Category Archives: Digital

Employee advocacy – 3 things to think about

I’ve spent the last two days at Quadriga’s Internal Communication conference in Berlin. Leading internal communications in a corporate team covering several European markets, it’s important to look beyond British borders at the good work being done elsewhere in Europe.

The conference theme was ‘Matching Employee Activism and Internal Digitalisation’ – or to put it more simply, how digital helps your people do things better. The conference programme gives you a flavour of what was covered.

I’m a long-standing fan of using digital to help employees respond and interact with their organisation’s leaders, news and information and each other – generally to help them work easier, faster and smarter. It was especially refreshing to see some clever and creative ways that companies are using digital to reach and engage remote workforces to improve customer service, reduce costs or foster a sense of belonging.

Employee advocacy

What became apparent is the idea of employee advocacy – using the power of your people to promote your organisation, usually via social media – is becoming more mainstream. Organisations are recognising that what employees say or share about who they work for is generally trusted more than the CEO or other execs, and are tapping into that to improve their corporate reputation.

It all sounds great, doesn’t it? An army of advocates happily liking, faving, re-tweeting and blogging on your behalf – saving you thousands in paid media and giving your trust and reputation scores a loving lift in the process.

But before anyone gets started in earnest, I think there are three things organisations need to consider:

Do your employees want to do this for you? Engaged employees are a prerequisite or you may end up the opposite effect. Tap into projects where people are more likely to support your approach. Starting small is a good way to build confidence in what’s still a relatively new concept.

Your content should sparkle. Are employees really going to want to share something that’s poorly written, designed or produced? Work closely with teams and functions who have an interest in seeing you succeed, like external comms and marketing, set your standards high and think like a consumer in the outside world –because ultimately, that’s what your employees are and who you’re trying to reach via them. It’s still vital to know your audience and understand what’s relevant to them.

If you can’t measure it, don’t do it. Arm yourself with data that demonstrates the reach and impact of what employees are sharing for you. Is it supporting the goals you’ve set out to achieve? Check frequently, adjust or even abandon if it’s not working as you intended.

Are you developing an employee advocacy programme in your organisation? What tips and tricks would you add? Let me know what you think.

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Are communicators ready for social business?

A former monastery deep in the lush rolling Swiss countryside wasn’t the first setting I had in mind when I joined my CIO at a roundtable meeting yesterday with his peers and other communications leaders to talk about social business in the 21st century.

No need to set your iPhone alarm here; the solemn peal of the friary bell sees to it that you’re awake early. Twitter? That’ll be the dawn chorus. And salvation is super-fast wi-fi, and a receptionist with a boxful of travel adaptors for the latest Brit who forgot that Switzerland has its very own shape of plug socket.

In these contemplative surroundings, the discussion covered the opportunities and challenges for IT and communications brought about by social business – which, in this context, is about using communications and collaborations tools and techniques to unlock value and productivity for organisations.

We talked about interactions and collaboration inside and outside of the organisation – with consumers, customers, influencers and employees. Chatham House rules mean I’m taking a vow of silence on the details of the meeting, but here are a few things they’ve left me reflecting.

Social business is growing fast, and the best organisations and teams are recognising this and adapting now. For communicators, that means becoming more agile, interactive and responsive to the needs of their customers and communities, internal or external. Flexibility is key – be prepared to think and act differently; to try new things and move on quickly if the solution’s not quite right.

Social is a mindset, not a channel. The organisations most likely to thrive as a social business are those whose leaders and culture already embrace and value feedback, discussion, challenge and change. If command, control and cascade still outweigh creativity and conversation, no amount of social tools or channels will help you to succeed.

The purpose of a social approach needs to be clear for all concerned. Goals and outcomes still matter. Social for social’s sake will be shortlived. People need to understand what you’re trying to achieve, and good change management and communications is at the heart of the matter. As communicators, we can’t forget the basics of a well-understood, well-prepared and well-executed plan in this respect.

Measurement matters like never before. If you’re not tracking and listening, it’s time to start. If you’re doing it, do more. There are more data and analytics available to business and communicators than ever. Social businesses make the most of this to ensure information is delivered, exchanged and used in a smart, effective and insightful way.

For social business to succeed, IT needs communications, and communications needs IT. If it’s not already happened, IT will soon be as important a partner to communications as HR and marketing. Regardless of their organisation’s industry, progressive CIOs are serious about social communication and collaboration and are investing in the tools and platforms to enable it. Communicators can help these come alive and thrive by creating and curating smart content, and helping the business to understand and act on the insights.

What do you think? Is your business becoming more social? Do you agree or disagree with my thoughts? Have I missed something important? I’d love to hear what you think.

Is your employee content fit for a king?

I’m at the annual European Communication Summit in Brussels – my second visit and a conference worth attending if you can. Speakers and delegates are from across the continent, giving a fresh perspective if you have a pan-European role like me, and the event covers the full range of corporate communications – meaning there’s always something new to learn from other disciplines.

A big attraction this year is the focus on digital – and day one didn’t disappoint. A cracking keynote from Jimmy Maymann, CEO of The Huffington Post; smart social media insights from Lego; and, closer to home, how The Coca-Cola Company has brought Coca-Cola Journey, its ground-breaking media platform, to Germany.

What’s clear is that content is king and conversations are fast becoming the heir to the throne – driven by technology, informed by data and powered by mobile. But in this digital realm, does internal communications content treat employees like princes or paupers?

I tweeted (with some reaction) that my biggest learning from the first day was that we must deliver employee content to the same standards that they’d expect to receive as consumers. We’ve been talking digital here but that goes for employee magazines as much as e-zines or intranets. Our job is to bring alive the vision, strategies and goals of our organisations for employees through great stories, slick writing and creative thinking coupled with meaningful dialogue – first so they actually notice; then so they engage with it; and then so they care.

Before long, organisations that don’t appreciate the reality of the digital world their people live in are likely to get left behind. Rely on the cascade and ignore the conversations at your peril. And if you think this is solely the preserve of the tech companies or the big-budget super-brands, think again. I heard at least two examples here of manufacturing and financial organisations who are embracing this approach.

Why? Because increasingly, employees are the barometer of how trustworthy your organisation is. They’re now a more credible source of information than the CEO. Nurture and cultivate them and they’ll be your best ambassadors, telling your company’s story as well as driving engagement, reputation and trust.

Consumerising your employee content – whether that’s a simpler tone of voice, a shorter, sharper word count or tackling some challenging subjects in a different way – means taking a few risks. You’ll have some great ideas. Some will be too expensive, some will take off and some will be duds – but it’s OK to fail fast. One speaker here said rightly that speed now trumps perfection.

You’ll also have a few sceptical leaders to convince that it’s the right thing to do, but most are alive to the fact that corporate reputations grow through transparency and authenticity. Who better to build that than your employees, supported by great content that’s created and curated by you?

Digital communications – some secret ingredients

I was chatting to some fellow internal communicators recently about our digital work at Coca-Cola Enterprises, and it wasn’t until afterwards that I realised what a frantic – and fantastic – few years it’s been.

In that time we’ve launched an internal social network now used by 70 per cent of our employees, re-launched our intranet (front end once, back end twice), introduced a mobile version of it and revamped our digital signage system. We’ve won a few awards along the way, learned from other organisations who’ve been interested in what we’ve done and shared our story at conferences and seminars across Europe.

The journey never ends – we have more ambitious plans for the year ahead – but it feels like the right time to reflect on how we’ve achieved what’s happened so far. And believe it or not, it’s not down to bundles of budget. So here are some of our secret ingredients…

Have a clear purpose and goals
Almost everything we’ve done is with the main aim of improving employee productivity – which supports business goals about efficiency and effectiveness. We’ve set out to make things easier, faster and better for people to read, find or do. Everything we’ve delivered gets marked against that mantra. Better communications is a healthy by-product, but it wasn’t what we’d chiefly set out to achieve. As with all good strategies and plans, know what it is you need to achieve – and stick to it.

Governance is golden
Building on the earlier point, you can have the best-looking intranet in the world but it’s not much use if it’s not doing what your organisation wants. So who’s holding the experts and enthusiasts to account? Each quarter, commercial and operational leaders meet with the communications, IT and HR teams who manage our digital tools and channels. They act as challenger and champion, ensuring there’s a common understanding around the table of what’s needed and what’s being delivered, and then sharing that story back in the business. Without them, we wouldn’t have made so much progress – not least because this governance group has C-suite sponsors. Three of our CEO’s team, including our CIO, attend almost every meeting and the top man himself joins at least once a year. If you have leaders who you know will recognise the value that digital can add to your organisation, get them together to support and drive your agenda.

Listen to your employees
It’s a no-brainer, right? You’re clear on your goals, you know what your organisation needs, you have the support of its leaders – but what about the people on the receiving end? Ask, listen, respond, repeat. Survey, quick poll, show of hands, focus group – it all counts. Clock up the road, rail and air miles to go and hear what they have to say, and feed it into your decision-making. What’s slowing their job down? What’s stopping them from spending more time with customers, or going home on time? How can digital communications make that better? It’s worth the effort, because I guarantee you’ll be enlightened every time, you’ll be even clearer on your purpose – and you’ll be appreciated for taking the time to listen.

Have your eyes on the horizon
Technology moves fast – so do you know enough about what’s ahead to anticipate how it may help or hinder your organisation? One of things I like most about digital communications is the pace of change. But that means you need to be on your toes. So absorb as much as you can from your colleagues, peers and other organisations. Get out there, physically or virtually, and understand new ideas, ways of working and how things are done elsewhere. There have never been so many ways to learn from others, so take advantage. It will add value to your organisation by the bucket-load.

So that’s our story – what’s yours? Anything missing? Really interested to hear how you’ve made digital communications work in your organisation, or the challenges you face.