The connectors get connected: Five key take-aways from Big Yak 2014


Who needed Glasto this weekend when the internal comms industry had its very own festival…..a festival of conversation at The Big Yak 2014.

And what a conversation it was, with more than 150 new people to meet, exchange ideas with and problem-solve our challenges.

Here’s five of the biggest take-aways from my Big Yak day:

1) Digital literacy was the biggest theme of the day for me.

“Every single role I see coming through, has some element of digital in it now” ~ Michelle Morgan, VMA Group

I facilitated one of the first sessions of the day, ‘The future role and skills of IC’. During that discussion, it was quickly clear that every single person in the room has had their role impacted by digital and social. We spoke about needing to build relationships with our IT departments, understanding in detail the various ESN tools available and the race to learn the language of digital. This theme continued throughout the day, with barely a moment that passed without some reference to digital or social. It got to the point that in the last session of the day we tried so hard to talk about something other than social media!

2) The role of IC continues to grow

Our role and skill-set is expanding rapidly. When we describe what we do, we’re now ‘building relationships across our organisations’, ‘listening’, ‘managing stakeholders’ and ‘coaching our leaders’. We’re ‘acting as change ambassadors’ and ‘facilitators’. We’re ‘measuring value’, ‘increasing our analytical skills’.

Wow! The scope of our role in IC is ever increasing. But one thing we all agreed upon – it’s a really, really exciting time to be a part of this industry!

3) We all work with challenging leaders
“So, are we all just waiting for our leaders to die?!”
Leaders came up an awful lot throughout the day too. We spoke about trying to get buy-in for our ESNs with those who don’t see the point; trying to increase authenticity in leadership visibility; and trying to get our leaders to get out into the workforce and listen. We also shared the frustrations of leaders who fail to act on the feedback that we’re representing from our employees.
By way of problem-solving, there was a lot of talk about working with leaders who enjoy communicating and using them as catalysts for others to follow. We also said that we’re sure to see more and more leaders recruited into position for their communication skills, not just their technical skills.
4) Organisational culture is the context that makes each of our roles unique
I was fascinated by the range of organisations represented at the Big Yak. We shared so many ideas about success stories and challenges. But, if we all worked within the same organisational culture it would be dead easy simply to lift and replicate these ideas in our own workplace. That’s what makes the role of IC so complex – that we each work in unique organisational cultures which means we can never exactly do as others have. We’ll always have to tweak and mould to our own culture. Again, that’s what makes IC so rewarding when we do get it right!
5) Everyone has a battle scar(s) to talk about
“It’s like group therapy”
It was okay to share the battles that we’ve won (and lost). And I was reassured to find so many people had their own battle scars from the world of IC. It was like group therapy in a way – because we are all in this crazy world that we call IC together. And we’re creating the industry as we go. It is an industry that is developing, and developing fast and none of us can really know exactly where it’s headed.
There were many, many more takeaways from The Big Yak (search #thebigyak on twitter to see just how many!) and I’m sure I’ll be mulling over the ideas that I heard for the days and weeks to come.
On a personal note, hello to everyone I was able to meet on Saturday, it really was fantastic to meet so many talented and dedicated people working in internal communications. We spend our working days connecting the employees in our organisations to each other, so it was great to get the chance to get connected ourselves.
And thank you, thank you, thank you to Jenni, Dana and Rachel of The IC Crowd and their band of volunteers and sponsors for such a fabulous day.

Look who’s talking: how social media brought our meeting room etiquette reminders to life

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It’s a typical day in the office. A colleague visits your desk. People are continually running overtime in meetings, he says, and it’s impacting meetings that follow. He says he’d like to make people aware that they need to keep to set meeting times.

On auto-pilot, you suggest an email to the PA network, a reminder message on the intranet  and perhaps some notices on meeting room doors. Job done.

But how about trying something different? How often do we look at a common comms situation – something as seemingly mundane as meeting room etiquette – and think of ways to actively engage our audiences, involve them in the issue and encourage positive action?

Here’s an example of how I took the challenge above and tried something new……

Case study: ineffective meetings campaign

  • The objective of this campaign was to change behaviour, so the approach needed to involve employees and prompt action. With a colleague I created the idea of a designated day when we would encourage employees to ‘take the pledge’ to finish their meetings on time.
  • Rather than launching the campaign through a news article or email, we looked first to social media.
  • We used the collaboration area of the intranet (ours is combined, yours might be yammer, chatter etc) to start a conversation, creating a hashtag #itakethepledge to ensure the conversation was searchable and collected in one place. The post went something like this: “Fed up of meetings not finishing on time? Why not do something about it this Friday by taking a pledge to finish all your meetings on time? Show your support by commenting on this post and include #itakethepledge.”
  • We emailed a network of supporters asking them to comment on the post, ensuring it got off to a good start. (This was VITAL to the success of the campaign).
  • Momentum then took over – before long dozens of people were posting #itakethepledge to show their support and ‘liking’ the post. The more people who commented, the longer the post stayed as the top post on the activity feed – meaning more people were likely to see it.
  • By now, we’d got ourselves something newsworthy. Now it was time for the news story. I created an intranet news article about all the employees who had signed up for the day of action. I linked back to the activity post, encouraging even more people to take the pledge.
  • Finally, we took the campaign offline, displaying some posters around the office too.
  • On the day of action – ‘pledge day’ – we continued the conversation on the intranet, reminding all participants of the pledge and asking them to spread the word about the campaign.

It’s worth mentioning that the entirety of the above campaign comprised no more than a few hours work. Yet it generated more conversation, more interest and more genuine engagement than any standalone news article could have ever hoped to do. While it started off as an experiment, with little planning, it’s given us so many ideas for future comms challenges. We plan to repeat the campaign in the new year.

Top tips for how you can use an enterprise social network campaign in your business:

  • make it an issue people care about (late running meetings frustrate everyone).
  • make use of your networks: you need a network of people to help join the conversation to get the momentum going. So pre-existing relationships across the business are a must.
  • monitor what’s happening: keep a close eye on the conversation, if you start to see signs it’s fizzling out, then spice it up with a new angle or ask a few co-workers to write a post.
  • use the traditional channels too: once the conversation went crazy, we knew we were onto something exciting and followed it up with a news story on the intranet and slides on the plasma screens in the common areas of the building.

Have you tried anything like this campaign? Please let me know in the comments field!

What new skills did you learn as a comms pro in 2013?

As December rolls into place on my iPhone calendar, I started to reflect on my year at work.

I’ve worked in various roles in internal and external communications, PR and journalism since 2000, but never before has my skillset needed to widen, deepen and adapt moreso than in the last 12 months.

Here’s just a few of the skills I’ve needed this year to do my job, represented in a word cloud. Many are new skills, some build on existing skills I had previously….

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I think it’s a great showcase of what’s so exciting about the role of a communications professional. The increase in digital skills is a key theme and while writing is still a core strength for the role, so much more is required in today’s workplace. I can’t wait to see how our industry continues to evolve in 2014…..

What do you think? What skills did you learn in 2013?

Speaking then blogging – what’s wrong with that?

Tesco PLC Group CEO Philip Clarke delivered an inspiring speech at the FT Innovate event in London yesterday.

His theme was around innovation in the workplace and you can read the full transcript of his speech here.

Shortly afterwards, Mr Clarke posted this blog article about his experiences at the event.

The opening to the post begins: “This morning I spoke at the FT Innovate 2012 conference…..”

Clearly, by using the past tense, Mr Clarke has indicated that the blog was written after his speech.

It is portrayed as a reflection on the morning’s events.

The problem is, the blog was posted literally minutes after Mr Clarke completed his speech at the conference. Unless I am missing something it is nigh on impossible that he would have been able to write, edit and post such a blog in that timeframe.

So now there is some ambiguity. Now we’re thinking – well, was he trying to make it look like it was written afterwards? Did he actually write it at all? What does this say about his other blog posts?

I really don’t think Mr Clarke was being intentionally misleading with his opening line. He doesn’t actually refer to anything more from the event in the blog. All he does is talk further about some of the themes of innovation.

I think what happened is the wrong choice of opening wording. Clearly the article was written before the speech, with every intention that it would be posted shortly after the speech. (I also like to think that Mr Clarke writes his own blog posts, whether or not it is later edited and posted by the comms team on his behalf).

Simply changing the wording would have given the clarity needed to the post to explain this. Something like: “This morning I will be speaking at…” or “As you read this I will have just finished speaking at…”

Now, let’s go back 12 months to another example of an article that was written before an event had taken place and that was also misleading. On an entirely different level, we will all remember what happened when journalists from the Daily Mail mistakenly published the wrong verdict from the trial of Amanada Knox.

In this case, in trying to be the first to break the news, the Daily Mail made up most of the story, including details about the supposed ‘reaction’ of Knox to the result. This was completely unacceptable because of the creation of entirely fictitious elements and because the newspaper really did portray itself as reporting on the event after it had happened.

In this case, the article does undermine the rest of the news published by the Mail Online – it’s easy to believe that the newspaper would regular pre-write news stories with fabricated content.

As different as they are, what both the examples show is the need to tread carefully when we are writing in advance for the web.

It’s fine to prepare materials in advance, as long as it’s clear that this is the case and as long as information isn’t pre-empted or presumed.

What do you think? Should we ever write blog posts in advance? Is the post from Philip Clarke discredited because of the opening line? Does it make you think differently of his blog as a whole?

Why your annual employee conference is the most important internal communication channel you have

Fresh back from a two-day employee conference I’ve been thinking about how important these events are as part of an annual internal comms calendar.

I think most businesses have moved on from conferences that are simply departmental update followed by departmental update. What we are seeing now is really creative events that give opportunities to engage, inspire, collaborate and align people with business strategy.

Actually, I’ve come to the opinion that your employee conference is the most important internal communication channel available. Here’s why:

– Bring the business strategy to life

If the purpose of internal communications is to engage your people in business strategy and vision, there is no greater opportunity than in a face-to-face interactive environment.

A visionary opener delivered by the CEO will set the scene, create engagement and build the enthusiasm for the goals of the company. Follow this up with sessions aligned closely to the business strategy that create a narrative for the year.

Then mix this up with interactive sessions and workshops to embed the strategy by allowing everyone to create their own reflection on the goals and their own plan for how to contribute.

Get this right early on and you’ll set yourself on the right track for achieving great engagement for the rest of the year.

– Crucial cascade opportunity

Once you’ve got the people in the room on board with the strategy, then conference is an opportunity to leverage this for the whole business. Managers will need to be equipped with the tools to take back what they’ve learnt to their own area of the business. Your conference gives you the crucial opportunity to ask for this commitment, hand out toolkits and set expectations. We issued ‘talking points with your teams’ sheets at conference for managers to take back to their teams to ensure key messages were cascaded down the business. Follow this up with a reminder a week or so after conference with those managers, plus survey frontline staff to check the information got through.
If managers have never been relied upon for this kind of formal cascade approach before, your conference is an even more important opportunity to get this ball rolling.

– A launch-pad for your digital channels

This year at our conference we trialled the use of the enterprise collaboration tool Yammer. Although Yammer had already been established in the wider business (with approximately 30% take-up), setting up a private network for delegates at conference created a closed environment in which this group could experiment with the tool if they hadn’t done so already. With someone on hand (i.e me) to trouble-shoot and help explain how it all works face-to-face, conference gave this targeted group an opportunity to really get comfortable with the tool.  This paid dividends post-conference as the delegates became more active in the general yammer community and championed its use upon returning to their own business area.

Drive traffic to your other channels

Conference provides you number one opportunity to promote your other internal comms channels to the key influencers in the room. Promise to upload photos from conference to your intranet. Promote the use of Yammer. Say that you’ll be writing about the conference in your next internal newsletter or blog.

Even better, take the chance to gather some informal feedback on your channels too.

Content, content, content

Finally, squeeze the most out of every lead you come across for ideas and content. This will see you through the weeks post-conference, but also throughout the year. Take photos of your delegates – you’ll never know when they’ll come in handy through the year; do some face-to-face interviews; and above all, network, network, network, even with those you already know – who knows what you’ll discover.

Why your marketing team should not be controlling social media

Over the last few days Aussie clothing retailer Target has been the latest in a long line of brands to suffer the backlash from a foray into social media.

Marketers from the company pushed Target’s latest product line – girl’s clothing – via its facebook pages with the presumable aim of reaching an audience of highly-engaged mothers.

But it backfired. The mums saw the clothing as too adult-like for their seven year olds. Criticism picked up pace until the issue made headline news in the morning papers.

What Target planned as a simple product advertisement on a free channel, has now turned into an exercise in crisis media management with the comms team picking up the pieces. (On a side note, I don’t believe in the long-term the Target brand will be damage badly – there’s been as much positive feedback on the lines as negative anyway.)

And, what’s happened to Target is a great example of just where social media management is going wrong in companies at the moment.

As Social Media Consultant Thomas Tudehope commented to the Sydney Morning Herald:

”Historically, it’s been all about their [the brand’s] own content – namely ‘What are we going to post on our page?’ Now it will be the other way around – what are users going to say on our page,” he said.

Yes, what’s gone wrong is that fact that on the whole, the strategy, execution and day-to-day management of social media sits with marketing teams.

And the battle goes like this: CEO/management team decides the company needs to be on facebook. CEO/management team thinks hey, this could get us more sales / hits to our website etc. So CEO/ management team surveys current departments and thinks well, that’s just what our marketing team currently does.

But, whilst this may seem like a common sense approach, the reality is vastly different.  Because what marketing teams don’t do is have conversations with their audiences, deal with positive/negative feedback or manage reputation and sentiment.  They very skilfully promote products and services to drive business, but not the company’s corporate image and profile to drive reputation – nor have to prepare responses when promotion is not well received. Marketeers buy coverage, they don’t earn it.

I read an interesting report on Trends and Issues in Corporate Affairs 2012 from recruiters Salt& Shein earlier this year which has stuck in my mind for a while now.

This extract from page 16 is part of a dedicated section on the battle over social media in companies in Australia right now:


“We have an ongoing debate about who owns social media, and you do get knee-jerk turf wars developing. The corporate affairs department argues it should sit with them because it’s about managing the message, but the marketing department sees it quite differently. For them it’s about corporate brand. But in reality social media runs across the organisation and it is just as important to customer service and the help desk as it is to the guardians of corporate reputation.”’

I think the point is that to achieve success in social media, it needs to be everyone’s business. If social media currently sits solely with your marketing team you NEED to start asking questions. Start asking what will happen when it goes wrong. Are we getting the results we need. What value could other areas of the business add and can we get champions from across the business involved in the strategy. At the very least, a joint approach is needed to every strategy and campaign. Marketing and Comms working together for shared goals.

Book review: Groundswell…winning in a world transformed by social technologies

Groundswell – winning in a world transformed by social technologies

‘Groundswell’ is the first book I’ve read about social media.

With the digital world moving so fast, it’s hard to imagine a book that would not be outdated by the time it hit the shelves. Besides, when it comes to social media, it’s so easy to build knowledge online. There’s so many great resources available through blogs, thought-leaders and the social media platforms themselves, that you can find everything you need at the touch of a button.

But Groundswell is different. It’s central premise is to ask the reader to stop thinking about the technology platform and to instead focus on the relationships being created through the technology. It reminds us that social media isn’t about ‘facebook’ or ‘twitter’, it’s about people connecting, people collaborating, people organising content, sharing content and generating content.

So by focusing on the relationships, the ideas in the book, and the examples and tools for building your own relationships read as fresh and current as anything that can be found online.

The authors of Groundswell, Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff, pose the reader four key questions:

1) PEOPLE: what are the people you want to engage with ready for? How will they engage?

2) OBJECTIVES: What are your goals? Listening (to understand), Talking (as an interaction), Energizing (driving word of mouth, i.e for sales), Supporting (helping each other) or Embracing.

3) STRATEGY: How do you want relationships with your people to change? How will you measure this.

4) Finally, the TECHNOLOGY: Only at this point do you decide on the right technology for your business.

It seems such a simple concept, but think how many times you’ve heard the ‘oh, we have to set up Facebook’, or ‘everyone’s on Facebook or twitter’.

The most valuable take-out from the book is that for someone who works across both internal and external audiences (i,e me!), this book explores application into engaging employees as well as the public. Amazingly too, this book was published the same year Yammer was launched (2008), yet the ideas about sharing knowledge, connecting and crowdsourcing ideas pre-empt what Yammer has realised for hundreds of businesses.

Li and Bernoff’s key message throughout the book is that we shouldn’t be overwhelmed by the Groundswell. Too many of us are daunted by the prospect of the social media revolution. We’re feeling further and further behind every time another ‘next-big-thing’ – Pinterest or Instagram for example – becomes something new we feel we have to learn about. Li and Bernoff are asking us to take a step back, stop focusing on the technology, and learn about what’s happening within the technology. They say the Groundswell is here to stay, so we need to ride the wave:

“Conversation will evolve continously. Even as the technologies change, the basic conversational nature of those technologies will remain central. If you learn to talk, listen and respond, you’ll master [it].”

And what’s so scary about that?

Groundswell: Winning in a world transformed by social technologies
Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff
Published by Harvard Business Press