Social business and the internal evangelist

social collaborationAs we find ourselves on the eve of the largest IPO in history, and Mark Zuckerberg is about the join the elite and enviable ‘top 10 richest billionaires’ list at the ripe old age of 27, there can be no doubt that social media has not only revolutionised the way we spend our time and how we interact but also that it is here to stay.

Facebook is not the only social platform but it has been the most active in adding functionality and content, making sure that we spend more time there. The question is why does Facebook spend so much time, effort and money on making our experience richer? Well, the real reason is because Zuckerberg & Co is not selling a platform…
he is selling us!

We are not the customer, we are the product. A product that has an estimate market(ing) value of $100bn.

What Facebook, and social media in general, offers is an incredible and unrivalled insight into the human psyche, behaviour, habits and likes/dislikes. It is this and the fact that social media has changed the way we communicate that makes it such an asset to the business world.

There are already a wide variety of social business platforms out there including giants like Yammer, Jive and MS Lync as well as lesser known options like Igloo. Even Salesforce, the CRM giant has jumped on the bandwagon with Chatter and I suspect we shall see many more come (and go) over the next few years.

Putting the choice of platform aside there are many obvious benefits to implementing a social business strategy, namely that it allows people to collaborate in real-time, facilitates exchanges of ideas and discussions without geographical boundaries. It is more mobile, and provides the generation Z workforce with a platform that is familiar, slick and quick. It allows them to have conversations on their turf, in their language and on their terms (we are after all talking about a generation which is arguably more comfortable typing LOL than actually laughing out loud!).

And of course then there is the cost benefit. Social business platforms are relatively affordable in terms of licence fees but the enormous savings are made in the deployment. As they are to be used ‘out of the box’ and don’t need (can’t/shouldn’t) be bespoke, they are unwrapped and configured in weeks rather than months and there are less bug fixing or training requirements. You don’t need a battery of people in a dark room tinkering away 24/7 to keep it going. Add it all together and the savings over implementing an intranet are enormous (note: that is not to say one replaces the other!).

The fears about conversations getting out of control or it becoming a distraction rather than a benefit are real but with the right governance in place and the essential absence of anonymity, experience shows that these platforms do become self-policing and hugely effective. The harsh reality is that the conversations are going to happen anyway so the question is: would you rather they ‘graffiti the inside of the company or the outside’ (love this analogy but can’t claim it as my own – Thanks Nick Crawford).

But now the million dollar, euro, pound (and soon drachma??) question is: what makes them successful?

I am sure some may disagree and offer suggestions like usability, adoption campaign/internal marketing (all of which are important!) but for me it is the same ingredient that made external social media platforms such a success: The Evangelist.

This is the person who is first to post a comment. The first to like a post or start a poll. The first to use locations to identify where he/she is. More importantly the person who loves to talk about it and who people listen to.

Identify your evangelist(s), give them subtle incentives, allow them to be the ‘alpha leader’ who influences the rest. Make them part of your core team and let their enthusiasm enthuse others. There are few things as effective as endorsements from your peers and colleagues.

It is these evangelists that have a commanding influence over success and failure. Embrace them, I say!

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Intranet trends for 2012

It is generally accepted that Intranets will play an even more important role this coming year, as companies begin to understand the ways they can use it to address their business pains, and help create efficiencies, as well improve employee engagement (and thereby satisfaction). Here are a few trends that I think will be important in 2012.

1. Importance of people

This might seem a little obvious but it is probably the most fundamental trend for 2012 and one that underpins all the suggestions I mention below. Intranets will need to focus more on the users. They will need to talk to them in their language and on their turf. This will be brought about by a shift from the traditional departmentalised approach to organisations (i.e. internal comms, HR, finance, etc.) to working together to focus on the needs and best interests of the user.

2. Higher expectations

As a new generation of employees is being on-boarded, organisations are going to have to accommodate their expectations as well. These new members of the team don’t know a world without apps or social media sites. Sites like Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn have had a profound impact on the expectations of ‘look & feel’, simplicity of navigation, and functionality. Users expect an increased level of engagement and immediate and dynamic communication. This will need to be reflected in your Intranet layout and functionality.

3. Mobile

Most businesses understand the importance of making their Intranet more accessible, whether that is on mobile phones (through mobile sites or apps) or mobile device friendly (including tablets and iPads). The target should not be transporting the whole Intranet onto other devices but to instead to deliver the right content and functionality to an ever-increasing workforce, such as collaborative tools, people finders and segmented news.

4. Social collaboration

I believe that businesses should focus on creating fully integrated social workspaces throughout their organisations. Facilitating knowledge sharing and collaboration will lead to better informed and more engaged employees. To achieve this will require companies to combine the best platforms and technologies, i.e. social collaboration platforms like Jive merging with content management platforms like SharePoint, integrating profiles with LinkedIn, etc.

5. Findability

As user-generated content is being added to the already growing levels of corporate content and documentation, surfacing relevant information becomes more challenging. In 2012, faceted and semantic search functionality will become essential to sift through the noise. Search-driven menus and navigation will become more prominent and Intranet managers will need to spend more time looking at statistics and search logs to ensure the site is making the ‘right’ content available to the user.

6. Content

Although this was one of the trends I highlighted in 2011, I see this continuing in 2012. This will be the year of ‘content culling’ and ‘content segmentation’. As the ‘noise’ levels increase, people will have even less time (and patience) to wade through irrelevant content. Ensure that your content is streamlined, up-to-date and customise-able. Ensure that the content is also relevant to new methods of delivery like mobile devices and don’t forget self-help content and e-learning.

To conclude:

I believe 2012 will see a shift from ‘Intranet’ to ‘digital workspace’ – a space that focuses on the users and the tasks they need to perform rather than on technology. Different platforms will need to work seamlessly together to make collaboration easier and these needs to be accessible whenever and wherever the user finds themselves.

 

Interesting event:  The Intranet and beyond… – 29th February @ Hospital Club

This event, organised by View Plc (where I work), will look at case studies from large multinationals who have implemented SharePoint and enterprise social collaboration software (Jive and Yammer) to communicate with there internal audience. It will focus on the highs and lows, the challenges and the achievements. There will be expert’s speakers, real client case studies and a lovely continental breakfast to accompany it all!

To register your interest please send an email to – nclayton@viewplc.com

A Merry Christmas and a Digital New Year

Is it wrong to say “It has been a great year!”? Well, there… I have said it. And it is true!

I know the credit crisis has affected us all, budgets are shrinking and we have to fight much harder to win new clients and bring in projects.

But working hard is only a negative if you don’t enjoy what you are doing. I am very lucky that I love what I do.

Secondly, although it is true that budgets are shrinking, there is always spare cash for great ideas. It just means that we have to work smarter and give our clients more. This arrangement can sometimes feel a little one sided, but my experience has shown that a little more effort does pay off.

For me 2011 has been the year of the Intranet. Although I have been active in public facing digital work, I have found the developments in internal communication the most fascinating and exciting. There has been a massive shift in the perception of importance of Intranets amongst large corporate clients.

The realisation that Intranets are more than just document repositories and address books is now commonplace. The focus on making them more collaborative, most significantly through Social Collaboration (social media, social networking, social listening, etc.) has allowed me to work on some exciting projects this year (and get involved in some heated but interesting debates).

My prediction for 2012: Intranets will no longer be treated as a ‘bit of software’ but as communications platforms that need/deserve the same strategic approach as Above The Line advertising has enjoyed for decades. And why not? Every Intranet user is after all a consumer, and should be treated as such.

So for my Intranet recommendations for 2012: focus on tasks and platform delivery (namely mobile) and consider the importance of adoption campaigns (think advertising!) as well as introducing (very) rich content.

Public facing digital: there is still a lot to do in 2012…we need to work hard at making our solutions more distinguished! We have had personalised content for a while now, but in the coming year we need to make sure that web sites know what we are looking for before we do (intelligent personalisation)!

That is it for me for 2011 – festive greetings, merry Christmas but most importantly…have a digital New Year!

Mike

An Intranet is not just for Christmas!

I admit that the title is a little obvious given the time of the year but that makes it all the more appropriate for the purpose of this article.

For those who are not sure what an Intranet is, I am afraid the Wikipedia definition is not particularly helpful and will probably only add to any existing confusion. Essentially an Intranet is an internal platform that allows people within an organisation to share documents and content.

Most of the businesses I work with already have an Intranet, or even several Intranets. They have had them for several years. However, all too often, their purpose has long been forgotten. It is there and people use it but mainly to order sandwiches or as a very expensive common address book, and the organisation might use it to force-feed corporate news that nobody reads. A little harsh…yes, but true!

Most of these Intranets were set up with the best intentions, but after they were deployed, or sticking with the Christmas analogy ‘unwrapped’, there was initial excitement but after a few months they were left to fend for themselves. Not unlike most Christmas presents.

So what makes a good Intranet…one that is not left abandoned?

  1. Good looks – yes, sadly in the Intranet world, good looks are key. Users are now so used to seeing attractive web content and web sites, that an Intranet simply has to follow suit if it to stand a chance. This doesn’t mean bells and whistles but it needs to looks alive and engaging.
  2. Address business issues – the Intranet is one of the most effective mechanism to address change, cultural divides, HR challenges, collaboration. Make sure you have clearly defined business objectives and that the Intranet is addressing them. Don’t try to hide from the negative issues and challenges either. Your staff know they exist…so use the Intranet to deal with them.
  3. Content, content, content – it is all about the content. Make sure that you know what the users are looking for and surface it in the right place. Create content owners and content focus groups. Train people on how to create interesting content. Provide guidance through ‘how to guides’.
  4. Accessibility & mobility – according to the Office for National Statistics mobile internet usage is now nearing 50%. Consider your users. How are they accessing information? Would they (and therefore the business) benefit from a mobile (or even multi-device) friendly version. These can be easily implemented using platforms like SharePoint or Sitecore at a negligible cost, but with considerable benefits.
  5. Communicate & market – promote your Intranet, launch it with a bang and keep promoting it.’Build it and they will come’ might have worked in Field of Dreams, but it doesn’t work for Intranet. An Intranet needs to be supported by communication and marketing campaigns. A nice example I saw last week was a client of mine offering an iPod to the person who invited the most colleagues to set up their MySite.
  6. Dedicated core team(s) and buy-in from the boss – create core teams that are responsible for the Intranet and its content. Get senior management to set the example. One of my clients runs a great blog on their SP2010 Intranet. Hugely popular and throws down the gauntlet to the rest of the organisation.
  7. Governance – I know…it sound bureaucratic and maybe even a little dull…but it is essential. Strong governance is a critical component of a well managed and effective intranet. A governance model will provide clarity, give purpose to the content and avoid duplicating effort and costs. Consider not just an operational but also a content governance model.
  8. Measure success – statistics and analytics are used for public facing web sites, but rarely on the radar for Intranets. Metrics are hugely important to know what people are visiting, how they are getting there and where they are exiting (read losing interest). I would strongly suggest monthly evaluations!

Finally…An Intranet is not just for Christmas!…Build on it, let it evolve, refresh it, reassess its functionality, measure its effectiveness and keep your fingers on the pulse of technology. Tomorrow social media will be today’s fax machine. Digital moves fast and your Intranet should be at the cusp of technology because most of your users are.

Merry Christmas and festive seasons greetings to all!