Monday, May 7, 2012

Does your communications team have a "weapons" specialist?

No, I'm not talking about actual weapons, but I'm sure you already knew that.

I'm talking about a subject matter expert in the art of communications tools and technology (the "weapons" of a communicator), such as your intranet, enterprise social media, and other tools that enable the rest of the team to focus on communicating.

Ten years ago, your communications team needed to be the best writers in the building. They were focused on writing the flawless email or article, painstakingly crafting every sentence and scrutinizing every word to ensure the tone and message were perfect.

But those days are in the past.

Employees don't have the time (or the attention span) to read pages and pages of prose from business leaders. They want short, concise messages, preferably with bullet points that they can jump to and read to get the information pertaining to them.

Therefore today's internal communicators need to be snipers, delivering messages with concise precision, through the best channel available for reaching their specific audience.

The days of blanket emails to the entire company (or large swaths of employees) that only have meaning or require action from a select few are over. Employees are more sophisticated now and expect their internal communications to be personalized, targeted and, most importantly, directly relevant to them. Their online experience at work must reflect their personal experiences with popular consumer sites like Facebook or

That's where the communications technology and tool specialist comes in.

Enterprises need someone (or in some cases, a small team of people) focused solely on the the tools that internal communicators use to communicate to employees. This includes:
  • intranet management issues like publishing governance, content management, updating news feeds and changing layouts. 
  • identifying systems and processes for identifying your audiences (such as PeopleSoft or SAP HR), that are kept up-to-date by another team who has a business reason to do so, such as HR.
  • determining content distribution models to ensure efficient and effective management of communication vehicles. (For example, where does content originate? How is it distributed?)
  • measuring effectiveness of these vehicles.
  • researching and implementing new tools and vehicles.
  • working with IT to discuss functionality improvements and troubleshoot technical issues.
Without someone in this role, it becomes the "part-time" job of everyone on the team, which means no one has the time or incentive to devise long-term, cross-functional solutions to these challenges. What you end up with is a patchwork of work-arounds that are known by some team members and not others. The result is lots of re-solving of the same problems over and over again, every time they come up.

Having a communications "weapons" specialist ensures that the next time that "weapon" is needed, loaded and waiting in the team's arsenal.

Does your organization have someone in a role like this? If so, does he or she have additional, traditional internal communications responsibilities? If so, is that model working?

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

When it comes to the social enterprise, don't ask "why?", ask "why not?"

In a recent research survey, consulting firms Gagan MacDonald and APCO Worldwide found that 51% of companies of 500 employees or more have already implemented some time of Internal Social Media (ISM) tool. Perhaps more importantly, their research found that 58% of employees would prefer to work for a company that uses ISM.

This quantified information comes in handy for me as I continue to find myself working to justify the value of ISM to business leaders.

As I've blogged here before in previous posts, many leaders are still not ready to be as honest (read: vulnerable) as ISM requires if they are to attain the level of authenticity that employees clearly crave. (In fairness to these leaders, employees apparently have similar apprehensions as documented in this post by Jacob Morgan.)

Too often leaders are accustomed to keeping the decisions they face, and their reasons for their ultimate choice on those decisions, behind closed doors. I understand why they would, since these decisions are often difficult because they will lead someone to be unhappy, no matter what choice they make.

But when it comes to business decisions, employees and the public are increasingly expecting more and more transparency.

Therefore when discussing the implications of ISM with business leaders, one thing I always prepare them for is the necessary shift in mindset from "why should we share this?" to "why should we NOT share it?".

Make no mistake, this shift is not insignificant.

The best leaders understand that they never had "control" of communications, and instead see the benefit of ISM because it gives them to opportunity to "direct" communications by engaging in ISM conversations. Leaders who participate in the discussions have an incredible impact in the effectiveness of internal communications, as demonstrated by the Gagan MacDonald and APCO findings that executive leadership accounts for 75% of an employee's perception of internal communications.

So the lesson here is, when it comes to ISM and leadership transparency, don't ask "why?", ask "why not?".

Have you had a similar conversation with one of your business leaders? Are you struggling to convey this message to your own clients? Or are you perhaps a business leader with a different perspective? I'd love to hear your thoughts so please share them in the comments below.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Don't let #McDstories McRuin your enterprise social media plans

In my line of work, I spend a lot of time allaying fears.  

I'm constantly reassuring my clients that they should take a chance and get involved in social media. "You've got to let your guard down," I say. "Be honest, transparent and humble, and constituents will reward you with loyalty and support. Put yourself out there." 

Usually it's good advice.

That's why the recent #McStories gaffe by McDonald's on Twitter is tough to watch. Because unfortunately, it's mistakes like this that serve as the perfect excuse for any business leader to NOT try something new. I can already hear my next client's response when I give her the advice above - "What are you, kidding me? You think I want to be the next McScrewup?" 

Ultimately such response would be a cop-out... a weak excuse to choose not to do the right thing for fear of the risk.

Yet this fear is more than present, it's pervasive. Client after client, experience after experience, I inevitably get the same question from business leaders I'm advising, usually in the form of "Can we delete negative comments?". (I blogged about this topic back in September 2011). This is effectively a question about risk and, ultimately, exercising control.

So I've decided to compile a list of reasons why this Twitter folly by McDonald's is different than the situation in which I'm advising my client, to prepare myself for the inevitable day when one of them references this as a reason not to take my advice. (Be sure your situation really IS different before using any of the arguments below).:
  • Consumers are a different lot than employees. Employees have a vested interest in your success and therefore want you to succeed.
  • While I don't advise censorship, you DO have control over the social environment in an enterprise, and therefore you can remove personal insults or profanity if they arise.
  • With the above stated, employees generally want to remain employed, so they'll keep their criticisms constructive. And even if you allow anonymous posting, most employees feel you can still find out who they are if they state anything too negatively (and let's be honest, they're probably right.) 
  • McDonald's brand has, for better and worse, come to symbolize ALL fast food, and fast food has legions of haters out there. These haters are just waiting for an excuse to pounce and talk trash about McDonald's, or fast food in general. You don't have this problem in the enterprise space.
  • This campaign was ill conceived in that it doesn't address a legitimate issue. The original purpose of the campaign was to share the pride that McDonald's farmers have in providing quality food; however I would argue that most fast food customers know the food isn't good for them, and DON'T CARE. Why try to put lipstick on a pig when everyone's happy with the pig as it is?

Do you have additional arguments to the ones I've listed above? Please use the comments section below to add them.

Monday, December 12, 2011

All I want for Christmas is ERP and social media data integration

Seems like SAP is on the road to giving me exactly what I want for Christmas, starting with their own Social Media drill down tool:
SAP Invades Radian6 Territory with Social Media Drill-down Tool - ReadWriteCloud.

With SAP entering the fray of Social Media analytics, and already being so deeply embedded with so many customer's internal information (such as HR, Org Management, Customer Relationship Management and Sales and Distribution, to name only a few), can the integration of these two data sets be far behind?

As an internal communicator, this is what I've longed for for years - the ability to use employees' social media habits, both internally and externally, to engage and inform them better. Imagine being able to cross-check employee chatter trends, whether you're using Yammer, Lotus Connections, Microsoft Sharepoint or something else entirely, with organizational information. Is our business transformation seen as a positive effort in Finance but not in HR? Is our sales force frustrated by the implementation of our new mobile sales app? Are employees more satisfied in the UK than the US?

If SAP can track social media trends externally, I can't imagine it will be far off before they make integrating the same information internally that much easier. I envision a communications dashboard where I can analyze which trends are most common among whom in my enterprise, and use that information to target further communications. Perhaps the CEO needs to fly to Chicago to better explain, in person, why we're going forward with a particular project. Or maybe my CIO needs to communicate directly to our Directors and VPs to rally their support for our new strategy.

The more specificity I can get to who's saying what the better, and SAP, or any ERP for that matter, has the most accurate and up-to-date information about my enterprise.As a communications guy, my mouth waters at the possibilities. Can't wait to see where this goes.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Google's mistake demonstrates why they rule

I've always admired Google's approach to business and how they communicate. They're straightforward, simple and honest. And as a result, I've often referred to their style when counseling my clients on how to internally address business "issues" they're faced with.

Too often the client is hesitant to transparently communicate about whatever the problem is. Heck, they almost never want to use the word "problem", it's always an "issue". Yet I've always argued that straightforward, honest messaging is not only appreciated, but that it will actually gain you credibility. Nowhere was this better demonstrated than in Google's recent response to the buggy Gmail app they released - and subsequently pulled - for Apple's iOS 5.

A simple search online will easily get you the background on what actually happened, but suffice to say they made a new Gmail app available on Apple's newest operating system, and it had serious problems. After pulling the app, they tweeted the following explanation:

How great is that for an explanation?

Even better, I read this CNN article and frankly got a little defensive on Google's behalf. The comments from so-called "experts" imply that Google is on the brink of total failure and has lost all confidence from users. Then I read the comments attached to the article, and I was reassured that all is not yet wrong with the world. Here are just a few so illustrate my point:
btaylor328 said:
oh yea, reminds me of glass houses and stones. it's easy to throw the stones. like apple hasn't sent out mistakes, like MS hasn't sent out mistakes, like many, many companies haven't sent out mistakes. there isn't a tech company that hasn't launched a product that hasn't had mistakes, it's how you handle the error that should be praised or criticized. 
"Sorry we messed up." Accountability....that is what its all about. 2 thumbs up from this guy.
Houstondoc said:
Actually I like this.  They made a mistake and came right out and said it and are working to fix the problem.  This is better than apple did with Antenagate and now Betterygate.
Not only is Google getting praise for their honesty, but their competition is actually getting CRITICIZED.

I'd love to see more business leaders learn from this type of transparency. Especially in today's day and age, where employees are so sensitive to corporate-speak and, quite frankly, bullshit. To me this proves how people appreciate honesty, and will actually reward you for it with their respect and support.

I can only hope this type of courage leaks into the internal corporate space, if only just a little. It will be a rare but refreshing change.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Have social media statistics and authority lost their value?

After reading an interesting blog post in the Harvard Business Review titled "Return on Influence, the New ROI", I was feeling quite proud of myself for actually keeping up with the HBR.

I was taken in by the author's claim that she had created a new metric ("Return On Influence", or ROI - I know, it's confusing), whereby she identifies the value of a single fan/follower of her client, which can in turn be used to demonstrate the value of investing in said client to potential advertisers. Sounds like a good idea, right?

Then I read the comments. Yikes.

I kid you not, the first line of the first comment reads, "Respectfully, this is complete nonsense."

He goes on to express his disappointment in HBR for publishing the article at all.

As I scrolled through the nearly 50 comments posted at the time, I was not surprised to see a familiar debate unfold - questioning the process of determining statistics, accusations that the statistics are valueless, stating that this is nothing new, and so on. Eventually the comments question the validity of the author's professional credentials, and finally HBR for even allowing the article to be published.

For me it begs the question - have statistics as they pertain to social media, and to some degree, the notion of "authority", virtually lost their value?

Don't get me wrong, I understand there must and always will be value in measuring statistics... I mean it's not as if I don't track how many readers I get on this blog. But some of the other statistics - the fancier, more compounded ones (ie, Return Of Influence) - are always so debatable. And the more that social media flatten our world such that more opinions are heard, does that threaten the whole notion of authority? 

For example, we have blogs, both liberal and conservative, dedicated to exposing the bias of the mainstream media (MSM), however both sides insist the bias is in the opposing direction. Is that even possible? But I digress.

My point in this post is to pose the question - would we do better to collectively acknowledge that there is value in social media, and stop searching for that "perfect metric" that proves exactly how valuable it is? 

I don't have the answer to this question, but I must say, I think about it a lot lately.

Ironically, one of the commentors on the HBR post referenced a website called ROI of Social Media. I'm pretty sure their "ROI" is the one most of us are familiar with - Return On Investment. I'm going to read it now to see if they're onto something.

In the meantime, please share your thoughts. Do you have a standard set of metrics you find convincing? If so, why? And if not, why not?

Monday, September 26, 2011

Unisys leverages social media to share knowledge and increase engagement

I just read a well written article in Bloomburg Businessweek about how Home Depot is using social media to engage their customers. (Special thanks to the Social Media in Organizations group on LinkedIn for the reference).

I've read similar articles in the past, and always wondered, how can these lessons be applied to businesses for internal use? What are some creative ways that businesses can use social media to engage employees to share knowledge, increase morale and improve productivity?

So I was intrigued when I read this article in the Harvard Business Review. Seems the folks over at Unisys have jumped into the fray and are leveraging social media internally with great success.

I especially like author Jeanne C. Meister's  break out of the 8 keys social media to implementation, obtained from this infographic on It's really good content presented in an easy-to-digest format.

Note also how the success of this rollout began with Unisys CEO Ed Colement leading by example. As the article and infographic point out, executive support is absolutely critical to making social media tools work, and I believe the more open and transparent leadership is by nature, the more likely they are to really support social media (as opposed to only stating they support it because "everyone else is"). As I've said to clients in the past: if you don't really intend to support this effort, then don't move forward. You can do more harm by implementing social tools and letting them die on the vine than by not implementing them at all.

Again, this often comes down to a sincerity issue. Employers want to get employees engaged, but they must be prepared to do the engaging. Old school leaders assume the technology will do the engaging for them, and that too often only compounds the lack of engagement said leaders are trying to break down.

New school leaders not only join the discussion, they put themselves out there and start it. That's the first step to engagement, knowledge sharing and productivity.