22 annoying communications that should end

Do you instruct people how to leave a voicemail message? Engage in ridiculous Facebook quizzes? Overuse ‘genius’ and ‘brilliant’ (even facetiously)? Yes? Well, knock it off.

I love to complain. And I love that you love to hear me complain.

For the past four years, my annual lists of communication annoyances (see 2011, 2012, 2013, and 2014) are consistently among my most popular articles of the year.

Here’s this year’s list of 22 communication annoyances that must stop in 2015. Enjoy or be annoyed.

1. Gullibility for fake revenge stories

Collectively, our guilty pleasure is to watch heroes fall. (Many Hollywood movies follow that very pattern.)

Usually, if it’s a high-profile case, such as the Bill Cosby rape allegations, then there is a lot of reporting and vetting of the situation. But if the story is just about a non-celebrity just being a pompous shmuck, we love to watch him or her being taken down a peg.

Unfortunately, our eagerness to find, read, and share these stories severely clouds our BS detectors. If something is written creatively, contains believable elements (e.g., a note written on a cocktail napkin), then we go right ahead and believe the tale.

This past year there was a flurry of hoaxes that we fell for en masse, such as the obnoxious airline passenger or the homophobic couple that refused to leave a tip for their lesbian waitress. Simply seeing a story on Mashable or The Huffington Post doesn’t make it legitimate. Before you forward an “oh, it’s too good to be true” story, stop and consider whether you just might be the dupe the huckster is hoping will spread that BS story.

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2. Using quizzes as an excuse to talk about yourself

You know what we haven’t done in a while? Talked about me! I’ve tried to get people to talk about me, but every time I ask, I’m ignored.

Luckily, I’ve found a workaround. Take a quiz! A highly refined algorithm determined that my ’80s music persona is the metal hair band “Poison.” I didn’t say it; it was the quiz.

Congratulations, you’re being a viral jackass. We all hate people who refer to themselves in the third person. Why don’t you take a quiz on how to keep it to yourself?

3. Video titles that tell me I won’t believe what will happen next

Except for movies you love to rewatch (and every episode of the “Love Boat”), we pretty much don’t know what’s going to happen next in any video. These titles beg you to click them. Stop falling for the bait. That’s the only way they’ll go away.

4. Pretending to care about celebrities who died

If you’re a former celebrity and you’d like to start trending on Twitter, I suggest you either knock over a liquor store or die.

When someone dies too early or it’s a great tragedy—such as the suicide of Robin Williams—then there’s cause for concern. But when someone dies of old age, don’t tell me it’s a great loss. People aren’t designed to live forever. Given that you never posted anything about them while they were alive, you obviously aren’t that big a fan.

5. Arguments about the ethics of native advertising

In the past few years, we’ve seen the rising popularity of “native advertising.” It has been the publishing industry’s most needed new revenue generator while also being its worst branding effort. Critics of “native advertising” harp on the issue of “disclosure” as to who paid for the content. This argument is tired. Enough already.

All native advertising is disclosed. You can see who wrote and sponsored the content right at the top where the byline is.

If the author and sponsor are not disclosed, then it’s not considered native advertising, it’s unethical publishing—and that’s been going on long before the term “native advertising” entered our lexicon. For years there have been endless cases of lazy or paid-off journalists reprinting or rewriting company press releases as traditional news. Just because you can find one or two examples of unethical journalism, it isn’t indicative of the entire industry.

6. Overuse of the words “genius” and “brilliant”

Facebook chose to label their “I approve this content” button with the word “Like” instead of “Genius” because most of us would just giggle and hit the “Genius” button every time we saw a picture of a cat peeing at a urinal.

“Genius” and “brilliant” are abused terms that have lost their true meaning. The terms are almost never used to selectively identify geniuses. Instead, they’ve become punchlines. We use the terms inappropriately by immediately escalating a behavioral description that should just be labeled as “smart,” or we use it to point out the complete opposite behavior.

When you’ve seen it being done thousands of times, it’s hard to muster the energy to laugh at just one more ironic use of “brilliant.”

7. Slideshow and listicle articles that force the user to reload the page to see each item

Does anyone actually enjoy this, or do we just “put up with it?” We all know this process of reloading pages through a slideshow is just a pathetic and unfortunately successful attempt for more page views and therefore increased advertising dollars. It’s a bad reading experience. As an advertiser, why would you want you want that association?

8. Almost all YouTube comments

I have one extremely popular YouTube video of a female punk accordionist playing for a couple of nuns.

The video has 621,000 views and more than 500 comments. All the comments can be categorized into one of three buckets:

1. Identifying the song the woman is playing

2. “She’s hot, I want to do her”

3. “Those nuns are ugly”

More than 500 people felt compelled to share the above information hundreds of times. YouTube attracts the absolute worst in human behavior. The people at Google are aware of this problem, and they can’t fix it. If you want to avoid inappropriate insults, I’d suggest you turn off comments on your own video and not comment on anyone else’s.

9. Perpetual “call me next week” responses

If you plan on staying in the working world for decades, then treat everyone with respect, especially people you never want to work with. Putting people off with perpetual “I’m too busy; call me next week” responses is insulting, and you’re just putting off something that’s inevitable. Don’t use the “Oh, they’ll get the hint” excuse. Be up front; tell people you don’t or can’t work with them. It’s simply insulting and unethical not to do so.

10. Outgoing voicemail messages explaining how to use voicemail

I’m sorry, what did you say? Was I supposed to leave my message before the beep? I’m so confused. I’ve never called anyone on the phone before, and I’m not sure what I’m supposed to do next.

I have another question. If I’m going to write you an email, should I address it to you and then hit “Send” or should I just wait for you to come over to my house and read it? It would be really helpful if all your emails offered instructions.

11. Leaving voicemail messages

Hearing your message “call me back” requires me to dial voicemail, enter my password, press “1” to listen to the message, and then “7” to delete the message. You could have said that in a text or email. Unless your number is blocked, you don’t ever have to let me know you called. Caller ID does that for me.

12. Lack of wait time estimates for customer support

Will it be five minutes, 10 minutes, or two hours? Without a wait time estimate I’ll never know, and if it takes longer than a few minutes I’ll soon be one of your most irritated customers. How did “we’re experiencing higher than usual call volume” become the default outgoing introduction? If it’s always “higher than usual” then that’s the usual call volume. It’s also time to staff up the customer support center.

13. Staring at your phone during dinner

Next time you want to stare at your phone during dinner, look at the person sitting across from you and say: “You’re boring me. I have nothing to say and you have nothing to say, so I’m going to stare at my phone.” If you think that’s too rude to say, then maybe you put your phone away.

14. Introducing me to your dead dad

The first introduction I usually get to any of my friends’ parents is in a Facebook post, after they’ve died. Expressing our love for someone publicly, after they’re dead, is not new to Facebook. If you do have an amazing dad, mom, sibling or other relative, why not introduce them to your friends now, before they die?

15. “She said ‘yes'” engagement announcements

This “tongue-in-cheek” method to announce your engagement is neither original nor cute. If she said “no” would you have announced that?

16. Happy birthdays as brand building efforts

On my last birthday, I received over 200 “Happy Birthday” messages from my friends. I can’t remember who sent those messages, but I do know that many of those 200+ people communicate with me once a year via Facebook with only the words “Happy Birthday.”

I can’t speak for everyone, but I know many of these people send these “Happy Birthday” messages out as a personal branding effort to stay “top of mind.” Well, if 200+ of you are doing it, there’s no chance I or anyone else is going to remember who you were, especially if most of you sent the exact same message. Your efforts are wasted. If you want to be remembered, I suggest you send a message that’s longer than two words and maybe do it on a day that’s not the person’s birthday.

17. Apologizing for sending a mass emails

Most of us apologize when we make a mistake or do something inadvertent. Rarely do we apologize for something that is intentional and carefully planned out. This is a very common trend in PR emails, and sadly it’s a core element that’s planned into the communications.

I’ve received many messages that begin with “I’m sorry to be sending you this email…” and then there’s the pitch. What exactly is the reaction you’re expecting? You know people hate mass emails. Do you really think your apologizing for sending a mass email—one that you had every intention of sending—makes it any less annoying?

If you’re going to send a mass email, instead of apologizing upfront, why not just make it more entertaining? Then you won’t have to apologize.

18. Using tragedies to promote your brand

Even though there have been countless examples of brands failing when they use a tragedy to promote their brand, companies still don’t learn. No one cares if your company is remembering the 9/11 tragedy and having a sale. Such tie-ins are tacky and completely inappropriate. Maybe the best thing to do when remembering a tragedy is to do just that and nothing else.


19. “Whatever happens in Vegas stays in Vegas”

Prior to the Las Vegas tourism board’s PR campaign, many people kept their inappropriate behavior (e.g., extramarital affairs and criminal activity) as quiet as they possibly could. All of a sudden, visitors to Vegas thought their mere presence in the city meant they were going to have a wild and crazy time.

Upon arrival they would parrot the tourism board’s publicity campaign, “Whatever happens in Vegas stays in Vegas.” The problem is this: The mere announcement of that phrase does not activate a great time. If you hear someone say that, look for someone else to hang out with.

20. Abundance of sincerity from customer service reps

When I tell a friend about a problem, I expect some level of sincerity. When I call customer support and tell them my problem, I don’t expect sincerity, but I get it anyway-lots of it.

For some idiotic reason, companies have scripted their customer service reps to show empathy, and then keep showing empathy, and then keep showing empathy. Too much sincerity starts to come off as really insincere. I don’t need my customer service rep to keep telling me, “Oh, that must have been awful.” Just listen, and then solve my problem.

21. Catcalls

I can’t believe I waited until 2015 to write this, but this definitely has to end. It’s dehumanizing to catcall a person you don’t know on the street. I know you think it’s harmless, but as evidenced by the viral video of the woman walking through the streets of New York, it’s horrifically annoying and it borders on threatening. If you ever see someone do it, drop a brick on his foot.

22. Companies introducing “tell us how awesome our company is” hashtags

There is an endless string of companies that have introduced hashtags and marketing campaigns inviting fans of their product to “tell their story” of how they use the company’s product.

Like the mistake brands have made using tragedies to promote their brand, the examples of these failures are endless (e.g.,#McDStories, #myNYPD, #WaitroseReasons). I’m sure in each case these companies convinced themselves that the only reason the world wasn’t sharing wonderful stories is that the company hadn’t taken the time to give them a hashtag to do so.

Got an annoyance of your own to share? Please include it in the comments. Want to know what else annoys me? Just download my e-book (available in iTunes iBook and Kindle formats) for a mere 99 cents, and you can get 58 more annoyances.

A version of this article first appeared on LinkedIn.

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