#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.

Shell’s big QR code experiment

Shell QR code

When I called in to a Shell station in Reading on Saturday to fill up my car with fuel, I noticed this banner attached to the side of the pump I was using.

“Fill up and go here with our speedy payment service,” it says. “Powered by PayPal.” And there’s a big QR code in the middle of the sign.

It’s called Fill Up And Go and the usage idea is simple:

You’ll be able to use it through the Shell Motorist App. Select a pump on the forecourt, enter the maximum amount you wish to spend, then scan the QR code or punch in the ID number at your pump, all from inside your car. The App then releases the pump for use and you can then fill up and go. When you’ve finished, a receipt will be automatically sent to your phone.

As it says, you use it with the Shell Motorist app for iOS or Android plus a PayPal account, the only payment method you can use. Shell says you can also use PayPal’s mobile app to pay for your fuel purchase. There is a transaction range: £20 minimum, up to £150 maximum (with the price of fuel these days, that maximum doesn’t seem too low).

Station LocatorShell announced this new service earlier this year, saying it was being tested and would roll out later in the year. Shell says it’s the first fuel retailer to offer such a service across the UK. The Shell station in Reading where I saw the banner is one I use pretty regularly, with my last visit about ten days ago. So the sign has appeared within the past week.

I’ve been using the Shell Motorist app for some time – to track loyalty points and see offers, etc – but hadn’t noticed reference to this new service until I looked for it.

And the app does mention it, with the Shell station locator map for my immediate area showing a station not far from my house that is participating in it. So that’s my destination when I need to fill up again, probably within a week or so.

I want to try it out, to see if it is a convenient and easy way to pay for fuel as Shell expects it to be. When it comes down to it, that’s what it has to be – convenient and easy – for it to gain consumer acceptance, especially when it comes to a technology like QR codes that you can’t say has had a warm reception, never mind gained universal consumer acceptance.

Much of the criticism is about how QR codes are presented by those who implement them, often in ways that are simply lame or even mind boggling. But there are great examples of imagination alongside the mistakes (some of the latter potentially brand-damaging such as what happened to Heinz recently).

In the case of Shell’s QR code experiment, I think it’s imaginative and likely to appeal to people who want greater convenience and ease of use when performing a task as mundane as filling up your car with fuel. No more walking over to a cashier and offering a card for payment, or fiddling with a pay-at-the-pump card system (although I can’t recall seeing one of those at a Shell station) – with the new Shell service, you just complete the transaction with your smartphone whilst sitting comfortably in your car.

Use of mobile devices is prohibited on most petrol station forecourts in the UK. But using this new Shell service should be dead easy from the driver’s seat. Then you get out of the car to fill your tank, get back in the car and drive away when done, with the payment receipt automatically sent to your phone.

I wonder how it could evolve in future. Maybe petrol stations could revert to the service ethic of yore when you had someone who came out to fill your tank while you stayed in your car. You’d add perhaps 10 percent to the cost as a service charge. A small price to pay for the convenience and comfort. Could be quite a service differentiator.

Perhaps something along the lines of what Shell reportedly started offering a few years ago.

shell-forecourt-service

But first things first. I’m looking forward to trying it and adding it to my list of imaginative uses of QR codes, not to the lame list.

Talking tech on live radio

Share RadioFor the past six months, I’ve been taking part in a live radio show every other Tuesday as a guest contributor to a morning show on Share Radio UK, a start-up digital radio station broadcasting in London and online.

It’s huge fun discussing myriad topical stories related to technology with Georgie Frost, presenter of the daily Consuming Issues show, in the segment called #FutureTech.

For about 20-25 minutes, Georgie and I talk about issues and topics that matter to consumers, sharing our thinking about those issues and topics that we think will interest, help or otherwise engage those consumers who listen on DAB or online.

You can get a great sense of what our discussions are like with yesterday’s episode: topics included two of Apple’s announcements on June 8 (Apple Pay in the UK and music streaming), the end of voicemail (perhaps), drones in China that check for student exam cheats, a new app designed to help human rights activists document and store photographs and films that can be shown in court, and wearable tech for wellness in the workplace (a favourite topic of ours). Phew!

Take a listen:

So every other Tuesday morning, I’ve been going to the Share Radio UK studio in Pimlico in London to have a chat about topics that are great stimuli for engaging conversation between two people who really are interested in those topics. Definitely the right foundation for listenable content.

As a podcaster, I’ve experienced one of the major and obvious differences between recording a podcast and doing live radio – with live radio, there is no editing scalpel. Plus, a radio station typically has a production team and researchers, a luxury Shel and I don’t have with our podcasts. Not yet anyway.

In any case, I enjoy these regular every-other-Tuesday live treats on the digital airwaves. Thanks to Georgie and Annie Weston, a great producer, plus the whole team at Share Radio UK.

There’s more of Georgie and me here:

Check out Share Radio UK (try the Android or iOS app). Some great programming and presenters. And take a look at the station’s plans for expansion. Huge potential.

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

Plenty to like in Project Spartan

Project Spartan

Will Microsoft’s Internet Explorer see the sunset later this year?

It’s certainly not my browser of choice. Indeed, I don’t use it at all, preferring Google Chrome on the desktop and mobile and, lately, experimenting with Vivaldi, an impressive new browser that’s based on Google Chromium code.

Since it first appeared in 1995, Internet Explorer has come with the Windows operating system. Unless you manually install an alternative, that’s what you end up with. In Europe until recently, Microsoft was forced by EU law to offer users across the EU a choice of browser on first running Windows.

All this may become just a Windows-and-browser history footnote with Windows 10 – the latest version of Microsoft’s operating system, successor to Windows 8.1, and currently in pre-release public beta – and Project Spartan, a new browser that will come with the new OS and will be the successor to Internet Explorer.

Currently, you can only get Spartan if you’re a member of the Windows Insider testing programme and install the latest build 10049 of the Windows 10 Technical Preview (as the test version is known), released to testers last week.

I’ve been part of the Insider programme for the past six months or so, and was able to install build 10049 this weekend and so get a glimpse of Spartan.

First impressions are always key:

  • Pleasing interface, a very attractive contemporary look to it.
  • Write or type notes directly on a web page, and optionally save them. If you use Spartan on a tablet or other device with a touch screen (and stylus) you write; on a non-touch-screen device – like the Dell desktop PC I’m running Windows 10 on in its own disk partition – you type.
  • Save web pages to a reading list, not just as the traditional favourites bookmarks: a different content organization (and sharing) method.
  • It loads fast and gets content from the web fast. Probably depends on internet connectivity speed for some of that.
  • Impressively quick search-term prediction functionality with the Bing search engine. If this is consistently fast and accurate – getting you what you want and quickly – then I would very likely use it more, maybe even instead of Google search.
  • A reading view sans all the clutter of menu bars, etc. Think of the Kindle.
  • Ask Cortana, voice-activated spoken search. Haven’t tried that yet.

And there’s more, too, that I haven’t looked at yet either. Experimentation to come.

For a beta software product, it’s very advanced and polished, much like the Windows 10 Preview itself.

It’s not entirely ready yet, though, as I discovered when I tried to visit my Google+ page in Spartan.

"Your browser is no longer supported"

At least it gave me an opportunity to try out the Web Note functionality by typing a note directly on the web page as you can see.

I imagine such errors will be addressed before too long. Or that Google does read the memo.

In summary, I think Spartan resets the bar for a contemporary web browser that works well across all platforms, ie, desktop and mobile, and gives you a great experience. But others such as Vivaldi are challenging that bar, not to mention what we’ll no doubt see in upcoming versions of Google Chrome, Firefox and Safari. It’s no guarantee that Spartan will be the browser of choice for a Windows 10 user. Not to mention users in enterprises where Internet Explorer is the king of the common standard imposed on users.

Still, if you are trying out Windows 10, you’ll like Spartan. But will you love it?

The richness of WordCamp London 2015

This past weekend, as many as 600 people got together in North London to talk about things WordPress, the content management system that is the platform of choice for more than 75 million websites worldwide, and is in a market-leading position with blogs.

It was WordCamp London 2015, a three-day event comprising a contributor day on Friday, and the two-day conference over the weekend that I attended, with speakers from across the WordPress community, with talks for designers, developers, writers, business-owners, freelancers, anyone who is at all interested in WordPress.

As a blogger whose blogs run on WordPress – and who first experimented with WordPress in 2004 and launched this blog on the platform in 2006 – I took part in the event to listen, learn, meet some interesting folk and generally increase my knowledge of what you can do with WordPress.

It was actually the third WordCamp I’ve attended in the UK, the last time being some while ago in Cardiff in 2009. That one was especially memorable as it included WordPress founder Matt Mullenweg giving a talk.

In any case, I am very pleased with the time I spent at WordCamp London 2015. The event itself was an excellent example of terrific organization, very professional with no obvious gaps in anything that I saw. It illustrates how things have moved on in just a few years where a seamless experience is what you expect even from a community-focused event like this – and that’s precisely what you got.

It included a delight or two, over and above an expectation. The official swag, for instance – not just a t-shirt but also a very nice woollen scarf. That was unexpected and wholly delightful.

I was impressed with the sheer number of people taking part. Men and women, young and old, coding geeks, developers, designers and “regular folk,” WordCamp London 2015 included everyone who represents today’s WordPress community. It’s quite clear to me that WordPress is now part of the mainstream of what makes up the internet, not just the social web. And everyone knows it.

In the early days (pre-2010), it was just a few who really understood how WordPress works, how to make the most of its capability with themes and plugins, and how to create those themes and plugins. Now, such knowledge is widespread. What’s more, as more people learn about, use and become familiar with WordPress, so overall knowledge increases and spreads and becomes widely accessible as the WordPress ecosystem grows. That means getting help for your questions, or sharing your own knowledge and experiences, is so much easier today as the pool of knowledge continues to expand.

A few highlight impressions from some of the sessions I attended on Saturday and Sunday plus other experiences:

I had an opportunity to get some questions answered about a new feature in the Jetpack uber-plugin for WordPress when I encountered the guys from Brute Protect, a company that makes a security plugin that was acquired last year by Automattic, the people behind WordPress.com.

There was a really good presentation by Luke Wheatle and Sophie Plimbley, two of the key individuals behind a huge WordPress presence at News UK, who talked about building a scalable WordPress. Best phrase I heard: “WordPress is great for news, it’s so easy to use.”

SEO expert Jessica Rose led a great talk about search engine optimization in a packed session that ranged from how to optimize a WordPress site for search to the fundamentals of how search engines rank content. Most useful. Best phrase I heard: “Wow, this is the only time anyone has asked me for help with Bing!”

Tibdit, a service to make and receive micropayments or donations on your blog using Bitcoin, was one of the companies presenting their wares in a small exhibition area in one of the venue buildings. It could be an interesting tool for bloggers looking for small-scale monetization. I plan to try it out to see how it works, etc.

Dave Walker had a good perspective on things:

Two standout messages from Jon Buchan in his most refreshing session on content marketing – “How much money is wasted by experts creating crap?” and “It’s not what is given, it’s how it’s given that matters.”

I learned quite a lot in Bruce Lawson‘s session on responsive images, starting with that very phrase, “responsive images.” He is a good story-teller and his entertaining session was highly popular and pretty full in the largest presentation room. Best phrase I heard: “Safari, the North Korea of browsers.”

A thought-provoking session on user experience in WordPress was led by UX expert Sara Cannon who also shared her knowledge and experience of some really terrific-looking plugins, all of which I will check out:

And she shared her presentation deck.

It’s also worth highlighting a feature of just about any event these days where everyone and everything is so connected. Good friend Christopher Carfi in California noticed that I was at WordCamp London and tweeted to me and his colleague, Mendel Kurland, suggesting we ought to connect.

And so we did…

That’s what I call serendipity!

Check the hashtag #wcldn for all the Twitter chat and for news on other posts, picture uploads, etc, that undoubtedly will come from others in the coming days.