sure there’s only one Pirlo, Andy) like to play ‘in and around the opposing number ten’ (pretty sure he can’t play in the opposing number ten, Andy). They’re also fond of phrases like ‘he’ll be disappointed with that’ and ‘if anything, he hit it too well’. Players are ‘unveiled’, small teams are ‘minnows’ and transfers are ‘protracted’. Words you’d almost never use in a sane conversation pop up constantly.
At the other end of the spectrum are the bloggers and podcasters. These guys are so knowledgeable on the game that they’ve coined an almost entirely new language to debate it in. If you don’t know your trequartistas from your registas*, and your inverted wingers from your false nines, you’ll struggle to make it through a match report.
But there is one pundit who’s managed to unite both camps in something approaching admiration: part-time pundit and England coach Gary Neville.
And his secret? No jargon or clichés, he just uses everyday language. Here he is breaking down where Liverpool went wrong against Chelsea at the end of last season.
This is a team that did some absolute no-nos. There is a way to chase a game: you don’t shoot from unrealistic distances, and you don’t cross from deep areas unless you’ve got big men in the box.
As ever, it’s the person who can explain complex ideas in a straightforward way who gets the most respect.
And thanks to England’s performance this summer, he’ll be back in a commentary box soon. (He’ll be disappointed with that.)
*These aren’t technically new terms, they’re Italian positions that have been around for decades – but they’ve only found their way into English commentary in the last few years.
A couple of weeks ago, I bought a picture frame from Habitat (don’t worry; this blog gets more interesting). At just the wrong moment for them, they’ve asked me to review their service on ‘independent review community’ site Trustpilot. And in the middle of my grumpiness about the seemingly endless and impossible task of getting a picture frame from one part of London to another (sorry, I know I promised), I got a nice surprise.
When you go to post a review on Trustpilot, you get some writing advice.
It kicks off with ‘Your opinion in one sentence’. ‘Write a catchy header to make your review stand out’, it adds.
And then, when we get to the main bit, it tells you to ‘write as if you’re speaking to a friend’.
Really simple, and really effective. And most importantly, it nudges you in the right direction at just the right moment. At The Writer, we’re always moaning about the fact that even brands who’ve bothered to decide how they sound too often hide that advice in guidelines documents that no-one ever looks at.
Better to stage an intervention: surprise people with useful ‘tone of voice’ direction in the PowerPoint template everyone has to use, or on the timesheet everyone has to fill in. It’s much more likely to hit home at the point when you actually have to use it.