Category Archives: Internal Communications and Engagement

Thoughts on internal communications – ‘giving atrium’, all-staff announcements, newsletters, intranets, roadshows, staff briefings, employee motivation and engagement, cutural change – the list goes on……

The Savagery of Social – implications for internal communication

This, I suspect, may get me into trouble. Let’s talk about the nastier side of social media for a moment, and then let’s consider the implications that arise for internal communication and the already established trend of using enterprise social networks like Yammer, Workplace by Facebook and, well, Sharepoint. (There are others, clearly – like Slack and Unily – arguably collaboration tools, or bespoke intranets, but as it’s all about ‘sharing’ – and odds are on that ‘conversation’ is also being mentioned – they’ve got all the characteristics of the established social media channels.)

And that’s the issue, really. Here’s a piece from The Irish Times (written by Jennifer O’Connell) which says ‘social media has shown us that when humans gather with no rules, savagery prevails’ and goes on to say ‘there’s a brutality now in the way we communicate with one another that did not exist before social media’. The article, which is definitely worth a few minutes, starts out looking at Ed Sheeran’s decision to leave Twitter, touches on the Orange Mussolini in the White House and uses personal experience to further illustrate the point. And it’s all demonstrably true.

Quite some time ago, I attempted to categorise this phenomenon. (If you can be bothered, you can find my original post here.) It’s ‘an ailment that afflicts a small but significant proportion of the population when they are presented with the opportunity to post whatever they like to a public forum’ – appearing to be compulsive and involuntary. It can take the form of simple intolerance of anyone else’s point of view, or extreme bad language, or posting of inappropriate material (visual or written), or racial harassment or career-threatening stupidity. That it’s a small proportion of the population is important – although the Brexit ‘debate’ has shown that the proportion may be larger than first imagined – however, as is always the case, it only takes one.

So – what does this mean for enterprise social networks? First, let’s go back to the Irish Times piece (above) and note the words ‘with no rules’. Social media have no rules, and anyone can say whatever they like, hiding behind a blank avatar and an anonymous username. Obviously, in the workplace, there will be rules governing the use of corporate intranets, collaboration tools and how employees represent their employer on external social media. Won’t there?

Well, actually, not necessarily. From personal experience, there are companies that have not thought about a code of practice. That do not have a Use of Social Media Policy. That – and this is terrifying – won’t implement guidelines because they don’t see them being at one with the spirit of social media. It’s all about sharing and collaboration and conversation, apparently – placing guidelines on how you do it would stifle its very essence. Hang the potential consequences.

Again, quite some time ago, I did a piece on my experience of implementing a very early version of an enterprise social network. (And again, if you can be bothered, you can read the whole thing here.) The conclusion was – ‘give people a voice and they will use it, as if it is a right. They will use it despite the fact they have nothing to say. They will use it to settle grievances, even scores, wash dirty laundry, put hearts on sleeves, bare souls and share the unthinkable. And probably try to unscrew the inscrutable, given half the chance.’

There are many companies (three that I know personally) – no names, no pack drill – who use enterprise social networks. There are consultancies who offer to implement an enterprise social network in your business. My experience is that they do not work – amongst the workplace as a whole – as they were meant to, generally because a busy workforce does not have the time to add an extra layer of complexity to its day-to-day and also – obviously – because not everyone wants to share their work. Because it’s theirs.

So what happens is that the expensive tool becomes a means for the few to blow their own trumpets and a further few to ‘like’ the fact that they’ve done so. And there is always the risk of wholly inappropriate, reputation-damaging content – although, in fairness, there is a less of it than I envisaged, way back when. But still, the expensive tool is a reflection of the shiny object that it imitates – faint, but a reflection nonetheless. And if social is becoming increasingly savage, thoughtless, stupid and radical then – without the policies, guidelines, checks and balances in place – so must your internal network.

From all of this, there are clear take-outs:

  • If you have an enterprise social network, govern it with a strict policy
  • Have a corporate ‘Use of Social Media’ policy in any case – you never know when you’ll need it
  • If you haven’t got an enterprise social network, think carefully – do you need one, or is it Shiny Object Syndrome?
  • Remember, the role of internal communication is to keep the workforce appraised of the organisation’s successes, vision, values, strategy, policies, procedures and its corporate religion, thereby generating a sense of belonging, belief and purpose. It is not to encourage free debate around these things, as Google has found out.

 

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Yammer, yammer, yammer

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away (actually, it was on the outskirts of Luton, but when you work at head office in the City, Luton really does seem far, far away) I was privy to an early dabble in using electronic fora – messageboards, if you will – for internal communication purposes.

I am, as my regular readers will know, an old communicator. (Rather like one of those clunky black plastic devices off of an early episode of Star Trek. Badoom tish. The gag that never stops giving.) So this was many years ago – indeed so much so that my memories are sepia-tinted and stored on five-and-a-quarter-inch floppies – and it was a bit of a groundbreaker.

The idea – of course – was based on the concept (still current today) that you should engage with your employees, give them a voice, listen to what they have to say, encourage them to contribute and get it on with a bit of the old ‘you said….we did’ malarkey. It was also believed that such a forum would encourage sharing of knowledge and experience and – in a corporate context – allow for the dissemination and subsequent passing on of policies, procedures and operating practices.

At this time, being part of an electronic and virtual community, powered by the wonders of the new-fangled interwebosphere, was really rather daring. And – here’s the key bit – no-one had any real experience of how such a thing would function and – most importantly – how the key players (the employees) would interact with it.

Now I just know, at this point, that you – loyal readers – are shaking your heads and averting your eyes because – with the benefit of your years of exposure to social networks (for yes, this is what that was, in essence) – you can predict what comes next.

But in case you’ve not arrived at the ugly conclusion (for such it is) yet, let me tell you that the users of this proto-social medium, this ur-twitter, were many thousands of employees, scattered around the country in small teams, manning what can best be described as lower-end retail outlets.

As I recall, it took less than a week for the sheer quantity of ridiculousness and the myriad examples of internet Tourette’s to warrant the beginning of a damage limitation process that – in fairly short order – saw the tool shut down. No – it didn’t work as expected – no-one was really into sharing knowledge and best practice, no-one was into disseminating corporate updates.

No – they were in to insulting each other across the country, excoriating management, getting all sweary and generally getting their inappropriate on in a jungle stylee. This was, I have to say, something of a surprise at the time – I don’t think anyone saw it coming – as we simply didn’t equate giving people a voice with them using it.

I think we believed in some happy nirvana where people took responsibility, used their common sense and where ‘selfies’ did not, and never would, exist. Today, of course, with Zuckerberg-tinted hindsight, we recognise the awful truth of what we’ve done (and what, I’m afraid, cannot be undone).

Give people a voice and they will use it, as if it is a right. They will use it despite the fact they have nothing to say. They will use it to settle grievances, even scores, wash dirty laundry, put hearts on sleeves, bare souls and share the unthinkable. And probably try to unscrew the inscrutable. Given half the chance.

Which is why I’ve never had much time for Yammer – the so-called ‘enterprise social network’. As Spinal Tap said ‘there’s such a fine line between stupid and clever’ and – from experience – I think it is too much to ask of your employees to have to tread it.

Facebook are, apparently, contemplating a similar tool – if this is so, I think that the line is getting finer and finer by the minute.

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Social Media – Social Media Policies in Practice

Came across this on Mashable – it’s a story about this, which is social media policy devised and published by Australian company Telstra for the benefit of their 40,000 employees. To date, according to the company, 12,000 employees have been ‘trained’ or ‘educated’ in the ways of social media.

I’ve said,  in previous posts, that a good social media policy might actually be seen, or used, as an employee benefit – Telstra’s policy is exactly that. This is something that has, quite clearly, taken time, resource and investment to put together, and has been formulated to educate employees and provide them with a skill, or skills, which are applicable in their day-to-day lives as well as their work lives. I particularly like it because it doesn’t shy away from threatening disciplinary action should anyone contravene the policy.

What it doesn’t do, however – and it’s telling – is explain how employees can help the company through their social media activity. It doesn’t explain the company’s social media strategy. It might be said that it begs more questions than it answers. It strikes me as a guide to social media – all well and good – but not a social media lever. It’s about stopping people making inadvertent (or deliberate) mistakes – rather than ’embracing the social media opportunity and bringing everyone in to the conversation’ (as I imagine the cyber-hippies would have it).

This is not a sign that social media has become mainstream and infiltrated Big Corporate – rather it’s a sign that Big Corporate has recognised the damage that can be caused by social media and is attempting to mitigate its effects.

This is pre-emptive issues management, nothing more or less.

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Internal Comms/Social Media – Addenda to Social Media Policies

The whole social media space is a minefield littered with UXBs and especially so for a company’s employees. Social media are growing and changing and influencing behaviours far faster than most people can keep up – it’s got to the point where a corporate use of social media policy is not only a business necessity, it’s actually part of the corporate ‘duty of care’ to employees.

Here’s a thought – educating employees in the use of social media may be seen, in the future, as an employee benefit provided by the company. Possibly those more forward-thinking companies, without exposing themselves to the free-for-all that is open employee access, might actually be seen to be taking a lead on the issue, simply by ensuring their employees are social media savvy in a semi-formal fashion. Brown-bag training sessions, interactive intranets. Who knows.

Anyway – here’s an article from The Guardian that deals with the specific problems of colleagues following you on Twitter, or friending you on Facebook. Particularly senior colleagues. The implication – and it’s correct – is that social media are blurring the lines between work life and personal life. There is no such thing as a personal life anymore – what you’ve got is a work life and life when you’re not working. Use of social media – Twitter, Facebook, MySpace, Bebo, et al – means that anyone can find you at anytime. Nothing that you post to these sites is private. There is a record of all you have written and uploaded. If it sounds a bit Big Brother, that’s because it is.

There is, obviously, a solution to the dilemma. It’s taken a lot of thought. It’s not popular. It flies in the face of current thinking. It’s this. DON’T USE TWITTER OR FACEBOOK. OR ANY OTHER SOCIAL MEDIUM. If you want to organise a party, send out invitations via email (still trackable, but not available to everyone). If you fancy getting in touch with someone – meet them for a drink. Give them a call. Write a letter. Go on, give it a try.

But no. You want to be free, to get LinkedIn, to have a good time. And this why – as the boundaries between you personally and you professionally blur and dissolve – it’s more and more important that there are not only corporate social media policies, but corporate social media etiquette statements also.

It pains me, but we’re here (how? how?) and now we have to deal with it. So, in the spirit of understanding and sharing, here’s something that I stumbled across earlier. I should say now that these are the thoughts of one Bristol-based managing editor (mid-thirties, apparently) who makes it clear on his blog that monkeys like me are not to steal his thoughts without due attribution and permission. I haven’t got permission, but consider this attribution. These are not my thoughts – I am simply passing on the wisdom of another.

(NB The guidelines that Mr Bristol sets out here are, actually, quite corporately focused. But they work equally well for use of social media on a personal level. You could adapt them. But I’d ask Mr Bristol for his permission first. You never know.)

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Social Media – Creating a Use of Social Media Policy

Now, bear in mind that, on balance, I do not think this is a good idea. If a company has a Use of Social Media policy, it should contain no more than half a dozen sentences. Possibly less. Those sentences should contain the words ‘Don’t’ and ‘Ever’ and ‘Disciplinary Action’. It is, in my opinion, far too difficult and far too time intensive to try to let employees embrace social media on the company’s behalf. The potential risk to your hard-won corporate reputation far outweighs any potential benefit.

 (And before anyone starts – I fully understand that a) people use social media on their own account, in their own time, and probably, during office hours and b) a company’s employees do talk about the company to friends, family, colleagues and the man in the pub on a regular basis, and it’s not always positive. And, as I understand this, I expect my readers to understand the inherent difference between commenting to friends and family, and publishing those same comments on a freely-accessible, global social media portal.)

 But, because I’m a good cyber-citizen, what follows is the best template for a corporate social media policy that I’ve come across. The italics are theirs, the rest is my commentary. Enjoy. Prosper.

 1. Overall Philosophy. An effective social media policy should define the company’s overall philosophy on social media and be consistent with its culture. For example, does the company have a supportive, open philosophy on the use of social media or a stronger, more limited embrace of this technology?

This takes as read, of course, that the company has actually bothered to give social media some modicum of thought. My guess is that most haven’t, so you’ll have to do some work on your company’s  social media philosophy, before you can start on your policy. And I am just loving the ‘for example’ – in translation ‘is the company enlightened and open, or dark, twisted, malevolent and medieval?’ Your choice.

 2 Honesty and Respect. One of the most important aspects of a policy is a requirement that employees be open, honest, respectful and transparent in their usage of social media – especially in the business context.

Can’t disagree with this. Do however think it is a bit Utopian and that it might throw up internal communications issues, particularly amongst those employees who may feel that, in asking them to be open and honest etc etc, you’re actively suggesting that they aren’t currently. But I’m sure you can handle that.

 3 Confidential and Proprietary Information. Disclosure of confidential or proprietary information through social media can be prevalent. Especially since this type of communication is often viewed as less formal than other, there is increased risk for inadvertent disclosure. Guidelines should reinforce the company’s confidentiality and proprietary information policies and apply such to the social media environment.

Scary shit. This is where you might want to start using words like ‘draconian’, ‘disciplinary’ and ‘action’. The idea of ‘inadvertent disclosure’ gives me the shrieking ab-dabs.

(Edited to add) Oh, and if there’s any risk of ‘inadvertent disclosure’ – and there is, there is – then you’ll want to brush up your crisis management plans, and give them a thorough testing. And, as the one instance that I can think of when social media really comes to the fore is in a crisis scenario, you’ll need a section about social media policy in your crisis management document. Good thing you’re working on a social media policy, eh?

 4 Online Identity. When engaging in online social networking, it is important to differentiate an employee’s personal identity from his or her business identity. While regulating employees’ usage of their personal identity may be outside of the scope of a company social media policy, defining such is fair game. For example, is it acceptable to have an employee’s business name and title be connected to a personal blog post which is critical of a certain political party? Is it acceptable for employees to post their work e-mail addresses on blogs discussing controversial topics? An effective policy must address such issues and define acceptable limits.

Again – I agree with the sentiments of this, but I can see all sorts of issues involved with identifying the myriad of potential situations and providing guidelines for each one. You’re going to be working on this for some time, I can see that. Or you could just say – ‘no way, we’ve got authorised, trained and monitored spokespeople for social media and it’s not a free-for-all, so don’t do it’.

 5 Focus on Job Performance. There is a lot of discussion on whether social media hurts worker productivity. For example, is it acceptable for an employee to post on a personal blog during their lunch break? Or, can an employee tweet on business-related topics during the work day? Remember, the new work force does not live in an eight-to-five world. The focus should be on job performance instead of “company time.”

‘Remember, the new workforce doesn’t live in an eight to five world’ – no, because it’s now expected to be on call 24/7. I blame Blackberries and workahol and companies insidiously creating cultures where it simply isn’t acceptable not to be available at any time. And I also blame the workers who are so tired of their own lives that they perpetuate it. ‘Company time’? Any time, more like.

 6 Avoid Conflicts of Interest. Conflicts of interest come in many forms – especially when engaging in social media. The policy should discuss how to identify potential conflicts of interest, what types of conflicts are prohibited and who to talk to when in doubt.

This one scares the living bejaysus out of me as well. Conflicts of interest? I humbly suggest that if it’s going to put your employees in the way of having to make judgement calls on conflicts of interest and when to refer them, then you’re better off not doing it. But – hey – if you’ve THAT much time on your hands – go ahead.

 7 Include a Disclaimer. Employees should make it clear that their views about work-related matters do not represent the views of their employer or any other person. The policy should require a disclaimer, such as the following, when there is the possibility for confusion between business and personal identity: “The views expressed on this blog are mine alone and do not represent the views of my employer or any other person.”

But – surely – if you’re wanting your employees to comment on the company, on behalf of the company, then a disclaimer doesn’t really make sense? And if they’re not commenting about the company on behalf of the company – why – in the name of all that’s holy – are you allowing them to do it?

 8 Monitoring. The policy should state whether – and to what extent – the company has the right to monitor social media usage and identify any associated disciplinary guidelines.

Yes, the company has the right to monitor social media usage, to the very ends of the internet – if it is accessed through a company machine or device. (Mind you, the monitoring’s going to cost a bit, both in terms of budget and resource – but you knew that and were prepared for it. Weren’t you?) Here is another opportunity to use the words ‘draconian’ and ‘punishment’.

 9 Universal Application. A social media policy should apply to everyone, not just a subset of employees (i.e., the marketing department).

Absolutely. No further comment.

 10 Other Policies. Other company policies, such as those on workplace environment, discrimination, harassment, ethics, code of conduct and others apply even in the cyber-land of social media. An effective policy should remind internal audiences of these obligations and relate them to social media

Go on. You have a go at relating them to social media. Good luck.

 So there you are. Never say I don’t give you anything. If you’d like to see the whole document that I lifted this from, then perform some dexterous clickaciousness here.

 There’s a bit about training – which you’re going to have to do once your policy’s in place. You’re going to love it.

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Social Media – Release the Inner F@*!wit!

Yep, she be gathering momentum.

Having just made a big fat posting about changing my mind, eating gateau d’humilite, and advocating getting a social media policy (quickly, quickly, before it goes horribly, horribly wrong) if only to control those of your people who will undoubtedly, as sure as a werewolf comes over all bristly roundabout full moon, mutate into dribbly village idiots when confronted with social media –  and I surf directly into this.

Oooop. The fine lads and lasses of the Emergency Department at Swindon’s Great Western Hospital find themselves suspended pending a disciplinary, having decided to play the Lying Down Game (google it, my life’s too short) and post their pictures on Facebook. Seven of them were suspended. You’d have thought, simply according to the law of averages, that one of them would have been bright enough to say ‘hey up, guys – maybe we shouldn’t be doing this’. But they did it anyway.

A fair proportion of the blame lies with the hospital authority. Quite clearly there wasn’t a social media strategy (for strategy, read ‘draconian guideline policy’) in place and quite clearly, no-one had bothered to monitor social media outlets to see what was being said/posted. So you can’t wholly blame the employees – they had a right (I guess) to expect to be protected from themselves.

Now – before anyone points out that I’m being a hypocrite and a two-faced, mealy-mouthed, stance-changer (having made it very clear that I believe social media to be impossible to monitor or regulate) – when I say ‘monitor social media’ what I mean is having a quick look at Facebook and Twitter and searching for the name of your brand, company or organisation.

In this case, it wouldn’t have been too difficult to track down the Secret Swindon Emergency Department Group. 

Actually, on reflection, maybe those employees on suspension deserve everything that’s coming to them.

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Social Media – Sadly, Doing Nothing is Not an Option

It’s one of those horrible moments of dawning realisation, the sinking feeling of impending doom, the painful awareness that the buggers have, in fact, in some way, succeeded.

Yes, ladies and gents, fellow sceptics, I’m afraid that, like it or not, as communicators we are all going to have to embrace social media and actively do something about it. As you may know, this is a bit of a shift for me. I’ve always been of the opinion that there are far better ways of promoting your brand, company or organisation and – while you should not ignore it – social media is one of those things that you keep an eye on (watching for significant change or potential threat) with an 85% certainty that it’s a passing fad and it will go away.

(This opinion is not just something I made up in the bath, mind, it’s the result of having read all sorts of different points of view and assimilated a reasonable amount of data. Some of the latest stuff says that there are now 44.5m Twitterators globally and that, in the UK, the fastest growing age range for Twitter is the over 50s (this from Nielsen). Search the web – there’s loads of stuff – but it all (in a roundabout way) points to two things. That no-one really understands where social media is going or how to harness it and that, unless someone develops that understanding, it is (and will remain) little more than a passing fad.)

Of course, as with any new shiny object, there are those who are terrified that they’re missing out on the next big thing and there are those who feed on that terror to further their own ends. So we’ve seen the rise and rise of the ‘social media strategist’ and we’ve seen more amd more companies embracing social media strategy – some sensible, some less so. At best, you have companies creating networks of highly, trained, carefully controlled brand spokespeople (which they probably already had anyway) with a specific remit to comment on their areas of expertise through social media. At worse, you have an unseemly and dangerous free-for-all, propagated by the cyber-hippies and cyber-socialists, who believe that vox populi, vox dei and that social media is going to change the face of capitalism as we know it.

Still – and so I thought – there’s no need to have – unless you’ve got some spare people, time and budget just sloshing around – a social media strategy. Be aware of what social media is, keep up to date – but as long as your company or brand has a good corporate reputation, is reasonably ethical, fair and honest, and has a decent corporate culture (am I asking too much here?) then you’ve very little to fear and very little to gain.

Of course, there’s always going to be the odd blip, isn’t there? Damage done to corporate reputation by misguided or malicious use of social media? People (employees who are either not enrolled enough in corporate culture, or who are simply not clever enough) using social media without thought for the consequences. Dominos Pizza. Then, earlier this week, Currys and PC World (UK high street retailers). And I’m certain that there are plenty of other examples that simply haven’t attracted as much attention.

Clearly, this is nothing new. There have always been idiots who, given an opportunity to write in a comments book, or give answers to a survey, or email to a suggestion box, are suddenly overtaken by a severe case of Tourette’s. The difference is that, in the past, inappropriate behaviour was generally confined to small audiences of colleagues, or the employee’s friends and family. If it came to light, then suitable disciplinary action was taken. Now however, the Tourette’s-afflicted staff member has instant access to an on-line audience that can number tens of thousands.

So, social media has forced our hand. Doing nothing is not an option. Every company that has a reputation it wishes to protect should now be working on, and implementing , a social media policy which outlines, very clearly, what is and what is not acceptable in the workplace and when/if discussing the brand. As social media use (especially content) cannot be monitored or regulated, it should really be banned altogether in the workplace and the penalties for failng to abide by the policy should be draconian.

All well and good – but imposing a policy like this will inevitably be seen as removing the employee’s right to freedom of speech. (Mind – since when did employees have a right to freedom of speech? They turn up, they work, they get paid for it. Nothing about freedom of speech.) Social media and its soya-sandalled, hessian-draped, patchouli-doused acolytes are creating/have created an expectation of utopia – where everyone is an individual, where everyone has a voice, where the relationship is not between consumer and brand, it’s between consumer and brand employee.

Thus, for the sake of your corporate culture, for the sake of employee relations, it’s not going to be enough just to have a policy on social media usage. No, you’ll also have to have an identification and training programme for social media spokespeople, and a communication programme in place to explain to general population why they can’t post to social media sites and why the accredited spokespeople can.

In fact, you’ll have to develop a social media strategy. Luckily there are simply zillions of social media strategists out there who’ll be delighted to help you work this one out. For a simply stupefying amount of money.

On second thoughts, forget you ever read this.

As you were. Carry on.

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