#SWCONF 2012, intranet diary debrief

I remember stumbling upon #SWCONF on Twitter last year and getting hooked on the live tweets. This year I attended in person to find out what all the buzz was about.

The Social Workplace Conference, organised by Crexia, took place on 24th May at a beautiful theatre space at the Cavendish Conference Centre in the West End. It was a well-paced day with 9 half hour sets of talks and panel discussions from companies such as LexisNexis, Accenture, Virgin Media and Bupa.

Here’s a brief write-up of what I took away from the day.

Knowledge management

One of the main themes at the conference was the key business need to retain, manage and utilise knowledge within the workforce. High staff turnover, redundancy and retirement are all major factors today; businesses need to capture what is in the heads of their staff and what is being output as emails and documents before information is literally lost.

Social media is the ideal solution to what companies have been trying to do for years. Capture and disseminate information. And it does it so much better than any of the useless, tried and failed KM/IM/IT projects that I’ve witnessed over the years. Done well, a social workplace can capture all the information that is usually hidden in email, which is the main method that we use to communicate and transfer knowledge in organisations. It can capture all the conversations, comments, ideas and events that take place around a topic or project or policy. And it can make all that information available to everyone in the workplace, in any office or work location. With APIs and mashups, we can transform this data into something meaningful and usable, driving business intelligence and ideas for action.


In difficult financial times and being expected to do more with less, companies are turning to crowdsourcing and really listening to their staff. Social platforms flatten the organisational structure, encouraging staff to talk to anyone, throw around ideas, debate and demonstrate, all helping to drive innovation and create ways to save money or do things more efficiently.

Project management

Traditional project management not being the flavour of the month (or should that be decade?) it was interesting to see examples of social solutions being employed in projects. Organisations that are driven by programmes and projects can make savings in travel time and expenses by moving table meetings online. The project plan is stored in a collaborative environment, so everyone is kept informed, minimising mistakes due to communications errors, and managers can see live progress updates.

Strategy and implementation

It’s not about technology. Just installing a new system is not enough. Introducing social media into the workplace needs ongoing support and education.

For promotion, viral doesn’t work on an enterprise level. You need to seek out the communities that already exist in the organisation and cultivate them online to align with business objectives. Most importantly, don’t start a new online community space with no content and no people. And rather than just creating a new space and hoping for people to come, embedding social tools into existing applications is a better way of engaging existing users.

Don’t go for a big bang release of an all-singing all-dancing social intranet. Drip feed social aspects into the mix and let staff get used to them. Recognise that you can’t replace email, but try to take conversations to the social space.

There is generally a requirement for some moderation and shepherding. The biggest problem was spam updates such as “My hair is looking great today” containing no business value.

Feedback from organisations at the conference indicated that it takes at least a year before you can expect to see results. And a very important point that I noted was that typical internal networks are not setup to cope with modern social software, especially where video publishing and consumption is involved. And I just know that will be that case at my workplace being that internet access reduces to a crawl at lunchtimes.

Management support and uptake

There are some blockers to be aware of. In some organisations, sharing knowledge is alien and means reducing personal power. People with salaries based on bonuses feel that they don’t benefit from sharing and live in culture of keeping what they know under wraps.Companies generally got good support from senior management and worker-bee staff but there was still talk of resistance from middle-management looking on staff who use social tools as time-wasters. And advocacy at senior levels is not enough. Senior staff have to be seen leading by example, promoting a culture of permission, using the tools even if they have a PA who does it for them.


There were several examples of companies using drop-in clinics in the workplace for those members of staff who are not acquainted with using social media tools. So while staff who regularly share and engage on Facebook and Twitter will get to grips with social tools in the workplace, we have to remember that not everyone uses these sites. But on the other side of the coin there was a school of thought stating that you can’t teach social; the only way to learn social media is to use it.

It was interesting to see examples of point systems, recognition and gamification at work within companies. Accenture use a scoring system, which sounded like a Klout score measuring employee contributions and activity in social spaces. And while it was acknowledged that most people are lurkers, and lurkers are fine because they still consume company messages, there was a push to encourage staff to contribute, cultivate and interact with content online.


  • Death of in-house publications as the news and conversation around it moves online
  • Reduced email, especially all-staff emails, as messages become targeted and part of the online conversation
  • Staff engagement improves as they feel part of the conversation
  • Live feeds are available giving live business intelligence
  • Remote workers feel more connected

What the conference lacked

The subject of information security was only briefly touched on towards the end of the day and I’m not sure why I didn’t hear more about this during the day. Surely private sector companies have the same security concerns as government and public sector organisations? Most of the social platforms talked about were available anywhere via the internet.And, being a details guy, I wanted to hear more about what happens to the social content/comment and its use in developing taxonomies and improving search via social tagging and moderation. There was little talk about content quality, structure or findability.Maybe next year?

My favourite quotes of the day

“A 90 second video is more valuable than a 60 page document” – Laurie Hibbs, LexisNexis

“It’s not about technology” – Angela Ashenden, MWD Advisors

“68% of IT projects fail” – Alan Pelz-Sharpe, ECM & Enterprise Search

“Don’t add unless you subtract” – Leon Benjamin, Virgin

Media“‘Everyone’ is not a group” – Laurie Hibbs, LexisNexis

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