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Internal comms, employee engagement and some very familiar problems…

I’ve been at Melcrum’s Digital Communications Summit this week learning all about the impact of digital on internal communications and employee engagement.

One of the things that struck me about the event, is how much of the conversation echoed issues that I heard people within the PR and marketing industry discussing a few years ago as they started to wrestle with the challenges social and digital brought to their doorstep.

This isn’t to suggest that the discourse going on in internal comms isn’t distinct, or that PR and marketing have already nailed this stuff – that would be a gross over-simplification and a fairly arrogant (and plain incorrect) assumption. However, some of the points raised were incredibly familiar territory and there are definitely shared themes and challenges.

My very abridged summary of these things is:

  • Focus on people and not platforms – don’t get distracted by shiny new technologies. Instead, stay focused on your people and objectives and only then think about technology – something that Forrester would agree with and that we are evangelical about at NixonMcInnes.
  • KPIs and metrics – it was great to hear a range of speakers advocating the importance of tying metrics to business objectives, and not falling into the trap of measuring success against activity at a platform level (such as simply counting up the number of people who have signed-up, number of uploads or comments etc.). There was also some debate around difficulties in making this tangible and the role of existing tools, such as employee engagement surveys, to help capture metrics and demonstrate value.
  •  Trust and loss of control – anxieties around losing control of the corporate message and fear of employees behaving inappropriately within social online spaces were also discussed. But, as Hamish Haynes, Head of Internal Communication & Engagement at Bupa Health and Wellbeing, pointed out, digital is just another work space and if staff aren’t in the habit of behaving inappropriately in meeting rooms, or via email, or on the phone, why would digital be any different? (Although he also pointed out that ensuring employees don’t have anonymous profiles on internal collaboration platforms also helps).
  • Getting senior buy-in – an all too familiar tale, with some of the delegates feeling frustrated that their leadership team doesn’t see why this stuff is important, and others feeling equally vexed by troublesome executives who suddenly decide that all this digital stuff should have been implemented yesterday and push for speed at the expense of having a well thought through approach. I agree with the incredibly inspiring Luis Suarez, IBM’s Knowledge Manager, Community Builder and Social Software Evangelist, that you need to take the leadership team with you on the journey and adopt a hybrid top-down / bottom-up collaborative approach to ensure that projects don’t get the kibosh and everyone is bought in.

All these things really reinforced conversations that I’ve been having recently with the very insightful Jenni Lloyd about how internal comms professionals now need to morph into community managers, a set of skills that people who work in PR and marketing have had to master too. This was also suggested by Luis who explained the vital role of internal comms as community facilitators (a term I prefer too), responsible for adding value to the community. This could be by creating and arranging opportunites for learning, recognition, open dialogue and reward.

By the way (and totally aside), if you haven’t heard about the amazing work Luis has been doing at IBM, including how he has managed to ditch email, check this interview with Wired out.

And I wondered, with the familiarity of the conversation, just how many people in the room were collaborating with PR and marketing around these mutual challenges, sharing experiences, learnings and best practices? Have they found out if there’s already a social media steering group within the business – perhaps instigated by PR and marketing, perhaps led by another team altogether? How much of the thinking has been duplicated? How much of the effort has already been spent by someone else in the business?

As I said earlier, these challenges have been bouncing around PR and marketing teams for some time now, and often they are far from cracked. But if the different comms teams can speak to each other, become less silo’d, engage internally (!!!) and start talking about different approaches to these problems, then we could all work this stuff out a lot faster and more effectively.

Image courtesy of ginerrobot via Flickr.

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