The Internet giveth and the Internet taketh away.

What have you lost as a direct result of the Internet? What have you gained?

I partly funded my way through University by working in Virgin Megastores and Our Price Records, both now defunct, sadly missed, killed, at least in part, by the rise of digital music propagated by the Internet.

Our Price Records
There are several mid to late nineties albums I can claim a small amount of responsibility for pushing sales of, Mercury Rev’s Deserter’s Songs being one in particular that I played and played in Fleet Our Price. The hit rate was impressive – passers-by, sucked into the shop by the sounds of the musical saw in Holes, would walk up, ask what was playing and leave with a copy.

Ah those halcyon days!

And now I find myself leading Social Business at Grant Thornton, a role, at least in part, made possible by the Internet and peoples’ constant struggles to get to grips with it. I now help people to explore social selling – not records this time, but their professional selves and expertise…often without help from a musical saw.

So, lost – my perfect job and most of the world’s record shops, though those that remain are all the more special for their scarcity. Gained – another job, another industry and still trying to sell music to people every day through my Twitter account!

So, what have you lost as a direct result of the Internet? What have you gained?

(This post brought to you in association with a long train journey and Dirty Projectors’ Swing Lo Magellan on my headphones. Available to watch by the power of the Internet here or to buy from your favourite local record shop here.) 

The changing role of the internal communicator, part two (or, my first nine months in marketing)

This is part two of a post I wrote back in 2013 about the changing role of the internal communicator. On Thursday 5 May 2016 I’m co-running a session on the future of Internal Communications at the IoIC Live conference (http://www.ioic.org.uk/events/ioic-live-2016.html) so now seemed as good a time as any to unblock my blog and explore what’s changed…if anything.


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My post in 2013 was a reaction, at least in part, to the frustration I felt with the way we in the profession all seemed to work with one hand tied behind our backs. The fact that we were the ones with the rope, seemingly tying our own hands, only added to that frustration. Also, it wasn’t that the grass was necessarily greener on their side, but a lot of what I was hearing from other comms pros was that they felt that they played second fiddle to their marketing colleagues. Internal Comms seemed to need a bit of a shot in the arm.

Since then and somewhat in reaction to my constant working restlessness, I’ve switched roles within Grant Thornton to sit in our marketing team. I still work closely with my Internal Comms colleagues and still have some of the same old frustrations, but I have new perspective and hope I can share something useful.

Communications? PR? Marketing?
The need for IC pros to walk in all three pairs of these shoes in 2016 is even more acute. As organisations once separated out comms, marketing and PR, now they’re bringing them back together. Why? Because the outside is becoming the inside and that gap between what you send your clients as marketeers and what you post on your enterprise social network for your employees to read is not just narrow, it’s non existent.

Comfortable behind our desks
As more organisations give their people the tools to communicate with each other across all levels of hierarchy (ESN, messaging services, smart phones) we can’t expect people to come to us first – our role as gatekeeper is coming to an end. As much as we need to use technology to communicate in a faster, more agile way, we can’t hide behind it. Get up, get out and get into some trouble! In fact I’m often reminded of one of the New Clues from Doc Searls and David Weinberger when looking at the sedentary nature of modern offices, Yeah, the Internet hasn’t solved all the world’s problems. That’s why the Almighty hath given us asses: that we might get off of them. http://newclues.cluetrain.com/#102

Embrace your marketing colleagues – well this happened – I joined the competition! This is still about that connection between what Marketing does and the bottom line. Often the comms team is so busy being the conduit for internal messaging that it can lose its connection to the product. If your product is your people, like it is for us at Grant Thornton, then this connection is all the more vital. This is a challenge for both disciplines; your people will thank you for the clarity of message that comes from both teams working together in a seamless way. If you do see marketing as the competition, then your people will be the ultimate losers, swiftly followed by you.

Making comms ‘sexy’ again – Maybe this was a bit unfair but I still see more people looking for internships in marketing than comms. Could comms do with a PR makeover? Something I’ll be asking on Thursday and reporting back on next week!

My original post spoke about socialising the workplace and community and I’ve rolled them into one for this follow up.

Social media and digital transformation = Connectivity
I’ve touched on this above, but the emergence of ESN (Enterprise Social Networks) and more socially enabled intranets has led to one of the biggest challenges to the culture inside your organisation. As employees mobilise themselves and are less reliant on internal comms, so IC teams need to change the way that they operate. Teams may shrink and become more agile. Where once we may have separated digital communications (yes, that was me!) and community management  skills, it is now essential that all internal communications pros have these as part of their toolkit. But this goes for marketing too – a recent conversation with a  recruiter confirmed that when recruiting for senior roles, digital skills are now an essential part of any successful candidate. 

No conclusions
So has much changed in three years and what will the big changes be in the next three? I’ll update post IoIC with some thoughts. 

What’s clear is that with shrinking teams and a shift away from traditional office environments, comms teams need to think and work differently to survive. The role of the internal communicator is under threat but surely there isn’t a single person reading this who feels completely secure about their working future…? We’re used to communicating change – now we need to embrace it ourselves. 

Time to think in Las Vegas!!

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Now here’s a rare event in the life of an internal communications bod – an enforced week away from the bosom of the office in…Las Vegas. And it’s work!

Me and a colleague are off next week to an über-conference in the desert of Nevada to share our ESN success story at JiveWorld 14 and yes, it feels as nuts as it sounds. 

Las Vegas isn’t a place that I’d normally choose to visit, but, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t excited and stupid if I didn’t throw myself into it completely – bar drunken tattoos, getting married (again) etc etc. 

It also comes at a time of change in my role, as I explore how our internal approach to social media and digital communications can also support our client’s own digital and social strategies. Internal clients to external clients…what could go wrong?

So this part-time blogger thought this would be a good time to explore my own changing role and the changing role of internal communications in a series of blog posts both here and on my internal blog. I’m not convinced Vegas is the best place to achieve clarity of thought, but I’ll be missing my family and will have plenty of time to think…which is more than I can say for my wife who will be managing two boys as well as trying to find some peace herself.

So as I travel to Vegas for some thinking space I thought it was a good time to ask, where’s the weirdest place you experience clarity of thought? Shower?

It’s our party and you’re not invited!

Spurred on* by the success of our project to bring an ESN (Enterprise Social Network) to our people in Grant Thornton UK LLP, our Grant Thornton International colleagues have launched a global event to bring collaboration to our 30,000 plus people worldwide over three days.

Our people have been encouraged to talk about this on their social networks which led to a number of tweets from all over the world yesterday and undoubtedly today too.

Nice to see?

Well yes, if you work for Grant Thornton it’s great to see the engagement it’s driving across the firm.

And if you don’t work for Grant Thornton?

An interesting question from a UK journalist asked, “Can we come in?” The answer? Er, no. Sorry.

So my question. Whilst internal communications beyond the firewall undoubtedly has its moments, is it good practice to talk about internal events with little context out on platforms like Twitter? Does it appear like we’re hosting a party you’re not invited to, or does the value of our employees growing internal networks outside of the firewall outweigh the perceived lack of value for our wider audience? Should internal comms stay internal?

My view: I have talked to many internal people who use Twitter as a barometer for internal comms. They have little time for the intranet or our ESN unless they have a purpose to be there, which is another blog subject. However, a quick check of Twitter and they feel connected. So whilst we won’t overdo it, a bit of contextual internal communication on Twitter has value to our employees. And for everyone else? Please bear with us. It’s our party and we’ll tweet if we want to.

* spurred on or inspired, imitation, down to the name, IS the sincerest form of flattery!

Digital natives? Perhaps.

Let’s do some myth busting.

A trip to Amsterdam* means that I’m going to miss a Grant Thornton Executive networking event on social media tonight.

The event, put together by some of our Executives and trainees, is further evidence of the importance that we’re placing on understanding social media’s position in the workplace and should find an audience very much in touch with the changing landscape in which we all do business.

However, I think this is a bit of a myth.

The truth is that the partners and senior leaders in our firm will usually make the assumption that those new to the firm or coming up through the ranks are the experts in social media. They use it at school, at university, “they’re on it all the time!” And that is also, usually true.

But I also think that this ‘generation Facebook’ are very much in the same boat as our leaders. Yes they understand the nature of the platforms, but do they always make the connection between them and the workplace? I don’t know. What I do know is that we in communications and HR spend a lot if time talking about what this generation needs, that they want to work differently and won’t accept a world of Blackberries and email.

So that’s the question I put to tonight’s organisers – the business makes these assumptions about you, are we right to?

The landscape is still shifting, but some of our most active and connected users of social media for business are our partners and managers and their success stories with these channels are coming thick and fast.

From induction to retirement we should be helping our people to understand all aspects of social media and work, and something like reverse mentoring can help us get there.

However, we shouldn’t make assumptions about where our mentors sit in the business. Where social media is concerned, we all have lessons to learn.

Are we expecting too much from this generation? Should we make anything of the rise in popularity of LinkedIn among graduates? Is this just them conforming to a platform which sets itself up as THE business social network?

Interested to hear thoughts.

* I’m flying to Amsterdam this afternoon for HRTech Europe where I’m lucky enough to be speaking on Friday. Come along if you’re there and find out why we try to always put people before technology (but make great effort to ensure the technology fits, and works!).

Digital landscape is just the landscape.

I’m often asked about the competitive landscape for Grant Thornton when it comes to digital and social communications and my response is usually along these lines.

There are a lot of smart people out there doing some really smart, but relatively isolated things across many online channels in professional services, but is anyone really taking a lead?

This week a lot of us will have read the ‘memo to staff’ sent by Lionel Barber to staff of the FT, outlining next steps in their “digital first” strategy. This will be widely read as the last significant step that the FT needs to take to becoming a “digital only” publication and for me, points much more closely to where organisations such as the one I work for should be looking to get their inspiration from.

http://aboutus.ft.com/2013/10/09/lionel-barber-memo-to-staff-on-reshaping-the-newspaper-for-the-digital-age/

Clearly we’re a different type of organisation altogether, but the bulk of his memo talks about changes to working practices, how articles and thought leadership pieces will be planned, less reactive – more focus on the landscape and trends. Most strikingly there is a very bold, if you’re not ‘in’ then perhaps it’s time you started to think about your career at the FT message which almost had me fist pumping!

It’s a mind shift before it’s a habit shift and this sort of message from senior leadership will focus minds and attention on a potential prize that can no longer be ignored.

As Lionel says, “This is no time to stand still.” You may not see a reason to change your habits yet, but you’d better understand that big organisations are changing the landscape even if your closest competitors aren’t just yet.

The changing role of the internal communicator

The last seven days have been hectic. An unconference, a forum meeting, a networking dinner, an interview in The Times, an amazing gig and….oh yeah, sign off on the huge Enterprise Social Network project me and the team have been working on for the whole of our lives. So in the calm before the implementation storm, some thoughts on the week’s major theme; the changing role of the internal communicator.

Communications? PR? Marketing? – we need to be able to wear all three hats, or at least be able to walk in all three pairs of shoes.

Comfortable behind our desks – we can’t continue to expect people to come to us. We need to be out there making change happen, visible and essential. In our rush for a seat at the table, we have to leave our own seat behind once in a while.

Embrace your marketing colleagues – there was a recurring theme at ‘The big Yak’ of marketing being the competition. “They have the biggest budget”, “They have more sway”. Marketing people are people too – talk to them, learn from them, work with them not against them. There’s an immediacy to marketing because they understand the link between what they do and the bottom line. Maybe that’s not as tangible to some of us in Comms.

Making comms ‘sexy’ again – Marketing is ‘sexy’ because they make it so. Networking, dinners, awards, events, clients. We have those things too people!

Socialising the workplace – the emergent role of the social business manager. Doing this right means the marrying together of all the above and understanding that ‘social’ and ‘digital’ are just words. Communicate the business benefit of an ESN (Enterprise Social Network) or a simple Twitter feed, show people what’s in it for them, and don’t expect it to be easy!

Community – two elements to this. 1) Community Management – understand what this means to your business and to you. The tools we now have at our disposal are changing this from a little bit of what we all do, to the be all and end all. 2) You’re not alone. There’s a growing, engaged community of practitioners out there to learn from and who want to learn from you. Follow @theICcrowd for a start and switch on to a whole bunch of people walking in your shoes.

Finally, and this may be just me, but having been the quiet ones (all things are relative…) in the corner, suddenly the ‘digital’ part of Grant Thornton’s Comms team is going to be awfully noisy from now on. ESN signed off and social business hats pulled tightly on, call it what you want but the ‘digi’ boys and girls are coming!!!

What changes do you see coming over the horizon for communicators?