Tag Archives: Internal Communications

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 ‘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 – Best Practice Social Media Policy

Two firsts in one week – Starbucks display best practice in reinventing themselves through employee and customer care (yes, Iknow, I had difficulty as well) and now this.

Yes, your eyes do not deceive you. It is a document entitled ‘Online Social Media Principles’ from The Coca-Cola Company, and it is – dear blog snorkellers mine – as near to a best practice social media policy as you can get.

OK, it’s not quite draconiam enough for me – I’d like to see a list of cruel and unusual punishments for those found to be in breach of the policy, but – hey – you can’t have everything.

What I particularly like about it, however, is that it’s not all evangelical. It doesn’t start from the position that social media is the biggest thing since the Bible, and that it is going to transform the world as we know it and everything in it. It is sensible, and considered, and everything I would not have expected from Messrs Coca and Cola.

It also – beautifully – can be easily adapted and plagiarised. These guidelines could be applied to any business or organisation – go ahead, fill your boots. It’s also, as I’ve recommended on this blog before, something of an ’employee benefit’ – in that it advises employees on how to use social media in their personal lives as well as on company time. It demonstrates a duty of care – without ramming it down their throats.

Finally – another big thing of mine – it would sit very nicely in a crisis management plan, and provides a good basis on which to build the social media section of that plan.

It is genuinely brilliant. I’m lovin’ it.

(Oh – hold on……..)

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Corporate Communications – The Power Of The People

Last Wednesday, Starbucks, the coffee company, released its first quarter results. They showed a four-fold increase over the same quarter last year against, I’m sure I don’t have to tell you, a fairly appalling economic background. You can read the commentary in the New York Times for yourself.

As someone who doesn’t follow the company, I find this renaissance absolutely extraordinary. The two most recent things I recall about Starbucks is the company (falsely) being accused of not supporting American troops in the Gulf, and the furore over wasted water from ‘rinsing’ taps being left permanently ‘on’ in stores.

Obviously, and I’ve done a little light research, there has been stuff going on behind the scenes – and the return of Howard Schultz to the top job has obviously paid dividends – but I find the reasoning laid out in this post (on the Corporate Eye blog) particularly resonant.

In brief, top-line summary, it argues that the Starbucks turnaround has been driven by paying attention to employees. It cites an HR Guru, Kevin Wheeler and his Five Steps to Making Your Company Memorable:

  • Gain perspective and know yourself
  • Define the promise
  • Develop a strategy
  • Create a “buzz” to communicate your brand
  • Measure your progress

More than this – and this where I find myself violently agreeing – it’s about applying these same principles to your customer relations. What works for getting and keeping staff, works for getting and keeping punters.

And as, of course, this wouldn’t be my blog without a quick pop at social media – Starbucks appear to have achieved this dramatic success without too much Facebookishness of Twittery (they have 5.6m fans and 765k followers respectively). Have a look at their Facebook page, and gauge for yourself the quality of the conversation – visit their Twitter feed and (sorry Brad) well, it’s not exactly a marketer’s wet dream.

No – my feeling is that Starbucks has achieved this through good ol’ traditional communication, traditional face-to-face and lashings of loyalty-building.

I never though I’d see the day when Big Coffee would become a case history. An example of best practice ‘how to do it’ des nos jours.

Hats off, blog snorkellers.

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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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Crisis Management – The Idiot’s Guide To Creating A Plan 10

Key to crisis management and business continuity – and, clearly, enshrined in the crisis management plan that (if you’ve been following this series of occasional diatribes) you’re on the cusp of completing – is employee communication, for reasons which should (really) be obvious. In case they aren’t, here’s a taste.

Your employees are your greatest asset and your largest potential liability – if they’re on side, then you have a network of ambassador/evangelists, spreading your messages. If they’re not on side, mind, then you have an uncontrolled flow of misinformation, biased opinion and perhaps even vitriol

When disaster strikes, your employees need to hear from you – preferably before they hear from anyone else

In the case of a crisis, your employees will need to know what to do and where to go, and they’ll need to know quickly

Most importantly, in the crisis scenario, your employees will need to know what NOT to do and to be reminded what policies and rules they are governed by, as employees

These are just a few of the things you should be considering, and incorporating within your plan, and within the communication process around the finished plan. I’m certain you can think of others. (And if you can’t, then sit in a darkened room, or have an ideas shower, or go and see your boss, or whatever it takes for you to be able to think of others. Because there are some others.)

So, briefly – because I know you like brevity, dear blog snorkellers – here’s some of the mechanisms you need to have in place and a selection of the communications issues that you might need to consider. It’s not extensive or complete – I want you to think for yourselves.

  • Have you got an ‘employee hotline’ number? This is a dedicated telephone number that any number of employees can call at any point in time to get an update on their employer’s status. That update is, normally, something along the lines of ‘This is the XXXXX Corp Employee Hotline – at the present time, it is business as usual’. Obviously, it would be best to prepare a selection of messages that can be put on to the hotline as soon as something occurs. ‘This is the XXXX Corp Employee Hotline – an event has occurred at/near the XXX site. All employees should remain at home unless otherwise directed. Further details will be available at (time).” Or similar. You get the idea.
  • If you’ve only got a few – or a manageable number of – employees, do you know where they all live? Do you have their telephone numbers and personal email addresses?
  • Does your workforce have access to the company’s computer systems when they’re away from the office – if not, is it something they should have?
  • Do you have, or is it worth arranging, some kind of text message alert system for your employees?
  • What are you going to say to your people – there might be different messages dependent on who it is and what they do – those who may be indispensable in a crisis and those who can stay in bed.
  • Who’s going to take responsibility for employee communications and welfare (because it might not be you, the communicator) and how is the interface between internal and external communications going to be handled?
  • How are you going to remind people of your social media policy and how they should be behaving?

Bear in mind that these are just a few of the things that you should be thinking about, and that there will be more – and that they will change and develop as your crisis unfolds. The key point here is about scenario planning – preparing everything before hand so, when the time comes (as it inevitably will) you can act immediately. An ill-informed workforce left to their own devices and free to speculate are at least as potentially damaging as any crisis or issue that your organisation may be facing.

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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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