Courage and the future of communication

Future

It’s interesting how the word ‘courage‘ crops up a great deal when I talk about communication.

I frequently use it when considering what I believe communicators must do in organizations – the ones they work in or those of their clients – when trying to persuade others to a particular course of action, or persuade others to change behaviours.

It’s a word that has great significance when we talk about the future of communication as that future involves a great deal of change and will require courage of communicators who must take a leading strategic role in ensuring the successful outcomes of such change.

It’s a word that I believe is central to a primary role of a communicator in the foreseeable future – that of calculating risk in the context of digital transformation in the workplace.

It underpinned much of my thinking last week when I gave a presentation jointly with Silvia Cambié about the future of communication at the IABC EMENA Leadership Institute 2013 conference in London on November 4.

It was a pleasure working with Silvia as we share much thinking about organizational communication, its evolution and the changing role of the communicator. And it was a pleasure to be part of an IABC event again.

In a post she published prior to the conference, Silvia speaks of how corporate communication is changing thanks to social media and new ways of working that collaborative technologies are bringing to organizations.

A new era is dawning, she declares, a view I believe in as well.

So we shared some metrics with leaders from across IABC’s Europe, Middle East and North Africa region about trends, changes and events that we see all around us in business, in people’s behaviours and desires, in technology developments and the contexts of many of those developments.

Behaviours, Mindset, Technology

We painted a picture of a landscape that is rapidly evolving and transforming, presenting significant opportunities and major challenges to organizations, their leaders and communicators – a landscape where people’s behaviours and their mindsets are huge drivers of change, and where technology is the enabler of change.

In my part of our session (the presentation deck I used is available for view or download from Slideshare), I outlined my belief on that risk assessment role I mentioned earlier:

The Communicator’s Role is to Calculate Risk

  1. Recognise and understand change
    – In the workplace
    – In stakeholder behaviours
    – In your overall landscape, internal and external
  2. Be attuned to trends and be able to interpret them
  3. Take a proactive and credible lead to educate and counsel
  4. Listen, learn, recommend

It sounds so simple, doesn’t it? Yet it’s complex and requires deep understanding of the organization of which the communicator is part, its vision and mission, its leadership personalities, and much more.

It requires courage to navigate the organization and effect change. When you examine the scope and scale of the opportunity and challenge awaiting the communicator in this new era that Silvia speaks about, it becomes very clear to see that courage really is the requirement of the communicator in the future we talked about.

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A day of value and insight at #smwSMILE

Simply SMILE 2013

Last night, I was reviewing the videos, photos and blog posts written about Simply SMILE, the one-day conference focused on internal communication and social media that took place on September 23, 2013. It was part of Social Media Week London, with the hashtag #smwSMILE.

It all reminded me what a valuable, useful and enjoyable event it was. So many people – presenters and participants alike – sharing their knowledge and experiences that offered genuine insight into what many people have done and are doing in their organizations where social media plays a major role in enabling those organizations to achieve their measurable communication goals.

SMILE – which stands for Social Media In Large Enterprises – is the largest one-day event in Europe dedicated to exploring how large companies and organizations are using social media tools behind the firewall.

Things kicked off with a run-through of the results of a survey carried out by Rachel Miller into social media use within large enterprises. Reassuring results showing 87 percent of those responding to the survey saying they do, up from 72 percent a year ago.

smileusingsocialmedia

So for the majority, SMILE was about learning more, exchanging experiences, finding out what others are doing, sharing questions, sharing problems and finding some answers.

For the 8 percent “thinking about it,” SMILE unquestionably offered valuable knowledge that would help them determine how to get balls rolling in their organizations. Ditto the 5 percent who aren’t doing anything yet.

I took part in the event, one of twelve moderators who facilitated individual discussion and conversation on particular topics during a 30-minute morning session.

My topic was leadership communication and I was very pleased to have ten people crowded around a table to exchange views, ask questions and discuss their experiences and ideas. They came from organizations of different types including those in regulated industries.

It pleasantly surprised me that everyone was so forthcoming, both with ideas and questions, as well as with sharing some thorny issues relating to leadership and social media that they’re trying to address within their own organizations.

It’s quite clear that not everything is plain sailing when it comes to introducing new thinking and new ways of doing things within large organizations where leadership commitment is pretty important. You’re in a bit of a quandary if that commitment is less than you really expect, or isn’t there at all.

Even though the session was strictly 30 minutes, I used a deck, embedded below, not as a presentation tool but on a tablet as a means of keeping the discussion focused and to enable me to be sure to address some key points that were central to the overall discussion. People told me they found the deck pretty helpful; I made it available on Slideshare where you can download it, too.

The day was filled with some terrific presentations and discussions. SMILE chief organizer Marc Wright uploaded a huge deck (92 slides) to Slideshare that is the deck of record of all the presentations and discussions that went on during the day.

Things I learned from two presentations in particular have stuck with me since last week:

  • The City of London Corporation who introduced social media into the organization without any formal strategic plan. What they did have was bags of belief and passion and a leadership that firmly supports the notion of enabling employees to use social media. Make it happen! That’s the battle won right there. (There’s a great case study about the the City of London Corporation and its use of social media on the Simply Communicate website. You’ll need to register to read it.)
  • The European Commission uses Yammer for internal private social networking. Not an extraordinary idea in itself – Yammer is a staple of internal communication in many organizations. But EC employees increasingly chat in their native language – potentially, in any one of the 24 official languages of the European Union rather than only in English-as-a-second-language – and the translate feature in Yammer presents a chat text to you in your language. ‘Machine’ translation, to be sure, via Microsoft translate, but good enough from what I’ve seen of it. Disappearing barriers when you can just talk in your native tongue knowing with confidence that the other person will understand you.

Others who were there have written some excellent posts recounting their thoughts, what stood out for them and what they derived from being part of SMILE. A handful of note to mention:

Plus the videos of presentations and photos of everyone I mentioned earlier. And the excellent Storify curation created by Gloria Lombardi (who did a superb job in making sure things went smoothly on the day).

Simply, SMILE was excellent.

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Content marketing requires a sound foundation

What If I Said...Two words I’ve heard mentioned a lot recently are “content marketing.”

I use them myself at times, often in the context of helping people understand the value that can be derived from taking ‘old’ but still valid “content” – case studies, white papers, features, etc – and re-telling those stories in ways that work well in today’s social communication climate, fit measurable business goals and meet the information needs of the people in the marketplace you want to reach out to.

The “marketing” part comes into play when you talk about disseminating the content  – not in the linear ways of old but in the far more dynamic, discoverable and shareable ways of today that extend way beyond your own outlets and embrace third parties and their outlets and channels.

Yet when I hear those two words being uttered, the meaning tends to focus far too much on the “marketing” rather than the “content.” At the same time, rarely do I hear the word “measurable” when objectives or goals are mentioned.

That’s a pity as it puts the cart squarely before the horse, and you (and most definitely your audience) will ultimately be disappointed if you do that. This is true whatever your focus: B2B, B2C, etc.

It’s not about the marketing: it’s everything about the content and measuring its value, ie, to the consumer and sharer of that content and to you as the publisher of it.

This notion was brought to front of my mind again after reading “It’s Time To Demystify Content Marketing” by Will Burns in Forbes online earlier this week.

Burns makes a good case as he goes about his demystification. While his focus is on advertising, I see his arguments valid when applied to every other discipline – marketing, public relations, employee communication, investor relations, you name it.

What really caught my attention in his article, though, are six specific points he makes as the foundation for content marketing:

  • You still need to identify a clear objective for the piece. Content marketing is like [any] other piece of communication and should have a clear business objective.
  • You still need to identify a singular message.
  • You still need to identify a clear target audience.
  • You still need to understand the brand idea intimately so you can assess what the brand would and would not do when you’re reviewing ideas.
  • You still need someone on the outside to produce the content. Outside of the agency, that is. That’s not new and shouldn’t be a worry. Might be a different kind of production house, but the model is the same.
  • You still need a great idea.

I agree – content marketing is a function, a business process, that requires the same thinking applied to its planning as you would for any other communication activity.

That means a plan that addresses or includes all those elements Burns mentions.

As part of the essential foundation for today, one of the desired goals for the content you create, curate and distribute must be that people value it, want it, will talk about it and will share it.

You know it makes sense!

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Talking social internal communication at #smwSMILE

#smwSMILE

Social Media Week London starts next week, on Monday September 23.

Hosted by Chinwag, the week-long event – part of the global SMW event taking place in eight cities around the world – features 245 individual events spread across London, all reflecting the broad global theme “Everything Is Connected.”

One of those events is Simply SMILE taking place on September 23, and is the lead event for Social Media Week London.

Now in its third year, SMILE – Social Media in Large Enterprises – is the largest one-day event in Europe dedicated to exploring how large companies and organizations are using social media tools behind the firewall. The typical audience comprises internal communication managers and directors from a range of large organisations.

I’m taking part in SMILE this year, thanks to an invitation from my friends at Simply Communicate, the SMILE organizers. There will be twelve of us as session moderators for discussion and conversation on specific topics during a rapid half-hour simultaneous session broadly entitled “Your network is your net worth.”

The twelve session moderators are Matt O’Neill, Benjamin Ellis, Rachel Miller, Luke Mepham, Ezri Carlebach, Wedge Black, Kevin Ruck, Chris Elmitt, Sobia Aslam, Dana Leeson, Sean Trainor and me, Neville Hobson.

Each of has a particular topic talking to that theme and to guide discussion. I’ve chosen leadership communication with this focus:

Leadership Communication – how to get your senior teams using social media effectively with their followers but in a way that suits them. How to blog and what to do with those that prefer other ways of engaging with staff.

A simple outline for a topic with huge potential for some great discussion. In just 30 minutes!

If you plan on joining my session, come with questions, opinions and stories. Here is some pre-event reading that you might find useful in a few blog posts I wrote a few months ago:

  • GE’s six dimensions of leadership: A drum that many communicators bang a lot – I do it, too – is the one that tries to get your attention on the view that an essential role of leadership in organizations is that of communication. I’m not talking about the kind of stuff that many CEOs will do: the employee email, the […]
  • A trustworthy method for the new thought leadership model: The humour in this Dilbert cartoon – the boss talking about blogging his thoughts about his business when in reality it will be his employee doing the thinking and the writing – is a simple but good reminder that expressing opinion online is a lot about authenticity. You may have someone suggesting topics to you […]
  • Leadership is about conversations: I came upon a blog post this weekend that addressed its subject matter in a way that I found breath-taking both in its simplicity and in its clarity. 5 Qualities that Make a Good Leader in the Social Media Age by Brian Verhoeven looks at leadership innovation as discussed in the book Humanize published last […]

The overall event will be terrific, with a great agenda and some compelling speakers. Tickets are going fast so sign up today, either on the SMILE ticket page or via SMW London (where the price is pretty good).

Hope to see you there on September 23!

#smwSMILE | #SMILEnet

Kred wants to take influence measurement to a new level

Andrew Grill“We all have influence somewhere” is the tag line of Kred, a social influence measurement service created by PeopleBrowsr, a San Francisco-based social media analytics company, to identify influential people in interest-based communities.

It’s a credible descriptor to apply to a service that, on the one hand, provides individuals with metrics to show the measurable reach of the specific things they talk about across the social web, and who they connect with in those conversations; and on the other hand, offers companies access to valuable data Kred gathers from all those connected conversations online that enable companies to get a clear sense of who they ought to pay attention to, among other things.

Kred offers depth beyond a simple ranking score, a topic you can hear London-based CEO Andrew Grill expand on in an FIR Live panel discussion last summer.

And the tag line has a nice democratic-sounding ring to it.

All of this was in front of my mind in London last week when I attended Kred’s London Influence Summit on March 27 at which I estimate well over 200 people participated. The visibility of “We all have influence somewhere.”

While the event gave everyone an opportunity to socialise and chat in the smart May Fair Hotel private event suite that includes a private cinema, there was a serious side to the event in the form of a presentation in that cinema. A sort of ‘message from the sponsor.’

That message – confidently delivered by Andrew Grill (pictured above) – was a mix of personal story and corporate roadmap outline, all combining to imbue a strong sense of credibility, authenticity and plain and simple belief in what we heard.

Andrew shared some outline thinking about Kred’s business strategy for the coming year or so, with some specific information about a new service the company is now offering: Kred for Brands, that “optimizes the Kred platform,” Andrew says, and provides businesses with credible and compelling data about a brand’s competitors, fans and followers. (Read more about Kred for Brands and see the explanatory video.)

I was intrigued by some of the ideas that emerged during the Q&A discussion in the presentation, especially on possibilities with some of the other ideas Andrew talked about, such as how you might identify and measure influencers in specific areas of knowledge within organizations on those organizations’ own private networks.

Think of how internal communication ‘traffic’ via social-sharing tools like Yammer and Chatter enable knowledge sharing, employee collaboration and other activity that, like public Twitter data, can be measured and valuable insight and meaning extracted.

You can watch Andrew’s presentation and the Q&A in this video:

Kred London Influencer Summit from Andrew Grill on Vimeo.

The audio’s not best quality but it’s worthwhile listening if you persevere.

Hearing about plans and ideas from Andrew Grill, and from what participants talked about, makes me think that Kred has the ability to take the concept of social influence (and influencer) measurement to a new level, one that could well give them genuine leverage in a market that looks poised to take off, and is attracting more entrants.

And while individuals may still have doubts and lack of clear understanding about what ‘social influence measurement’ is about from their perspectives, businesses will have no doubt as to the value they can derive from it.

If Kred can keep it all ‘social’ – and help their client companies see the advantages of social-business behaviours and not treat everything as the impersonal marketing that’s still unfortunately the norm to many companies – we could well see needles move and that new level reached.

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Don’t be like the pointy-haired boss

Dilbert comic strip 9-Jan-2013

Big data. The cloud. Actionable analytics. Three phrases that have crept into the business lexicon and that are bandied about freely in many workplaces, sometimes by people who do broadly understand their meanings but more frequently by some (especially managers) who want to impress their co-workers, seem cool by using the latest lingo, or employ a little control freakery because it’s in their nature to do so.

There is some reality behind the humour displayed in today’s Dilbert comic strip you see here. It’s in the nature of human beings to use jargon that only a select few understand: we like to impress others with our cool-ness. Yet with lack of understanding by others comes lack of commitment and effectiveness which may result in the plunge of productivity that Dilbert envisions.

Technical jargon is ripe for this kind of thing (time to update buzzword bingo). The fact is, though, that jargon of every type is everywhere in business. It can be fun to understand usages at times – for instance, I get joy out of reading Tony Thorne’s Bizwords column in Highlife magazine every time I fly British Airways.

But as a communicator, don’t fall into the Dilbert trap (or better said, the pointy-haired boss trap). And if you do insist on using jargon like the phrases mentioned here, at least have some kind of understanding of what they mean when someone challenges you to explain what you mean when you ask “Do we have any actionable analytics from our big data in the cloud?”

If I asked such a question, here’s how I might re-phrase it when someone in my group says “Huh?”

What do the results of the Christmas online sales figures tell us about customer buying habits that give us insight into what our best steps are in improving the customer experience on our website?

See what I did there? In this example, I focused on the “actionable analytics” element of the jargon-filled original question that is the whole point: the other jargon words are totally irrelevant. The re-phrased question might even be a candidate for a Plain English award!

Overall point: avoid jargon wherever possible if your goal is to enable others to understand what you mean and, thus, be able and willing to take the desired action arising from your question.

As for Dilbert’s pointy-haired boss’ admonition that “in-memory computing will accelerate your applications,” I wonder how he’d explain that. Isn’t it just jargon?

Very characteristic of pointy-haired bosses everywhere.