Hidden Signals

Communication comes in many forms, not all of them verbal and many of them under-valued… If eBay has taught us anything, it is that what one person considers waste can be another person’s prized possession.

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How to pilot social media tools

Flickr - Map Reading

To navigate social media, you need a champion within HR for internal adoption, recognise the constraints your industry operates within, and actively engage with influencers on external channels.

I recently presented at the J.Boye Conference in Aarhus and had the chance to sit in on some other sessions including three great examples of how to pilot, introduce and adopt social tools for business. Two were focused internally, improving employee engagement. One was external, focused on customer engagement. All had great lessons to share. Here are a few soundbites.


Luis Suarez presented lessons learned by IBM since introducing BlueIQ ten years ago to increase knowledge sharing and collaboration internally. It followed the old adage – happy employees lead to happy customers. Ignore that correlation at your peril in this new connected world we live in. The early adopters of BlueIQ were often the black sheep in their groups, the disrupters upsetting the status quo. BlueIQ gave them a community (and an authentic voice). The initiative has since grown to over 50,000 active participants globally.

There was lots of great advice, but these two quotes particularly stood out:

“You can be appointed a manager but you have to demonstrate leadership, every day.”

When asked if there is anything that could or should have been done differently earlier in the project, Luis gave a great tip:

“To drive adoption of social tools internally, you really need to find a champion in HR. Because they have the power to do anything regarding employees.”

Wise words.

UBS Global

Peter Barnes is the global head of web communication and collaboration IT for UBS. It was great to hear his story as a number of my own clients are challenged with embracing online, mobile and social technologies within the constraints of tightly regulated industries.

UBS deployed Jive three years ago with a specific intent – improve customer service. Working within the confines of the banking sector meant that it is very difficult to be as transparent with information as many people would like. For starters, the solution had to be on-premise. Cloud-based alternatives were not an option. And a vetting process was needed to ensure no client-identifiable information was shared. UBS had 6 developers working on their deployment to tweak Jive to meet their needs.

To give an idea of the challenges, here’s my most re-tweeted soundbite from the conference, posted during the session:

“The four horse riders of the apocalypse just referenced by UBS at JBoye13 – head of legal, head of compliance, head of risk and head of HR”

Sometimes, ‘just do it’ is simply not possible. It’s easy to bash roles such as legal and compliance but it is their livelihoods on the line if something goes wrong and they are accused of being negligent in their duties.

A great tip shared was the introduction of a ‘whistle blower’ account that anyone could contact if they spotted content being shared that they were concerned about.

BNP Paribas Fortis

Benoit Minvielle is head of e-Communication, Social Media and Innovation at BNP Paribas Fortis (BNPPFF). He presented a case study that walked through one of the best run pilots in social media tools I’ve seen. They launched 2 years ago with a very small deployment, initially in Belgium.

The first step taken was to monitor and listen to what customers were saying, and where. They found that most questions were being posted on Facebook. They also analysed the overall market and found that 4 million customers in BNPPFF were logging in twice a day on social networks.

The decision to move from 1-way to 2-way communications was not taken lightly. They recognised that it would require very different business practices. Crisis management is one of the most visibly affected processes – most will now be heard about first on social media channels. Real-time monitoring was implemented and paired with a ’24 x 7′ alerting system to also be able to respond in real-time. Backed up with the more traditional reporting and analytics to study trends on a regular basis and send outputs to appropriate departments.

BNP Paribas Fortis

(Click to view larger image)

BNPPFF implemented a ‘Social Media Command Centre’ integrating with the different business areas. Some required the real-time statistics, others needed structured reports for more organised reactions. The image above shows some of the different departments involved.

To learn from the pilot, they did monitor stats on the sites, such as likes. But were much more interested in quality than quantity. BNPPFF identified influencers and targeted them to become actively involved in the channels. They were considered key to the positive outcomes achieved. But for two-way conversations to work, you have to be good at listening and expect the conversation to not always be about you:

“Be authentic, listen and engage. Don’t control”

When asked what impact engaging on social media channels had had on sales, Benoit responded that this is not yet a Point of Sale. BNPPFF are net attempting to sell any products through social media channels. That may happen later, but for now it is about added value through better customer engagement.

Three great case studies and presenters. Thanks so much to Luis, Peter and Benoit for sharing and to Janus and the team for organising a great conference. If you’re interested in attending a future one, they are currently held annually in Philadelphi, US and Aarhus, Denmark. Visit the J.Boye web site for details.

Flickr image ‘Map reading‘ kindly shared by Zoetnet

Two simple tips to reduce email


For all the new developments in communications involving social media tools, email continues to be a daily burden for most information and knowledge-based roles. And mobile devices ensure we can access it (just about) anywhere. Here are two simple tips that could help significantly reduce the volume of email at work and free up time to go do something more interesting instead. (Brits of a certain age should start humming ‘Why don’t you..?’) Genuine spam emails… well that’s a whole other matter. But there really is no excuse for business spam draining productivity.

1. Change the channel

The first tip is technology-focused. Change the medium. Email is great for person-to-person questions and answers, and prompts that don’t require an instant response. If somebody is busy with something else, all email can wait. But at least it is stacked up in a neat digital pile waiting to be dealt with. But many communications do require an instant response and work is increasingly collaborative beyond two people. Relying on email for these scenarios creates unnecessary overheads and distractions.

Two channels can help reduce ineffective email: instant messaging and enterprise social networks.

Instant messaging trumps email when an instant response is needed. Presence status (online or offline) gives an immediate indication of the likelihood of getting a response – you only message with people who are currently online. This saves sending an email out to multiple people, only for all  but one to find out they didn’t need to bother reading it because the one had already provided a response. Instant messaging can also be used for 1:1 and group-based chats. Sessions can be recorded if the content has any value for non-participants to view on-demand later. But instant messaging is at its best for rapid real-time interactions. Answer the question, close the chat window and move on, no need to file the outcome.

Enterprise social networks (ESN) trump email for conversations involving more than two participants, providing an organised threaded conversation that new members can easily join and catch-up on what has already been said or shared.  ESNs can be updated in real-time like instant messaging, but can also pause whilst people get on with other matters, later returning to check on updates and comment if necessary. They can be tagged, making it easier to find and join discussions, and avoid duplicating the same conversation in multiple different silo’d groups, as can often happen when using email.

2. Change behaviour

The second tip is people-focused. Change habits. Whilst many people are quick to moan about how many unnecessary emails they receive at work, they are often as guilty as the next person for adding to the overload. Are people hitting ‘cc-all/reply-all’ because they think everyone needs to be informed of the response or because they want to be seen to be communicating? How many emails are sent out in bulk ‘for information purposes’. All of those should be up on an intranet, not bouncing around messaging networks. Use email for the exceptions, the alerts, the prods where action is required from that specific individual, the recipient of the email.

A simple rule of thumb – if people are setting up rules to automatically route incoming emails of a certain type to a certain folder, that email isn’t worth sending.

The quickest and easiest way to reduce email within an organisation is to start at the top, with management. If people are suffering from the ‘cover your arse’ syndrome that is cc-all/reply-all, that’s a management issue. If people are distributing out standard reports and updates where no action is required, that’s a management issue. And the excuse is always the same: ‘…it’s the way things are done around here’. So to change is simple. Get managers to stop doing it and others will soon follow.

And if you don’t believe me, a report has been produced by other consultants who have found exactly the same outcome and quantified the results. As reported in the Harvard Business Review last month. Targeting just the senior management team within an organisation, the goal was to cut their email output by 20% within four months. Within three months, total email output from the group had dropped by 54% and the ripple effects led to a 64% drop across all employees.

The report can be viewed online: To Reduce E-mail, Start at the Top – Harvard Business Review, September 2013

And for those Brits of a certain age, the rest of that tune…

Smashing up TVs, using knives unsupervised, preparing food without wearing gloves… how did we make it to adulthood 🙂

Flickr image: Checking Email kindly shared under Creative Commons by Brian Legate

The need for conversational skills


A big disruption brought about by social media and online social networks has been in the transition of power in a conversation from the organisation to the individual. Effective conversations are more important than ever.

Whilst many organisations are taking social media seriously for business, there can be a tendency or desire to focus on deploying readily available technologies without appreciating the importance of the human role in the process.

Salesforce recently wrote an article about four sales and technology trends nobody is talking about. Three of the four centred on the importance of developing effective communications skills. Not just what you say, but how you convey it:

  1. Young sales reps lack traditional skills

     Whilst today’s graduates are very sophisticated when it comes to using technology, they are often not so smart when it comes to people skills and a nose for sales

  2. Buyers are making decisions without human help

    The sales person’s role is no longer to provide information about a product. Their role now is to add value by understanding the needs of a customer

  3. Video sales enablement is in and phones are out

    Only so much can be understood through words, while body language is much more effective

Tim Brown, CEO at IDEO, recently wrote about the need to improve communications in an increasingly complicated and interconnected world. He quotes Peter Drucker:

The most important thing in communication is to hear what isn’t being said

That quote, pardon the pun, says it all! You can’t just recruit people to manage social media channels based on their knowledge of modern technologies and having grown up surrounded by social media meaning they ‘get it’. In most cases, there are still real humans behind every online account. A good conversation requires being able to relate to the other person, the individual.

To give an example. Guy Stephens recently asked if the @NHSDirect account lacked empathy:


It wasn’t the most sensitive of responses to a distressing situation.

Whilst the information may have been accurate, the response takes no notice of the emotions conveyed behind the message. Scanning through the past two weeks of tweets, the tone is consistently efficient delivered in a light-hearted and friendly manner. In most cases, that approach works works very well. But here’s another example where it falls flat:


When somebody includes the hashtags ‘so ill, ‘need advice’ and ‘please’, I’m not sure ending your response with a smiley face is the best choice. There is no variation in the tone of the @NHSDirect conversation. No adjustment based on the sensitivity or severity of the question or comment. A novice mistake.

In comparison, a local police Twitter account manages to combine serious and useful updates with light-hearted banter, as demonstrated in the images below:


A serious question is given a serious response that they can act upon, immediatley. The @NHSDirect version would have probably been along the lines ‘Sorry, we can’t give out legal advice, you could try this page <link>. Take care.’

For the light-hearted approach from @SolihullPolice, this still remains one of my favourites:


It’s a fine line between what works and what doesn’t. Varying the tone based on the situation can play a big part in determining how people react to information. Investing in conversational skills is a must for organisations to be effective in social media channels. And I suspect many organisations will fail to recognise the natural talent they already employ, as demonstrated in a related article – Networks need individuals who care.


Related articles

p.s. If you’re wondering why an image of a horse was used for this post. Horses can’t talk but that doesn’t stop them from communicating…

What we share online in 60 seconds

60 Seconds - Things That Happen On Internet Every Sixty Seconds

For online communications in a world where information can be shared in an instant, does blogging still matter? Choose the shortest format to tell your story and work back from there to cover the different platforms where your audience resides

Neville Hobson, also known as @jangles, has posted a recent presentation to Slideshare: Is there any point in blogging? The slides are a great walkthrough the different formats now popular for communicating online and how organisations can use the channels effectvely. Also included in the slides is the infographic above. Published in June 2011 by GO-Gulf.com, it gives a real feel for the massive volume of opinions flowing across the Internet and why ‘big data’ matters. Imagine being able to mine those insights in real-time to influence decisions.

Here’s Jangles slidedeck:

And back to the question that forms the title. Is there any point in blogging? Well here I am, writing a blog post… 🙂 But the answer, in true consulting style is ‘it depends’. The overall value is definitely lower than 5 years ago due to the sheer number of blogs out there. Thanks to power laws and long tails, discoverability now has little correlation with quality of the content. Industries that benefit from visuals and location-awareness may find short format alternatives like Instagram and Pinterest of more benefit than the longer format of traditional text-y blog posts.

Two tips to get the most value out of blogging/online communications:

  • If you have to pick one medium, choose the shortest format that tells the story. Work back from there.
  • Make the content available on the platforms that your target audience inhabits.

Microsoft introduces Outlook.com

Today Microsoft has announced a major overhaul to their online email service, Hotmail.

Pointless sidenote: Somebody told me about Hotmail back in 1997 and I originally had the address snr@hotmail.com but lost it when I forgot about the account. When I next logged in, after Microsoft had acquired it (around 1999 I think), the nearest I could get to snr included a 4-digit number tagged on the end….

Anyways, back to the subject of this post. Microsoft have announced a new updated version of the service that will use the domain Outlook.com named after their popular email client. However, the interface is not Outlook as we know it but instead adopts the new Metro user interface being introduced with Windows 8 and also being applied to just about all of Microsoft’s online services.

Here’s a screenshot (click on it to view larger):

Screenshot from Outlook.com inbox

Should enjoy an empty inbox while it lasts…

Note the sidebar down the right side of the screen. Lots of emphasis on social networks and sharing contacts and content.

Here’s a preview video from Microsoft

[ba-youtubeflex videoid=”uDI6Itn7soQ”]

Interesting to see Skype integration highlighted. Lots more details and screenshots included in the Verge article, link below.

Source: The Verge, 31 July 2012

Networks need individuals who care

A news story did the social media rounds earlier this year – Why we’re renaming Tiger Bread to Giraffe Bread by J Sainsbury plc.

Pop over and read the story. A three-year-old called Lily, with the help of her mother, wrote to Sainsbury’s supermarket suggesting that the markings on their Tiger Bread look more like a giraffe than a tiger.  The response got blogged, liked 150,000 times on Facebook and Tweeted 48,000 times. People started contacting the supermarket supporting the suggestion and…

In response to overwhelming customer feedback that our Tiger Bread has more resemblance to a giraffe, from today we will be changing our Tiger Bread to Giraffe Bread and seeing how that goes.

Full marks for using such human language in the announcement above instead of the corporate speak we all too often still see. But at the core of this story is the individual nature of the response written to Lily. Had it been a bland statement, I doubt it would have gone viral.

The image below contains the response that Sainsbury’s sent to Lily

From the letter:

I think renaming tiger bread giraffe bread is a brilliant idea – it looks much more like the blotches on a giraffe than the stripes on a tiger, doesn’t it?

It is called tiger bread because the the first baker who made it a looong time ago thought that it looked like stripey like a tiger. Maybe they were a bit silly.

I really liked reading your letter so I thought I would send you a little present. I’ve put a £3 gift card in with this letter. If you ask your mum or dad to take you to Sainsbury’s you could use it to buy some of your own tiger bread (and maybe if mum and dad say its OK you can get some sweeties too).

What a lovely response. And written directly to Lily, not her parents. You can see why her mom decided to blog about it. I wonder if this was a one off from an excellent customer manager or the approach encouraged by Sainsbury’s? It’s not the only example. Recently, somebody complained about one of Sainsbury’s sandwiches on Twitter:

Another Sainsbury’s Twitter account replied with a phone number to call and an apology

[sorry] you had to wrestle your way through the sandwich.

Much of the debate about social media is focused on the shift in speed and spread of communications thanks to Internet and mobile technologies. A good or bad story can spread virally and the organisation impacted by that story can do little to control it. Enter the corporate social media handbook and analytics tools.

What is rarely acknowledged is that all memorable stories involve individuals who cared enough to do something different. Being able to provide a quick, tailored outcome appropriate to the situation requires a skill. A skill that isn’t sufficiently recognised.  Would I be writing about tiger giraffe bread if Lily had received a standard scripted corporate response?

For social media efforts to be truly valuable for business, you need people who care and enjoy what they are doing. How organisations train and treat their employees matters more than ever. The focus is too often on investing in technology rather than in recruiting the right people.