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.

How to ‘socialise’ your workforce.

If you think about it, your employees should be the most devout ambassadors of your brand. They know your products and services better then most and it’s in their interests to promote the company that pays their wages. The credibility associated with this kind of word-of-mouth advertising makes it potentially one of the most effective promotional vehicles at your brand’s disposal.

As the proliferation of social media platforms continues to change and meld our personal and business lives, so it becomes an ever more powerful (and relatively inexpensive) tool for your ambassadors to influence the buying habits of those in their social spheres by spreading the good word about your brand far and wide.

So how do you make effective brand ambassadors of your employees and ‘socialise’ your workforce? Here are some suggestions:

1) Get your employees onside – unhappy employees are not likely to make your best brand ambassadors. It goes without saying, look after them and they will look after you. That is more important now than ever if you want to keep your brand’s reputation intact.

2) ‘Socialise’ your culture – ensure that social media is a part of the cultural fabric of your organisation. If you haven’t already heard, it’s how we communicate these days – and it’s going to become more prolific for building relationships with clients, suppliers, colleagues, etc. If you don’t vilify phone and email users, or meeting attendees for that matter, then why do it to staff members who are more comfortable using social media – most likely your younger and more forward-thinking employees. Don’t ration or outlaw the use of social media at work – embrace it as a part of your communications strategy and enable your workforce to be comfortable with it. See a word from me about this in an earlier blog post.

3) Identify your ‘social employees –  these are the ones that will carry your social strategy forward and become your greatest brand ambassadors. Survey your staff – ask around. Have a quick shufty on social networks and see who’s active. Then engage them.

4) Plan your strategy – identify some objectives for your social efforts (eg. drive website traffic and conversions, build brand awareness). Define key messages you want to get across to your audience and then educate your social ambassadors about them.  Schedule these messages to coincide with particular events (eg. product launch) to make them relevant. Set some parameters for the socialisation of your social marketing efforts.

5) Tool up – give your social employees the tools they need to weave their magic. Give them access to social networks on their desktops and laptops. Explore the use of social media as an internal communications tool. Give your social army (paid-for) mobile devices, dedicated solely to the business of promoting your business – and make sure they have permissions and budgets to download the social apps they need for the task. Offer any training required.

6) Incentivise – give your social employees an incentive to broadcast their loyalty to your brand. Give them the option to try or even own new products before official release, so they can blog, tweet, pin and share their opinions (within agreed parameters of course). Offer other incentives for employees who generate results. How about giving away an iPad once a quarter, to encourage your social employees to be even more sociable?

7) Monitor – measure the results of your social efforts against your objectives. Make sure someone is in charge and on top of what your social employees are doing online. You don’t want your brand name dragged through the mud by one of your own because they had a disagreement with a colleague.

The age of the ‘social employee’ dawns.

Check out more on the subject here:

http://blog.clomedia.com/2012/06/redefining-the-social-employee/

How to write an effective bio

It quickly became clear to me that my intended two-line response to a blog post about writing your own biography had inadvertently grown long enough to be a post of it’s own.

In the original post the author discusses why it is more difficult to write your own biography than someone else’s, and rightly reasons that you need to step outside yourself and see yourself as others do in order to make a success of it.

As a senior marketing and PR manager  I’ve had to write a lot of bios, including my own. As with all writing for business communications, you must start with a clear idea of who your audience is – who you are writing for. You need to determine what they will want to take out of it – what are the important points they want to know, and that are likely to elicit the response you want from them. Then tailor your writing to suit their needs, focusing on the most important points and filtering out extraneous information.

I’ve seen bios of very senior people with a lot of personal information in (family, kids, hobbies, etc,.). This may be fine if for some reason you really need to take a fluffy humanistic approach to your audience, but too often it is just self-indulgent. I will venture that most of the time your business audience doesn’t need to know – and doesn’t care.

If you are writing for a serious business crowd, whose schedules may only afford you a moment of their time (eg. potentially major client contracts or investors), then you will want to cut down on the personal fluff and focus on the facts that are going to reassure them that your management team has the credentials to ensure their investment in your company will yield the outcomes they want. They probably aren’t that interested in the fact that you kite-surf every Sunday morning or that your wife’s called Gemimah.

The same is often said for resume/CV writing, that the personal stuff is really just a footnote – many say forget it altogether, your employer wants to know you can do the job. In fact, I would suggest many of the same principles apply to both resumes and bios. Keep it concise and relevant to the audience, focus on the most salient points and make it absolutely clear why your audience should care.

Perhaps the trickiest part about bio writing is appealing to multiple audiences with different needs. In such cases you will be looking to strike a balance that serves to meet common needs as far as possible.

You can view the original blog post on the subject here:

http://communicateskills.com/2012/08/10/see-yourself/

 

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

Tragic sans

There is never a good time to use Comic Sans.

Antisocial media

This links to an interesting post about managers who don’t use social media:

http://bit.ly/NS6JJc

I found the account of the CFO fascinating – the one protesting that he couldn’t use social media professionally because of the ‘risk’. Financial people – you’ve got to love them. I used to work with a mid-level manager who wouldn’t touch social. She was quite proud of it too. Above it perhaps? Let’s see if she’s above being employed in 5 years.

So should we or shouldn’t we use social media as professionals?

We’ll deal with the downsides to start with.

First of all, people know your business. My parents’ generation and generations prior to that guarded their personal business fiercely. Knowledge was power so you kept it to yourself. Besides, everybody was out to get you. Everybody! Trust no one.  If it’s not the communists it’s the capitalists. George Orwell warned us that Big Brother was watching. Patrick McGoohan would not be “pushed, filed, stamped, indexed, briefed, debriefed or numbered”. More traditional institutions (banks) still implement military grade security around their customer service portals – passwords to access passwords that allow you to log in with a password…and time you out 6 seconds later. Safe, yes. Intolerable for customers.

I am of the inbetweener generation. We are not our parents, but we also remember a world before t’Internet. And so a little of that skepticism of the oldies rubbed off. If you’d pitched facebook to me 10 years ago, I am a little ashamed to say that I would have poo-pooed the idea in a heartbeat. What sane minded individual would willingly share personal information, family photos, and private opinions in a public forum for crooks, authorities and the unwashed masses to scrutinize, exploit, judge and refute? Poppycock! Ironically, today I’m a veritable social butterfly, as are the vast majority of my contemporaries. Over a quarter of facebook users are 35 years old plus.  Go olds.

The second big issue about using social media is that you might say something stupid that could jeopardize your career. Who hasn’t heard those woeful tales of employees getting the heave-ho because they were caught bad-mouthing bosses or partying like Keith Richards on facebook? Joshua Waldman warns us in his post that the FTC approved social media content as a legal basis for rejection of job candidates in 2011. Another daunting fact to spook the accountant types. Boo! But for anyone who relies on the creation and expression of fresh ideas to make a living (creatives, entrepreneurs), then yes, we are in danger of saying something that could come back to bite us on the arse. And that’s OK, because challenging convention and being bold is the fuel of progress. The alternative is never to do anything that moves your organisation forward and grows your business. That might work if you’re a financial controller, lawyer or civil servant, but if your job requires you to be enterprising then you will have to stick your neck out on occasion, take a leap or ruffle feathers, otherwise nothing positive ever happens. And every now and then you’ll have to take the consequences on the chin, so it helps if you have one.

Now the upsides of using social media as your soap box.

First of all, people know your business. Today we live in a society that embraces the sharing of personal information, online communities and self-publicity. Technology changes but human nature doesn’t. Just as before, those that succeed tend to be those that make the most noise (yes, I know that sucks). Only the platform has changed. These days the noisy ones can make more noise than ever before. Social media empowers us to become self-professed industry leaders and build huge networks of relevant contacts. This means that if you’re not banging your drum and blowing your horn online you’re more likely to be overlooked. That’s the first bloody nose for your career.

The second bloody nose for your career (or more of a concussion blow to the head) will come when you realise (or worse still, your employer realises first) that you can no longer communicate and function in your work environment. It won’t be long before social media is standard MO for the internal and external communications of all organisations. It’s inevitable. It’s as intuitive for today’s school leavers as sending a fax was for us. Email will go the way of the fax. Certain professions (finance?) and senior managers may still frown upon the use of social media in business today, but this antiquated attitude will be swept aside by a new generation of leaders that know no other way. This is inevitable, given the potential of social media to enhance the flow of knowledge and speed of communication in business, making companies leaner and more competitive (see my earlier post on social media at work).

So, the question of whether or not you should be using social media comes down to whether you think it’s better to be visible or invisible in your career . How would you like to come across in a management meeting or a job interview? How would you like your clients or potential employers to view you? If being seen scares you then maybe you should become a secret agent…or an accountant. As Joshua Waldman points out in his post, if an employer is considering you as a potential candidate ‘you will be googled.’ Probably best to be in when they come a calling.

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.

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?

social at work

Social media is about the passive absorption of information. It enables us to take in large volumes of information and news from many sources in manageable bitesize chunks. This is how facebook enables us to keep up with 300+ friends. One of the most common issues in businesses is lack of communication. Management and staff don’t know what’s going on. Think about that for a second. There’s no excuse.

Just imagine how much time and money businesses would save on pointless meetings and presentations, not to mention how much better informed management and staff would be, if they adopted social platforms as their preferred style of internal communications. The tools are out there.

Many businesses still have policies against the use of social media, and will surely alienate and suffocate an entire generation of employees as a consequence. The world has gone social. Isn’t about time business managers did the same?