Embracing Corporate Communications with IBM Connections

Or how to avoid one of your employees writing a song about your company…

One of the first uses many people consider for a social platform is corporate communications.  I mean the kind of top-down good-news story stuff that the senior management would want you to read and feel good about so that you’ll be happier at work and do more on a day-to-day basis.  We all know however, that the circular email, the printed out newspaper or whatever form it takes, is often dismissed by its readers as being simply propaganda from the HR department or some other faceless part of the organisation.  Everyone is smiling in the pictures, someone is getting a carriage clock to celebrate 25 years service, and some department has done a charity paintball thing.  You might glance at it for ten minutes and then put it in the trash, delete it, pass it on to someone else, or simply snort and carry on working.

Am I overly pessimistic and jaded in my outlook on the corporate newsletter?  Maybe.  But I bet many of you reading this will recognise some aspect of the status quo situation for corporate communications.  Of course, its not just the monthly or quarterly newsletter that gets treated this way.  Often communications from senior management are written in third-party dispassionate prose.  Long paragraphs extending to several pages of your screen in the circular email announce changes of staff, new directions, etc.  There is little to engage, motivate and drive you forward.  There is rarely any kind of call to action, nothing that provokes a response, and again you return to your work.

With this long setup you have no-doubt recognised by now that I am going to offer you some sort of alternative solution.  Some sort of panacea to these ills that drives engagement, enthusiasm, motivation and action.  Well, maybe some of these things, but with the number of people using Facebook topping 1.1 billion we must assume that a more social, interactive form of media holds some sort of interest for people.

In the chart shown here, there are three big players in social media: YouTube, Twitter and of course Facebook.  I haven’t included LinkedIn because although it is a significant player in business networking, its main use is similar to Facebook, in my opinion.

My point here is that a product such as IBM Connections provides similar functionality to the main players in the social media space but in a business context.  YouTube provides video streaming – Connections has its media gallery.  Twitter is primarily micro-blogging – Connections has its Status Updates.  Facebook is about people information and status updates – Connections of course has Profiles and Status Updates too.

There are many parallels in IBM Connections to the kind of social media functionality you will already be used to, such as @ mentions and # tags.

The unbalanced use of Social CommunicationsWhy then, if these social media tools are so popular, and the market-leading enterprise social business platform has much of the same functionality, would you not use it to promote your organisation internally?

Many organisations have recognised the need for a social media presence.  They have a Facebook page, a LinkedIn presence, Twitter accounts and of course some sort of website.  Internally, however, they have not invested so much.  They might have an intranet which is underused and rely on paper or email mass communication as the means of communicating with its staff.

The reason many organisations maintain this imbalance in social communications is because they recognise the risks of what people in the outside world might be saying about them as a company.  Unchecked social media rumours and speculation, un-handled customers complaining about bad service and so on are all the kind of thing a corporate communications or marketing department is kept awake with at night:

Since the publicity around this example and many others which followed it, like the guy who took out a paid-for tweet when British Airways lost his father’s luggage, larger organisations are much more attentive to the sentiments expressed in social media and are much quicker at correcting inaccuracies and putting out social media fires.  Why, though, if they recognise the advantages and risks of social media, in terms of engaging their customers, and showing that they care, would they not want to use similar technologies for internal communications?  Are they more scared of what their own employees might say about the company than the general public?

Fundamentally the culture shift to use social technologies is still happening, in my opinion.  I believe many of the organisations who have a strong presence on social media have been forced into doing so because of some of the examples and many others I have illustrated.  They have done it not necessarily because they want to be open, caring and listening to their customers but are in fact so scared of bad publicity they have had to take action.  Internally though, the process is more controlled and of course, not public.  The need to do something to be open, caring and listening is not one which they have to take.

At least, that’s what conventional corporate culture would mandate.  These days, many of the best organisations have recognised that culture shift internally towards open communication and collaboration drives better and stronger customer service, happier employees and better productivity.  In the recent publication “Raising the Game”, the IBM Business Tech Trends Survey highlighted that “Pacesetters” (those that believe that these technologies are critical to their business success and adopt them ahead of their rivals) are seeing a six fold improvement in communication and collaboration by embracing social inside their organisations.

Turning the Corporate Communications newsletter into a daily blog with the same kind of attention to typography, photography and journalism as is the case with the current monthly paper newsletter is the kind of thing that drives interest.  People get smaller snippets of news (a single article, rather than ten or twenty at a time) and can be more compelled to provide comments and feedback about these specific points.  With the current mode I as a reader have no idea what sentiments others are expressing about the content of the newsletter.  Putting it into a central blog accessible from everyone’s desktop with the facility to comment means that I as an individual can participate in a discussion with my colleagues about this news.

Culturally of course, having open discussion in such a medium might frighten management.  They may wish to put a stop to it to avoid discontent being stirred up.  The truth, of course, is that  people talk to each other anyway, its just that management doesn’t hear it when its done in the corridors or in the car park.  By having open discussions where a debate can be aired and people’s views expressed and understood by a wider audience helps in these ways:

  1. People feel that they now have a voice to feedback on what’s happening in the company;
  2. Others find that they are not alone in how they feel and debate can be had;
  3. Management can get a better understanding of what the employees think of a particular announcement

In other words, the very thing that the management of an organisation craves – feedback to improve the business – is unlocked through the use of social internally.  Using video, status updates, micro-blogging, regular blogging and all the other social media tools available to organisations using something like IBM Connections means that the path to business improvement can be accelerated.

In summary

In summary, if you want to improve employee engagement, improve morale, communicate better with your staff and understand from the experts (the people you employ) what your customers are saying and how to improve your products then open the door to a two-way conversation.  Start with something simple and universal like corporate communications.  Abandon the monthly paper newsletter or the long circular email.  Use a blog to post a news update once a day or once a week.  Use pictures, video, whatever makes it attractive to read and absorb and pose questions throughout the article.  What do you think of this?  What could we have done better?  Do you know of a situation like this we could improve – give us your comments.  Treat your employees as valued people and give them a voice, before someone makes up a song about your organisation!


Start small to build success with Social Business

Iterative Adoption ProcessIf you are a regular reader of my blog, or even my book, you will know that I recommend an iterative approach to rolling out a social business project. By picking one area of your business and fully implementing IBM Connections to solve a specific business problem you:

  1. Don’t bite off more than you can chew;
  2. Gain the experience needed to expand your efforts into more complex areas;
  3. Show progress early on for your business sponsor;
  4. Can celebrate success earlier.

I am often asked which department in an organisation should get the solution first. The perceived wisdom has been that the IT department is generally the LAST place you would want to start (mainly because everyone will have a view about technology you’re implementing
and not the business solution). In reality, as long as IT has a need which we can help with then there’s no reason not to start there.

Another question I get is which processes are best tackled with social business? Should we solve file sharing for the company? How about meeting management, standardisation of documents, etc. The truth is that it depends. I would not try to tackle anything for the whole company in one move. Pick off departments or areas of the business which have a clear and pressing need and help them. Once you’ve finished with that, move on to the next area.

One department’s problem might be the need to share files amongst themselves. Tackle that, get them happy and move on to the next department. The next one might need to make Standard Operating Procedures more accessible. Use a wiki to achieve that. Move on.

Breaking down your organisations’ problems into iterations will result in a long list of work for you do to. Once you get the first few of these iterations implemented and have a process which works for you, it’s important to consider how you are going to be able to scale the rollout so that the pace of change can increase.

The key to this is to find “early adopters”, “ambassadors”, “champions” or whatever else you want to call them. These are people, sourced from the departments where you are going, who clearly get what you are trying to do. They might self-select – i.e. come to you and ask to be involved, or might emerge from your earlier iterations. Whatever the case, in order to scale your implementation out you need to change your approach.

You need to go from being a hands-on practitioner to a coach of those who will do the job you’ve been doing up until now. You need to lead, enthuse, motivate, support and generally cheer for your team of people who you want to take your now finely-honed approach to rolling out an iteration of social business to the rest of the organisation.

It might seem obvious, but this is the time when your own use of IBM Connections becomes critical. All the lessons you’ve been passing on to people about status updates, being vocal and visible, etc., now really matter because your newly-found recruits will need your help.

Create an “ambassador” (or what ever term you’re using) commmunity. Focus it on using Forums, and drive Q&A through the forum. Make a commitment to timely responses. Be ruthless about having questions posed in the forum as this is the time where your tacit experience needs to be converted into explicit knowledge, i.e. something someone else can search for and find without asking you.

Make sure your ambassadors don’t bite off too much at the beginning either. They are now on the same learning path that you were and need to gain confidence in their approach too.

Socializing Microsoft with IBM Connections

The title of this post is one which I borrowed from my colleague and friend, Omar Davison, who has (with some assistance from his colleagues) put together a very compelling and direct little video on how IBM Connections can bring a whole new dimension of collaboration to Microsoft SharePoint and Outlook:

The point he makes here is that the many organisations out there who have SharePoint and Outlook are not getting the return on investment, the sea change in productivity, they would expect.  The reason for this?  Because although SharePoint is where many organisations lodge their documents and expect people to find them, it doesn’t put the people involved in the work in the centre.  The result is that you haven’t really moved past a file server and email which we all had back in the 1990’s.

IBM’s approach is to recognize how people interact with the knowledge and information they are presented with.  We’ve built tools and solutions around that paradigm to support better productivity, smarter decision making and faster access to knowledge:

By adding IBM Connections to your Microsoft environment you unlock your staff's potential.

By adding IBM Connections to your Microsoft environment you unlock your staff’s potential.


Don’t expect to be social with your (closest) colleagues

You might think you’ve read that headline wrongly.  Surely the whole point of social business collaboration is to be social with your colleagues?  Yes, it is, but it depends on how close they are and which tools you are using.  Confused?  Read on.

If you have a Facebook account and several members of your immediate family (spouse children, siblings etc) also have Facebook accounts, I would bet that it is unlikely that you will use Facebook as a major collaboration tool with them.  It doesn’t happen.  We don’t post status updates to find out when dinner is, or to remind each other about some domestic arrangement (I am sure this actually does happen in some families, but I am hoping you see my point).  We use good old fashioned collaboration techniques like, oh I don’t know, speaking to each other.  We might go as far as notes on the refridgerator, or a note under the car keys, but we ordinarily don’t resource to a social collaboration network to remind our spouses to get some milk on the way home.

This is true at work too.  In a situation where you work within about thirty to fifty feet of people in an office old collaboration tools prevail.  We might send the odd email to each other to give them a copy of something or to provide them with a convenient link to something but for the most part we go round and talk to them.  After all we are SOCIAL animals and the primary means of being social is still talking to each other.  Expecting us to widely adopt the many tools and features of our favorite collaboration platform to unite a locally-arranged, close-knit team is therefore going to meet with limited success.  Instead, we should recognize that a product like IBM Connections or SmartCloud for Social Business provides a range of tools which can be used for a variety of purposes.

In 1973, Mark Granovetter published “The Strength of Weak Ties” where he examines the interactions of people who are weakly-connected to each other. Long before the internet was publicly available or social software had ever been thought of, Granovetter showed us that the ways we work or communicate with people who are physically or psychologically distant from us is different from how we work with those around us.


When working with our close-colleagues we predominantly use speech, email and file sharing.  For more advanced teams we might also use something like status updates to help reduce the volume of transactional email we need to send to each other.

strongties1When we have a team of people who need to work together but who are spread through a large building, across a car park or across a continent or ocean then other collaboration tools help.  Blogs, wikis, status updates, communities, bookmarks and so on are useful.

weaktiesMy point here is to highlight that many of the current collaboration tools you use can be social if you want them to be.  By sharing what you know and have, and encouraging engagement with those resources, both your closest colleagues, and those across an ocean from you can benefit from what you know and share.  You should recognize that you can improve your collaboration and improve productivity amongst those you work with most frequently by doing simple things, such as:

  1. Make the files you can share fully available in a central, easily-accessed location.  Don’t just use it to share what someone has asked you to share – share it all – or at least what you can, so that others have the chance to discover what’s there and potentially make use of it.  This will save your colleagues time by not having to hunt around, or worse re-invent, something which “if they had just asked you, you could have given them”.
  2. Consider using status updates instead of emails to inform each other of changes which they might need to know about.  Replace the round-robin emails with status updates and encourage people to check out your messages.  This helps them filter out what they need to know and potentially increases the serendipitous discovery of information.  It also keeps their inbox down to stuff they actually need to deal with, rather than stuff other people think they might like to know.

These are just a couple of ideas which you can easily implement to make collaboration and working together easier for you and your colleagues.  Why not contribute some of your own ideas in the comments?

How to move from Email to Social without moving at all

At work virtually all of us work with email. At present it is the default and defacto method of communication. We probably also all recognize its shortcomings when it comes to working together with other people. It is intended as a means of messaging primarily between two individuals but over time, of course, we get emails copied to us for various purposes.

Being on the receiving end of an email which is copied to you, or blind copied is a decision which (it’s likely) the sender has made – not you. You may well be grateful to receive such an email but in my experience my inbox gets filled with the information other people think I will want to know about.

Moving to a more socially-collaborative working environment allows me to be more selective about the information I want to receive. By “following” a person, a community, a document or some other aspect of an enterprise social network I can choose to be updated about something I care about, rather than be on the receiving end of a firehose of information sent by other people.

Moving into this social nirvana can be a difficult process for many people. Email, after all, is really just the electronic manifestation of the paper office – electronic memos have replaced the paper memos we would receive. Folders in our mailboxes have replaced the filing cabinets which populated our offices. This deeply-embedded habit is something which we digital immigrants, those who were born before the internet arrived, are struggling to change these habits.

I have written a lot in this blog and elsewhere about methods of adoption – ways you can organise projects and your working groups to ease the transition to being more co-operative, collaborative and open in your day to day work. Some people, however, still see this as too big a step to take. They are not prepared to take the extra effort of changing to get the benefit. So how can we help these individuals move into a better working situation in smaller and more easily digestible bites?

One way is to make use of the social extensions available for IBM Notes and Microsoft Outlook. These extend social capabilities offered by IBM Connections into the email software to enhance the experience and start to introduce more “social” features the users might benefit from. If you are a Notes user you most likely have free entitlement to use the Files and Profiles features of Connections inside Notes as part of your Notes software subscription.

The diagram below illustrates the concept of socializing the email environment in small, but deliberate steps:Slide1

Starting with the centre of the diagram, people are working with Email.

The next move outward introduces the concept of Status Updates and File Sharing.

Status Updates IBM Notes

Next out is “Embedded Experience” where users can access social features of IBM Connections from within IBM Notes:

Files Hans Erik Ballangrud has shared WinPlan DSD Q2 2014 doc with you IBM Notes

With Embedded Experiences the user interface of IBM Connections is brought into the email experience of IBM Notes.  Notice that I can comment, like and perform other “social” tasks right within the email I’ve received, without leaving IBM Notes.

Finally, Communities and Social Tools can be presented using the embedded browser of Notes, so the user remains in the Notes client, or you can move to a fully browser-based experience:

Activities IBM Notes

Don’t forget that IBM Connections also has “Connections Mail” which connects the Connections environment back to the email world (Domino or Exchange):



How to remain compliant while becoming a social business

One of the best things about working for the market leader in social business is that you get to work with some very smart people. My colleague in the SWAT team, George Brichacek, has prepared this useful video showing how compliance, such as the marking of particular content (like financial records or personal information), can be handled correctly and appropriately using IBM Connections.

Thanks for sharing this, George. And, please check out George’s other excellent videos on YouTube.

Experton put IBM as the leader in Social Business in 8 out of 9 Quadrants

With a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 50% by 2016, the market for social business for communication & collaboration (SB4CC) even outpaces cloud computing as IT and business driver.  (Experton, 2013)

Experton, a European Analyst organisation, has recently posted one of their first in-depth analyses of the social enterprise market.  Their findings?  IBM is the leader in social in 8 out of 9 of their categories:


What the Experton study highlights is that the term “social” covers not just collaboration, but also “socialytics” and talent management.  It’s about the complete concept of social in an organisation to gain fresh insight on what people know, how they work, how they interact and how best to uncover their expertise for the benefit of the organisation and for the staff member themselves.

To quote their study:

IBM has a strong, consistent social business history, covering nearly all market segments benchmarked for this study, including services.

If you are interested in obtaining a closer look at Experton’s study, my colleague, Stefan Pfeiffer, will be more than happy to help you.

It’s great to see such a broad and rounded examination of the marketplace and, for me at least, a European one at that.

BP403 – Driving Business Opportunity with Social Business Patterns

At IBM Connect 2014, Scott Smith & I presented at Business Partner development day how to generate business opportunities with the Social Business Patterns.  Here is the deck via Slideshare