Unlock the Social Media value inside your organisation as well as outside

The benefits for companies using social media to reach customers are much discussed. But there has been woefully little mention in the conversation of the benefits of using social media to increase the efficiency of communications inside the organization – and as a result, productivity and revenue.

A recently released McKinsey report finds that, while nearly three-quarters of organisations use social media to engage with external audiences, twice as much potential exists in using social tools internally. The report suggests that social platforms for internal comms could increase productivity by up to 25% and unlock up to (get this!) $1.3trillion in ‘annual value’, just across the 4 sectors its research covered.

In June, I reasoned in my blog post, Social At Work, that social media was a powerful conduit for information-flow and knowledge-sharing inside any organization (much like it is outside), enabling workers to more easily keep informed about, and engaged in, developments and events across the entire operation. How many times have you heard disgruntled employees lamenting that they ‘don’t know what’s going on?’ Enhanced product knowledge, increased morale, more relevance, and fewer hours wasted in meetings, being just some of the obvious benefits of adopting a ‘social-culture’ for internal communications.

If only half of the reported 3 billion meetings that occur in the US ever year are a waste of time, then I estimate the direct cost to US industry to be well in excess of $100bn (being ultra conservative) in employees’ time alone. Is this not reason enough to consider the social media alternatives?

McKinsey also reaffirms my point that the real challenge for companies hoping to adopt social media as a platform for internal communications is in affecting the requisite changes in culture – installing the technology is the easy bit.

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Are you cheating your customers?

Business Marketing – The Print Blog.

Wonderfully short and to-the-point post that reminds marketers and business owners everywhere that a quality product is the best kind of marketing there is. After two decades in the business I couldn’t agree more.

These days, audiences are more sophisticated, markets more segmented and buyers more informed than ever. If marketers ever did get away with cheating their customers, they can’t now. Your customer has two things today that were in short supply not too long ago: 1) choice, and 2) a voice. Piss them off and they’ll walk, but not before telling the world and dragging your brand name through mud in a public forum.

Marketing is not about using clever slogans to sell customers short. It’s about understanding what they want and making sure they get it. Telling them your toxic junk food offering is healthy because it has zero carbs or luring them in to extortionate service provision contracts with cheap introductory packages is naff and underhand. And your customers know it. Don’t hide the additional costs. Don’t extol tenuous virtues. Get inside your customers head and figure out why they buy your product, and reinforce that value to them without being disingenuous. We all know a Big Mac is about as good for you as radioactive waste but we know at the same time that it hits a spot that baby spinach salad just can’t reach. So focus on that as your proposition…and don’t think by sponsoring the Olympics you can reposition your nasty food products with all that is good and wholesome.

Above all remember that marketing is never a worthy substitute for a quality product, which to borrow the words of Milton Hershey, is ‘the best kind of advertising.’

For meetings’ sake

A senior level friend of mind posted on facebook that today was a good day because she only had one meeting booked and it got cancelled.

Why do meetings suck so badly? And moreover, why do we insist on having them?

This is my quickfire attempt at why they suck:

  • We perceive them to be interruptions that are a poorer use (read ‘waste’) of our time than whatever else we were working on
  • They are typically boring, prone to distractions and side-tracking, and often irrelevant to our focus
  • They spotlight attendees which can make them feel uncomfortable – and rarely for good reason
  • They usually absorb more people than is necessary because to do so provides a ‘comfort buffer’ for organisers (attendees that are there just in case something comes up that’s relevant to them)
  • They rarely generate a more positive outcome than had they not happened

Ask around your friends and colleagues. You will be hard pushed to find someone who looks forward to meetings. We all know that sense of relief when they get cancelled. Yet still they plague our working week, devastating our productivity, dampening our momentum and chipping away at our morale.

Here’s my quick fire attempt at why:

  • The ‘regular meeting’ is an institution that nobody has the balls to can
  • Managers abuse meetings as a platform to exercise their egos
  • They are wrongly perceived to be a useful way to facilitate communication (eg. going round the table updating ‘the team’ on what you’re working on)
  • They are abused as a sneaky way of shifting responsibility to others
  • They are called for by cry-babies when an issue arises they can’t handle

So what to do?

I have cobbled together this quickfire list of tactics to help mitigate the negative effects of meetings on your productivity and sanity:

  • Take control. Someone has to wear the bossy pants to make sure the items below are managed.
  • Determine what the desired outcome of the meeting should be and if it could be better accomplished another way – for instance with an email directive or one-to-one (eg. to delegate work) or by using an internal social media network (eg. to update on progress or performance)
  • Figure out who really needs to be there – will their attendance in the meeting really enable them to be more productive than doing their work? Almost certainly not.
  • Have an agenda – and make it relevant, even if that means it only has one item on it. Cancel the meeting if there is nothing to say.
  • Stick to the agenda – avoid side-tracking – keep the usual motor-mouths under control.
  • Watch the clock. Don’t overrun. Don’t wait for tardy attendees to start.
  • Meet in an uncomfortable space (eg. standing up by the water cooler) so everyone is focused on getting the business done and getting away – don’t involve food. Keep the spinach and tuna wraps for after the meeting to incentivise everyone to get it done quickly.

To change behaviour you often have to change culture, and that takes leadership, courage, vision and determination. These qualities may not always be in bountiful supply, especially in larger organisations. Meetings are too often used as a substitute for for poor communication – a cumbersome way of getting ‘everyone on the same page’ because they are inept at writing or reading emails, following directives or using digital communication tools. To remedy this, it is necessary to change the culture, implement the tools, hire the right people and proceed with the confidence that you are covering all the bases and that everyone is happier, better informed and more productive.

Families don’t have formal meetings to know what’s going on with each other. You don’t meet with CNN or BBC to keep a finger on the pulse of the world’s news agenda. You don’t have a weekly one-on-one with each of your 600 facebook friends to get a good feel for what’s what. So why do it at work? You don’t need to when you have the right approach and the right tools. Why not use that time being more productive instead.

This is a nice piece on the subject:

http://www.askamanager.org/2011/09/what-will-make-meetings-useful-for-my-team.html

Is it time to unlike facebook?

Facebook has changed the email address you gave it to display for people to contact you with. Whether it was an @yahoo.com, @gmail.com or @iheartspandexleggings.com, you now live at @facebook.com to all who view your profile. This means messages sent to you will show up in the messages section of your facebook account rather than in your email inbox.

Facebook says it told us it was making this change. Uh-huh. I didn’t get that memo.

The underlying issue is one of security. Facebook has already bought the rights to your personal life. Now it’s changing it for you without your consent. And God knows who it’s sharing it with.

Silicon Valley’s own sandal-wearing socialites are walking away from facebook in their droves, suggesting that the social media giant is losing credibility at the very heart of its own community. It looks inevitable that once it loses its cool factor as well (if it hasn’t already) then the brand could be looking at the very real prospect of rapid decline in the not too distant future.

To be fair to the social behemoth, it does seem that a generation (or two) lost its mind when it signed up for freely surrendering all that was personal, private and sacred to the wild west of the Internet. Now it’s inevitably coming back to bite us in the arse we’re all surprised. You didn’t need to be Nostradamus to see it coming.

Is facebook out of control? Will its recent IPO bring about a less ethical approach to business or worse still a culture of abusing yet further it’s dominance and vast pool of users’ personal information?

Will you be staying at facebook’s party or is it finally time to find a new place to hang out with your ‘friends’?

Pinterest/Soundcloud fail

The big news in the socialsphere over the last 24 hours is that you can now pin audio from Soundcloud to Pinterest. As an enthusiastic would-be rock star with a veritable plethora of tracks on soundcloud I was delighted with this news, especially as I was so disappointed when I opened my Pinterest account initially that I couldn’t share audio. Reports advise me that I can ‘add a URL to Pinterest’ (presumably this means in the usual way?) or use the Pin It button in my browser. I can’t. Neither works. Very disappointed user.  They probably work for some people with certain configurations but if you can’t get it right for a mac user using mainstream browsers (safari / pinterest) then pack your things and go home. The only thing worse than a brand failing to deliver on the most basic expectations of it’s users from the outset, is later telling them it can and then disappointing them. Pinterest/Souncloud – fail.

UK2.net fail

Web diversion with #UK2.net failing. It’s been 48 hours. No response to 2 tickets. No response to 2 emails. Fobbed off with bullshit on one chat. Not available the following time. Oh, and their website doesn’t work in Safari and Firefox. They’re an internet company! Don’t use these monkeys. #UK2.net fail.

Something you do

Work is something you do, not a place you go. So the cliché goes.

It takes me back to my very first work experience, way back in the late eighties. My fresh face pitched up at a local IT firm (I’m not sure we had the term IT back then though) for my induction in to the world of nine-to-five, suits and ties and office politics. I was horrified. It was the most uncomfortable, nonsensical and generally unpleasant environment I could imagine. Turns out I had a point. Why did grown-ups behave this way?

We are creatures of convention. Which is probably why we persist with the idea of work being somewhere you go rather than something you do (if we didn’t we wouldn’t need the cliché to remind us we’re doing it all wrong…still).

If an employee does what they are paid to do within the time frame set and given parameters, does it matter what hours they keep, where they work and what they wear? Of course, if you are a receptionist you must be in the physical space in to which you are receiving. Likewise, if you are a security guard, you probably can’t guard a location without actually being there to wallop the bad guys over the head. But unless your role ties you to a specific location in this way, the answer to the question is no, it doesn’t matter where you work.

I can speak with authority about the South East of England, but I am sure the same applies to most of the developed world. Rush hour is an impossible scramble to get to work. Overcrowdedness on public transport grinds it to a standstill. Highways are clogged with stationary motor vehicles spewing toxic emissions. Tempers fray and accidents happen. Workers arrive late, flustered and stressed, or exhausted from rising at the crack of dawn to avoid the throngs. They are forced to spend thousands of dollars they can little afford in travel and eating expenses for this privilege. So that when they eventually arrive at their station, they can be distracted all day long by over-burdened colleagues, over used communications technology, irrelevant meetings and unnatural attire.

Now, if work really were something we actually did in practice as well as theory, it would probably look more like this…

Employees would work in a place that’s easy to get to and comfortable, probably their homes. They would feel relaxed, energized and grateful, and would be able to manage (read reduce) distractions so they can do more (and better) work. As such they would be more motivated, more creative and more productive. Communications technology would give them all the connectivity they need and managers would step up their game to task and assess them based on output delivered, rather than hours slogged, so that employers would get what they actually need instead of just a bum in a seat. Employers would slash the eye-wateringly high costs of providing office space, such as rent, utilities and equipment. And the boss could also enjoy the added bonus of knowing she has done her bit to relieve the burden on the nation’s transport infrastructure and the environment thanks her for it (ooh, some PR mileage too!).

We’ll see this become the norm in a couple of decades, and that spotty teenager with a Simon Le Bon haircut and not a day’s business experience in his life will have turned out to have been half a century ahead of his time. Well, that’s how I like to see it.

Imagine a world where work really is something you do, rather than a place you go. It’s easy if you try.

Stop me if you’ve heard this one

A man walks in to a bar. In this case the man is me. The bar is a sandwich bar. Subway to be specific – in a busy city area on a Saturday afternoon. A seemingly disinterested older lady with health issues is plodding slothfully around behind the counter on her own, unable to service the rapidly elongating queue of hungry would-be patrons as its tail snakes ever closer towards the door. I waited 20 minutes before giving up and leaving. I was not alone. The worst of it for me was how little the woman behind the counter seemed to care or make even the faintest whiff of any effort to step up her game. And all this while her younger co-worker shuffled around gormlessly with random boxes front-of-house when he should have been busting his arse (and hers) behind the counter to serve the growing line of impatient customers. Apparently we are in tough economic times with high unemployment, yet people like this have jobs and Subway survives despite abysmal customer service while other more genuinely customer-centric businesses struggle. This fries me. True to my zero tolerance poor customer service policy, I hereby add Subway to my shame list. Subway – customer service fail!

Sales are slow. Stop selling.

It’s an oldie but a goodie. Times are tough. Sales are slow. You need to make cuts. So what’s the first area to feel the pain? The marketing folk know.

What happened to that entrepreneurial spirit? Any start up knows that to fly it has to raise awareness, generate excitement, and sell, sell, sell. Doesn’t the same apply in spades during a downturn?

Sales are the foundation of any enterprise. When you have sales you have a business. Even if you have nothing else, you have the foundation to succeed. It’s the one function of your organization that you cannot do without, ever. When you boil it down to your very raison d’etre, it starts with customers. And nobody else in your organization is more committed or qualified to bring them in than your marketing team. Let me rephrase that – nobody else is as vital.

As leaders, our roles are to find the best allocation of often limited resources. Financial professionals do an admirable job of trimming fat and streamlining operations, and this is wholly necessary. But it’s also a defensive business strategy if not tempered with some bold entrepreneurial thinking. And whilst it may prolong survival in the short term, it will ultimately stint growth in the long term.

Marketing shows up as an expense item on the P+L so it’s in the cross hairs from get go. But too often we fail to realise that without it our income columns will be woefully light. Stop thinking like a CFO for a moment, and start thinking like an entrepreneur.

It’s a cliché that the most critical time to up the marketing ante is during rough economic times.  But like all clichés, there is profound truth and wisdom in it. You will find fat to trim in most areas of your operations I’m sure. But I have yet to meet a marketing professional that doesn’t work longer, harder and contribute as much (and in all likelihood a lot more) to the organization than just about anyone else on the payroll. If you’re looking for fat to trim it’s unlikely that, with some sound judgment and entrepreneurial spirit, you will find it there. Then is the time to reenergize your marketing function. Redirect it. Bolster it. Do some market analysis. Do you need to tweak the offering? Expand in to a different market? Create a new segment? Enhance the message? Your marketing team will do it for you…if they’re still there.

When it’s time to wield the hatchet, look harder and smarter. Think like an entrepreneur and start increasing sales.

waiting for godot

I am not an IT specialist. But I am a knowledge worker. Or put that another way, without a computer I can’t work…at all. When my computer dies at work I ‘log the issue’ with IT according to protocol, who may or may not turn up a day or two later, depending on how much noise I make. Sound familiar? In the meantime, my employer is paying me to do absolutely nothing. Yeah sure, I can find something productive to do but let’s cut the crap, it’s not best use of my time so I shouldn’t be doing it.

What is the annual cost of this downtime to businesses, the cost of paying (often senior level) employees to do nothing and interrupting workflow? What would be the net effect of offsetting that cost against the cost of employing more efficient IT systems and teams? I will wager my big toe that in most knowledge-worker environments the net effect would be increased production, increased morale and more profitable operations. I am sure the analysis has been done a gazillion times – feel free to share here if you’re party to this insight.

So where’s the urgency when employees are forced to stop work because of poor IT infrastructure and support? If an employee just tooled down and went home for the day I’m pretty sure we’d see it. What’s the difference?