Posts Tagged ‘discuss’

3 essentials for employee communicators

Thursday, July 5th, 2012

Employee communication continues to get a bad rap. Communicators who do internal comms get paid less than the media relations folks (you could look it up!), and frankly, in a lot of cases we deserve it.

When you do internal, what is your responsibility?  Populating the intranet? Editing the magazine? Rewriting news releases? How about functioning as the in-house expert on how organizational communication works or doesn’t work? Counseling management on how to be better communicators?

I don’t know why, but the latter couple of tasks seem to be outsourced more often than not (and thank you very much!) — I don’t think I’m necessarily smarter than I was when I worked at KeyCorp, National City or Goodyear, but I am a bit more experienced, perhaps. Winning an internal consulting effort while in-house was a tough sell — a lot of people were more comfortable with me as a writer/editor, a tactician rather than a strategist, despite my efforts to develop a contrary angle.

There are three really important actions internal comm-sters need to take if they aspire to more responsibility, more professional prestige, and/or more money:

Increase your business knowledge. You need to be a businessperson who happens to use communication to help advance the organization. That means numbers, reading business, being up on the products and markets, and not caviling endlessly about how boring it all is. It’s your job.

Better understand the process of communication. Why are people more comfortable in small group discussions than in large groups? Easier to participate, share information and make decisions (at least in one view.) How do communication styles affect collaboration? (Look up Myers-Briggs).  Why do complex topics require discussion? (The Q&A enables people to process the information more effectively than merely reading something.)

Align content and strategy. This should be a no-brainer, but there are many constituencies in an organization, and a lot of them don’t care about anything except “getting the word out.” Guess what? If there’s no link to the business objectives, no one will care.  Too many times I’ve heard, “no one reads that stuff” as they’re demanding additional tactics (more email, a video, a paper newsletter). The fact is that some stuff just isn’t interesting and people won’t consume it. If you have a strategic content plan, you have something to point to when you say no. Now, my pal Patty Vossler would say, “don’t say no without a yes in your pocket,” and she’s right. Ask the question, “what do you want people to think, feel or do as a result of the communication?” If their goal doesn’t match the objectives of your organization, probe for clarity and bridge the gap. More on that another time.

In the meantime, read this excellent speech from Dr. Bruce Berger of the U of Alabama. It’s more pithy and not as simplistic. But then, he’s a darn smart guy.

Whatever you do, do not punt, fumble or otherwise abdicate. If you feel like you can’t do these three things, go into some other line of work. Nuff said!

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Are “incented” tweets and likes “deceptive”?

Wednesday, May 30th, 2012

As the  usual outlets for advertising sometimes appear doomed — see New Orleans’ Times-Picayune, or Dish Network’s latest innovation — what’s an exec in need of a megaphone to do?  Advertising is trying hard to adapt to the continuing media fragmentation, but what if their “innovation” is actually illegal?

The U.S. Federal Trade Commission is taking a hard look at companies’ practice of offering incentives in exchange for Facebook “likes” and Twitter tweets. Ad guidelines already require a notice, like “#paid” on purchased tweets, which calls out advertisers who’d prefer to not expose their astroturf roots. So if, as a USA Today story said today, Target gives free samples to people who “like” their page, and Amazon gives $3 video credits in exchange for a tweet, that’s an advert and subject to the law.

This is the squishy underbelly of commercial use of social media, and why I insist that all marketing is communication but not all communication is marketing. If that’s not true, everything is marketing, and who cares if people cannot tell the difference between advertising and truth?

Strength or bliss, it’s still ignorance.

 

 

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Considering the state of online influence

Friday, April 27th, 2012

How do we measure influence?

If you read these humble musings semi-regularly, you know that I’m rather suspicious of most so-called measures of online influence. Too often, it’s black-box, secret sauce, cloak-and-dagger, and one really can’t judge the veracity of the claims.

I don’t want to single any company out, so suffice to say that whatever science is behind those claims, I have been looking for independent, scholarly research that might back it up. Conceptually, I ask myself: “Is online influence different from offline influence? How might we measure it if so? If not?”

This pondering, and the requirement to write a literature review for Dr. Danielle Coombs’s qualitative research class, pushed me into examining research from several different disciplines, including marketing and communication, psychology, sociology, information technology and even the hard sciences. In so doing, I believe I’m building a foundation for my eventual master’s thesis.

I am interested in the influence process as qualitative in nature, rather than strictly quantitative. Predictability isn’t necessarily what I’m striving for (thus guaranteeing I won’t get it published…), but rather trying to understand the process as it is.  You’ve heard the claims — retweets and @replies as evidence of influence (Kaushik’s RTs per 1000 followers), shares and likes on Facebook, etc.  We know that it’s quite variable according to who you are and what industry you’re in, who your audience is, and so forth.

In short, where’s the beef in this influence sandwich?

I’m unsatisfied by publications from research firms and others with a vested interest, which is a huge challenge. I have found so far that there’s not all that much in current scholarship that is directly related to the online space, and much of what there is dates from three to five years ago, an eternity in internet time.

So, stay tuned – I have no intention of abandoning this effort, and to the extent there is interest in what I’ve found so far, I plan to share.

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What are your predictions?

Sunday, January 1st, 2012

I decided to take a stab at putting together a “communication predictions for 2012” post and asked on Twitter for contributions in hopes of getting it out this coming week. As it happens, Judy Gombita (@jgombita) and Paul Seaman (@paulseaman) have obliged with their thoughts, and Heather Yaxley (@greenbanana) has written a definitive post on PR trends that bears close examination.

I’d  appreciate your thoughts, especially about measurement and internal communications. Where might we go in 2012?

My reactions to Judy and Paul are below – about Heather’s piece, I can say only, READ IT.

Judy’s comment:

Fingers crossed @CommAMMO: #corporatecommunications (aka #PR) is going to embrace LEADing (not OWNing) #SoMe for integrated communications.

Integrated communication is not only inevitable, but highly desirable, especially around Social Media. What I’d hate is to have Marketing inserted between Integrated and Communication.  As Judy’s crossed fingers aver, this isn’t an ownership question, it’s a question of leadership. You know my adage: All marketing is communication, but not all communication is marketing. Thanks Judy!

And Paul’s:

@CommAMMO #corporatecommunications the only safe prediction is that 2012 is unpredictable. Yet I forecast an increase in PR spend over 2011.

Speaking as a small businessperson, I hope Paul’s right! But I also hope that the increase in spend includes a modicum for effective measurement, research and evaluation. We CAN measure the effectiveness of communication activity and do so cost-effectively, but not for free. I fervently hope that the extra PR ducats are for issues management, reputation and employee communication, not just publicity and press agentry. Here’s hoping. Many thanks, Paul.

Note: 2012 marks my third year in the land of entrepreneurship and blogging/tweeting. It’s been fun, and I very much appreciate your kind attention to my fevered scribblings. As per lately, I’m blessed with clients, teaching, grad school and family obligations, but aspire to participate in a few chats and cogitate herewith for your consideration. Mazel Tov for 2012!

-Sean

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Verdict on American Airlines’ Bankruptcy Comms – Good So Far

Tuesday, November 29th, 2011

Courtesy AA.comDuring my putative lunch today (29 Nov) the erstwhile Roula Amire of Ragan.com asked if I’d write a quick post on the bankruptcy communications coming out of AMR Corp., the parent company of American Airlines.  At first I said no, too busy, but as my home office was still captive to contractors, I quickly reconsidered and wrote something (thank you, Panera wi-fi!).

Bop over to read my piece. I’ll tell you this much — given the requirements of lawyers and the, I don’t know, 12 different constituencies they needed to satisfy, I think they did a good job.  I like the Facebook video from AMR’s CEO, and the customer service Twitter stream pointing people to FAQs.

This is another case of “Dirt-sandwich-and-everybody-has-to-take-a-bite.” There’s not much we can do but smile and chew.

 

 

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Five Themes of Effective Internal Communication

Friday, September 9th, 2011

From 12, clockwise: @llibitz, @csledzik, @dak1966, @jgombita, @gypsynits, @ic_jen. Jeremy Schultz (@jschultz) is at center; no photo available for @GnosisArts.

The monthly Twitter discussion on internal comms, #icchat, made its return from summer vacation on 8 September, and after one question from the moderator (that’d be me), it was off to the races.

Special guest Jeremy Schultz (@jschultz) of Intel did a fine job juggling five or so concurrent discussions (a usual occurrence in Twitter chats) as the lively crowd picked his brain and shared their own tools and techniques.

Five themes emerged from the discussion:

  • Social tools inside organizations are coming on fast
  • Communicators play a critical role in enacting and facilitating them
  • Face to face and 2-way communication in general are still important
  • Leaders should use the social media tools that fit their personality and style
  • Storytelling is still the single most important activity in internal communication

It’s a commentary on the thin internal comms organizations that all five of these things are considered so vital — and it’s interesting what’s left out. I can’t do justice to the speed and depth of the conversation — we’re usually a small but voluble group (and often with different participants each time).

There were lots of very specific tactics –things people are using to great advantage: Wikis (@JGombita pointed out the persistence of the Wiki), @llibitz mentioned the internal social media tool called Handshake, a web 2.0 version of intranet, and sharepoint. @IC_Jen talked about Flowr, a kind of Facebook-meets-Sharepoint tool that permits documents to be uploaded to given topics. And internal blogging, where the blogger and communicator work together on the copy and organization.

@Jschultz talked about giving counsel to execs, helping to match personality and style with the right communication tools, rather than just saying, “you should blog.”  @CSledzik shared the difficulty in getting employees to move from simply expecting to be handed information to reaching out and asking for it (2-way communication does need two parties), even though leadership is committed to making the switch.

@Gypsynits was interested in how culture and values communications made their way into the business-focused, business-objectives world, and @jschultz didn’t disappoint. He points out that at Intel, these beliefs and the company values and vision are well-established and well-known — simply implicit in all communications.

Check out the “Storify” highlights — I still mourn the death of wthashtag for transcripts — Or if you’re a glutton for text, read all 180 or so posts in this ugly PDF of nine pages and more than 4,000 words. Read from the bottom up.

Many thanks to Jeremy, and to @gypsynits (up REALLY late), @jgombita, @llibitz @csledzik @ic_Jen @dak1966 & @gnosisarts. You make it great!

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The ‘3 C’s’ toward integration: Coordination

Wednesday, August 10th, 2011

On 9 August I introduced the “3 C’s” — as a pathway toward integrating communications, or at least realizing the benefits of integration.  The first “C” is communication, where we reach out to one another to share information about our activities and solicit some feedback. The second C is coordination.

The definition of coordination is bringing into a common action, movement, or condition (slightly adapted from Merriam-Webster). I expand that definition like this: Coordination means mutual sharing of information that leads the parties to alter in some way that information, or its planned distribution.  You and I discuss our respective goals and what we’re doing to fulfill them, and we alter our plans as a result of that discussion.

For example, back to National City in 2008 — financial crisis, etc. We’d started communicating across our business unit silos, and realized that one of the units was planning a communication at the same time another unit had a major management announcement.  In our discussion, the latter unit asked if the former could wait a couple of days to avoid conflict. That used to be a recipe for a turf war, but because we’d discussed the need to coordinate and agreed, the two units came to an agreement in short order.

That sequence got replayed a lot — the units would make a few changes to messages, timeline, even audience to accommodate each other.  It made for a much more harmonious team, but also made it easier on the audiences, who didn’t have to try and absorb multiple messages and priorities. It also had the ancillary effect of sharpening and making more consistent the business unit and corporate messages.

There were a couple of times when corporate needed to insist on changes, but prior to the onset of our communication meetings, we might not have even known something was coming from the business units, let alone have the chance to offer suggestions to focus the messages.  We also made our own adjustments from time to time — in particular, stepping in when a unit’s distribution got moved up and conflicted with our own activity. That generated trust and credibility and permitted us to gain valuable visibility to an important business unit priority.

Coordination is a logical follower to communication, and it sets the stage for the next of our 3 C’s — collaboration.

 

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Use 3 C’s to Work Together

Tuesday, August 9th, 2011

There’s been an animated discussion over at SpinSucks.com following a post from the always interesting @GiniDietrich on whether public relations needs mostly to be about driving sales.  Gini says,

You see, I believe a few things:

  1. Public relations (not publicity) can and should be measured to sales results;
  2. Public relations professionals need to gain some basic marketing skills or our industry will become defunct;
  3. Public relations is the very best place for content development because we are, after all, writers; and
  4. Really good content does more than attract Web site visitors or increase brand awareness – it generates inbound leads for the sales team.

Reading the comments, it’s evident that she’s got a lot of support for these notions, and while I don’t disagree that PR can drive sales, I don’t see that as the only role we PRs should play. There’s a bunch of stuff that we can do — issues management, employee communications, reputation management — that could be claimed by other departments but are mainly within our primary skill sets and usual responsibilities. The comment stream debates the point more than adequately (and entertainingly.)

But the reason I’m taking up your valuable time now is about how to set aside our provincialism and play well with others.

There’s substantial scholarship in the area of integrated communications, both against it in concept and for it. The thrust of the argument is whether all communication functions are aiming toward an eventual marketing outcome — driving sales. My colleague at Kent State University, Bob Batchelor, is solidly in that camp, as are communicators like @BethHarte and Gini.  I’ve frequently said that all marketing is communication but not all communication is marketing, but that could be a style preference: for too many marketers, all stakeholders look like customers, and all channels look like megaphones — I don’t want to “sell” to employees, community leaders, governmental officials, et. al.

I fully recognize the elegance of a unified approach to communication strategy. There are many benefits to integrating communications, but actually pulling everyone into the same department can be challenging, and we have to guard against efficiency getting the best of tailoring messages and methods. So how do we realize the benefits of integration without necessarily integrating?

I’ve got a process: The 3 C’s — Communication, Coordination and Collaboration.  I want to give each of these appropriate due, especially regarding how you measure, so I’ll tackle the first in the this post, then write some more on the others.

Communication seems so easy and basic, but it isn’t.  I’m aware of two organizations – large, global, complex — where you learn very quickly that the various communication functions aren’t talking to each other very much at all.  In particular, matters of budget, strategy and tactics take place in isolation, siloed-off from the beady eyes at “corporate.”

In short order, that leads to inconsistency in go-to-market (we can be consistent and still have appropriate tailoring), and lack of appropriate visibility and strategic alignment. At National City Corporation, a regional bank, we were in the thick of the financial crisis.  The communication team was distributed — a relatively small corporate department, with the business units (Private Bank, Corporate Bank, Retail and Operations) hosting their own departments.

Given the crisis circumstances (anyone remember 2008? Me too.), we needed to speak with one voice, to provide leadership and strategic understanding, to know what employees and customers were talking about.  So, we instituted a daily conference call for communication leads across the company. We started discussing these matters — not with an eye to seize the conversation and dictate strategy, but to better understand the situation and provide guidance.

Within five meetings, our working relationships improved. Within a month, we agreed to meet in person and work through a strategic process to better align our groups. Three months in, we were able to cut the meetings to weekly, because we’d started cooperating on many communication opportunities.

Communication opens doors — but only when it’s done with a heart for authentic improvement and understanding, not power grabs and dictates.

More on this coming up.

 

 

 

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Write for Clarity

Friday, July 15th, 2011
The Vocal Crowd

Top Left to Bottom Right: @MikeBrice, @PointsofRue, @ABGooen, @MHuras, @JGombita, @RobertJHolland, @Melissa_Novak and @CommAMMO.

Twitter chats are an important reason I use the microblogging service, and as moderator of #ICchat I get to participate in really interesting discussions with people I otherwise wouldn’t know.  So when I asked Robert J. Holland to be our guest for the 14 July discussion on writing, I was remedying an issue. I’d read Robert’s stuff for some time, whether through IABC or Ragan, or the comments pages on David Murray’s excellent blog, but we’d never met. I’m glad that #ICchat took care of that issue!

The chat featured 207 tweets that generated 226,696 impressions, reaching an audience of 9,326 followers.  (Stats via HashTracking.com. Whether that means much I’m not sure, but it’s interesting.)

We started with a somewhat obvious question, though I asked it sincerely:

@CommAMMO: Q1: With social media, texting and instant messaging, is writing still important for internal comms? #icchat

@melissa_novak thought it was a “silly” question — and maybe she’s right.

@RobertJHolland Social media presents new challenges. Content must be even more clear, precise, understandable. #icchat

@MikeBrice @CommAMMO writing is the foundation for all. #icchat

@JGombita @robertjholland social media (especially Twitter) has helped make my writing less flabby. Brevity is the soul of platform width. 🙂 #icchat

@CommAMMO I happen to think that writing is a foundation skill for business in general, and many CEOs agree (see @nytimes “corner office”) #icchat

As I told Melissa, you’d be astonished at some of the things I’ve heard and read about writing and its role in modern public relations in general — I personally don’t see how any communicator, especially in internal communication, can be less than excellent as a writer. That’s not to say that everyone has to be brilliant — just that words are a big part of our executional requirements.

@MikeBrice: SM may help with shorter writing but I think it hurts writers who forget how important it is to provide detailed descriptions #icchat

@RobertJHolland: Writing with brevity but also providing all the important details takes work, no doubt. #icchat

@RobertJHolland:  Mark Twain: “I didn’t have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead.” #icchat

@RobertJHolland: That’s how social media are changing writing. Forces us to compartmentalize info, structure info differently, compete for attention #icchat

@ABGooen: Hi, Guys. Joining in. Two keys to good writing: audience analysis and message validation. Lots of “writers” don’t do it. #icchat

A quick sidebar question about information mapping (the structured process of creating information)  from  @MHuras brought this from Robert:

@RobertJHolland: Anything that gets us to clarity[…]

And that turned into the main theme for the discussion.  Clarity requires organization, solid process, research, economical language…whatever process helps you get there, as long as it doesn’t get in the way.

@RobertJHolland: A2: Don’t get wrapped up in process at expense of clarity, logical flow of ideas, and of course the reader’s enjoyment #icchat

@CommAMMO: I’ve read some on sense-makingappreciative inquiryBarbara Minto’s structures… Agree if it helps w/clarity, use it. #icchat

@JGombita: @robertjholland life lesson from high school English teacher: I don’t know what you meant to write, I only judge & enjoy what I see. #icchat

By now, the time was flying by.

@CommAMMO Q3: Describe your typical approach/process to writing. I usually free-write to start, seldom outline 1st…

@RobertJHolland: A3: Outlines never helped me much. I use them rarely. Process is such a personal thing. Whatever works for you, use it! #icchat

@RobertJHolland: A3: Main thing is to keep focused on the main message. It’s easy to lose the message as u get caught up in story details. #icchat@RobertJHolland: A3: I usually just start writing. But that’s just the first step. The real work is in rewriting, refining, editing. #icchat

@JGombita: @robertjholland alt., leave it alone for a bit (hours, a day). Start fresh with your writing, approaching it from entirely new angle #icchat

@MikeBrice: I start with a lede and nut graph to determine if it is interesting to me to see if it will be interesting to employees #icchat

How bout a specific method, step-by-step?

@ABGooen: @CommAMMO 1. Know who I’m writing for. 2. List five key points. 3. Circle top point/prioritize other points. 4. Write. 5. Revise. #icchat

We also touched on “conversational” writing, judged to be essential for internal comms. But what makes writing conversational?

@RobertJHolland: Use real English, but don’t get sloppy. And for heaven’s sake don’t slip into jargon. #icchat

That can be a challenge when dealing with leaders — some of whom want language to be “elevated” to some kind of lofty, complicated prose. Anyone had that experience?

@PointsofRue: Yes, but I’ve also had a leader keenly push us in that direction because she saw the value of connecting with “average” employees #icchat

@RobertJHolland: Absolutely! It’s a never-ending fight, but it’s our job to fight it. Push for clarity. Jargon rarely leads to clarity. #icchat

@PointsofRue: My response to “you’re dumbing it down” is “no, I’m opening it up” #icchat

@CommAMMO:  @pointsofrue Me: “I’m trying 2demystify leadership, make language more accessible to more ppl.” Boss: “but they don’t want that.” #icchat

@JGombita: Conversational is inclusive. It’s the kind you get at the best dinner parties, lots of give and take. #icchat

That leaves out a lot of good stuff — read the transcript from www.TweetDoc.org, here.

Many thanks to all our participants, and especially to Robert. We’ll resume 8 September. Stay tuned for the time of day. Cheers for now!

 

 

 

 

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Writing is topic for next #icchat

Thursday, July 7th, 2011

Robert J. Holland

Whither writing for the modern internal communicator? That’s the question special guest Robert J. Holland, president of Holland Communication Solutions, will answer in our next #ICChat, Thursday, 14 July at 10 a.m. Eastern.

Robert’s history reads quite a bit like my own: jobs with big companies, including ATT & Capital One, followed by entrepreneurship — he’s been at the latter a little long than I, however, eleven years versus my two. Over the years he’s amassed dozens of clients from Fortune 500 firms to nonprofits to small businesses. He’s also a university prof — Virginia Commonwealth University, where he teaches in the PR sequence of the School of Mass Communications.

Author, teacher, top-flight communicator – I’m delighted to welcome Robert to our #icchat family. Follow him on Twitter@RobertJHolland and find his blog at http://robertjholland.wordpress.com/.

 

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