The ideal advertising client – NOT

Facepalm from Wikipedia
Ohhh not again!

Vacation and lousy weather often result in sorting out old files and drawers. This summer is no exception.

In one of those piles of papers I found a list which I must have created in a moment of frustration during my days as an Account and Project Manager at an Advertising and Communications Agency a decade and a half ago. I just couldn’t throw it away without sharing it in a blog post to see if others recognise some of these too frequent behaviours of advertising clients. Do you?

  1. Always ask for a bigger logo
  2. Always as for the product to be presented on page 1
  3. Always list three or more product characteristics that all have to be included in the headline
  4. If there’s something in the suggestions from the agency that you don’t like, say so. But don’t tell them why.
  5. Ask for advice but do something else
  6. Approve substantial costs without blinking an eyelid, but scrutinise all studio and courier costs in detail
  7. Obtain creative briefs, time plans and quotes only to later decide to do it all in-house, using said creative briefs, time plans and quotes
  8. Give feedback three weeks behind schedule but still get upset when the project runs late
  9. Always question why the copywriter should take part in the initial idea phase
  10. Always and every time, surprise the agency with panic jobs at five to five, preferably on Fridays.

On the other hand, I learned that the cardinal mistake by advertising and communications agencies was… lack of communications. A lesson I have brought with me to everything I’ve worked with subsequently. Projects usually start of very intensively. Lots of communications, briefings, quotes, ideas, suggestions, planning and other interactions. Later, you usually enter a phase of research, production or similar desk work. Even if everything runs just smoothly and according to plan, it’s easy to go silent. “Busy working. Don’t disturb”. But after that phase of intensive communications, it’s easy that clients get “withdrawal symptoms”. If they don’t hear from you, their mind starts generating all kinds of fantasies of what might have gone wrong. And “no news is good news” becomes “no news means the agency is busy working on a new pitch for another client” (which may be true from time to time, unfortunately).

So, just keep communicating. Even if it’s just a message of “We’re on schedule”, “All’s working as planned”, “Here’s an example of where we are right now” or something else comforting the troubled mind. Just don’t go silent.

Helping out while chilling out

Helping out while chilling out
Credit: Franklin Pi, Flickr. Published under Creative Commons

At the end of today, I will switch on my out of office message and leave for three weeks of vacation. But colleagues who reach out to me will still have a fair chance to get the help they need and their questions answered.

Not by me, though. By my internal network.

In IBM, where I work, we have a huge internal social network. Like here on LinkedIn but within the firewall (plus blogs, easy web publishing, social bookmarks, forums, ideation and some other things that you have to combine from different providers on the public web). It’s called IBM Connections and is my major source for work efficiency, effectiveness, inspiration …. and help.

So, instead of the usual OOO telling you that I’m gone, that I’ll be back on 14 August and leaving you waiting until then, my message says: “I’m on vacation until 14 August. If you post your question on my board in IBM Connections instead <link>, my helpful network of about 1800 IBM’ers will have a chance to help you in the meantime (unless it’s about something sensitive or confidential of course. If it is, and urgent too, please send me a text message and I will try to get back to you.)”

This way, colleagues in need of help have a good chance of getting it and there will be fewer urgent things overloading my inbox on my return. Win-win!

And OOO that not only tells you when people will return, but that actually solves problems too! How’s that for a personal and business benefit of having and using an #ESN, Enterprise Social Network?

I have three accounts on Twitter. Should I?

I use three different accounts on Twitter. It’s not too much trouble, since I can handle them all in the free version of Hootsuite, but it would be easier with just one, of course.

Some people argue that you should use one twitter handle only, because you are one person and your handle is your Twitter representation of that single person.

My reason is simple: I don’t expect Twitter audiences to be overly interested in me as a person, but hopefully in the content I share. Therefore I use:

@thesocialswede for content primarily on communications, marketing, user experience, transparent ways of working, social tools and intranets – in English only

@Bjebeje for the same topics but sometimes in Swedish or for content I don’t expect to be relevant for non-Swedes

@peterbjellerup for more personal or random content

As I expect people to follow me on Twitter because they appreciate my tweets, I don’t want to disappoint or surprise them by suddenly mixing in stuff that is completely irrelevant for them. I don’t want to contribute to the chaotic noise on Twitter. My separation of Twitter handles is intended to provide my followers with interesting content on topics they care about, not to force them to get the full Peter Bjellerup story.

Relations with personal friends and acquaintances, I manage through Facebook, rather.

What do you think on this? Is Twitter about us as persons or about our content? (with the exception of celebrities, of course. But for us normal folks)

Tags – the DNA of working transparently

Does your social intranet offer proper tagging or is it just a facade?

Of the many tags that have been attributed to my profile on IBM Connections, our internal collaboration platform, one of my favourites is “tag-o-phile”.

We all structure information differently. We think differently. And the way we think and structure information may very well depend on the moment and the context. Just look at these three examples from a training session in Japan where we asked teams to create a logical structure of 15 foodstuffs.

One way of organizing foodstuffs Another way to organize foodstuffs Yet another way to organize foodstuffsWhich team is right?

I’d say “they all are, in their own way. But the top two teams would have a hard time in the kitchen of the bottom team.”

I have written more about this in a blog post a few years back, Folders is where knowledge goes to hide, but I’ll focus here on a specific aspect of tags which often is overlooked – tags can be applied to anything.

Tags can be applied to anything. Only files can be put in folders.

It doesn’t sound like much, but it brings big benefits to users who have a good social intranet (or Enterprise Social Network, ESN, if you prefer). Searching for the tag “collaboration” will produce all kinds of content and people that have been assigned that tag; People, Files, Blogs, Forum discussions, Wikis, Pictures, Ideas, Communities. Instead of just finding either files in folders or people in the corporate directory, you find all of the above and can filter either by type of content or on people or you can refine your search with additional tags, irrespective of type of content. This way you get a much fuller picture of the breadth of content and knowledge available on any tagged topic.

But, for tags and tagging to reach the full potential, there are a few conditions:

  • Tagging has to be transparent – If tags are not visible to others than the people who assigned them in the first place, they are of little value
  • Tagging has to be flexible – To be useful, taxonomies should be used to establish a minimum level of tagging, not to control which tags may be used. Taxonomies can never capture the richness of characteristics and contexts relevant to all users and they hardly ever keep up with development and changing priorities
  • Tagging has to be widespread – As with so many other aspects of collaboration, it’s a matter of the more, the merrier. The more people tag, the more different tags will be used, giving a wider view on topics and people. But also, the more people tag, the more will re-use the same tag for content or people, improving the differentiation between tagged items

Does your social intranet offer proper tagging or is it just a facade?

Tags 101:

Simply put, tags are nothing more than “Characteristics – to me – of someone or something – expressed in single or few words”. If many people agree on a characteristic of someone or something, that characteristic will show up stronger and the “someone or something” will rate higher on that characteristic than others with fewer instances of the same tag. If person A has been tagged with “collaboration” 25 times and person B only “10”, we assume that person A has more expertise or experience on the topic of collaboration. Or, possibly, a greater and more tag-happy network.

In many ways, tags applied by people can be seen as a supplement to the machine algorithms used in standard search engines. You search for a tag and then filter on additional tags to refine your search results.

Tags vs #Hashtags

So what’s the difference? #Hashtags are used within conversations (be they in text or in images), helping to identify conversations on the same topic. Often, they are part of the message, usually a status update. Tags, as discussed in this post, are “labels”, used to characterize less fluid content or profiles in an online environment. The conceptual alternative to #hashtags would be discussion threads. The conceptual alternative to tags would be folders (but which only works with uploaded files, as described above).

IRL, AFK – Aren’t those acronyms anachronistic?

The other morning, my wife sat tapping away intensely on her phone. (Why do we still call it a phone, by the way. Making calls is one of my least common activities on my handheld device. The German expression “Handy” is actually more adequate than either “mobile phone” or “cellphone”)

Anyway, I wanted to discuss something with her, opened my mouth to start talking, but stopped in my tracks, shut it again and returned to whatever I was doing.

The episode had me thinking though. In our connected world of today, connected both Man wearing a plastic collar (like dogs sometimes do) to prevent himself from checking his mobile phone every two minutestechnically and through umpteen online social networks, many of us get reprimanded for not “being present”, not listening or even for interrupting conversations to check our phones. (Guilty as charged.) In Real Life (IRL) is supposed to take precedence. Often I agree and try to impose a rule at home of “No phones within reach while we eat together”. In vain, I may add.

So why did I choose to save that discussion for later?

My wife was already engaged in conversation. But it was a written conversation, a chat in WhatsApp with our daughter, currently in France. I would have caused an interruption. That conversation was as “In Real Life” as a conversation in our house would have been.

What is “Real Life” really? I’m sure that I’m not the only one who has come to better know and understand the thoughts, values and actions of some acquaintances via online social networks than I ever did before though our rare interactions live or via voice conversation on the phone. Their life is more real to me via Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram or WhatsApp than it has ever been before! Being a family where two daughters of three have moved out, the family group on WhatsApp is the first thing I check for updates in the morning.

Just how real and alive is a relation with acquaintances who you meet in the street once every two years, exchange a couple of phrases of courtesy only to subsequently rush off to where you were going? Compared with the old friend who you haven’t met in ten years, but whose updates offer you ongoing insight into their life events and thoughts about what’s happening around them or around us all?

So I don’t buy the IRL thing. The differentiator for me is rather about synchronous or asynchronous interaction and about keeping focus on what you do.

My wife’s conversation with our daughter was as synchronous as our discussion in our living room would have been, although through a different medium. Interrupting their conversation would have been as impolite as talking over them in the same room.  Also, some – or many, actually – of the things you write online should be written with great care, with focus and with a complete thought process before. When you’re in that mode, you’ll be as unhappy about somebody interrupting you as you would have been if sitting with a fountain pen, writing on paper. A broken chain of thought is broken in your mind, independent of which medium you use to document it.

Still, checking your phone for asynchronous updates on online social networks, interrupting an ongoing, synchronous conversation is still as impolite, irrespective of the medium used for that conversation. The only difference is that it’s less obvious if it is a chat you happen to be engaged in. Still, we should be as present and in the moment together with the people we happen to be with. What we need to consider is how we define “happen to be with”.

All in all: IRL is no longer a valid expression, since online is often as real and close as on-site.

What about AFK (Away From Keyboard, that is)? Well, some time has passed since the device we carry in our pocket took the pole position as our primary screen. And when did you last use a phone with a keyboard?

So what should it be instead? On Prem? In The Flesh? NoD (No Device)? Or what?

Do you help your employees not to create social media debacles?

Photo credit Marc Smith, flickr
Photo credit Marc Smith, flickr

Maybe you don’t think you need social media marketing.
Maybe you don’t think you need a social intranet.
Maybe you don’t think you need social analytics.
Maybe you are right.
But……
Are your employees active on public social platforms?
Can they be identified as employees of yours?
A rough guess is that at least every second employee is represented on Facebook and just as many on LinkedIn. Probably about as many on Instagram. Somewhere between 10-25% on Twitter and maybe 5-10% even publish their own blog. If my numbers are right or wrong is secondary. The bottom line is that it would be surprising if not a majority of your employees are represented on public social networking platforms and that many of them can be identified as your employees.

Just imagine how many people they can influence. A wet dream for a marketing person. But a nightmare for people concerned with risk management and legal matters.

Just how do you help them to stay out of creating a mess? (for themselves and for you, that is.) Do you have a social media policy? Have you provided any training? Please don’t reply “We don’t allow our employees to use Facebook at work”! Ever heard of mobile internet, have you? If they can’t access their favourite social media network via the computer you provide, you can be pretty sure that they will do so using their mobile phone. And, anyway, this is not about what they do during office hours only. It’s about how they can positively represent your company ate any time of day or night. Or to misrepresent it. Even creating solid reputational catastrophes for you to deal with.

Without a social media policy, how can you tell employees off for creating a mess? How can you support them in representing the organization in the best possible way?

A great example of a social media policy is the IBM Social Computing Guidelines; developed by a group of insightful employees almost a decade ago, vetted by the legal team and made into company policy (the clearest and easiest to understand of them all, by the way).

But, policies are just the start. Unless they have been properly communicated and employees have been properly trained, they remain a rule to hold people against – not a help to do good for the company.

You need all three: Policy, Communication, Training. Irrespective of you doing any social media marketing or nothing at all, irrespective of your organization having a page on Facebook, on or a hundred accounts on Twitter, Instagram, Pinteres, Tumbler or whatever. It’s not about what you do. It’s about what your employees may do, in your favour or to your detriment, consciously or by mistake.

Social goal-setting, the key to turning middle managers in favour of collaboration and knowledge sharing?

Social business transformation is usually driven from the top or bottom of the organization hierarchy (or both in combination). Visionary leaders who lead from the front, by example, or skunk work initiatives from desperate people in the front line who see the potential of solving their hard-felt personal and business pains through working more efficiently together and through ease of sharing and communicating online.

Too frequently, middle management turns into a stumbling block, either by simply being passive or by even actively working against the change. Usually, it’s attibuted to lack of time, to being squeezed from both above and below, from being buried in administrative routines and systems or to the majority of middle managers being somewhat older and hard to teach new tricks.

There might be some truth to these claims, but behind them I see another reason: goals.

In December, I published a series of posts regarding setting social goals and this is where I believe we find the core of this challenge. As I state in Investing in social business, a key contributor to widespread change in the way work is done, is to change the way work is defined, and a major part of that definition is goal setting. What do the goals of middle management typically look like?

  • Increase sales by your team by x%
  • Reduce costs in your department by y%
  • Produce z units of whatsits
  • Develop q new products with a sales potential of ö money

Looking through the lens of the benefits of social intranets, where’s the broad sharing of experience, where’s the helping of colleagues, where’s the investing in the future of the entire organization

A substantial portion of the management of corporations happens through splitting up measurable goals into increasingly granular segments down the hierarchy. But, somewhere along the way, the shared goals that may be less easy to quantify are lost. And, you usually get what you measure. We have to reintroduce the common good into managerial and departmental goal-setting, through embedding collaboration, knowledge sharing and helping of colleagues near and far.

Fine, you may think, let’s include things like: Network size or growth in the goals for managers and employees alike. Or sharing of documents (or downloads and other signs of appreciation of shared documents – much better since it rewards quality or usefulness of contributions made). Or intensity of dialogue generated by contributions made or similar signs of impact). A very interesting approach is the engagement dashboard from IBM Research. (Of course, the ultimate move would be to automatically track re-use and economic impact of shared documents and contributions, maybe even single components like slides or text paragraphs. But that might be a bit of overkill.)

But, that would still not be good enough in my view. When it comes to conventional goals, managers aren’t measured on their personal contributions, but on the contributions of the team they manage, right? Why should social goals be any different? Let’s take goals like the ones in the previous paragraph, aggregate or average them for the entire team. Now, we’re talking! That would be a great step towards establishing social goals for managers to supplement their traditional ones.

Next, we should start analyzing those results for correlation with business results. Then we could start doing more useful work than repeatedly having to explain the business benefits of working as a social business.

Collecting “best practices” isn’t best practice

“We’re wasting the experience and time of our employees. We keep reinventing the wheel. Let’s start collecting best practices from our experts and distribute them to our employees.”

Sounds familiar, does it? Sounds like a good idea, does it?

I’d say that it’s not a bad idea, but there are much better ways to reduce reinvention of the wheel.

But before describing the better way and the reasons why it’s better, let’s just establish one thing:

There’s much more to it than efficient use of time only

The usual arguments for collecting and distributing best practices are about cutting waste of time and establishing a uniform, good standard of doing things. Cutting waste of time and making it available for better use is indeed a good reason, but there are other benefits that are even more valuable in my book, like cutting response times and shortening time to market. Those are usually easy to translate into hard currency. Quality is another key. Not necessarily as in “everybody doing things in the same way” but rather thinking of the inevitable fumbles you make each time you invent the wheel all over. If you re-use what others have done, the risk of re-making the same mistakes is drastically reduced. Then there’s the motivational aspect; spending time and effort on doing something you are convinced of has been done before is hardly good motivation. So there are good reasons to re-use experience and documents.

That said, what’s wrong with collecting and distributing best practices?

“Best practice”, says who?

A typical Best Practice initiative goes like this: A campaign, competition or decree is launched to get employees, often designated experts, to document and deliver their experience to a committee. The committee typically consists of some managers, some subject matter experts and the occasional token executive. They then go through the materials, agree on which should be shared, have someone from communications tidy them up and publish them on the intranet. Plus a communications campaign, of course, to create awareness of them being available. Maybe some system to track their use too.

Let me tell you what’s wrong with this:

  • It’s a batch process, not a continuum, meaning that it will all need to be repeated in a while when circumstances change which practices actually are the most useful
  • It’s a lengthy process, decoupling submitting from seeing your submissions being reused, thereby missing out on motivational aspects for the contributors
  • A considerable portion of the committee left the field for managerial positions a while back and their experience of what is needed out there is no longer up to date. Are they really best suited to know which practice is best?
  • What’s “best” in one context for one person may not be what is “best” for another in a different context. Very few events and projects are carbon copies of other. Similar, but not the same
  • Asking for submissions from established authorities misses out on discovering and motivating budding experts in the field

Many useful examples is much better than a few best practices

Instead, make it dead easy for anyone to upload and share their documents or to tell their story and share their experience online for others to re-use as they need it. The motivation of contributors will come from visible re-use, ratings, likes and positive comments from peers and experts. It might even be close to instant! After a while, the wisdom of crowds will help separate the useful stuff from the less useful. You are likely to find that the experience of the many is much richer and adds much more value than the expertise of the few.

What you think of sharing is only half the wisdom, if even that

Few of us are aware of the richness of our knowledge and experience. So when we share it, we are sure not to tell it all. There will always be gaps in our story. To surface that remaining knowledge, to fill the cracks in the stories we tell, please make it as easy as you possibly can to ask questions and to get answers. But channel the dialogue to transparent and persistent media and provide a powerful search function so the dialogue is there to find for the next person facing the same challenge. Use forums, build communities, encourage dialogue and reward those who help. Provide tagging and tag search to help categorize contributions in ways that feel relevant to the people on the ground, not only by a structure or taxonomy designed by those experts (and usually updated too infrequently).

It should not be about publishing best practices contributed by a few and vetted by even fewer, but of motivating staff to share as much knowledge and experience as possible, and to engage in transparent dialogue to help each other. Feedback and usage metrics will help tell what is the most useful – as seen by the people who need it. It’s not about managing knowledge, but about releasing it from heads, harddrives and enclosed mail conversations for the availability and benefit of the entire organization.

 

From “social switchboard” to “direct dial”

In his recent blog post “How to avoid having your social media team becoming a “social switchboard”, my good colleague @AndrewGrill makes a good case on the dangers of adding a filtering (switching) layer of social media people between employees and the world around them – similar to the phone switchboards of days gone by.

So far so good.

But, extending the switchboard analogy, for direct dial to work well, everybody needs to have a phone that can be reached directly, they have to know how to use it, how to speak and call in a professional way and to know what they may or may not say as representatives of the organization.

Bypassing the switchboard without enabling the employees to handle direct dialing may result in substandard responses or maybe even in some major commercial or reputational hazards.

“Direct dial” translates, in our digitally connected world of today, into “Enabled and Empowered Employees”

Many times, I have compared social media marketing with the way rock bands tend to work. Traditional marketing is all about companies communicating with non-customers to turn them into customers. Rock bands play for their fans and leave it to them to communicate with non-fans to turn them into new fans. This is also the fundamental formula for successful social media marketing. But, to extend that analogy too, when the fans approach, they don’t want to speak with the band manager. They want the band members. Just like customers approaching your company don’t want to be “switchboarded” by your social media team. They want to get in touch with the folks who know things for real, from experience, the experts.

Jon Iwata said it very well already in 2010:

Your best social media marketing is made by engaged customers and engaged, enabled and empowered employees.

So, to make it work well, you need:
  • A social communications policy coupled with thorough training of employees (include online security and respect for copyright while you’re at it)
  • Communications professionals who coach the experts instead of insisting of themselves being the voice of the company
  • For your foremost experts, it doesn’t hurt with some analytical support to help them improve their communications, to be made aware of which influencers to engage with and where there are relevant discussions going on
  • And, as usual when I’m involved, a social intranet where they can get backed up by shared knowledge and easy-to-reach experts is of great help too. It sure will speed up answering the tricky questions.

Replacing the old telephone switchboard with a social media filtering and forwarding team is no good. Automatically channeling them to identified experts who aren’t on board is not much better (but a little). You need to attend to both sides of this equation to get the full value.

Investing in social business

In my most recent blog posts, I have focused on the topic of goals and social intranet adoption, in general and for managers. Including a social dimension in personal goals is the key to adoption by the bulk of employees, the late adopters.

Why? Because for many, personal goals are the definition of what they are paid to do, Goals = Work. As long as goals have no social dimension, nothing about knowledge sharing, nothing about collaboration, about creation of intellectual capital, why would you do it. It’s not your job!

But, as I have pointed out before, using the social intranet doesn’t produce benefits that are easy to measure and attribute to actions by individuals, that are sure to benefit your own organizational unit or that can be predicted to occur within a specific time frame – the type of goals we have all been trained to set. These types of goals are rather production oriented, don’t you think? But working out loud, developing intellectual capital or sharing it generously are not about production. It is rather an investment. Something that may pay off, some day and maybe not for your unit.

So, the key to including social aspects into goal setting is to supplement the traditional goals:

You are supposed to produce for your unit for this quarter AND to invest in shared knowledge, relations and transparency for the benefit of the entire organization, some day.