business/ organizational communication

This category contains 7 posts

555: 5 ways to turn off your audience

Five ways to turn off the next generation, leave them cold, and have them leave you cold.

1.  Flood the Twittersphere. As soon as businesses adopted Twitter, it began to lose its sway on the next gen.  Even 140 characters will soon be too much effort.  And flooding that space isn’t going to help you a bit.  Twitter’s got a way to help you see what gets retweeted.  Note a prediction now–Facebook will fade too if it doesn’t capitalize further on the visual.

2. Ignore the visual side of the medias that are available. Shopping for major purchases has become looking at the photos.  If there is a visual element available, ignore at your own risk.

3.  Keep putting bullet points on PowerPoint slides. “Death by PowerPoint” has become a literal phenomenon, as in the death of your sales prospects, and the diminution of your bottom line.

4. Keep doing what you’re doing now.  Mail eventually floods with junk.  Land-lines eventually become flooded with tele-marketers.  The Internet flooded with porn, and the blog world simply became overloaded period.  Facebook will fade, and Instagram will implode and on and on and on… people are beginning to plead to undigitize. You have to shift as the audiences do, but that means you have to figure out when to move.

5.  And last, but not least, stick with Facebook, Twitter and Linked-In.  Skip Pinterest, YouTube, Tumblr, Instagram.  If you’re not everywhere, you’re not anywhere… but you can’t be everywhere. Time to move… or time to lose.


What if McLuhan was wrong?

One of the standing tenets of communication is McLuhan’s statement in 1964 that “the medium is the message.” This is incontrovertibly true for marketing.  Television, as a medium for marketing communication, has become an iconic representation of McLuhan’s message.  Television reinvents itself regularly and shapes the message in ways that have shifted with a rapidly shifting marketplace.  Television marketeers are beginning to learn the concept of “hang-time” so that, as their target market fast-forwards their DVR, the image of their product sticks around long enough in the frame jumps to be seen clearly.

The same can be said for the Web, as we watch pop-up ads come and then go, and now they’re back with countdown hang-times.  The ability of the technology, such as the DVR, to fast-forward or the ability on the Internet to click through the message is also being countered by the other arms of the technology. The media in itself IS the message, as McLuhan stated, and way the communication streams through the media determines the likelihood of the message being seen.  But television, like most marketing media, is a one-way communication.  The fact that I’m yelling at the TV that I hate commercials is not heard by the marketeers or the brand.  The return message is delayed, at best, as I either go buy the product they’re advertising, or I don’t.  The ability to diagnose the return on investment is delayed as well, and available only by analyzing whether a specific ad drives sales up or does not.  Clicking through an ad on the Internet, or clicking past it, on the other hand, is a two-way communication.

When you swivel the panopticon around to look at social media as internal organizational communication, the media as message falters a bit.  I would suggest that, in this instance, we have to move beyond the definition of the technology as the medium, because, for the first time in technological history, the medium is actually the human beings that adopt the programming.  Or, in some cases don’t.

To expand on that–when you’re developing an enterprise social media networking platform, you cannot ignore the fact that human beings are not just part of the equation, but the reason for it.  Advertising has the built-in delay factor for the return communication.  But internal organizational SMNPs are not yet able to withstand the delay.  The three basics of communication are sender-channel-receiver, and both ends of that formula are humans (unlike marketing which is organization-channel-human).

Organizational social networking systems have a tendency to falter at the receiver end.  They define the channel, and attempt to get the sender invested, but the receiver is often defined as the nebulous “them,” or “they.”  If you post something in the community, then the community will read it, right?  But a concerted effort is not taking place to tie individuals to the receiver end.

With the information overload going on, there’s active resistance on the individual’s part to becoming invested in the community, and the only reason that organizations have come up with to invest “them” in the system is access to information.  Businesses can encourage adoption of the community, but the individuals that are needed for any community to exist will simply ignore the SMNP as a venue unless the perceived value of the information becomes important to them as individuals in an information-overloaded environment.

What Facebook did right, and what has turned out to be a huge part of its overall success, was to make the sender define “them.”  People must identify other people as their friends, or they don’t see any communication and they cannot be seen. The perceived value to the individual on an emotional and connective level is is huge.  There’s the status of having umpty-thousand friends, in and of itself.  There’s the anti-status (the iconoclast’s status) for those of us who don’t happen to believe that the person that dies with the most Facebook friends wins.

Businesses that are instituting their own social networking platforms are often pre-defining “them” as communities, or sectional areas within the organization, human resources, marketing, sales, etc., and thereby defining the receiver as a group, rather than an individual.  So they are creating the very silos that they were trying to break down by instituting social media.  There is no cachet in belonging to communities, and in fact, reason to avoid them, as most of  an individual’s daily work isn’t something they want everyone in the community to see.  So only finished pieces get displayed in the community, and it becomes a lot more like your child’s bulletin board in the kindergarten classroom, and just about as effective from an organizational communication standpoint.

What businesses are having a hard time doing is allowing the system to grow organically and make its own connections and communities, much like Facebook did.  Facebook did not happen in five minutes, it took almost five years to truly explode.  But organizations want employees to drop into the segmented universe that they’ve developed for them RIGHT NOW and treat it just like Facebook, but keep it professional, you know, no pictures of you doing that kegstand in college.

First and foremost, businesses who are jumping into the world of social media networking platforms need to slow down and diagnose a return on investment before they do it.  What’s in it for the organization?  There are definable ROIs to be had; they’re not nonexistent, but they do need to be parsed out, and laid out in terms of a roadmap.  Certain lessons can be learned from Facebook–file sharing, much like image sharing in Facebook, needs to be robustly available within the new SMNP, and it needs to be developed in a way that it can be accessed easily, and directly from the communication stream.

There needs to be a certain amount of patience and a lot of the encouragement of the adoption process before the business begins shutting other communication avenues down.  Social media networking is touted as pushing e-mail out of the equation, but I believe that’s a kneejerk response to the sense of e-mail as a pressure-filled stressor.  In its infancy, social media networking platforms NEED e-mail in order to propagate the message that there is value in the SNMP at the individual level.

And most of all, organizations need to realize that the people are the media–people are the sender, the channel and the receiver.  They are the media, in ways that McLuhan could not have foreseen.  So his diagnosis that the medium is the message is not wrong, but in order to take advantage of the social media networking wave of internal communication, you have to redefine the medium as the people, instead of the technology.  People are the message.

social media and the HR conundrum

The potential for social media as internal communication is enormous.  When people start talking to each other, they can break through the information silos that create duplicative work.  It allows them to take advantage of work already done and unleash their creativity because there’s bedrock out there, and they can use it, if they have built communities within the organization that exploit those commonalities and leverage them to the benefit of the company.

The first instinct in the business world when social media exploded was to fence it off from the working environment by blocking the sites.  Organizations that had more sense simply monitored it.  Now, most businesses that actually attempt to implement social media as internal organizational communication feel they must hedge their bets.  While the “rat factor” provides jobs for some–after all, SOMEone has to troll the site to make sure that no one is posting to the detriment of the company, right?–it’s much like shooting social media’s potential in both knees and then asking it to keep walking.

The problem, of course, being that organizations, when they ask themselves “what’s the worst that can happen,” end up with nightmarish scenarios.  Part of that issue is that the advice for what can happen comes from Human Resources… and HR’s purpose, while ostensibly to get the best people hired for the business and encourage their growth within the company, is actually to save the company from litigation and protect the company from the depredations of those it has hired. That is the first part of the HR conundrum.

I’m not trying to go all Miss Mary Sunshine on you and say that every single employee is wholly dedicated to the company and not going to go “reply all” on you.  [“Going Reply All” being the e-mail version of “Going Postal”.  I just made it up, and I’m kind of proud of it.]  The very elements in social media that attract people to these sites are the ones that the Human Resources component feels they must control and define.

However, the presentation of identification through the image of self is paramount to the social media process.  I realized this recently when I, among many, many others, placed our mother’s picture up as our Facebook image a week ahead of time to celebrate Mother’s Day.  Not only did I not know who anyone else was, I was struggling to post as myself, rather than an extension of my mother.  We depend on those images to know who we are, as well as other people.  Businesses that insist on badge photos or official company photos as online representations are missing out on how the images make people feel about themselves.  It forces the issue that, while on a company intranet or social media network, the only identity allowed is the  company one, and few of us are comfortable with that as our sole identity.

The other element of social media, the “rat factor,” has potential for a weapon in a business setting.  On Facebook, if someone reports a post, the Facebook monitors supposedly look at it, delete it if it violates their terms, and send a message saying “don’t do that.”  At work, a similar report can mean your job.  My sentiment on that particular subject is that, if the employee is oblivious enough to post a picture of themselves at a drunken debauch as their professional identity image, they may not be the person that I want to continue working for my company.

Here’s the rest of the HR conundrum.  Everything that makes that person an individual (ethnicity, interests, image, gender, etc.) lands in the danger zone of company liability.  Anything that is dangerous must be controlled and carefully defined.  However, by controlling that expression of self, the organization’s need for social media to encourage the de-siloization of the company is crippled.

My advice–go ahead and use the social media solution that you’re trying to establish for internal communication, stop putting fences around it, and use the fallout as beneficial to the company.  Allow people to say what they need to say, post pictures of themselves as themselves, and develop their social networks within the company.  Be very clear when you put out the rules that if they post something that is unacceptable, they may be under fire for inappropriate expression in a business environment.

With the rules in place, once your people are invested in your social media as the 21st century water cooler, you have given them the ability to feel closer, more human, more creative, and most importantly, more invested in the future of your company–by facilitating the growth of their identification with groups within the company, you’ve made it possible for them to identify with the company overall, and it suddenly becomes completely personal to them whether the company succeeds or fails.

Don’t fence social media off from its potential by making it just another company newsletter that no one will read because it’s simply seen as propaganda.

powerpointing 2g

PowerPoint is ubiquitous, and much like the rest of Microsoft Office is, in one format or another, inescapable in the business world.  However, I have bruises on my forehead from banging my head against the wall because yet another person is reading their slide verbatim during a meeting.  There are probably dozens of things wrong with that scenario, but the two most important:

  1. I can read.
  2. If I’m reading, I’m not listening to you.

In other words, you just lost WAY more than half your audience.  Even more so if you have shoehorned every possible piece of text and visual information that you can into that single slide.  As Stephanie Krieger puts it in this very nice but too long piece on Microsoft’s site, it’s “not about fitting as much as you can on the screen.”

Part of that particular puzzle is that everyone thinks they multitask, but nobody actually does.  It’s a myth.  And it’s particularly a myth if we are using two different senses.  As soon as we begin to read, we stop listening.  Two sensory inputs means that one must be moved to the back burner.  And if you’re reading out loud the same words that I’m seeing, I’m way ahead of you, and if it’s a virtual meeting, have probably started checking my e-mail by the time you get to your second bullet point.

A lot of this is old news.  We all know it, but we can’t resist putting that next piece of information in.  The second generation of the way that PowerPoint slide decks are used is now in full swing.  These are no longer just presentations, built only to be put in front an audience.  They have morphed into something that actually has much more power (bad pun) to influence, persuade and share information. 

There are three categories to slide decks now, and while each one actually requires that you not simply read the dang slides out loud, there are some violations of the “fit as much as you can” rule into a single slide that you may now violate as necessary.

There is also, necessarily, an element of inform and persuade in the two slightly newer uses of PowerPoint – to train and to report.

We’ll start, though, with the most familiar usage:

Presentations:  If you are presenting, whether virtually, over a webcast form, on video, or in person in front of a roomful of people, and your intent is to influence or persuade, then the basic rules apply.  Your slide should contain short, bulleted points that are visually interesting which pick out the meaty bits of information.

These slides should not be read out loud, but simply an anchor point for your spoken words that allows you to give the heart of the presentation verbally, with a simple influencing or persuasive statement at the end.

Sparing use of media that drives the listener/viewer away from your voice is appropriate, but people cannot seem to stop using it once they start.  Don’t put more than one video piece in a presentation unless the presentation is about pieces of video.  Seriously.

Training on Programs/Systems: When using PowerPoint for training, particularly on programs or systems, you need to tell the whole story on one slide for one instruction set, if humanly possible.  If you’re constructing a video, the slide should be subsidiary to watching the action, as you move through screenshots of the selections you’re making in the program you’re training. Your voice should guide the viewer/trainee through these screenshots.

The slide itself should capture selected snips to show exactly which button you’re pushing in the program, or which box you’re filling in, and the instruction text should point the trainee geographically to what they are selecting and why.

After the training is over, the deck should become a clear reference set of how to use the program.  During the training, if possible, the trainees should be following and repeating your actions.  If not possible, the slide set should be able to assist them, post-training, in walking through the exact steps they need to accomplish, including any “gotchas.”

Statistics/ Reporting:  Statistics are overwhelming at the best of times, and complex datasets require complex slides.  However, your verbal exposition of the slide should, at a very minimum, give the “so what” of the data.  The analysis of the answer to the “so what” should be added to the visual set of the slide.  Every slide should, again, tell a single story:

  • Beginning – the “so what,” why the data that you’re reporting on matters to your audience (note:  your audience, not you).
  • Middle – the assumptions the data rests on, not in clinical detail, but the high points.
  • End – the bottom line–what the data actually tells you that actually answers the “so what” question.

Do not, under pain of attention loss, read the numbers themselves to your audience.  Make sure, like the training slides, that the entire deck is available to your audience after the presentation, so that they can look at the separate data pieces at their leisure.

file sharing is the linchpin for org comm’s second generation

Businesses have been a little slow on the uptake on file sharing, but with Web 2.0 in full swing, and the shift it’s bringing into business communication, file sharing must now move into its rightful place–as Inc. so rightly called it, it’s the mack daddy of collaboration.  It’s also the linchpin of social media as business communication.

This differentiates organizational communication sharply from the Facebook-style social media, while utilizing the same tools.  In online social media, including Facebook, Twitter, blogs, etc., the links people share, and the “likes” they add to their profiles, lead to other sites, other pages on the web.  In organizational communication, the links lead to files, or to metaposts that aggregate files.

Most businesses are still struggling to get people not to send the monster 10mb, 20mb files through e-mail, and indeed most limit the size of the file you can send.  If you haven’t already figured it out, even Excel files that are used over and over and never cleaned up get bigger and bigger. You end up with a two- or three-tab file that’s taking five to ten minutes to upload because every time someone copies and pastes, all the styles that Excel uses in the background simply aggregate without ever going away.  We’ll leave the discussion of Bill Gates’ buggy programming for another discussion–it simply has to be dealt with.  As files get bigger, the restrictions on sending files (and the implicit restriction in the fact that it takes too long and bogs down your system) are beginning to impact communication.

While server space is also getting larger, and you can get home computers with terabytes of storage now, the programs that are sending the files cannot cope with the load, and attaching the files to e-mail (especially when you send it to 45 separate people–“reply all” is a very mixed blessing) is hogging bandwidth like mad.  When multiplied by thousands of employees, an entire company system sloooowwwws down due to the load. Thus the restrictions that IT departments have hedged around attaching large files to e-mail.  Those restrictions are beginning to interfere with companies’ ability to share documents, especially when working in the virtual world, where you cannot print the document and walk it down the hall.  This is where hyperlinked file sharing steps in to save the day.

If you as a business leader haven’t already taken steps to make file sharing easy through linking directly to documents, then you are behind the curve.  Unfortunately, back to dissing Mr. Gates, hyperlinking directly to a server file has never been easy.  We have to acknowledge that Windows is inescapable, and as they get even further down the road to intuitive crumbtrails (that series of names for the folders at the top of your window that gets longer as you descend down the folder structure), it gets even harder to link to folders directly on the server.  It’s geek-friendly, but the rest of the world is left out in the cold.

So, to save the day, the cloud comes along… web-server-based storage, served up in a way that makes it easy-peasy to link to a specific document or a folder as necessary.  Electronic document management (EDM) has been around for a long time, companies like Documentum have been around for more than 20 years.  Not advertising Documentum, in particular, it just happens to be the one I’ve used most recently.  Businesses on a well-developed EDM background are now able to interface with it in ways that make it easy for the less-geeky to share a 5-byte email link over e-mail, instead of a 10mb PowerPoint file.  This frees up bandwidth, diminishes printing costs, and will end up paying for itself in the long run.

Time to step on this bandwagon if you haven’t already.  And step on it now, before you implement a social media interaction at your organization.  Social media without file sharing isn’t a work network, it’s just a time-wasting ghost of Facebook with your business frame around it.  Social media with file sharing, and people who have a modicum of training in how to use it, can break down the silos within your business and stop recreating the wheel in every department because they don’t talk to each other.  This frees up the creative souls who are building yet another PowerPoint deck to actually get creative and push your business into the boom that’s coming.

First 555: collaboration

This is the first of many sets to come of five short paragraphs on a topic of interest, and five links you can explore in five minutes, thus the 555.

There are times when you have to say, “no, that’s not what I’m talking about.”    A lot of the current flap around social media is about businesses being on Twitter, Facebook, etc., in order to market themselves. That’s not necessarily what I’m talking about on bizcom2g. The heart of bizcom2g is about how businesses communicate internally.

I believe businesses are just really beginning to explore the benefits of using social networking tools to communicate internally.  This is a huge step away from businesses where I’ve worked that weren’t even necessarily happy about the chat function that was built into Windows NT some years back.

Even as fast as the world moves these days, it’s going to take time to prove that social media that encourage collaboration are worth the money it takes to establish them in a business.  Below are some links about what it takes, and whether it’s worth it to businesses to not just allow social media interaction but encourage it and even fund it.

The links for today talk a lot out about some of the tools that are out there–and everyone seems to focus on one.  The most interesting concept, though is Inc.’s comment that file-sharing is the mack daddy of collaboration.  If your IT group keeps your from attaching anything over 10mb to your e-mail, and people hate getting them anyway, the answer is social media that allows you to move to a link instead of an attachment…

5 links in 5 minutes:

How to use social media to solve critical internal communication issues: a research report from Melcrum – Australia.

Short explanation of five media tools in business settings: Yammer, Digsby, Skype, wikis and podcasts.

Inc.’s version of five media tools in business settings:  File-sharing, blogs, wikis, microblogging (in-company Twitter, basically) and forums.

Equation:  Engagement = share growth, non-engagement = lost billions Firms with engaged workforces have more than two and a half times the earnings per share growth rate of their industry counterparts. Companies using Web 2.0 achieve 18% boost in employee engagement.  Companies not engaging their employees have $300 billion in wasted productivity.

Promoting social media internally If you’ve decided it should be done, how do you get the employees to do it?

Does collaboration pay off?:  The Harvard Business Review blogs about the difference between good and outstanding, and how we quantify it.

business communication 2.0 (bizcom2g)

Welcome to bizcom2g.  This blog was built to begin collating and linking the information on the social networking explosion, and to hold onto the progress made in the first generation of bizcom 1.0.

I’m defining Bizcom 1.0 as the space that businesses created to communicate over the phone, over e-mail, and the first toddling steps into telepresence–where businesses began to communicate visually and aurally over networks through video.

Bizcom 2.0 is the next generation of business communication–the social networking explosion that businesses are beginning to take a really good look at, but that is so fragmented in terms of whether it will be even useful that it’s hard to define the questions to ask, much less directions to take.

Welcome to bizcom2g.  It’s going to be an interesting ride!