If I were an internal communicator…

Across the whole organisation there is a massive transformation programme running to save money and improve services. It’s been cooking since before the spending review in various guises. Internal campaigns having come and gone and are making a comeback. How successful will they be this time?

Previous campaigns have been lacking in real content but filled with flashy logos, artwork and names, sweetie, names. Developed by internal comms people who think they work in a PR agency, the relentless promotion of the programme name and logo swiftly goes the way of banner adverts blinking at you from the top of a web page. You just switch off.

The comms strategy this time round is not much different and continues to promote the brand and programme everywhere possible, including (the declining) news stories on the intranet, engagement and ideation projects, television channels at HQ, staff magazines, gung-ho groups, email newsletters and the intranet homepage. And again, there is very little substance in terms of meaningful information.

We’ve been here before and I remember being so annoyed last time that I mocked up a new intranet homepage with a massive programme logo filling the screen, leading to a page which said “more information coming soon.” Constantly being told to “change, save money and transform” like a stuck record when it’s not clear what you are expected to do does not make for a successful campaign.

In traditional project management, back in the day, I remember project managers appearing with their mile long Gantt charts and proudly slapping them on the table. Of course, everyone around the table is thinking “What’s in it for me? Where’s my bit?” and it only becomes useful when broken down into the bits and pieces that affect you. Bitesize user stories make sense.

A few weeks ago, strategically placed while I’m queuing for coffee, I saw a wide popup display that looked pretty similar to those old project management charts. Branded with the fabulous programme logo, naturellement. Lines and milestones going left to right, up and down the length of the coffee queue with diddy writing that I can’t read. And curious about this monstrosity that had been created, I walked, as one does between paintings in a gallery, from end to end of the display, trying to work it out. The years run from 2010 into the future across the top. Down the left are 20 or 30 items with different colour codes and writing so small that you need to get up very close in order to read it, meaning that you lose orientation from the bigger picture. And it’s all so high-level and overarching that none of it means anything. Disengage. Switch off. #fail

The same spawn-of-gantt-monster appeared later in a multi-page PDF document to go on the intranet, with a caveat not to make the document printable. So now it’s impossible to make sense of if you try to read it on screen, and you lose all hope of being able to understand it should you actually want to print it. But hey, it’s been communicated. Tick!

We know from email marketing that audience segmentation gets the best click through rates. We know that analysing data by splitting into chunks is more meaningful than looking at the big picture. We know that projects work best by breaking down into bitesize pieces. If I were tasked with communicating the programme to the organisation I would break down the programme, section off the tasks and priorities that affect my different audiences and communicate tailored messages to each audience segment. So that as a member of staff, when I get a message, it’s personal to me. It affects the building I work in, the department or team that I work in. It calls for my expertise in helping with a specific problem. It engages me.

Of course if it were possible to use digital solutions to engage staff without being hampered by out of date IT platforms and restrictive information security policies then my campaign could be even more effective. But let’s concentrate on the things that we can change.

Internal communications is more than designing a pretty logo, sending an email or shoving a document on the intranet and ticking a box to say that the you have communicated. Senior managers should demand evaluation, proof and statistics to show that something is happening as a result of the comms. And sending a survey that asks whether I’ve heard of the programme really doesn’t glean any business intelligence. Of course I’ve heard of the programme – I get spammed with it at every opportunity.

Apologies to @sharonodea for the #keepcalm reference – just seemed appropriate.

Content Social

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.

Analytics and evaluation How to Information architecture

How we increased feature news traffic by 53%

At the start of October we introduced the next step in our strategy to improve engagement with news stories on the intranet. A month later we are seeing a 53% increase in traffic.

I had a good hunch that introducing the box would generate *some* interest, but I was amazed by the results at the end of just one month. Pageviews for news stories climbed from 44,185 to 67,872. Similar to Google Adwords, simple text adverts, when placed in context, can be effective.

This increase in news story traffic started when we introduced a “Related stories” advert box, placed top-right of feature news pages. Nothing clever. It’s a simple text box containing a bulleted list of links to past stories.  A maximum of 3 links, with something in common between them all.

Related news

It’s a manual process for our intranet news editor (yes we just have the one!) to link up the relevant back-stories. We publish at least one, usually two feature stories every day, timed to coincide with our peak news readership periods (elevenses and late lunch) aiming to give a sense of steady momentum to the homepage news stream. Our feature news is varied, with stories from the front-line to seasonal pieces to interviews with board members.

The recent enhancement is a great success for my internal communications colleagues. For them, it suggests an increase in reach and shows that staff are interested enough to want to browse through back-stories to get the news behind the news, creating a richer picture. Being practical, we’d like it if staff had already read these stories, but related stories give us a second chance to increase coverage and helps staff to discover articles that they would not otherwise find. Over time, the ripples should start to run through our news collection as more and more stories backlink and crosslink to each other.

I blogged in August on our plans to introduce social functions on intranet news stories. I stress again that we are doing this on a limited HTML/Javascript platform with no fancy programming or databases. We already have a basic *Like* function. Related stories is the second feature to dripfeed into the mix. Next up are *Share with a colleague* and *Comments*…


Social functions on intranet news stories

In January we implemented a voting feature on intranet news stories which consisted of a simple “More like this” and “Fewer like this” voting button.  The feature had good uptake from staff and we are starting to see thumbs up statistics settling down to around 75% of votes.

As part of the recent drive for staff engagement we have been asked to implement more functions to help improve engagement and reach of news stories.  We are preparing to add more elements to our news stories that will give us an arsenal of:

Like this

Staff can vote for more like this or fewer like this.  Statistics for the votes are available to editorial staff who can use the data to concentrate more on what staff want.

Share with a colleague

Send an email to a colleague containing a link to the news story.  The usual “share this” functionality designed to increase readership.


To allow staff to provide more detailed feedback.

You might also like…

A simple list of links to similar/related stories designed to improve exploration and serendipity.
The features are nothing new but it’s encouraging to see that management are now seeing the benefits of such features inside the firewall.

Engagement and crowdsourcing

“Uservoice” screenshot
“Uservoice” screenshot
Engagement and innovation are the buzzwords at work at the moment. The message from the top is “go forth and engage.” Engage with the public. Engage with the staff. And come up with ideas. Help us save money. How can we be more efficient? Which laws can we repeal:?

I have never seen so many sites canvassing for our input. And they appear to be working. People are contributing and interacting. Voting and rating.  Commenting and arguing. These idea collection sites are not barren. Sure, there’s a load of rubbish on them. But alongside the jokes and profanity there are some golden nuggets.

And on the intranet, finally, we are getting requests to be able to comment on news articles and share stories with work colleagues. And a need, more than ever in this time of austerity, for a crowdsourcing tool to collect, vote and comment on ideas from staff.

Having been a  moderator for a crowdsourcing project, I thought I’d put my usability hat on and take a look at some of the products available on the market at the moment, from both the moderation point of view and the end user.

A major problem on crowdsourcing sites is duplicated ideas and comments. Duplication happens when lots of people enter the same idea (lots of people, one idea) and also when people hit the submit button again and again (one person, repeated idea). Uservoice has cracked this problem using type-ahead functionality when people enter ideas. As they type, it shows similar ideas that other people have already entered. They can then view, comment and vote on an existing idea rather than creating a duplicate by entering a new one. And a clever system shouldn’t let you hit the submit button again.

It’s often possible to flag an idea or comment as inappropriate. But in my experience of this people have tended to flag ideas that they don’t like, rather than because there is something in the idea that breaks the moderation policy. If people are able to flag up content as inappropriate then there should be some mechanism to question their action. Otherwise moderators end up with an inbox filled with *thumbs down* messages instead of the correctly flagged content that they need to moderate.

Site owners should spend their time harvesting the good ideas rather than moderating them.

The calculations that are used to *bubble* content up to the top of the list need to be fair. If one idea gets 80 fourstar ratings and another gets 1 fivestar vote, then which sits on top?

How do you stop people going vote crazy or getting idea diarrhea? Uservoice adds a nice touch by limiting the amount of votes that any one person can use. Votes can be used to promote existing ideas.  And adding an idea of your own costs you a vote. Votes get refunded if your idea is used or closed. This helps to limit the number of fanatical posts.

In addition to comments and a little light discussion, site owners should have some method to communicate back to let people know what is happening with ideas. People shouldn’t be left thinking “what happened to my idea?”

Here’s a selection of platforms that I looked at:

Any success stories out there?