ESNanon – an unconference for ESN professionals

A repost from Rachel Miller’s All Things IC blog…written by me

Come and air your ESN successes and stresses

Who can you turn to in your contacts book to ask for confidential advice and guidance about all things enterprise social network (ESN) related?

esnanonI regularly get emails from people asking for my opinion, but what if there was a whole room of your peers willing and able to share their stories?

Well now there is, and here to tell us all about a shiny new unconference – that you’re invited to – is comms pro Paul Thomas @tallpaul75. Over to you Paul…

Come and air your ESN successes and stresses

Rachel has invited me to write a post on her blog, which is incredibly gracious of her seeing as it is her idea (and that of her The Big Yak compadres in The IC Crowd) that we’ve stolen, belt and braces!

Alex Chapel @achapel01, from KPMG, Kim England @miss_england_19, from Pearson, and I have recently announced our plans to hold an ESN unconference, #ESNanon. It’s being held on 21 March at Pearson’s offices on The Strand, London.

This is the first in what we hope will be a series of events dedicated to those who work in the ever-growing world of ESN.

So why an unconference?


I have a love/hate relationship with conferences and networking events. Attend a good one and I walk away invigorated, a spring in my step, a song in my heart, ready to embrace the challenges I’ve taken away.

Attend a bad one and pretty much the reverse is true.

In most cases the conferences I attend are neither altogether good nor altogether bad, they just don’t do a good enough job of designing themselves around the most important people – their attendees.

Usually it’s plenary, coffee, plenary, lunch, workshop, coffee, workshop, close, networking drinks.

Coffee is interrupted by vendors selling you something you don’t need, lunch is the usual juggling of plate, glass and conversation which generally ends up with you not enjoying any of its constituent parts.

It was at one of these events where Alex and I sat at the end talking about how we’d not managed to have many conversations at all with our peers. The whole event had moved so fast that actual conversation had only played a very small part.

“What we need is an unconference” I said.

Quickly rewind…

I met Alex a couple of years ago when introduced by Euan Semple @euan. I was probably bleating on about how hard my job was proving, leading Grant Thornton‘s social business approach, and he suggested we meet.

Alex works for KPMG and collaboration isn’t necessarily the first word that springs to mind when you mention our firm’s names in the same breath, but here we were.

For our initial meetings, in the pub, were joined by a couple of others struggling with Enterprise Social Networks in large organisations. Thank God beer was involved!

What followed were a couple of downloading sessions where we shared the challenges we were facing and offered each other advice on how to overcome them.

Back to the point Paul…

#TheBigYak is organised by the trinity of Rachel, Jenni Wheller and Dana Leeson (You can find us @theICcrowd and read about the event here – Rachel). It was clear we needed a third Musketeer and so we spoke to Kim England at a networking event, briefly outlining the idea and agreeing to meet for coffee.

One coffee and one lunch later we had a rough plan, a name for the event (ESN Anonymous seemed to reflect the peer therapy sentiment) and a location.

And so now all we need to do is to replicate that peer sharing at scale. 70 people in one place, on a Saturday, willing to contribute, share and help each other through a wide range of challenges and conundrums.

We’ll follow the rules of the unconference, allowing our attendees to lead the agenda, employing the rule of two feet and making sure everyone leaves feeling they’ve learnt something or contributed in some way.

There’s so much to discuss including:

  • how to write the business case for ESN
  • getting buy-in at senior level
  • approach to implementation
  • launch strategies
  • big questions around proving long-term value
  • interpreting your numbers
  • plus managing your community.

I’m always blown away by the amount of egoless sharing that goes on between communications professionals and their dedication to doing a great job.

We’ve chosen a Saturday so we get the really dedicated. ‘give up my Saturday’ comms pros who will bring immense value to the room. All yours for a tenner (£10) and a Saturday!

So, if that sounds good…and come on, it really does…sign up at our Eventbrite page now and we’ll see you for a really good chat on 21 March!

Post author: Paul Thomas.

Thanks Paul. I have signed up to attend, babysitters for my toddler and newborn twins permitting, and hope to make it along. Hats off to Paul, Kim and Alex as I know how much hard work it takes to organise such an event, especially alongside the day job.

Even though one would assume there’s less work as it’s unstructured, I promise you that’s not the case! But the beauty of an unconference is that you get out what you put into it. Plus you should leave with your questions answered as you help shape the content.

Are you going to #ESNAnon? If not, you can follow the conversations via the hashtag #ESNanon before, during and after the event on Twitter.

You can get your ticket for just under £10 here.

Further reading
Want to find out more about enterprise social networks and using social media internally? See the links below for articles I’ve published about them over the six years I’ve been writing my blog for.

PR360_You can also discover what events are coming up for comms pros to attend globally by checking out my comms calendar.

Plus save money off PR Week’s PR360 event simply by being a reader of my blog – see my exclusive deal.

Here are the links:

Rachel Miller @AllthingsIC

First published on All Things IC blog 13 February 2015.


We’re looking for a dynamic full time host for our exciting new client space in St Albans

This is the job spec that I’ve just written for a Host for our new client space in Hertfordshire. This will be the most important role in the small team we’re putting together.

We’re currently benchmarking the role and salary will be decided by the end of the week. In the meantime, have a look and see if this is anyone you know!

Job title – Host

Purpose – To host and ensure the smooth and professional running of our Herts space

We’re looking for a dynamic full time host for our exciting new client space in St Albans.

You’ll be joining us at a very exciting time as we open a brand new Grant Thornton experience in St Albans, Hertfordshire. Predominantly a space for our clients (we expect over half of our footfall to be customers) this is not a traditional office by any stretch.

If you imagine the space as being one part executive airport lounge, one part collaboration suite and one part event space (we have room to house events for up to 40 people) you won’t be too far wrong. The space will be home to a small team of dynamic and  entrepreneurial people from across our traditional teams in Tax and Audit, as well as from our internal social media and communications teams. You’ll also work with a wide range of Grant Thornton people as they visit the space however, your first responsibility will be to our clients, ensuring that their experience of the space is one that they’ll enjoy, remember and return to again and again.

As this is a brand new role to Grant Thornton and one which we expect to set new standards across the hosted business lounge industry, the person we’re looking for will be an entrepreneurial, highly collaborative and empowered individual who’s prepared to get stuck in and develop the role of host alongside the rest of our small team.

We’re looking for someone who will show real ownership of both the role and the space, demonstrating creativity in all they do. The initial focus will be to help us build the client experience; from front line customer interaction and a concierge style service, to helping us to build lasting relationships with clients, suppliers and intermediaries alike.

There will be no typical ‘day in the life’, the role is there to be defined. You can expect to be involved in and contributing to client meetings, organising regular events and establishing and maintaining relationships with local suppliers such as caterers, printers and other local businesses.

You’ll be IT literate, just as happy changing printer cartridges as you are sending a tweet or helping our clients access the wifi. You’ll also be the main point of contact for our central IT team where necessary.

You may be from a hospitality or customer service background, just as at ease with building relationships with a visiting CEO as you are with chasing up a delivery of coffee. Did we mention it would be helpful if you were a trained barista, or at least able to make the best coffee in town?

So if you’re an exceptional office manager/team assistant/customer service/event organiser/account manager/barista and want to help us develop the most important role in our small, ‘start-up’ team, then apply here!

Main responsibilities:

  • to welcome and attend visitors to our client space in St Albans
  • ‘check-in’– connect visitors to IT and other services and show them around
  • to assist the team
  • building and facility management
  • to support our regular events, including guest management, managing suppliers and organising catering
  • to work flexibly as required to suit the requirements of the business (events may be early morning, or evening – we anticipate opening 7am to 7pm but will all be responsible for covering those opening hours)

You are:

  • entrepreneurial and dynamic
  • quick to establish strong relationships
  • happy to get your hands dirty and get stuck in
  • an experienced customer service professional or front of house host
  • used to dealing with a wide range of people
  • flexible and happy to work flexibly
  • computer literate and at ease with technology, able to figure out software quickly
  • able to explain things clearly

Las Vegas: Why speak at events?

This week I’m using ‘downtime’ in Las Vegas to think about changes to my role over the last few years. 

Speaking at SMiLE London September 2014

Speaking at SMiLE London September 2014

I wrote in a previous blog post about the changing role of the internal communicator and one of the biggest changes for me has been attending and speaking at events. As I ready myself for a presentation in Las Vegas on Thursday, I thought it may be a good time to reflect on why I see this as an important part of my role and why I’d recommend taking the leap to anyone in internal communication.

I’ve had a number of opportunities and invitations over the past three years and I’ve tried to take them all. At first, I saw doing this as a chance to take myself right outside out of my comfort zone and it really made me think about the messages that I wanted to get across. Whilst it seemed important to have an idea of what I wanted to talk about and a way of getting there (ugh, the slides…the slides), what I was really getting out of it was a more carefully crafted, sense checked message to take back into my organisation.

It’s hard sometimes to get perspective on something you’re so close to. Taking the time to think about the best way to translate the work you do, or the project you’re running for an audience who have no expectation beyond you being engaging and interesting, can be massively beneficial to your own understanding of what it is that you do and how you go about doing it.

I’ve used this focusing of message to good effect. Not only do I think I’m more convincing and able to explore more angles when having internal conversations about online and social communication, but it has also enabled me to challenge the attitude of more senior stakeholders by saying, “you know, I was presenting at a major HR technology conference and they were really impressed with what we’re doing at Grant Thornton.”

In fact just recently, in looking at my role and how it needs to evolve again, I’ve started to use the external interest in what we’re doing with social media to draw attention to the fact that internally we still have work to do. Speaking at external events gives me ammunition and gravitas to say, “look, this stuff is increasingly important and still needs to be taken seriously.”

However the major thing about events is the opportunity to talk to your peers. I won’t call it networking here because that word still strikes fear into my heart. It’s more about listening to and asking questions of people who do similar roles to you in other organisations. I’m a massive fan of the unconference approach for this very reason; giving people the opportunity to set and lead the agenda or engage and contribute as they see fit. It takes away the pressure of the coffee break and connects people so much better. How often do you get to have a really good natter with people who share your challenges?

So what’s the message? Why do I speak at events?

  1. There is clearly awareness value to my organisation and brand and whilst sometimes it’s low key, the value of having our name out on social media channels and in event write ups is exceptional.
  2. It’s personal brand building. As comms pros we can be somewhat apologetic in approach. Get out there and share the hard work you’re doing. Someone will get value out of hearing how you overcame your challenges and it may lead to an invitation to Vegas!
  3. Ultimately though it helps breed confidence in your work, your message and how you convey that message. The brand wins, you win and you’ll ultimately find you become a better communicator for putting yourself out there.

Time to think in Las Vegas!!

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!

Some people have all the fun

Full Service Digital Agencies. There are a lot of you out there and I’m sure I’ve heard from most of you in the last 4 or 5 years. There’s nothing you can’t do, you are full service after all.

So my question, and why I find it hard to find a reason to use many of you is, if you’re doing everything, where on earth is the fun for me?

Return of the Yak and the continuing evolution of Internal Comms

20140703-002749-1669481.jpg image

I wrote a post last year following the first, brilliant Big Yak unconference about the changing role of the internal communicator, as well as some other emerging trends from the day. Rather than eulogise about this year’s event too much, (it was great, brilliantly organised again by The IC Crowd ladies and their band of volunteers) I thought I’d post a few comments on how things have moved on in the last year.

Enterprise Social Networks are now commonplace

Last year there was a lot of talk from the people in the room about ESN. A few of us had concrete plans to bring one in, but the majority were considering it. This year there were a lot of conversations about how we are using our brand new, shiny networks. Lots of us wanted to know about launch strategies, about how to deal with engagement and particularly, now we’ve got ESN in place, how do we as internal communicators use them?

One point we all agreed on, cultural readiness is key. A number of people I spoke with mentioned concerns that internal comms hadn’t been consulted about a launch planned by their IT teams. One contributor talked about how their ESN had been forced down on them from HQ, despite them already having something in place that worked for their UK business. But those who were bringing in the systems as part of a wider cultural change were confident and clear on what needed to happen to achieve success.

One question that seemed to have no clear answer was do you go for a Big Bang launch to all your people all at once, or do you release gradually to advocate groups and build strong business use cases? At Grant Thornton we went for the latter and with 80% of the firm now on board, I feel strongly that the drip feed release worked wonders to build strong word of mouth and therefore greater goodwill for the platform.

Will internal Comms teams be redundant in 5 years?

This is paraphrasing a session that I ran with a colleague, Helen Deverell. Our main question was “how does giving employees a louder voice within the organisation change the role of the internal communication team?” It’s a question we’ve asked in our team as well and lots of ideas were shared and summarised nicely by Helen in her blog post this week.

Most agreed that we need to evolve and that whilst our roles will definitely change, that it was a positive change and one to be embraced. Journalistic and consulting skills will be brought to the fore and lengthy sign off processes are a thing of the past. News will happen in the moment, not yesterday. Employees have always been the source of the story, but now they can be the story and we have to react to that. That means more live events, live blogging and demonstrating that these platforms live and breathe in ways that our old intranets never really could.

My own assertion is that we can no longer afford to hide behind the internal communication moniker. People are more likely to follow rockstars than corporate news feeds, so we need to step out from the shadows and show personality and develop our own style or risk irrelevancy. Authenticity is key.

A last point for this post – are we our own worst enemies? Helen touches on this in her post too, but there’s a sense that we don’t always follow our own best advice. Can we really sell in these groundbreaking tools if we don’t use them honestly ourselves?

Like the unconference format itself, social collaboration platforms are disruptive. Our internal communication teams will either ride the wave of that disruption and come out stronger, or risk getting swept away.

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