Next practice not best practice

‘Best Practice’ is one of those buzzwords that gets chucked around corporations with impunity. I get where it’s come from and I get why many like to rely on it – I mean, once you have found a way to do something successfully, why would you not want to replicate that experience over and over again?

Here’s why. The speed of change in human behaviour brought about by the speed of change in technology means that by the time something becomes enshrined as best practice, it is already likely to have been superseded. That’s because for the first time since the written word arrived, we are no longer masters of the message or the medium.

dinosleep2Best practice should no longer be seen as a blueprint for describing the standard way of doing things in an organisation. It’s too safe. It’s too comfortable. And it’s too predictable. I see evidence all over the place, especially in advertising, marketing and PR. If you’re going to cite best practice as your primary justification for doing things in a certain way, you may as well stick a sign above your desk while you’re at it saying “Quiet please, dinosaur sleeping”.

We need to think differently; with agility, fluidity, creativity and a bit more bravery. Best practise has served us well for decades, nay centuries – because we have been able to control the messages and the medium. We are losing this power with every day that passes. Carrier pigeons, telegrams, snail mail, faxes, email – same difference really – all had similar limitations when it came to reach, speed and spread. Social Media has democratised communication like never before and it’s turned us all into authors and broadcasters.

It’s time to forget about best practise. The pace of change is such that predicting ‘next practice’ is what will bring the bacon home.

Give them enough rope

nooseIf you give someone a length of rope, do you have a responsibility to stop them using it to hang themselves? Of course not, that would be ridiculous.

Now apply the same logic to the introduction of social functionality on the company intranet. Is the answer still no? Not so long ago I’d have said exactly that.

After all, if someone wants to be a knob in full view of the company, more fool them. Far better they expose their lack of judgement, poor behaviour or surly attitude out in the open so that it can be ‘managed’. Let’s face it, if they are silly enough to let themselves down in the full gaze of their peers on the intranet, you can bet your bottom dollar they’ll be doing so in far less noticeable places, like down the pub, under the smoking shelter, and on Facebook. Only they will get away with it for much longer.

And then something happened to help me look at things a bit differently. Someone, partly in jest and partly in blissful ignorance posted a comment on an internal news story that made me feel a bit uneasy. The feeling morphed into discomfort when I overheard people around me suddenly turn into haters.

I quickly reached out to the guy and explained that his comment was not going down very well and invited him to post a quick follow-up comment both by way of apology and explanation. He was aghast that his question had been so badly misinterpreted.

Clearly our hapless commentator had meant well. In his mind all he had done was to ask an obvious and seemingly harmless question, and crowned it with a slightly clumsy attempt at humour.

During our conversation it became obvious that several exacerbating factors had combined to create a situation of epic misunderstanding.

  • He worked several hundred miles from the location of the incident.
  • English was not his native language.
  • He had no way of knowing that local emotions preceding the ‘incident’ were running sky high.
  • He had no way of knowing that emotionally, the most senior people in the company were also heavily invested in the story.

I felt sorry for the guy. Taken the wrong way, and certainly not the way he had intended, his comment could potentially turn into a career breaker. I felt sorry for me. I had told people who had never wanted me to open the floodgates of anarchy in the first place that such behaviour on a company intranet was the stuff of fiction.

That’s why these days I believe that as an intranet manager you do have to accept some degree of responsibility to the individual and to yourself if you have provided people with the opportunity to inadvertently hang themselves in public.

This Touching Graphic Shows How Ludicrously Simple Social Media Marketing Is

A few weeks ago my attention was drawn to an infographic doing the rounds on Twitter. In fact it was all over Twitter like a rash. Hardly surprising given the headline: “This INSANE Graphic Shows How Ludicrously Complicated Social Media Marketing Is Now.”

Twitter loves a good infographic and absolutely adores talking about itself. That’s why over 777,000 people have visited the story on www.businessinsider.com since 17 May. That’s pretty good given that the two stories sitting either side that day managed combined visits totalling 4,245. Obviously they didn’t attract the same level of hype that the ludicrously complicated social media marketing landscape story garnered.

Like everyone else, including the legions of social media marketeers seeking affirmation of the ludicrously complicated jobs they do, I followed the link with interest.

Something didn’t feel right. Sure enough, the graphic showed a bewildering array of websites; hundreds of them, all legitimate destinations for social media marketing activity.

To quote the article, “Digital marketing is confusing—really confusing—as this insane graphic shows. Trying to navigate through the various new social media categories, blogs, sharing sites, and social media firms is an absolute mess.”

I struggled with this on two fronts. First, I couldn’t see why hundreds of potential websites is any different from the thousands of different publications all competing for print advertising dollars. Or the hundreds of digital TV channels fighting to sell ad spots for that matter.

More importantly, and not for the first time, it made me question the essence of social media marketing, which I believe is wholly different from other forms of marketing. Too many companies seem to believe that social media is just another channel for pushing out or linking to marketing messages, sales offers and adverts They don’t realise that traditional marketing techniques have no place in social media.

The clever ones understand that social media marketing is all about creating and maintaining relationships. Relationships based on attentiveness, two-way interaction, shared experiences and emotions, and trust.

Succeed in this and the people you touch will do your marketing for you. They will be your brand advocates. They will talk to their friends and families about you. They will like you on Facebook, retweet you and Pin your images. They will use their own preferred channels naturally and organically, many of which will be on the graphic above. You don’t need to have accounts with hundreds of competing social media channels. You just need to focus on the biggest ones.

The best way to create enduring relationships is in person, with real human interaction, one on one. What social media offers is the next best thing, with the added bonus of unprecedented reach. It is about cutting through the barriers and finding a way to make authentic connections on people’s own terms.

So I thought I’d offer up an alternative graphic and headline. 

This Touching Graphic Shows How Ludicrously Simple Social Media Marketing Is.

Infographic Nirvana

I love a good infographic. I love the way they help to make sense of often quite complex data and information through very simple visual cues. They turn numbers into stories; and when you are innumerate like me that is a big deal. They are also brilliant at showing progression, growth, and history in an informative, engaging and sometimes witty way. Like any good story, they can touch your emotions in a way that numbers and data can’t. Well, for me anyway.

I particularly like the way that infographics tend to be non-linear. There are no pages to turn; you just keep scrolling down the screen revealing fresh content as you go. This is a very comfortable and familiar experience for digital natives, who can take in a lot of information very quickly this way.

One of my favourite examples of a good infographic design is this one created by www.kleptocracy.us to provide a visualisation of American debt. Setting politics aside for one moment, one can’t help but admire the way the artist has illustrated the scale of an almost unimaginable quantity of dollars.

I’m actually looking closely at the art of infographic design at the moment as I’d like to use this technique to illustrate the incredible 10 year history of the company I work for, combining internal corporate milestones with external customer facing highlights.

Rather than attempting to grab people’s attention with pages and pages of traditional text, I think a good infographic could tell our amazing story in a few moments. When you are competing for peoples’ attention against the pressures their day jobs, this is an attractive option.

Another increasing trend I have noticed is that of animated infographics. This is quite a cute example that charts the history of the iPhone. I think the music helps as well.


I haven’t yet come across any public examples of infographics being used by Internal Communicators. Given the benefits I have described, surely there must be companies out there using them to help staff digest complex organisational data?

What do you think?

A nice cup of e and a biscuit

Office workers who walk away from their desk to make a cuppa or have a chat with a colleague – even those who sneak out for the occasional ciggy are not robbing their employer of wages.

The idea that presenteeism should be used a baseline for productivity is not just crazy, it is pernicious. Peddlers of such nonsense need to be put straight immediately to stop them causing any more damage to their companies.

Most employers accept this and don’t seek to curtail it. They realise that short regular breaks are good for maintaining focus and mental agility. Unlike the occasional piece of ludicrous ‘research’ there is simply nothing to be gained by adding up the time taken by employees to clear their heads and regain focus.

However, remove the tea from the equation and all of a sudden, things look somewhat different.

Tea breaks pale into insignificance when compared to eBreaks. One survey last year suggests that nearly 2 million British workers spend over an hour every day on social media websites. More than half of the UK’s working population now accesses social media whilst at work, with a third of those (roughly six million) are spending more than 30 minutes on the likes of Facebook and Twitter.

Is this any worse than the good old fashioned tea break? Clearly many employers think so. According the Mark Ragan, 57% of US companies block employee access to social media sites like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. But I bet they don’t have such issues with the humble tea break.

Well I think they are making the wrong call – and so does the Great Place to Work Institute. The essence of a great place to work is trust. Thirty years of experience working with the most successful organisations in the world leads the Institute to conclude that the foundation of every great workplace is trust between employees and management.

The organisational and financial benefits to any organisation of being a high trust environment are well documented. Companies that appear in the annual 100 Great Places to Work consistently outperform their peers. And according to Erin Lieberman Moran, senior VP at the Great Places to Work Institute, these companies are not blocking staff access to social media.

In a recent interview with Ragan Lieberman Moran says:

“If you are hiring great talent then you need to trust them to make the right decisions. If you’re holding them accountable to their performance, when and how they get their work done should be less important than the actual results they are delivering to the organisation”.

Brings us back to presenteeism. If you trust people and manage them well – and by that I mean keep them busy with challenging and meaningful work – their value should be measured by their results not by their presence.

I take quite a few eBreaks during my working day. OK, so my working day may be extended by a few hours beyond those stipulated in my contract in order to ensure my work never suffers, but that is my choice and quite frankly, I would not have it any other way.

I love my job, I love my profession and I love my company. Without my regular eBreaks, I suspect I’d find it difficult to maintain this level of intensity and I’m sure our relationship would suffer.

Where PR means Pseudo Research

It’s very easy these days to be seduced by facts and figures bombarding those of us who reside in socialmediaville. Infographics, soundbites and statistics proliferate, often sensational and always enticing – and frequently ripped out of recently published “research”.

There’s no doubt about it, “research” creates great PR, both in print and online media.

Whilst writing a piece for Riding the Ripple (as yet unpublished) on the pros and cons of employers blocking access to social media, I kept stumbling across several examples of this. All have been widely reproduced in hundreds of blogs and news aggregators out there, and all have invariably been treated as research and not PR.

Forget about column inches – these reports have generated column miles:

Looking Inside Out: Benchmarking web usage and social media behaviour in the workplace
Commissioned by a company that specialises in web and email filtering and reporting solutions.

Social Media Costing UK Economy up to £14billion in Lost Work Time
Report on the proliferation of employees accessing social media sites at work commissioned by an online recruitment company.

I Can’t Get My Work Done! How Collaboration & Social Tools Drain Productivity
Commissioned by a company that supplies ‘Social email’ software.

I don’t doubt that that this kind of PR research can contain very useful and interesting insights and learnings. And I certainly I don’t question the integrity of the statistics they contain.

I do feel however that we must tread carefully when relying on them as a basis for contributing to an intellectual argument and making robust decisions in business.

Because fundamentally they are a sales tool.

Has anyone come across any other recent examples they would like to share?

RIP email. Is the writing on the Wall?

“I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but in consumer technology, if you want to know what people like us will do tomorrow, you look at what teenagers are doing today. And the latest figures say that only 11% of teenagers email daily. So email – I can’t imagine life without it – is probably going away”

Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg made this bold prediction in 2009. She’s not alone. Experts have been predicting the demise of email for years.

I must confess, until my flirtation with Twitter and LinkedIn turned into a full-on love affair I remained sceptical about such claims, such was my appreciation of and dependence on email in and out of work.

Today, I’m afraid email has lost its sparkle. It has become nothing more than a tedious, ponderous and bloated utility. My use is pretty much confined to business, where it remains ubiquitous and, for the foreseeable future, will remain so until someone comes up with a better dashboard for managing ones private business communications, tasks and appointments.

The communication element of email at work for many of us has largely been usurped by Instant Messaging. Email tends to get used when speed is not important, the person I wish to communicate is not immediately available, or I want to keep an easily accessible record of a request or response. Outside of work I have stopped using it other than where someone else requires or expects an email from me.

Some social mavericks have made public declarations of their intention to work without email. Professor Paul Jones now expects his colleagues and students to use other means to contact him. IBM staffer Luis Suarez has lived and worked for the last 3 years without email. Good for them – not so good perhaps for some their colleagues who are forced to use unfamiliar and unwelcome technologies if they wish to make contact.

Going back to Sheryl Sandberg, what she describes is life before work. Teenagers don’t need all that work stuff. What they want is instant communication gratification. Email is too slow. It doesn’t match up to their social intensity. Blackberry Messenger has given Blackberry a new lease of life and a whole new generation to sell to. Who’d have thought Blackberry would produce a TV ad aimed at teenagers a few years ago? My kids don’t want an iPhone because bbm is so highly valued among their age group.

This graph from Morgan Stanley’s 2010 Internet Trends report shows that in July 2009, social media users overtook email users across the globe for the first time and I bet that the gap will have grown significantly by the time their next report is published.

One thing that will keep email figures artificially high is that all of the emergent social media channels use email to drive traffic to their sites. Around 85% of my own private emails are Twitter, LinkedIn or Empire Avenue activity notifications.

By the time I read them I have already seen the details on the sites themselves, which present the information in a far more digestible and accessible way, which is why my private email inbox tends to be my last port of call when I go online every day.

My main activity within my private email account seems to be deleting pages and pages of unread, unwanted and unimportant emails.

What do you think? Do you think email will survive in its current form?