#FC15 Call to Action: Let the journey begin

The crowd at FutureComms15

One of the difficulties for an event that’s intended to look at the future of communication is delivering on the promise and expectation established in the description of and communication about the event.

FutureComms15 in London – hashtag #FC15 – that took place on June 18 was a one-day event organized by MyNewsDesk, and described thus:

PR & Comms are evolving. With content marketers taking centre stage in digital, is there a place for PR? Is PR actually dead? Do PR pros need to turn into content marketers? Or will content marketers slowly take on all PR duties?

Following last year’s acclaimed event, FutureComms15 delves into the PR/content divide to unveil the future of communications.

Ah, the “future of communications.” There’s an expectation that is almost impossible to meet unless you really are going to focus beyond the horizon and offer event-goers something that captures their imaginations, that galvanizes their thoughts into actions; something that’s different, that’s beyond what you typically hear at every comms-related event you go to these days that usually has the phrase “The future is digital” mentioned somewhere up front.

I was there, in the audience mostly but also with a stint chairing a 35-minute panel discussion on SEO and PR in the morning. More on that in a minute.

If there’s one thing I took away from #FC15 last week, it’s that it was pretty clear to me that everyone broadly knows what’s needed, and the part they need to play, to create a communication landscape that is close to what many wish to see in the not-too-distant future. They also know there’s no magic wand or bullet but instead quite a lot of work to do to create the landscape to enable organizational communication – whether that’s PR, employee communication, corporate, whatever – to be valued and valuable and to be effective.

This take-away reminds me of a point I make to communicators when speaking about the future of communication or, more fundamentally, what each of us needs to do as part of the journey to that future, best portrayed in this self-explanatory slide:

be

My point is that the future of communication requires each of us to play a role. While there will be paths and maps, the navigators are each of us. That route should start with asking the question “How To Be…” for each of the eight words in the slide above, ie, what is it that each of us must do?

The “How” should feature large in  any discussion about the future of communication where such discussion often (usually) includes credible and valuable opinions on  what needs to change in order to get to that future.

Usually missing, however, is “How.”

At #FC15 last week, I did hear quite a bit of foundational stuff in some significant areas that will make “how” a lot easier to answer. For instance:

Incidentally, Sarah and Stephen are, respectively, current and past presidents of the CIPR, the PR industry body in the UK. No coincidence that.

Circling back now to that morning panel discussion on SEO and PR that I chaired – and which Sarah Hall did a terrific write-up – the discussion was interesting even if we did spend a lot of our time explaining  what SEO is understood to be in the PR business (not the same as what it is) and considering its value in contemporary communication practice. But we did get to the “How” that produced some common views on what each of us needs to do to in order to create that future everyone looks towards.

And here are two simple but powerful calls to action from this SEO panel that apply broadly, not just to the topic:

Lukasz Zelezny got us well focused when he proposed that everyone should learn about something that isn’t within their usual areas of interest or expertise. In the context of SEO, that means things like reading publications that talk about SEO, attending conferences about SEO.

In other words, if you want to really understand the role of something like SEO that has evolved hugely from what the Wikipedia description says, you need to find out about it. Sounds simple, doesn’t it? And each of us has the power to do that.

Gem Griff made a key point about talking, noting that people in the tech industry constantly have informal get-togethers to share thinking, knowledge and expertise. These gathering are often known as hackathons. You don’t see those in PR really, do you?

Think again – Gem started #PRFuture Hack Day, an informal PR hackathon where anyone can talk about anything with anyone else in an informal setting, the kind of setting that encourages dialogue and connection. There seems to be appetite for PRs to collaborate, Gem says. Who knows where that might lead? (It sounds a lot like The Big Yak unconference that Rachel Miller and others organize for internal communicators.)

In fact, there’s a #PRFuture Hack Day planned for July 23 in London. Why not sign up and come along? That’s part of your “How.”

See, starting the journey to that ‘tomorrow place’ isn’t difficult.

The final word on #FC15 comes from Dan Slee.

Passion is a wonderful thing.

Story-telling the intranet

Congratulations!

Sometimes, the workplace of the late 1990s seems to me a little like today rather than over 16-18 years ago when I think of disruption and change driven largely by developments in technology. I say ‘largely’ as shifts in people’s behaviours also play a huge role in workplace disruption and change, as do corporate and national cultures, attitudes and leadership.

Disruption and change are not only about technology.

Such thoughts came to front of mind this weekend when a major sort out in the home office turned up a pile of business and tech journals from the latter part of the 1990s including a copy of Conspectus magazine from January 1998 that contains a feature article I had written in the autumn of 1997 about the roles, impact and potential of intranets in the corporate workplace, with a focus on self-service employee benefits management.

The late 1990s was a time when an intranet was still, relatively, an embryonic communication and functional tool in most organizations, never mind the notion of employee self-service. Those that were developing intranets tended to be large organizations with budgets and the willingness to travel new roads. While many intranets of that era were a great deal about employee communication – and more often than not, owned and run by the IT department – quite a few organizations were investing in the development of functional intranets that offered self-service opportunities for employees in things like employee benefits enrolment and management.

A little like what we see all around us today with social media, internal social networks and of course highly-evolved intranets (take a look at today’s intranet from companies like Igloo Software, for instance – utterly unlike what you’d have seen in 1998).

At that time, I worked for William M. Mercer in the UK and part of my job was to help multinational and large-national clients see what tech was coming to the workplace and how we could help them prepare for it. (Even then, as a consultant I always looked on the bright side.) And so I wrote my piece for Conspectus with a predictive short story as the scene-setting introduction to a topic that many people were writing about at that time.

I figured as everyone else was writing pretty dry stuff about intranets focused on the technology in the here and now (then), let’s look at what is very likely in the near future where the forthcoming new millennium was capturing many imaginations (mainly worries about the potential imagined effects of Y2K), and write a story.

While it does seem a bit Space: 1999-ish even to me reading it today – I may well have been influenced by that 1970s sci-fi TV series – it does contain some realistic predictions of what we have today: ubiquitous workplace video-calling and touch screens, for instance, as well as attitude.

Here is that short story; see what you think:

Monday December 6th, 1999. Time: 8:10am. Elliott Green, human resources manager, arrives at his desk and puts his laptop down. It rings. Cursing mildly, he opens it up and fumbles in his pocket for his ID card.

The laptop rings again as Elliott slips the card into it and watches the screen light up to display a request to confirm his password. The computer rings once more as he keys in the password. A dialogue appears saying “Incoming Call from Marie Page.”

He touches the “Accept Call” button on the screen; up comes a live video picture of Paige, the human resources director. Her name and the legend “Encrypted – Secure Call” appear beneath the image.

“Hi Elliott, good to see you. Hope I’ve not caught you at a bad time?”

“Good morning, Marie. No, not at all,” replies Elliott. “Go ahead.”

“Ok, I just wanted to remind you that the new secure employee-access module of the interactive flexible benefits system goes online today. I’ll be at the consultants’ till early afternoon, so would you make sure that the announcement to everyone goes out at 11 as we agree?”

Smiling, Elliott says, “No problem, I’ve taken care of it.”

“That’s great, thanks,” says Marie.

“By the way, the results from the final pilot test are excellent. I’ve put the video-doc report in our private message area on the server. If you want, you can listen to a quick overview on the audio-call system. Just dial star-789 and follow the voice prompts.”

“Ok, thanks, see you later,” says Elliott, and disconnects.

Elliott touches the “Access System” button in one corner of his screen. It expands into a display of icons, buttons and message listings. Scanning the screen, he quickly sees the button he wants: “The Employee Source.”

As he touches it, he recalls the meeting, two years before, when the idea of fully automating the company’s HR information structure throughout the whole global organization had first been mooted.

No-one believed we’d do it by the new millennium, he reflects: all of it, linking HR databases in 20 countries that employees can access as well, from wherever they are.

That set the scene for the case I made in the overall article for building an intranet and the role it plays in employee communication, engagement and employee self-service in benefits management (the latter a pretty new concept at that time).

A sidebar in the article outlines important considerations from the point of view of a communicator. Written in 1997, I think they’re still valid today, whether for an employee benefits website as the article discusses or for almost any other employee resource where access to and content from is via a digital network:

Six Steps to an Employee Benefits Website

  • Build your sound business case. No matter how good your idea seems, it must show clear financial advantages and demonstrate how it will help achieve your company’s overall business objectives.
  • Involve the IT department (1). Your IT colleagues can be the most valuable ally within your organization if you discuss your ideas with them at the outset of your planning.
  • Involve the IT department (2). The planning and operation of an employee benefits website is very much an IT issue; the design and content is broadly your issue. Recognise that your website will likely be successful when developed as a joint project.
  • Get people’s opinions. Ask employees what they’d like to see on the website. Ask a few rungs above and below you on the management ladder. Consider all the views. Identify the stakeholders. Keep everyone informed of what you;re doing.
  • Be clear about design and content. Above all, your website is a communication channel – it must attract, interest and stimulate visitors into the desired action. Don’t short-change on the “look and feel.”
  • Talk to your external consultants. Find out what other organizations are doing – what tips and tricks you can learn, and how to avoid the pitfalls.

You can see the complete article as it appeared in Conspectus in January 1998 in a scan from the journal as a Scribd document, embedded below. Look out for two screenshots showing an HR intranet via Internet Explorer 4 and the Netscape Navigator browser (remember that?) in Netscape Communicator 4, the versions in use in late 1997.

Much has changed. Yet not much has changed.

Key to the Virtual Door by Neville Hobson

Social business, your intranet, and you: Collaborate/London

Collaborate/London

If you’d like to know how leading UK retailer The John Lewis Partnership planned, developed and implemented an intranet that employees actually like, and hear insights from those who made it happen, then mark Thursday April 16, 2015, in your calendar and register to be at Collaborate/London.

This morning event is from Igloo Software, the company behind the intranet that enhances internal collaboration, improves employee communication, and provides a central repository for assets and project deliverables. And that’s just the overview (here’s more).

I’ve partnered with Igloo to host this workshop, where my job will be to set the scene for what you’ll hear about John Lewis with an introductory session that explains why “Social business is here to stay”:

Humans have always been social, but businesses aren’t always ready for this level of interaction. Neville Hobson will be leading a workshop to shed light on what it means to have a true IT/business partnership, and how to build and reinforce your company culture.

The key part of the day’s event is what you’ll learn from and about the John Lewis experience:

Kimberly Thomson, of the John Lewis Partnership, will discuss the key drivers for seeking a new solution, and their milestones and measures of success. Karen Hobart of Contexxt, the consultancy engaged by John Lewis, will share her methodology, ideas for establishing a project plan, and tips for vendor evaluation.

In sum, you’ll have the chance to hear lessons learned by Igloo customers and thought leaders as well as best practices for planning, implementing, and maintaining a social intranet.

There’s no cost to attend Collaborate/London, but places are limited – sign up now to secure your place.

I hope you can join us for a morning of listening, learning and sharing. Igloo’s philosophy is encouraging:

Our events will be different.
We know how that sounds, but it’s the only way to put it.
Real people talking, information you can use, goals you can set.
Right now.

It will be a few hours of our time well spent. Note your diary:

  • Thursday April 16, 2015, 9:30am – 1:30pm.
  • St. Pancras Renaissance Hotel, London NW1 (Google map).
  • Free to attend but places are limited – sign up now.

Collaborate/London is the second event in Igloo’s Collaborate series, the first of which took place in Los Angeles last month. Upcoming Collaborate events are planned for New York on May 14 and Chicago on June 9.

(Igloo Software is a sponsor of For Immediate Release: The Hobson and Holtz Report, the business podcast I co-present each week with Shel Holtz. I am very pleased to be working on Collaborate/London with Igloo that builds out our existing relationship. Good people! You can try Igloo’s intranet for yourself – and it’s free for up to 10 people. Find out more.)

FIR Interview: Red E App CEO Jonathan Erwin on employee communication trends and challenges

FIR InterviewsA special report on trends and challenges facing internal communicators drew on the observations of nine internal communications experts, including Peter Shankman, Gini Dietrich, Susan Cellura, Steve Kaus, and FIR co-host Shel Holtz.

The report, available for free from Red E App – a mobile tool that connects employees and organizations across a variety of dimensions – addresses eight distinct problems and six solutions.

In this FIR interview, Shel talks with Red E App co-founder and CEO Jonathan Erwin about the report, Internal Communications 2015, and some of its key findings.

Listen Now:

Get this podcast:

About our Conversation Partner

Jonathan ErwinJonathan Erwin is the co-founder and CEO of Red e App, an enterprise mobile platform that enables businesses to create a private or semi-private mobile network, allowing them to instantly communicate to the mobile device of their audience.

Jonathan has served in strategic sales, marketing and executive roles within the technology marketplace for over 20 years. His experience, coupled with his vision and dedication to service and thoughtful communication, has led him to create, develop and bring the Red e App mobile platform to market.

You can reach Jonathan on Twitter at @JonathanCErwin.

FIR Community on Google+Share your comments or questions about this podcast, or suggestions for future podcasts, in the online FIR Podcast Community on Google+.

You can also send us instant voicemail via SpeakPipe, right from the FIR website. Or, call the Comment Line at +1 415 895 2971 (North America), +44 20 3239 9082 (Europe), or Skype: fircomments. You can tweet us: @FIRpodcast. And you can email us at fircomments@gmail.com. If you wish, you can email your comments, questions and suggestions as MP3 file attachments (max. 3 minutes / 5Mb attachment, please!). We’ll be happy to see how we can include your audio contribution in a show.

Check the FIR website for information about other FIR podcasts. To receive all podcasts in the FIR Podcast Network, subscribe to the “everything” RSS feed.

This FIR Interview is brought to you with Lawrence Ragan Communications, serving communicators worldwide for 35 years. Information: www.ragan.com.

Podsafe music – On A Podcast Instrumental Mix (MP3, 5Mb) by Cruisebox.

(Cross-posted from For Immediate Release, Shel’s and my podcast blog.)

How transparent is wearable technology within the enterprise?

Wearable tech in the business context

In July, I took part in a public debate at the House of Commons about ethics in PR and wearable technology.

Organized by The Debating Group and sponsored by the CIPR, the debate served a highly useful purpose of bringing a timely topic to front of mind amongst a community of communicators which considered the arguments supporting two different points of view (that there is an ethical issue for PR about wearables, or there isn’t) in a lively debate.

On September 30, the CIPR is planning a further debate on the topic, this time as part of Ethics Month, an initiative led by the PRSA in the US on the broader subject of ethics in public relations. I’ll be participating in that one as well. Information soon on the CIPR website.

So the outward-looking perspective about wearable technology is getting a lot of welcome attention, enabling communicators to give their attention to what I believe is a topic well worth debating right now.

But what about the inward-looking perspective – inside the enterprise? Isn’t that a facet complementing the outward look, a mirror reflection of the same topic, from different but complementary angles?

That’s what I hope to find out when I host a table discussion at Simply SMILE 2014 in London on September 25. Organized by Simply Communicate, this will be the fifth such SMILE conference (SMILE = Social Media In Large Enterprises) and it’s being held as part of Social Media Week London, a week-long event framework that is the foundation for ideas, trends, insights and inspiration to help people and businesses understand how to achieve more in a hyper-connected world.

I’ll be one of a dozen table-discussion leaders during the day, so you’ll have plenty to choose from to be part of something that matches your interest or curiosity.

Here’s the detail of how I see the discussion format:

How transparent is wearable technology within the enterprise?

A public debate has been taking place this year around the ethical implications of wearable technology – the mobile devices you wear on your person, ranging from the esoteric (such as Google Glass), to the quantified self (think of health monitoring and results-sharing via wristbands), to the practical (smartwatches that connect to business databases).

While the public debate has focused squarely on public concerns surrounding ethics, and very much surrounding potential PR and reputational issues, there’s another debate we ought to be having that flips the coin on the public focus and consider wearable technology from the inside perspective.

In this session, Neville Hobson will lead a discussion that considers the ethical concerns and potential issues over wearable technology in the workplace, from employee use of devices, employer oversight, privacy, and individual responsibilities – and considers how best to prepare for a sea change in communication and information-sharing as wearable technology enters the mainstream.

I hope you’ll come along and share your points of view. The SMILE conferences are terrific events, always with outstanding speakers and discussion groups – see the agenda for the September 25 event – so why not sign up now to be sure of your place.

See you there!

Igloo Software joins FIR as our latest sponsor

Igloo SoftwarePlease join us in welcoming Igloo Software as the latest FIR Podcast Network sponsor.

Igloo, which offers a web-based platform for collaborating at work, will join Ragan Communications and CustomScoop as sponsors of The Hobson and Holtz Report.

Through the Igloo platform, employees can share files, get (and share) answers, solve problems, locate information and expertise, and tap into the collective knowledge of the company’s customers, partners and peers, from wherever they are.

For up to 10 people, Igloo is free, with per-user pricing after that. Gamification, social analytics and other state-of-the-art elements are built into the platform, which can be customized to reflect your organization’s image. Companies using Igloo’s intranet software include Kimberly-Clark and International Data Corporation. The company is headquartered in Kitchener, Ontario, Canada.

Igloo intranet

As always, we strive to identify sponsors whose products and services are relevant to the FIR community. We’re confident we’ve achieved that goal with the addition of Igloo to The Hobson and Holtz Report. Please show them your support by checking out the site and seeing what they have to offer.

(Cross-posted from For Immediate Release, Shel’s and my podcast blog.)