Monday, May 7, 2012

Does your communications team have a "weapons" specialist?

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

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

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

But those days are in the past.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Make no mistake, this shift is not insignificant.

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

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

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

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

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

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

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

Usually it's good advice.

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

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

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

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

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