Our thoughts from SmileExpo17

On Tuesday I attended the Simply Communicate Smile Expo in London. It was a day of learning for me in some areas and a day that left me wondering how many more years it will take for us to move forward with the digital workplace agenda we have been talking about for years already…

50% of the workforce will be millennials by 2020

So what? As Jakkii Musgrave @slybeer pointed out on twitter – they are already in the workplace and already using emails. The argument that we all need to stop using emails because of millennials is bonkers. Yes email isn’t the right tool for everything and yes people use it wrongly, but it equally has a place. I constantly hear people using email as an excuse not to do anything “email doesn’t work for me, I need to see you or talk to you” well that’s all lovely but if we had to do that for everything, we would be living in meetings which many of us are already!

Having heard Simon Sinek discuss the world of millennials just the other week the topic remains top of mind, but after researching and writing about them for my CIPR Diploma a few years ago there is little to suggest we need to rapidly change the use of email inside organisations.

The intranet is a place for static content and the collaboration platforms should sit alongside it

I could not disagree more with this statement and I think it’s time to redefine an intranet. In a previous role, I was lucky enough to have a relationship with IT that meant we were able to work together to try and change how our business communicated. Working with IBM we launched channels that were integrated, talked to each other, with an end goal of having one platform that could launch you to anything seamlessly – no it isn’t finished and yes user adoption was incredibly challenging.

The thought that everyone is picking up shiny new collaboration tools to sit alongside other intranet platforms, getting users to go to lots of different places and then only measuring the click rates or the likes or the number of people with profile pictures is not where we should be – where is the conversation about the content and engagement?

How do you define a digital workplace?

The session on digital workplace – hype vs reality was run by the team at Simply Communicate and was probably the best session of the day for me. It was interactive, prompted discussion and debate and was the most honest about where we are now. You can see the 6 definitions we were exploring on the day below but for me, it has to be number 6 with a little edit so my definition of a digital workplace is:

The digital workplace is the experience of work delivered through the collective use of connected devices, software and interfaces to drive efficiencies and engagement through the organisation.

What was equally good about this session was the discussion about moving from a personalised intranet, to a social intranet to the digital workplace and I really do think we are still far away from all being comfortable with a social intranet let alone a digital workplace.

Is the answer something like Workplace by Facebook because the majority of users will know the functionality? Maybe. But the fundamental challenge of connecting people at work who serve customers, without mobile phones to hand and an expectation to use their own device in their own time is not something a new channel can fix overnight.

Chatbots and ducks

I cannot thank Sharon O’Dea enough for her session on chatbots. This is an area still quite unknown so I was grateful for the chance to hear more and understand how they could be applied internally and throughout the exercises it became clear we can naturally complicate scenarios that should be simple. As an internal communicator interested in driving efficiencies through digital communication, this sort of advancement is fascinating for our industry.

The power of the duck has been chatted about since Alive with Ideas hosted their Ask the Guru event with CIPR Inside earlier in May and it’s an interesting concept. What I loved about this session was that it was more about the broader internal comms arena than just social and gave us all ideas on how to creatively create an adoption campaign inside an organisation using some new techniques.

Getting the basics right and the importance of adoption

The final session was a reminder about the importance of project planning and I’m thankful again for my IT project manager for teaching me some of these skills already. Adrienne took us all through some good principles around project management and while it seems really heavy – taking the time to do this will make the project much easier.

As I left the event on Tuesday I felt motivated and a little saddened that our journey to create a digital workplace still seems far away. The investment from organisations to do this and do it well is still minimal and the adoption piece is always the bit that gets left behind. To be an internal communicator today your drive and tenacity must be excellent to drive through the business case, the budget requirements, the resource and the ongoing development. Do we really need it? Yes…go and spend a day working in an organisation where there is no collaboration platform in place and you will easily see how difficult it is to work efficiently across multiple sites and countries in today’s business world.

Smile London – let’s stop feeling bad about our internal social media

Today I attended my second, albeit not consecutively, simply communicate SMiLE event in London. The format was much the same as before but my reasons for attending very different. Now four months into the new role I need to learn more about Office 365 so I was on the hunt to learn more.

There were some great sessions throughout the day that prompted some food for thought and some great research shared from both Lecko and People Lab about using Enterprise Social Networks (ESNs) inside our businesses. Thank you to Wedge for the table session on news and the intranet – the most valuable part of my day.

The biggest thing I left with today was a sense of the need to stop. There are new tools entering this marketplace every year, if not every month. The current new tool is Facebook Workplace and while it was great to hear more about it – I’m already on my journey with Microsoft so for me, the session was interesting but not practical for application. And now I feel bad. Now I feel like I am letting my business down by not having the latest and greatest tool out there – and this isn’t the case.

With the constant new tools entering the space we are bombarded with messages about why one is better than the other and how you should have this or that technology because it is more in line with how we communicate today – but the truth is, it is a big investment. It is a big investment of time and money to launch and community manage an ESN. The companies that built them years ago – IBM, Microsoft – are constantly evolving them and if we have bought them, we need to nurture that relationship and learn together to adapt to how people change in the way they communicate.

Throwing out one tool for another won’t solve our problems. Yes we probably need to be quicker at adapting to change and integrating these platforms with others, and we also need to make sure our comms teams have the skills to evolve with the needs of the people and the functionality the tools can bring. But we can do all this if we work together.

I had some brilliant conversations today, learnt a vast amount about what I need to do for success in my organisation and got myself back into reality in knowing that I’m on the right track. But my ask for the future of any event about social media inside organisations is this:

  • Tell us how others have adapted and grown something they invested in years ago
  • Tell us how the strategy for collaboration has been a long-term wow – to quote intranetizen – and not a big bang launch
  • Understand where the audience is on the journey – some having nothing and others have had office 365 for the last few years and need to improve it
  • Tell us how to drive adoption, measure success and work with what we have to make it amazing

Everyone’s journey is different but we are all on one. I don’t want to feel like I’m behind the curve because I don’t have the latest and greatest – I want to feel proud of the tool I have, how it has grown, developed and adapted to the needs of my internal customers and I want my peers to celebrate (and when needed commiserate) with me. There was an audible laugh in the room when IBM Connections came up – I wonder how many people in the room have ever used it or know that it has been voted the number 1 platform for 5 years, ahead of SharePoint, for functionality. I know because I used it for years and while adoption remains a challenge – when people can see what it can do, they are blown away.

Let’s stop being trendy and get back to being functional – helping our colleagues collaborate and our businesses be more efficient – that is, after all, the goal (for me anyway).

Collaboration, data and how being vague is a great way to start!

Yesterday I had the honour of presenting at the IBM Smarter Workforce Summit (#swf2015) at the Kia Oval in London. Sadly I missed the morning but as I popped in to talk to them about the journey of collaboration I have been on for the past few years it was clear the day had been good.

A very engaged audience welcomed me to the event and so began a frank and open discussion about delivering collaboration channels and how engaging the workforce in them is tough.

What followed my session blew me away. Professor Brian Cox took to the stage to discuss the theory of the universe and everything we understand about our existence – not too heavy for 4pm on a Thursday!

His ability to translate seriously complex data into things we could understand is amazing. I have never felt more like Penny in Big Bang theory but I was starting to understand more than I ever thought I would.

While he covered a vast amount of theory there were two things I really took away that I could relate to the day job:

Data vs opinion
Everything he talked about was backed up by data; data to prove or disprove a theory. It made me realise just how much we accept opinion in the world of communication.

Employee engagement and the correlation to productivity is proven in data. Yet if the opinion of leadership is the opposite we just back down. How can we overcome this huddle when opinion is overruling what the facts are telling us? What do we need to do differently to get engagement on the agenda of the board?

Vague but interesting
This was the comment from Tim Berners-Lee’s manager on his first paper about information and the theory of the World Wide Web. I’m pretty sure this is how my manager thinks about some of the stuff I come up with, and no I’m not comparing my ideas to the introduction of the World Wide Web, but it makes you think about how we approach change.

The concept and theory about what you are trying to do can be vague. We then have to go and find out a way to prove we can do it or that it needs to be done. It doesn’t matter where it starts… Vague but interesting is a great foundation.

For me, attending events like this not only helps to contribute to your CPD but they also gives you that head space away from the day job which we all need.

I’m about to take three weeks off to get married and have my honeymoon and my brain has been horribly full of everything I need to do before I go. Now, with some space yesterday I’m clearer about what I need to get done before I go and I have some great ideas about how I want to influence our strategy going forwards.

I got all of that in 2 hours so I can’t even imagine what other delegates took away from being there all day!

Are internal communications functions influencing technology?

I haven’t blogged for a while and it’s for a few reasons…

  1. I have done a few on LinkedIn to test out that platform – I quite liked it but I think i prefer my own space. I have just published a blog from September here
  2. I have a new role and was struggling with having an opinion with this blog while my role is more external comms
  3. It’s been a while since something has inspired me to write… Until last week.

When it comes to internal social media we turn to technology experts to help us meet the needs of our business. But just last week, in a discussion with our technology partners, I realised that the people designing these tools don’t necessarily have the experience of working in internal comms for a big organisation and therefore don’t build it with all the functionality we need.

The example here was about files stored on the online platform. These files are owned by one person and can only ever be owned by one person. When they leave, they still own the file, their name is just greyed out with ‘inactive’ written next to it. Can this be changed? No. Why not? Because the legacy of that person should remain visible. Sure, that’s exactly what I need, a load of inactive people owning content all over the site. So when someone needs that document or has a query and they comment on it, that comment isn’t highlighted to anyone, and if someone else replaces that person they will never own that file, they can upload a new version but the owner will always be the inactive one. How demotivatong to see all these inactive people that inevitably you come across when a system has been in place for over 4 years.

Quite honestly I think this is a bit rubbish and it made me think that these people, designing these platforms don’t seem to consider the real businesses they are going into, nor do they think about the internal comms function.

This could just be an issue on the tool we have but as it is built by a huge global technology company I hope that others have the same issue so I know I’m not alone!

The future is now


Today, comms agency theblueballroom hosted their first Future Story event at RADA in London. Over 40 professionals linked to the comms world came together to hear about what the future holds for us and our businesses. The keynote of the day was Olivia Solon from Wired magazine who talked about four challenges/issues:

  • Personalisation and customisation

Hyper personalisation is not only applicable to the digital space. More and more companies are looking at ways to personalise your experience and your product. Examples from Heinz about creating your own soup label and fashion label Trikoton making clothing linked to voice patterns. The one thing to make sure is that the personalisation is not creepy and doesn’t go too far.

  • Transparency

Companies should have nothing to find. With the increasing desire to bring CSR to the table we need to make sure that our house is in order before we talk about it publicly. CSR allows you to align purpose and profit and be honest about what you’re fixing and managing. Some great examples about how brands engage in the online space being honest and transparent (O2 and Patagonia were some examples)

  • Privacy

Surveillance and privacy go hand in hand. Some interesting insight into some of those big games companies and how they wanted to use their tech that allows you to be in the game, for bringing you into the adverts. Creepy.

  • Automation

Talk of bots, software that can take data heavy information and turn it into copy, and how we can no longer tell the difference between reality and automation. Make sure you’re adding value beyond what a computer can do but also take note of how some of this stuff can really help our jobs.

There were three sessions in the afternoon and I went along to Euan Semple’s session on relationships in a connected world. Euan chose to run his whole 90 minute session through each person introducing themselves and talking about how they use social tools in business and in their personal lives. What we were part of, was an organic discussion about social that was aided by a facilitator who could add more insight than anyone I know….

  • We are in danger of turning social media into an initiative – we are professionalising it which we shouldn’t be doing
  • There were a lot of people in the room who ‘lurk’ on Twitter – Lurking is a long and honorable tradition!
  • Organisations are lunging at social media. It is like watching your dad dancing; you’re proud of him for trying but wish he would stop
  • Social media is one person at a time and it is for their reasons, not yours
  • As comms professionals we are still very focused on our leaders blogging – does it really matter? Why are we clinging onto the guy at the top that knows everything. He doesn’t exist and hasn’t for a long time
  • We lack patience for these tools to deliver
  • Transparency of the organisation has to link to transparency of the individual
  • BYOD: If your organisation wants to get on my phone as an internal comms tool it needs to behave itself
  • Measuring social media? How do you measure good conversations with interesting people?
  • The internet is like talking to yourself but better. It is like walking side by side with someone rather than across a boardroom table
  • Be visible, accountable and trustworthy
  • We have stopped being curious. The web is about learning and we need to remember that there is so much out there for us to find out
  • Social media works through a basic desire to be part of something. Through the need to be liked
  • Adoption is not about age or gender. It is about outlook.
  • The internet is just a thing. If you don’t like what you do with it that is more of a reflection on you as a person than the internet

While I didn’t take away any practical stuff for the day job, the event gave me time to think and reflect on some of those challenges we face every day. It gave me the chance to meet some people I have only ever met on Twitter and for once, I feel like I attended an event that really looked into the future!

#thefuturestory

Call of duty: to gamify your Comms

JoystickThere have been a few reports out since the start of the year and all exploring the key trends for 2013… Chatting to my fellow IC crowd founders the other day got me thinking about some of these and I think we need to look a little deeper…

As the rise of social continues (you can see my thoughts that the future is not social here) we are constantly looking at ways to engage people with shiny new tools.

We can invest all the money in the budget on the tool but if you don’t invest in the launch it will never really work. I have this conversation about every initiative the business does, please put budget aside to tell people why you’re doing what you’re doing!

But back to social and a key trend of 2013 which is gamification. In a world of budget cuts and organisational change adding a bit of gaming to a tool should be great right? Almost. Whilst most people play games and with the rise of the smart phone more people are playing games than ever before it doesn’t necessarily mean the principles can be applied across social tools:

Badges for activity

But what activity? You can get a badge for your first comment online, but what if that comment is offensive? Or you get one for adding a profile picture and that too is something inappropriate. Basic gamification like this does not necessarily engage the right behaviours so whilst it is a key trend I do think we need to consider how it is applied.

It’s fun, but will people use it?

As the Olympics came to town we explored an online game to track sales throughout the period. It was a great concept of an avatar athlete that got stronger the more sales he/she made. We could have spent a fair amount on the project but I pulled it before we got it off the ground. Why? Because the business couldn’t forecast the impact of the Olympics and with such an unknown I couldn’t justify the spend nor the time when I had teams that didn’t even know if they would be open!

I’d still like to do something one day but  it needs to be right for the business, support the strategy and enhance the culture. Would love to hear examples where this has landed well that we could all learn from to embrace the trend for 2013.

Who owns your content?

As we move into using social tools in business, who owns the content? Who can delete posts, comments, media and when it is approporiate to delete things? Would welcome your views on the poll and comments.