8 reasons why ‘messy’ social networks beat intranets. Hands down.


Life is messy. The world of work is messy. Platforms are messy.

Despite this, we try and categorise everything. Ambiguity is bad, order and structure are good.

Interesting then, and hardly surprising, that companies often have lofty ambitions to categorise their information.

Every company wants to be more efficient, of course they do, creating what Bill Gates called in his 1990’s book (Business @ the Speed of Thought) ‘a world-class digital nervous system…so that information can easily flow through their companies for maximum and constant learning”.

Fast forward 20 years. How far have we come?

Well, take a look outside the company walls and we see a ton of innovation in every shape and form – we have Uber reimagining the taxi industry, AirBnB giving us an alternative to hotels, Netflix instead of cable, Spotify replacing our music collections…the list is inexhaustable.

How are businesses getting on? Have they created the digital nervous system that Bill envisioned above?

Not really. What’s the closest thing we’ve come to?

The company intranet. Oh dear.

Despite grand intentions, intranets often fail miserably.  Unrealistic expectations. Lack of strategy and direction.  A shortage of people with the right skills. Zero engagement and ‘taking it serious’ at the top which trickles down throughout the organisation. Poor tech (I put this last as paradoxically its the least important – some of the best intranets I’ve seen have been built on the oldest tech).

Intranets are also commandeered by communications departments who are not custodians of information for the business. The intranet is a means to delivering a news article, a new campaign, an emerging strategy. This results in a lot of ‘vanity pages’ that serve no-one except the ego of the leader whose mug-shot adorns the page.

So back to Bill’s point, is this digital nervous system implausible? Will companies ever crack this nut? Yes, I believe they can. Moreover, the way to do this already exists – the enterprise social network.

8 reasons why the social network’s beat intranets:

1. social networks are people-centric. We forget that Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn have only been around a few years. Their existence has brought into being a whole new level of peer to peer interaction. I have witnessed how this transforms a business when it happens on the inside, its hugely powerful.

2. social networks help you filter out the signal from the noise. You will never make sense of everything on the internet, as you will never make sense of everything in your organisation. Choose your followers well and they help you filter the good stuff from the chaff.

3. social networks create community. Unlike the typical file repository you find on an intranet, members of the community help each other in solving problems. A huge amount of time and effort goes into creating structured hierarchies for finding information, often leading to an information cul-de-sac for the person looking, who quickly gives up. Much simpler for that person to ask the community ‘can anyone help with this?’ and get an up-to-date response.

4. social networks are a truer reflection of life. They are spontaneous, unpredictable, frantic. In real life people resort to asking other people anyway when they need help – the real knowledge of the company lives in people’s heads.  Social networks create a place for people to ask for stuff and get answers. Not in search of the holy grail of documents.

5. social networks have energy. The network can build momentum and create talking points at lightening speed. Because it’s a network of people and their ideas – and ideas can travel at an unbelievable pace.

6. social networks do not have hierarchy. An individual’s worth is judged on his or her contribution to the network, regardless of whether that person is a production operative or senior vice president. The most followed person is not the most senior. The most followed is he or she who serves the network most.

7. social networks have an inherent sense of trust. Trust is implicit in all interactions. The network is very quick to disenfranchise the person who it can’t trust. See a great example of this in Don Tapscott’s TED talk ‘Four principals for the open world’ (minute 14:35) where he talks about how birds repel work in unison to repel enemies.

8. social networks are substance over style. The interface is relatively simple. No time is spent creating vanity pages. It’s all about communicating.

We feel the urge to compartmentalise knowledge, to put it in boxes, in virtual filing cabinets. This desire misses something blindingly obvious = People. In any organisation every person has a heap of knowledge locked away which will never be labelled, categorised and stored away. Ask that person a question though, and most will be only too happy to help. The social network provides the means of doing this but is boundless with regards to geography, language, even time.

Yes they can be messy, and no not everything is neatly labelled and categorised – but when set up properly the benefits are staggering.

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How to run a webjam


Running a webjam for your organisation can be a game changer. They can literally be the catalyst to your social network’s success. In this post we’ll deep dive into what you need to do to make them successful. We’ll focus on internal (aka inside the organisation) webjams as opposed to external ones. Strap yourself in, this one goes deep…

First off, what is a webjam? Webjams are virtual ‘gatherings’ and to a large extent are platform agnostic. I have predominantly used Yammer to run mine, but there’s no reason why IBM Connections, Saleforce Chatter, Jive or any other enterprise social network won’t cut it. Webjams can be a refreshing alternative to the tried and testing (and often ineffective) teleconference or group phone call.

This is principally because webjams are active formats as opposed to passive –  webjams encourage you to participate by interacting, not purely listening. We all learn differently. Many of us find it hard to concentrate if one has to purely listen (me included). The webjam is a more exploratory way of learning.

So you’ve decided you want to try a webjam. Great. Your initial hurdle is going to be explaining what one is to your colleagues. Habit sticks, especially in the corporate world, and people are often perfectly happy with the existing way of things. Well, at least you may think they are.

In my experience many leaders are frustrated with how they reach out and communicate to their teams. So often the best way to get a leaders buy-in is to come out and say it: teleconference calls don’t work. Mention the awkward ‘any questions?’ silence at the end of them. Ask them if they wish their teams were more willing to voice their thoughts, opinions, objections. Most will say yes. Position a webjam as a way to bridge the communication gap.

Remember webjams are not necessarily a substitution for teleconference or any other meeting for that matter (although they can be). They are complimentary.

So we know what a webjam is. We’ve pitched it to management. They are interested. What next?

Ok, two things:

1. Purpose – what is your webjam about? If you aren’t clear no-one else will be either. The more concise the better. What is it about? What are people’s expectations? What learning outcomes do you have in mind?

Some ideas for purpose:

  • Senior leader webjam. Position webjam as ‘an hour with X to answer your questions around Y’  where a given topic could be a new strategy, vision, anything they please. Serves as a powerful message that leadership is open and transparent, and leaders genuinely enjoy the interaction.
  • Round table discussion webjam. Less hierarchical than the above, can still include senior leaders but the engagement is around a particular topic. The moderator manages posing the questions and timekeeping.
  • Live event webjam. That town hall event, the next results cascade, next month’s conference – all these can be opened up for anyone outside the event by throwing a yamjam during and after the event itself.

2. Process – these are the practicalities. who manages it? how do people know it’s even on? how should they behave once they join (the rules of engagement)?

webjams are like parties
Webjams are like parties – you are the host

Think of it like you’re organising a party. You’ll need to send invites, book a venue, work through the details so the ‘guests’ can enjoy themselves. That’s your job as webjam organizer, and the better job you make of this the better the outcome. Lets break it down for pre, during and after the webjam…

Before the webjam :

Announce the webjam with as much notice as possible (ideally 2 weeks prior to session) communicate the webjam on your social network (and any other channel for that matter, newsletters, posters, etc) and ask people to ‘like’ it – telling them you’ll send a calendar invite if they do.  Below is the calendar invite I sent to all interested parties (I got around 30 likes from the post). I sent this as a calendar invite, not just an email. This is vital if you want people to remember to join. Make the invite informal, informative, tell them what a webjam is (stress its an online discussion, no phones), include webjam URL in ‘location’ field in the invite. Encourage people to forward on to other interested parties – word of mouth can be really effective here.

Example invite for a webjam. In this case I used Yammer, hence the 'Yam'.
Example invite for a webjam. In this case I used Yammer, hence the ‘Yam’.

Pick up the stragglers. A lot of people may have missed the above, so go direct to them with a personal email asking for their support. Speak / message / cajole as many people as you can to agreeing to attend. Try approaching senior interested people and asking them personally to join.

Make sure you do ‘on the day’ comms (I pushed out a reminder announcement first thing in the morning and again an hour before)

Key to preparation is writing a conversation plan. This isn’t a script, more a flow of how you’d like the conversation to go. Your plan will differ according to the type of webjam you are running, but the basic premise is the same. How you start, moderate and finish the webjam, with timing, speaker notes, pre-prepared questions, etc. This may feel like you are ‘rigging’ the webjam. To that I’d say two things. One, any meeting of any value should have some structure going into it. Webjams are no different. Two, experience tells me its nigh on impossible to stick to the plan anyway, such is the nature of webjams in general, but the presence of a plan makes the moderators feel like they have structure to fall back on should they need it.

Download webjam conversation plan

Identifying champions is another key element to a successful webjam. Your champions are your wingmen.  In one webjam I ran the topic was how to drive the use of Yammer in the organisation (using Yammer to talk about Yammer – a good way incidentally to get your network fired up!). I asked three of our Yammer champions to talk about what they have done to drive the platform. I made sure they had prepped their words beforehand rather than hurriedly trying to write during the webjam. A good idea is to open up a private conversations with them during the Jam – so they can act as a your eyes and ears and advise if you need to quicken the pace, slow it down or do nothing!

Prepping your audience. Share some tips beforehand for how to webjam. I usually send around a 3 page PDF with some basic instructions on how to turn off notifications and other tricks that I’ve found work.

During the webjam :

Kick off by introducing yourself as the moderator. Say something like “I’ll be facilitating todays session. This is the structure of today’s webjam….and would love your participation.”

Cover some housekeeping. I always cover the basics of how to navigate the webjam. This obviously varies from platform to platform. For Yammer I use this line “You will see in the info box at the top right of this page I’ve put some tips for how to participate in the jam. Remember you can press the period key (.) to refresh your page. You can post in your own language if you wish (click on the translate button). And remember YamJams are all about participation, don’t be shy!”

Note the conversations feels like chaos at first. Unlike traditional meetings, people don’t wait to be brought in to the conversation to speak. They just start chiming in. At times you’ll have numerous conversation threads going on at the same time. Accept that, embrace it. And remind people you will be summarising key themes after the event.

Finish promptly, even if the conversation is still flowing (it will be). I like to use a poll to finish up. Remember to remind people the conversation will continue in the group beyond the webjam. That’s one of the main benefits of the webjam remember, to inject some energy into a community.

As webjam organiser you are most akin to the host. Starting it, madly dashing about making sure conversations are flowing, then drawing a close to it all…and cleaning up!

After the webjam :

Take a deep breath. It’s over, well done! Now the clear up begins…

You now need to replay what’s happen back to the audience. Do this by writing a summary deck. Don’t try the summary immediately after the event though. Give yourself time to distil what’s just happened, you’ll find you automatically start to group the key themes in your head.

Take a mind management piece of software (I used mind manager) and start to collect all the comments from the Jam. This is time consuming so don’t expect to be done in an hour. We had 344 comments and within one comment alone could be several themes, so don’t expect it to be quick.

As you start to group things you’ll see there are natural themes. Create the  summary deck with a strong narrative telling the story of the what happened. The idea is you want the deck to get socialised as much as possible with as many people as possible. So having the deck telling a compelling story is important.

Share this summary back with participants, ideally within two days of the event so it’s still fresh. You’ll find an interesting conversation may fire up off the back of the summary deck and that people are sharing it days and weeks after (which is what you want)

Wrap up

There you have it, your first webjam. They are exhilarating to run and can be quite to begin with, but definitely worth it. Remember you are introducing a new way of communicating, so it’s bound to be tricky. Only good things will come from it though, and that can’t be a bad thing.

What to do next? Rinse and repeat. You’ll get better in time and the organization with gradually become more networked as you go. Good luck, and please share your results with me would love to know how you got on.

Download webjam conversation plan

How social networks are set to change communications in business


There was a time, before the onset of the internet, when news was controlled by relatively few media outlets. To influence the news agenda your only choice was to go through one of these channels, and the news corporation themselves would be the arbitrary judge of whether your story was newsworthy or not.

The world has moved on considerably since these times, with social or ‘web 2.0′ technologies like Twitter and WordPress giving voice to literally anyone with a desire to express something, however profound or pedestrian it may be. We have seen the extent to which these new found liberties have changed society, from the arab spring risings to the London riots.

In a nutshell, we have become uber-connected. We are not bound by physical location, language or even time anymore – anyone can connect with anyone else. The long term effect of this inter-connectedness remains to be seen. Optimists predict a world of infinite possibility, pessimists see a dystopia around the corner. One powerful consequence however is the liberation of the individual and the new found power to not only publish but to find an audience. People can become influential almost single-handedly.

Large business has remained largely unscathed by all this recent technology change. Technology has had a seismic effect on business processes from automated supply chains to the advent of email and desktop publishing, but social and web 2.0 technologies have done little to infiltrate their ways in to large corporations and how employees behave.

This is all set to change. With Microsoft acquiring Yammer last year, the new Microsoft Office platform (called Office 365) has social networking threaded throughout it. Facebook are due to release their ‘Facebook at Work’ product and a plethora of other vendors such as Jive, Zimbra and IBM Connections are all permeating their ways into organisations. Social networks in business looks to be the next big thing.

This is set to profoundly change not only how businesses operate but also the role of the internal communicator and every single employee. A direct parallel can be drawn with the change we’ve seen in the outside world mentioned above. Employees are used to receiving news from a central source, be it your internal communications team (in much the same way the public used to receive news from a select few news outlets).

With a social network employees are now empowered and have a voice. And something important happens — many people will be happy to observe, as happens in external social media, but some will embrace the network, gaining a huge follow-ship and thereby creating massive influence. What they say will be as newsworthy or relevant to their followers as any corporate communications they receive.

Call these your internal key opinion formers, they will be as vital to create change in your organisation as any broadcast communications. The skill of the communicator going forward will be as much to nurture and serve the network as it will to generate broadcast communications. One can call this the ‘democratisation of the organisation’ where influence (and dare I say power) will be less about position and more about an individual’s own network and how they contribute to it.

Social networks solve the needing-knowing gap in big business


I read a remarkable statistic today. 20% of a knowledge workers week is spent looking for information, according to a McKinsey report. According to their study (the social economy) social media can reduce the time employees spend searching for company information “by as much as 35 percent”. Being a champion of enterprise social networking in big business I am constantly looking to capture the business benefits. Increasing employee productivity could be a great ‘carrot’ to senior leadership who often dismiss social networking as a drain on time, not a saver of it. How plausible is this claim then?

First things first. Some degree of time is undoubtedly wasted in big business looking for information, it would be hard to refute that. Regardless of the exact percentage, anyone with experience in working for large organisations knows the challenge of information gathering across large and often silo’d parts of the organisation. Many companies have mantras along the lines of ‘if only we knew what we knew’ for good reason — the answers to their own questions are usually locked within it!

That knowledge is often locked away in someone’s head, in a deeply buried email thread or tucked away in an obscure file server or intranet page — and the means of seeking out the person who can help or ‘that file which explains x’ is practically a dark art. Employees who have been around longest usually have the best chance of knowing who to speak to or where to go, but as for a new starter it can prove near impossible. And when you take large multinationals with employees who are dotted around the world, in vertical reporting structures, often speaking different languages, what I call the ‘needing-knowing gap’ gets even more problematic.

This isn’t through any lack of good-will or wanting to hold back knowledge. It’s simply the fact the systems in place are not up to the task of facilitating this knowledge exchange. And certainly not at a organisation-wide level. It is often cited there needs to be a ‘culture’ of sharing in place too. This is also true, but I suspect all the right culture in the world will make no difference unless there is the capability (i.e. the platform) to allow this to happen.

When one thinks about the outside world, it’s strikes me that information exchange works incredibly well. Just think about Google. Within seconds of typing a simple ‘how do I…’ question you are confronted with a endless list of useful reference points. Someone has had the exact same question you now have, posted it on a help forum or similar and found the answer. In this case Google directs you to that conversation. ‘Can’t we just have a google for my business’ is one common demand made by business leaders. Well, they have a point!

As things stand, there are various reasons why a Google for business is a complex proposition. Not wanting to completely rule out Google venturing into the internal business search space (Facebook just announced last week it’s plans to launch a ‘Facebook at work’ so anything is possible) — but one significant reason behind Google’s success is the fact there are literally billions of pages being updated simultaneously, each in competition to appear as high up on your search results ranking as possible. Businesses can’t compete with this — they don’t have the time or resource to be updating pages even if a search engine like Google with it’s intelligent algorithms were ‘pointed’ internally.

Fortunately that isn’t necessarily a show stopper. One thing can and does plug this gap: an internal social network. Social networks can be as good a means (if not better) of helping people find information, ask and answer questions.

As to whether 35% of an employee’s time can be saved per week, that is another matter, and presumably some industries would benefit more than others depending on how much information gathering goes on. A considerable amount of time is spent searching for information though. Businesses tackle the needing-knowing gap in a variety of ways, many attempting to catalogue and categorise information in a myriad of different (and often unsuccessful) ways.

Social networks on the other hand are relatively simple, organizationally ‘flat’ environments and can very simply provide a solution for the needing-knowing gap. The key ingredient is of course that which most businesses have an abundance of = People. And the great thing about People is they tend to like helping each other.

Why Enterprise Social Networks don’t work 80% of the time and what you can do about it


In this article I look at some common misconceptions around why enterprise social networks don’t work, and I put forward the case that more often what stands in the way of success is a lack of clarity around how social networking can help solve real business issues

Earlier in the year Yammer Co-Founder and CTO, Adam Pisoni, delivered an opening keynote about the impact of disruptive technologies on business. He argued innovative technologies are becoming so ubiquitous that there’s no longer much of a competitive advantage to just having it — and that specifically the new competitive differentiator is an organization’s ability to work differently in order to take advantage of the technology it already has.

Exactly what ‘working differently’ means will vary from company to company, depending on what it is your business does. Sadly, social networks are often put in place without any real thought going into how they are to be used. This often results in the perception that social networks are little better than a Facebook for business and largely a waste of time. The term ‘social’ in this context only confounds the issue!

Gartner prediction for 2015 isn’t easy reading either. They predict a massive 80% of all enterprise social networks will fail — that’s only 1 in 5 social networks expected to succeed. So why is the fail-rate so high? Let’s take a look…

Gartner argues the shockingly low rate of adoption is due to ‘inadequate leadership and an over-emphasis on technology’. Leadership engagement and reliance on tech are often in the frame for poor performance. And for good reason some of the time. What is often the culprit though is a failure on behalf of the business to articulate what social is going to be used for. Too often we talk about how the trend towards social is all-pervasive (‘look whats happening on the outside’ we say) and reason what’s happening outside must have a role to play on the inside. However if a business fails to articulate exactly how social networking is going improve or remove business ‘pain points’ then the network quickly loses its reason for being and quickly descends into a place to ‘say hi’ and never return!

To the question of leadership engagement, of course having your leaders understand the value social networking can bring to the company is important. But senior leadership don’t necessarily need to be actively contributing by joining in conversations and outwardly demonstrating participation. Deloitte’s CEO Giam Swiegers reads their All Company feed at least every other day to keep a finger on the pulse of his organisation, which is obviously a great thing to have happening in your network. But success isn’t reliant on the CEO or any other senior leader actively participating. This isn’t a must have for successful adoption (in fact there is a certain line of argument that says too much senior engagement can actually be fatal). Success isn’t about senior leadership participation per se, rather success lies in getting down to ‘brass tacks’ and addressing real business problems, regardless of seniority or involvement of leadership.

Much is also said about the need for an ‘open and transparent’ culture for success. Indeed it’s often said that the most effective social networks are the ones where a culture of openness is already in place. (Paradoxically, the introduction of an social network is often the the catalyst that brings about an open and transparent culture! How else did the company converse previously?) The question shouldn’t be whether we need an open and transparent culture for success, as that will come about as a by-product of having the network in place. The question needs to be ‘how is our network going to address our real business problems?’.

So, what do we need to do?

  • Strive to understand the pain points in your business. Speak to people and seek to comprehend existing processes that don’t work — understand why they don’t work and be creative about how your social network can offer a solution. Don’t try force-fitting a solution either. If your solution isn’t an improvement on what’s already in place, it won’t take off.
  • Strive to understand what people are already doing on your network (if you have one in place already). Owing to the nature of social networks they are relatively easy to start using. The entrepreneurial people in your business will already be giving it a whirl. Seek them out, speak to them, understand what they are trying to do, and help them. Chances are you have advice that can help them. You’ll also learn from them. You need to sniff out these rumblings and speak to these people.
  • Don’t worry about bringing everyone along with you. Follow the energy, some people and departments will be excited by the prospect of using social networks, others wont be. That’s fine. Embrace the early adopters and gather pace with them. Once your successes materialise, take those examples, write them up and share them back into your network. Success breeds success.
  • And remember the dancing man. That is you! You need to lead by example, and that means not just talking the talk but actively living in the social network. Plugging yourself in and ‘being everywhere’ as much as humanly possible – becoming your companies social networking go-to-person. Like the dancing man, in subtle ways people will start to imitate what you do. Give it a try, and remember you may look and feel silly to begin with, but in time a legion of followers will join in!