#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.

Innovation

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.

Education

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.
Incentives

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.

Outcomes

  • 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

Social media guidelines and the workplace

GDS and the Home Office released their Social Media Guidelines for Civil Servants on 17th May. With introductions from Francis Maude and Sir Bob Kerslake, I’m hoping that this backing will help to support changes in policy for using social media channels and platforms within the workplace.

The recent guidelines for civil servants have a lot of positive points concerning the workplace such as upgrading to modern browsers and increasing bandwidth and using social media to communicate and listen.

I’m feeling the tipping point at work now. More frequently we are seeing requests to implement social solutions, from the recent request for a director blog and staff commenting platform on the intranet to requests for Huddle workspaces and increased use of crowdsourcing platforms.

Yet still we do not have a central platform inside the firewall for staff to engage with each other. I hope that the new intranet project will tackle this issue. Working in communications, I know how important it is to get messages out to staff and to listen to staff. We’ve relied for years on spot surveys and form-filled opinions but we’ve never had our ear to the ground.

swconf logo

#SWCONF, the Social Workplace Conference is on Thursday 24th. I hope to pick up on what problems social media is solving within the workplace, how other comms departments are using it internally and I’m especially looking for ideas around the staff user profile.

The new intranet will also involve a massive information architecture exercise so I’m keen to find out if and how other organisations encourage their staff to organise their content, socially, via tagging and liking etc. and how this might compare to formally structured content.

Related pages

Could this be the start of a social intranet?

It’s 5 o’clock on Friday afternoon, the day after our office Christmas party and I’m very much looking forward to going home. Just as I’m packing my things away I’m approached by one of the comms team…

“The Director General is going on the road next week and wants to be able to tweet progress and display it on the intranet,” he demands.

“I want to go home and if she waits another few months for our Twitter policy to be approved then perhaps I can do something,” I think to myself.

So after explaining that nobody in the organisation is actually allowed to access and view Twitter I do a bit of “requirements gathering” to find out exactly what the DG wants to do.

There is a requirement to send posts from outside the firewall and have them appear on the intranet so that staff can feedback and interact. And they want to be able to crowdsource ideas from staff. Whoa there! We’ve already got a crowdsourcing platform (see my blog post on our Staff crowdsourcing pilot) – the system has been live for a few months now – but I’ll take any help I can get to promote it within the organisation – especially from one of the Director Generals.

So, after straining my brain for a quick and workable technical solution, I spent early Friday evening plugging in a Disqus widget to a page on the intranet. We’ve used Disqus (as it’s meant to be used) before, as a commenting tool for pages on our Making Sense of Criminal Justice site. We already had an account to create the comment thread, and it took only seconds to setup the DG with a Disqus account, who can now access Disqus from the smartphone and post comments while on the road and they will appear on the intranet page. The first few posts are now coming through. It’s all looking good.

Of course not all staff have adequate browsing software let alone privileges to access internet content. Some versions of Internet Explorer are so old that Disqus displays a message recommending people to upgrade and also warns that you might not be able to post comments. The state of our IT systems is appalling – but that’s another blog post 😉

Nevertheless, having spoken to a few people in the far outreaches of the organisation, the quick Disqus plugin solution seems to be working. Staff are able to see the messages coming through from the outside world.

But, no responses from staff yet. Perhaps their browsers cannot handle the plugin. Perhaps the messages aren’t engaging them. Perhaps they’re too scared to reply openly to the Director General. However, it’s early days and this could be the start of something very positive for the intranet in terms of social functionality and digital conversations between staff and senior management.

I know Disqus isn’t the most perfect solution. It’s not the most accessible solution. But for now it does provide a solution. It’s great that we have interest in social media from the top of the organisation. Maybe next year we’ll have staff micro-blogging and updating their status inside the firewall.

Content interaction vs content generation

Terms like social intranet and intranet 2.0 used to make me think “Facebook at work” (or indeed Google+ these days.) And that could be cool. But I ask myself “how connected are the people who work in the very different parts of our organisation?”

Silos do exist, and in a large department consisting of over 50 organisations there are bound to be groups of people who have no need to come into contact with other groups at work. Does a probation officer need to connect with a policy maker? Are barristers interested in following information assurance professionals? Will a High Court judge like any of the work that the employee engagement team are doing at Head Office? I’m not saying that it wouldn’t be beneficial if staff from different parts of the organisation connected or showed an interest in each other. And I don’t want to play down the power of connected staff within their own silos, after all, even small teams need to communicate with each other.

For me, the data that is formed by people interacting with the content is more interesting than the data from the relationships and networks that people form with each other. The act of liking a piece of news or rating a piece of guidance information or tagging a corporate policy. It’s this underlying data that interests me. From this data, we can improve the service that the intranet offers.

So while there are intranets out there where staff can blog and micro-blog, follow each other and talk online to each other, I believe our main business benefit would initially come from the way that staff interact with the content, such as rating, commenting and tagging. I don’t know whether this falls under the umbrella of social networking or social media. For me the key element is interacting with the content, as opposed to generating new content or interacting with other people.

Social interaction with content can improve the usability and the quality of the intranet. Here are just some of the benefits I can think of based on pure social interaction with content, as opposed to generation of new content:

  • search results improve as pages and documents become tagged with words suggested by staff, so people will find things faster
  • quality of intranet content improves as comments start to feed back to content editors
  • better written, more accurate and useful content gets rated higher and starts to appear higher in search results and “most popular” lists
  • user tagging builds a folksonomy which can feed into the search function and content delivery

I’m not saying that there isn’t a place for micro-blogging and user-generated content on the intranet. I just don’t think that it’s the first place for us to start building a social intranet. Social interaction can help to improve corporate content. I think it’s important to get this right before introducing user-generated content.