Category Archives: Internal Communications

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

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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Filed under Internal Communications, Internal Communications and Engagement, Social Media

Nothing Motivates Like Money – Sorry

Came across this article down the back of the internet – ws so incensed by the horsesh*t quotient, that I had to share with you, dearest blog trotters.

You see, I’m a believer in internal comms as a motivator. I believe in praise where it’s due, I believe in duvet days, I believe in doughnut Fridays, I believe that staff meetings should be entertaining and I believe that the booze should never run out at the Christmas party (and that what goes on tour stays on tour). (Yes, Microsoft, I’m talking to you.)

But I do not believe that any of this substitutes for cold, hard cash. Wonga in an envelope. The chink of change, the rustle of non-sequential, used tenners. And thus, I am afraid, any staff motivation philosophy that kicks off with ‘don’t show ’em the money (even if you have it)’ is misguided at best and cynical, petty, small-minded and mean at worst.

And no, wandering up to a random employee and inviting them to lunch with you is not motivating. It is stalking. It will result in uncomfortable silence, which is not how I enjoy my lunchtimes.

And the idea that asking – ‘was that the best way to approach the problem? Why not? Have you any ideas on what you could have done differently?’ – will somehow not be perceived as criticism or correction is just hippy-dippy nonsense.

Oooh – it makes me cross. I’d actually suggest that blindly implementing the nine things recommended here will have the opposite effect to that desired.

Especially number nine – ‘share the rewards’. But without giving anyone any money, obviously. What planet?

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Corporate Communications – Power Of The People, Not Power Of The Media

Recently I posted about Starbucks and its amazing transformation – a 200% rise in profits over a three-month period – and how it appeared to be driven by a) the return of Howard Schultz (undoubtedly) and b) an emphasis on great, best-in-class, employee and customer relations. True, S-Bux has more than five million Facebook fans and 700k Twitter followers, but the reality is that the ‘conversations’ that are taking place there – while no doubt translating into some level of sales – are in no way responsible for the dramatic turnaround in Big Coffee’s fortunes.

No, they are not. But it didn’t take very long before some socmed evangelista leaps on the bandwagon and attempts to imply that they are and – more – that Howard Schultz prefers social media over other marketing channels. I was alerted to this frightening opportunism by this post on Steve Virgin’s blog, which directs you to the piece in question – here – at BrandRepublic.

The argument, which is used to engender and foment one of my least favourite discussions (‘Why do some people get it, and others don’t?’ – more of it later), is based on an interview that Schultz gave to Marketing Magazine – which you can read here.

(Sorry, dearest blog snorkellers mine, I know this is a lot to be dumping on you, late on a Wednesday afternoon, but it is important in our crusade against the spurious lionisation of social media as a tool for business benefit.)

In the interview, Mr Schultz was asked ‘Which one (marketing) channel will take precedence?” – a leading question, of ever there was one – and his answer was really quite clever. He said “I think social media is a natural exten­sion of our brand because we want to do things that are unexpected, and to speak to all sorts of people who are engaged in social media. It’s tough to measure but there is an incremental benefit to sales.”

And he’s right, there is an incremental benefit to sales – but notice he’s careful not to go overboard in terms of what that incremental benefit is. He also, tellingly, qualifies his answer by saying that social media ‘is a natural extension of (the Starbucks) brand’ – ie it is suited to the Starbucks brand, but not necessarily suited to other brands. He also, even more tellingly, doesn’t actually answer the question – he doesn’t say that social media is the channel that ‘will take precedence’. To put those words in his mouth is careless misinterpretation.

And, as promised – here’s a thought on that ‘getting it’ question. (Apparently, according to an Internet Advertising Bureau study, only a fifth of marketers see social as core to their marketing strategy.) Some brands, businesses or corporations don’t seem to ‘get it’ because they don’t need to. It is not right for their brand or business. It is not – in Mr Schultz’s words – ‘a natural extension.’ It really is as simple as that.

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Social Media ‘Face Comms Defiance’

Once more, dear B-snorkellers, into the breach of all that’s rationale, sane and – well, normal – that is PRWeek. What’s the Industry’s Bible been up to now, I hear you moan in a gibbering, tortured fashion, that implies you’ve been scalded by the Week’s toxic nonsense before.

Well, in this post, I was going to reference this story from the Bible (issue dated January 22 2010), which carried the headline ‘Blogs and webcasts face comms defiance’. The story is about in-house comms professionals ‘steadfastly resisting the temptation to use blogs or webcasts as the main channel to communicate with staff’ and cites ‘new research’ from Melcrum Publishing which seems to back up their interpretation of the story.

So I thought I’d do a bit on internal comms and digital communications (not necessarily social media, but probably touching on the subject) and how, actually, I’m a great advocate of adopting digital tools in the controlled and clearly-defined arena that is the internal comms space. Like shooting fish in a barrel – if you look on your employees as fish, the workplace as a barrel and you’re in the habit of taking a gun to work. So not an altogether apposite metaphor, perhaps.

Be that as it may, just to reassure myself – why is it that I simply cannot bring myself to trust t’Week – I though I’d track down the Melcrum Publishing research and see if there were any further insights to be gained. And I came across this. For those snorkellettes who cannot be bothered wid de clickery, it’s a blog post, from Melcrum, entitled ‘Research reveals widespread adoption of social media inside the firewall’. I think you can probably already see where this is going.

Yes – it appears to be almost wholly contradictory to the wee story in the Bible. Now, either Melcrum did two pieces of research, the findings of which are completely opposed, and the laddie or lassie writing for the Bible picked on the wrong one – or, once again, PR Week has screwed it up. You decide.

Anyway, because simply having a go at the industry’s mouthpiece is a) too easy and b) not a good enough foundation for a whole post, here’s a few thoughts about digital comms in the workplace. (All of which come from, sometimes bitter, experience.)

  • Don’t, as Melcrum and PR Week seem to have done, confuse digital comms and social media communication. The two things are very different – blogs, pod and vodcasts, webstreaming – these are digital tools – social is Twitter, Facebook et al which arguably have no place in a work environment. There is, of course, Yammer, which is a social media tool for internal communications, but is something of a resource-sharing, experience-tapping, project-co-ordinating tool. Social media is social – does what it says on the tin. Work is not social – work is something you do, sometimes to the best of your ability, to earn money.
  • Digital tools are only as effective as the number of people who can access them and actually do access them on a regular basis. Encouraging participation is another factor. No point having a spanking intranet – with feedback forms, fora and comment boards – if only half your work force can access it and only five per cent use the tools. Do your research, before you commit time, resource and cash in creating stuff that adds no value.
  • Do not treat digital in isolation. It’s a mix – face-to-face, small groups, large groups, print, advertising, exhibitions and events – all of these are also part of the internal comms toolkit.
  • If you do decide to get all social on your employees’ asses, then you’re going to need a social media policy – because, as we all know (don’t we, kids?) social media will bite you on the bum as soon as lick your face. The Coca-Cola Company (who’d have thought it?) have a great – and recent – social media policy which I’ve mentioned in a previous post. Go and have a look at it, and then rip it off mercilessly, twisting it to your own ends. Go on.

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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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Twitter – Are You Sure You Want To Be Involved? Certain?

Today, dearest blog snorkellers, more light is shed on the essentially trivial, vapid and meaningless nature of Twitter. For yesterday INQ Mobile – a purveyor of social media-friendly mobile devices to those with too much time and too little life – released its Twitterati List. This list – which you can find here, clickety-click – purports to rank the most influential celebrities using Twitter – not the most well-known, or those with the most followers, but the most influential. (No, I’m not sure how they did it. Stop asking silly questions.)

Pleasingly, because it saves a little effort, there is a UK and a US list. What it shows, I guess you could infer, is the level and depth of influence that Twitter has. Put another way, it gives an insight into the average Twitterist, if the average Twitterist is genuinely ‘influenced’ by the celebs on the list. (And before some pedant says – ah, but it’s celebrities, isn’t it, what did you expect – may I point out that it appears, because it includes politicians and business people, it might also have included authors and intellectuals. Tellingly, it didn’t.)

You can read it yourself and draw your own conclusions. And I acknowledge that the US list contains Al Gore and Barack Obama. However, seriously, what value do you put on a medium that has, amongst its most influential users, the likes of Russell Brand, Peter Andre and two members of McFly (in the UK) and P Diddy, Ashton Kutcher and Mariah Carey (in the US).

I ‘umbly submit, yer honours, that Twitter is no more valuable – in terms of an information-sharing medium that may have an impact on the future of communications – than an issue of Grazia magazine, received on your mobile device of choice, in instalments of 140 characters.

Tell me it’s not so.

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Crisis Management – The Idiot’s Guide To Creating A Plan 7

If you’ve followed this series through parts one to six, then you’ll know that I’ve promised some examples of real scenarios which (I hope) will illustrate the points I’ve tried to make. At the very least, you’ll be able to decide whether you would have done it better, which may get you thinking. As I’ve said before – this isn’t meant to be the definitive, one-size-fits-all solution to the problem of formulating a crisis management plan – this is the seed and it needs the fertilizer of your thoughts. So here you are – the following example is real, and one I dealt with personally:

2130, Friday night. Call comes in via the company’s main switchboard from one of its restaurants, at which a fatal stabbing has just taken place. The restaurant is in the Liverpool area, the police are on site, a media enquiry has been received and it’s believed a journalist and photographer are en route. The suspected attacker is female, the victim male. The restaurant was roughly a quarter full when the incident occurred, and the manager evacuated those present immediately. Some have left, others remain outside. Six staff are on duty, one was serving the attacker and victim.

Questions? Has the area manager been notified and when will he arrive? Is there any further information available about the incident, the victim or the attacker that might help in formulating a corporate response? How are the emergency services dealing with the incident – they will have closed the restaurant – can they give us any idea of how long it may be closed for? How are the staff members reacting? Have they been reassured and offered support and/or counseling through the company’s HR resource? Was there any apparent trauma or upset amongst other guests – will we have to offer compensation in one form or another? Have the emergency services spoken with the guests who remain? When are the media expected, if they’re not there already?

Actions? Event is in Liverpool, HQ is in London – no member of the corporate communications team can be there within thirty minutes. Call area manager, ensure that a call has been put into the Ops Director, who can escalate upwards to the executive committee or board, as deemed appropriate. Area manager, already media trained, is briefed to handle media enquiries, using text of reserve statement – also liaises with emergency services.

Restaurant manager is briefed that neither he, nor his staff, are to talk to the media. Even if ‘doorstepped’ they are to say nothing more than ‘sorry, I’ve nothing to add’. Name and telephone number of on-call communicator to be supplied to all staff members, for giving to media if necessary. Restaurant manager (alone, not staff) briefed to deal with enquiries from public. Authorised to respond to guest complaints/issue with offer of refunds or discounted meals at other restaurants, plus provide central contact number for owning company, for further issues/complaints. As media will be prevented from accessing restaurant by emergency services, area manager authorised to supply ‘stock’ external restaurant shot – thus presenting premises in best light. Notify HR – HR to speak to individual staff members to offer support/counsel. Notify media monitoring agency to cut for media mentions of incident. Use holding statement, tailored to specific incident, to answer media enquiries. Assure media that, if there is anything further to say, that they will be contacted. Prepare incident report for circulation.

Outcome? Transpired that the attacker was a glamour model, out for dinner with her boyfriend. Following a minor argument, she picked up a steak knife and stabbed him – her aim was quite good, and he died from a single stab wound. Media coverage majored on the incident and the characters involved – no staff were interviewed, no statement was made other than the reserve statement, no spokespeople or employees were named. No other guests were involved, while one or two were interviewed by the media, they had nothing to add and thus did not contribute to the coverage. Staff members were all contacted and offered counselling, none took it up, but all were reassured of the company’s ‘duty of care’. A small minority of guests took the company up on its offer of refunds or discounted meals – this built customer relations. Media coverage limited to local press and brief mention on local radio. Restaurant re-opened after three weeks, with little fanfare – its business was undamaged.

OK – yes this is an isolated incident. Yes – it’s very out of the ordinary. Yes – it might be seen as reasonably straightforward and easy-to-handle. But it might have gone so very horribly wrong – and it didn’t. That’s a result, as far as I’m concerned.

I’ll do another example next time.

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