Sustainable growth key to competitiveness in the new world of work

UK businesses face a perfect storm in the months ahead. The Brexit transition and pending deal means UK businesses must find their footing in a new—and currently uncertain—era of international trade. And at the same time, the crisis caused by Covid-19 shows little sign of abating, leaving a trail of economic impacts and forcing changes to the way that we live and work forever.

So firms face an almighty challenge; they must fundamentally adapt and find new ways to remain competitive at a time of unparalleled disruption. But how?

Having written about the factors businesses need to consider as they adapt previously, I was interested to see Microsoft’s latest report Creating a blueprint for UK competitiveness. This comprehensive piece of research looks at what it takes to compete in a post-COVID, post-Brexit world. 

They partnered with an independent team of economists and researchers, led by Dr Chris Brauer (Director of Innovation at my alma mater, Goldsmiths, University of London). Through extensive qualitative and quantitative research, they uncovered the need for a new model of competitiveness. 

Among the report’s recommendations, they focus on the need to shape a new world of work.  They outline two potential paths to growth, which resonated with me and the work I’ve been doing this year.

Path 1: ‘Hollow Growth’: cost reduction with missed opportunities

The first path, which the report calls Hollow Growth, is characterised by a focus on cost reduction. While a switch to distributed work presents the opportunity for huge real estate savings, if businesses focus on savings alone, they’ll miss this chance to radically reshape the business.

When it comes to future readiness, hollow growth organisations are notable for:

  • rigid organisational structures (which, as I blogged about previously, are a barrier to strategic delivery in a remote-first world)
  • minimal support for workers when it comes to adapting and re-skilling for the future
  • basing forward plans heavily on the past, for example by sticking to traditional measures of productivity and ignoring less tangible outcomes like agility, resilience and culture
  • failure to use technology to optimise individual functions and services

Path 2: Sustainable Growth (or ‘Sustainable Growth’: finding strategic advantages to bring real transformation, over cost reduction) 

As a counterpoint to the earlier short-termist approach, the report outlines an alternative, sustainable path to growth. One which:

  • focuses on organisational resilience
  • nurtures and grows the culture of trust, empowerment and inclusivity—essential to scale distributed ways of working adopts leadership defined by both empathy and decisiveness

Sustainable Growth organisations prioritise real transformation over cost reduction alone. This part of the report chimed with me, reflecting many of the points I’ve made about leadership, strategy and skills for example. 

The Sustainable Growth model the report outlines provides a useful model for organisations looking to turn flexible and distributed work into a driver of strategic advantage. With a focus on people and culture, employees are empowered to work flexibly and supported to learn new skills.

Similarly, the Sustainable Growth model takes a more mature and (small ‘a’) agile approach to digital, embedding it into the heart of the organisation. This means tools are transitioned to quickly and systemically, making the organisation fit to respond to new challenges and opportunities when they arise.

But given the uncertain-looking future, companies want and need those cost savings, as does the economy. Can the Sustainable Growth model deliver? The authors certainly think so.

The report paints a powerful picture of the benefits of taking this sustainable path. The Goldsmiths researchers calculate that if, supported by the government, every UK organisation adopted a more sustainable growth model and achieved a small, incremental increase in their competitiveness, it would deliver a boost to the national economy of £48.2 billion.

It’s clear UK businesses will be put to the test like never before in 2021. Competitiveness will be critical in the short term as businesses fight to stay afloat and remain relevant. But a laser focus on sustainable growth is essential for the long term too—yielding a long-term impact on organisational performance that’s positive for people, communities and our planet, as we grow our economy out of crisis. 

You can read the report in full here.

Written in paid partnership with Microsoft UK.

The road to remote, part 2: spaces, support and comms

Woman working at home
Photo credit: Corinne Kutz, Unsplash

The week or so since our last post has seen some major names move toward a remote-first future. Mastercard announced it expects staff to work at home until there is a vaccine, while Facebook shared their plans to shift around 50% of staff to permanent remote work.

With the landscape moving so quickly, Matt and I spent some time last week working through the remaining themes we identified as priorities for organisations that want to make remote an enabler of (rather than a barrier to) delivery of their strategy.

In our first post we looked at systems, structure, shared values, skills and roles and strategy. Take a look.

Now we turn to the final four themes


For a long time, offices – like factories before them – where were you accessed the equipment necessary to get work done. The availability of cheap laptops and ubiquitous broadband means this hasn’t been the case for at least a decade. 

Nonetheless, offices continued to be the primary place of work because of their secondary purpose; the belief that bringing people together in the same place helped to foster collaborative working. Rows of open plan desks gave way to mixed environments offering impromptu meeting spaces to facilitate this. Even the most digital of companies such as Google and Facebook continued to encourage employees to come to the office in order to foster innovation.

Covid changed all of that, forcing all to figure out how we can work individually from home. In the past 10 weeks we’ve used collaboration tools to try re-create the in-person interactions we had while working in the physical office.

Spaces are now sitting empty, and people are wondering what we do with them next. There’s an assumption that we’ll continue to work at home for individual tasks, with offices being re-configured for more collaborative in-person working such as workshops once this is all over.

However, early indications suggest that assumption could be some way off the mark. Social distancing rules dictate that even where offices are being re-opened, meeting rooms and breakout areas need to stay out of bounds. A room that could have hosted ten is now strictly capped at two. How do you manage a group brainstorm around the whiteboard while keeping everyone two metres apart?

You don’t. You need to do what Matt and I did for this session and find ways to do this online. 

(We used Miro, a tool we’ve both become evangelical about in recent weeks, because it allows you to do things collaboratively with people in a way that you can’t do in physical space, focusing conversation yet making it possible to integrate other media. It’s what hypertext was supposed to be.)

People will need to learn how to use such tools for virtual collaboration. But putting collaborative tools into the hands of every employee democratises them and, in turn, drives up the quality of collaboration. Especially when compared with scarce physical tools such as interactive meeting room whiteboards.

And once these skills and habits have been gained, it leaves open the question of what physical workplaces are actually for.

But physical spaces serve other purposes. These include:

  • Access to specialist equipment: clearly a research scientist is not going to set up a complete lab in their spare bedroom
  • Status symbols: those big glass towers making up some of the world’s most expensive real estate in New York, London and Hong Kong send a clear message about your brand and stability
  • Proof of life: for smaller companies, a physical office is considered evidence you exist, helping to build trust with customers
  • Grounding in the community: this is especially true for local businesses, public/voluntary sector organisations or those with a longstanding connection with place

Additionally, there will always be some people who can’t – or don’t want to – work from home. For example someone living in crowded accommodation with children at home. 

So organisations shift to remote or distributed work, their use of physical space will change but not disappear. The focus will move to supporting smaller numbers of staff with specific needs for office space, and those secondary purposes listed above. Office space – and the roles supporting it – becomes a cost to be minimised. 

This has some potentially huge second-order effects for property markets and for cities. WeWork’s business model looks even more precarious than it was, as corporate tenants retrench from secondary spaces on short leases to their owned properties. At the same time, we could see the rise of local co-working hubs providing office space for those who need it without the long (and in these socially-distanced times, potentially dangerous) commute. The Irish community organisation Grow Remote provides a useful model here; they champion physical and virtual hubs to those working remotely diverse organisations benefit from connection with one another and with the communities in which they’re based.

One outstanding question is what, if anything, replaces the function of the building as a signal of prestige. What’s the digital equivalent of the client floor or the tower projecting its logo across Hong Kong’s harbour? 

Corporate communications

Organisations and their leadership need to communicate to their people about their goals, values and progress. They want to align employee action with their purpose and objectives, and keep people engaged and informed. 

In the past couple of decades the internal communications profession has moved away from a top-down distribution role to one of curator, controller and advisor. They understand what is going on in the organisation at all levels, ensuring that employees are in the loop, and facilitate two-way conversation between employees and leadership.

Covid has forced corporate communications into crisis mode. The priority has been to keep people informed about what their employers are doing to keep them safe, keep customers happy, keep people in work and ensure the business stays solvent. And at the same time, many of the most effective tools in the communicators’ armoury aren’t available, like the old-fashioned poster and digital signage.

The result has been an overwhelming shift to broadcast channels. In a straw poll during my keynote at last week’s Brussels Digital Workplace Event, 87% of attendees said they had relied especially on email and 82% on a traditional intranet to keep employees in the loop. But at the same time, organisations have had to more actively listen to what employees, using things like sentiment analysis.

As organisations shift to this New Abnormal, corporate communications can’t simply go back to what they were doing pre-Covid. Instead, they need to redesign their channel architecture and content strategy around the needs of employees who rarely come into the office.

That means:

  • Understanding employees’ need for communication, and taking a user needs focused approach to designing and delivering it
  • Offering a mix of push and pull channels, so people receive the information they need, but also have the means to find what they want and be confident it’s accurate
  • Finding ways to cut though the (now somewhat overwhelming) noise and ensure what people get is relevant and timely. This could mean borrowing techniques from digital marketing and using data to target employees effectively. But equally, it could mean looking at how messages naturally propagate within organisations – via the grapevine – and hacking that.
  • Finding the right balance between listening to employees and understanding what they want, without surveiling them

Getting this balance right means relying less on copying best practices, and rather on understanding employee needs, experimenting with new approaches, and seeing what gets cut through. All of that requires a more robust approach to measurement.

Organisational communication

Related to this – and often using the same channels – is how people within organisations communicate with one another to get work done. 

In a physically co-located team, communication is implicit. That is, you pick up on conversations happening around you. You can lean over the desk and say “Hey, Dave, are you working on this? Do you know where this file is? Can you tell me the latest on this customer?”. That communication is largely synchronous, in that it happens while you’re both in the room, and much of it is tacit; we communicate without even thinking about it, through our body language and tone.

In recovery mode we’re still working synchronously, but we’re having to work much harder to do that, and be more deliberate. But that’s exhausting. It also demands more of our energy and attention; Zoom fatigue is a very real phenomenon. 

Making this work long term means retaining that explicit, deliberate communication, but adapting it to be less time-consuming and attention-demanding by embracing asynchronicity.

That means mixing up modes and channels, using interactive channels (like Miro) or collaborative documents, rather than video feeds. 

Embracing asynchronous working has secondary benefits, too. It means more knowledge and conversation is committed to corporate memory, and allows people to work more flexibility across shifts or time zones. 

To shift to asynchronous communication and collaboration in order to become truly remote-first, organisations need to give people training, coaching and time to experiment with a flexible suite of tools.


Organisations offer support to employees to get their work done – from providing transactional services to troubleshooting issues and problems with equipment, facilities, software and so on.

Traditionally this is offered on a tool-by-tool or service-by-service basis, meaning the overall support landscape is as fractured and siloed as the organisation itself.

In a traditional workplace this is augmented by informal support. People will turn to a longer serving or otherwise helpful colleague to help them resolve problems.

Shifting to home work has left employees reliant on digital channels to get work done, but often struggling to access help to resolve problems or learn new systems, as colleague support is unavailable and helpdesks overwhelmed.

For organisations to turn remote work into a strategic advantage, they need a greater focus on supporting employees to be engaged and productive. They need to understand that employees are reliant on a complex and fragmented set of tools to get work done, and when these aren’t working employees are left frustrated and productive time is lost.

This means:

  • Replacing fractured single-system help with a concierge approach focused on unblocking problems for the user quickly
  • At the same time, helping employees to build their digital skills and confidence to use the tools they have and resolve their own problems
  • Consider the overall digital employee experience and, where possible, streamline and simplify this so it’s designed around the needs of staff and not the structure of the organisation
  • Build informal support networks to help resolve issues and unblock problems, and to share advice and learning with one another as it’s learned
  • Managers understanding the role they play in unblocking barriers and creating a successful work environment – and leading by example

On reflection, it makes sense to roll this into the ‘Roles and skills’ theme we covered in the last session.


Across all of our themes there were some clear principles:

  • Re-thinking how work gets done rather than translating existing office-based ways of working to digital channels
  • Taking a user needs-focused approach, understanding barriers to effective distributed/remote working and how these can be ameliorated
  • Helping people build their skills in communication and collaboration so they can embrace asynchronous working
  • Trust underpins all effective remote working. Organisations must look at how this can be built and sustained at scale and for the long haul.

In his WB40 podcast, Matt talked to Dave Coplin about his recent research. Coplin found trust for managers in their employees was important, but so too was trust in peers. Managers need to know that work is being done (and done properly) and employees at all levels need confidence that their peers are pulling their weight too. 

Measuring productivity in knowledge workers is notoriously difficult. Very little work can easily be attributed to outcomes, forcing us to measure outputs and throughputs instead (particularly in public sector organisations, where there may be pressure to demonstrate value for money). But such measurement is largely inaccurate (as anyone who receives weekly emails from Microsoft’s MyAnalytics can attest) and open to being gamed. 

Striking the right balance between demands for productivity monitoring, sentiment analysis and creepy employee surveillance presents one of the first thorny challenges organisations face as they move from recovery mode to the long haul. 

The two whiteboard sessions enabled us to evolve our model a little. Here’s version 2. It’s still a work in progress and we’re keen to get your thoughts on how it can be improved. Let us know in the comments.

What’s the future of work in the New Abnormal?

Last year I did a couple of conference keynotes on the future of work. I’ve been working with intranets and digital workplaces for about 15 years; over the past 18 months or so I’ve come to realise that for digital tools to work for people – and for them to truly add value to organisations – they need to be designed not for work as it is today, but for what will be tomorrow.

My talks looked at the trends that make up Future of Work discussions. The decline of the employer-employee relationship; the rise of portfolio careers, gig working and transactional working relationships; changing demographics; and the mainstreaming of AI at work. And the end of the office as we know it as ubiquitous high speed broadband means talent can be tapped into regardless of location.

My rallying cry was: “but these aren’t trends for 10 or even 5 years time. They’re already a lived reality for millions, and they will be for you too soon, so you’d best get ready.”

Little did I realise quite how soon that would happen.

In March COVID-19 forced a sudden shift in how we work, with social distancing closing offices and schools worldwide.

Those organisations who adapted best to being ‘suddenly remote’ were those who already had the tools, culture and practices to make that shift quickly and seamlessly. Smaller organisations, and particularly startups, found this easiest. Those reliant on legacy tech – predominantly larger organisations in regulated industries – faced teething problems such as limited VPN capacity and employees shifting to shadow IT (in particular Zoom) to get things done.

But several weeks on organisations of all sizes have settled into this new way of working… and realised that it works. Assumptions about who can and can’t work remotely have been crushed in this great homeworking experiment.

While lockdowns will eventually lift, the remote work genie isn’t going back in the bottle. This briefing note from WeWork unwittingly highlights the unsuitability of office environments in an era of social distancing. It’s clear the world of work will look very different for a long while, and perhaps forever. Barclays, for example, has already announced a review of how they use office space in the future.

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Organisations are moving on from ‘recovery mode’ and beginning to look at what their own future of work looks like. What can they learn from this period of mass, enforced home working? What do people value? What are the challenges? And, critically, what are the opportunities?

Last week Matt Bannatyne kicked off a discussion online on what the world of work could look like. We kicked around some ideas with some interested folk in a collaborative document.

Tools for remote working are standard these days, but we know from our work that the strategy, culture, and practices to make the most of them often lag some way behind.

We asked: what does work look like today? And what does it look like for organisations who are truly remote-first?

First, we identified the characteristics of work in three stages of remote working maturity:

  • Pre-lockdown: the old BAU
  • Recovery mode: building immediate capacity
  • Growing through remote: using the benefits of remote for competitive advantage

Next, we grouped these into themes, borrowing a little from McKinsey’s Seven Ss model.

  • Strategy: How the organisation plans to deliver its strategic goals
  • Systems: The platforms and tools used by the organisation and its people
  • Structure: The operating model and organisational structure
  • Shared values: The values and culture of an organisation, and how these are embodied/expressed
  • Skills: How the organisation ensures people have the skills to get work done
  • Roles: Who supports current ways of working
  • Spaces: The role physical spaces play for the organisation
  • Support: How the organisation supports people to use tools and get work done
  • Corporate communication: How the organisation communicates its goals, values and progress to its people
  • Organisational communication: How people within the organisation communicate with one another

The result is the makings of a Maturity Model for remote working and enterprise resilience.

Maturity model table - full text available in link following

Here it is as an easier-to-read spreadsheet.

We’d like to evolve this further so it can be a useful model for organisations to understand their current capacity for remote and understand what they need to do to become truly remote-first. What questions do we need to ask to assess current capacity? Are there themes we have missed?

This is a work in progress and we’re keen to get your feedback. Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.

AI and the future of work

Working with digital workplace teams I find myself looking at the intersection of people, technology and culture. In my view the digital workplace both enables changes to the way we work and reflects changes that are happening elsewhere, driven by technology and society.

For example, while digital workplace technologies can enable flexible and mobile ways of working, it’s changes to work patterns and expectations that are driving the demand for flexibility.

Many services that we use outside and inside of work are becoming smarter and more targeted.And as consumers we have begun to expect smart, intelligent and delightful systems and interfaces at work as well as at home.

Last year I began looking at how Artificial intelligence can streamline and simplify the digital workplace. As I researched more I realised its impacts on the world of work are likely to be far more wide-reaching.

Lots of repetitive tasks and analysis type of work could conceivably be done by AI in the years to come. And that, in turn, will change almost every profession. This year I was invited to join the CIPR’s Artificial Intelligence Panel to look at the impact AI will have on my own profession, communications.

I discuss some of what I’ve learned in this interview with Marginalia, the Future Of Work magazine.

Let me know what you think.

Bank’s Snapchat stunt doesn’t add up


The Bank of England caught some flack recently when Business Insider learned they’d spent almost £3000 on a Snapchat filter to promote the new £10 note.

The filter, which let Snapchat users overlay their selfies with the new note, was made available in seven cities around the UK, promoted by the Bank’s governor Mark Carney.

This struck me as a bizarre choice of ad spend for our central bank. Do banknotes really need promoting? Are they trying too hard to get down with the kids? Or is it just me – rapidly approaching middle age – who doesn’t get it?

So I followed up with a Freedom of Information request, hoping to find out why they chose this channel, and what increase in awareness the filter delivered, so I could better understand where Snapchat might add value for the businesses I advise.

I finally got a response to the request this week, a day after the statutory time limit elapsed. This doesn’t suggest a great commitment to transparency.

Shockingly, the answers to the questions I posed raised more concerns, not just about how they used Snapchat, but about the setting of outcome-based objectives in communications planning and execution. It appears that:

  • the BofE didn’t put together a business case for use of Snapchat
  • didn’t set any objectives for it
  • and haven’t evaluated its effectiveness
  • at least they didn’t spend a lot of money designing it

While this was a relatively small amount of money, what was more concerning than the potential waste of public funds was that the BofE lacked a robust, costed and measured campaign approach for their most high-profile launch this year.

Let’s take a closer look at some of the issues this raises.


A campaign without an objective is not a campaign – it’s just some activity. Campaigns set out clearly what they’re trying to achieve, who they are targeting and how impact can be demonstrated. This, in turn guides the choice of channel and format and the allocation of spend across the channel mix.

“Raise awareness of the new £10 note” is an objective, but it’s not a very good one.

I’ll confess I find the idea of promoting a note that people have no choice about using absolutely baffling. I can understand them doing some PR on the new(ish) polymer maybe, or on the note featuring a woman (Jane Austen) after a controversial campaign. But not to simply tell people it exists. That’s what prompted me to ask for campaign objectives – but since they don’t exist, I’m none the wiser.

Did they have research to show that there needed to be awareness raising for a new note? Have they defined what awareness means in this context? What baseline are they measuring against?

You have to understand the current state of play in order to plan your response to it. This doesn’t seem to have happened here, which leaves the BofE without an effective basis on which to define, plan or measure success.

Better might be “To achieve 50% awareness of the new £10 (measured through surveys) by 31/09/17” as this is specific, measurable, achievable, realistic (when based on my fictional baseline) and time-bound.


In their reply, the BofE told me “social media plays an important part of the Bank’s efforts to reach a broader range of people through non-traditional media.” 

For fiat money to have value it needs to be accepted as a medium of exchange. That means it needs widespread acceptance across all age groups – and given the ubiquity of social media use among younger age groups, it makes sense to use it to reach them.

So why Snapchat? While the BofE hadn’t produced a business case – although I’d argue the email exchange in which this decision was made would count as one for the purposes of the FOIA – they did tell me:

“One of the reasons this was chosen ahead of other ideas was because a large percentage of Snapchat users are within the 16-24 demographic, which was one of the groups the Bank was keen to target within the overall campaign.”

Again on first glance this seems sensible. Having highlighted the need to target younger people, taking the message to the platforms, channels and communities where that audience segment is active is exactly what you should be doing.

But the beauty – and many would say the point – of paid social is the degree to which advertisers can use it to target audiences. While Snapchat’s targeting options aren’t anywhere near as granular as Facebook’s, they do enable targeting by demographics, interests and behaviours, as well as devices. Done properly this provides an effective and measureable way to hit their target of 16-25-year-old Brits.


For those not familiar with Snapchat, it has a handful of ad products:

  • Ads: These are short vertical videos. According to research from Millward Brown Digital these are shown to boost brand favourability and mobile purchase intent – which explains their popularity with FMCG and lifestyle brands. There are ‘swipe up’ subcategories to drive web views, app installs and so on. In the course of this campaign the BofE spent £7250 on Snapchat video ads, but it’s not clear if these were targeted at particular demographic groups.
  • Filters: These allow users to add a graphic frame around a photo or selfie, which can then be made available within a specific geographic location or nationwide. KFC have had huge amounts of success with these, making the Colonel Sanders lens available only to those physically in or near their outlets – driving a 600% increase in footfall.This is the ad type BofE spent £2,819.28 on, and to which my FOI request refers.
  • Lenses: This is what comes to mind for most people think of Snapchat. Brand-sponsored lenses, active for 24 hours, allow users to interact with the lens and by opening their mouth or raising their eyebrows make their own funny, shareable video. These require significant investment to create and run, and typically are run nationally. And they can pack a punch; the Taco Bell Sponsored Lens received over 224 million views. Snapchatters tend to play with Sponsored Lenses for an average of 20 seconds. Think about that: while on most platforms people hate ads, people on Snapchat go out of their way to “play” with ads. So in terms of bang for buck, Lenses are pretty bloody good.

Which makes the decision to target by geography using lenses the most baffling element of the Bank of England’s approach. If the aim is to drive awareness among a broad demographic group all over the country – why make this available only in tiny geographic areas?

And why these areas? If I were to pick places where 16-to-25-year-olds hang out, I wouldn’t choose Borough Market or Winchester Cathedral. Piccadilly Circus was another location chosen. If they’d ever been there, there’d know it’s hardly teeming with young adult Brits on a Thursday (14 September, when the lens was live, was a weekday).

If the aim was to target young people, why not do it properly and develop a lens? Or make the geofilter available across the whole of the UK?

Given the miniscule ‘geofences’ they created for this campaign, the tiny budget allocated (relying on people on-sharing for reach), and the weekday timing, I’d argue they did this to say they’re doing something new and innovative, rather than as a serious attempt to use Snapchat to engage large numbers of under 25s. And that’s a missed opportunity.


Communicators should consider outcome-based metrics right at the start of campaign planning, to ensure evaluation is built in before a single asset is produced or shared.

Again, the BofE have fallen short here. While admitting they “do not hold any ‘evaluations’ for the specific Snapchat geofilter”, the BofE did reveal their approach to measurement.

“progress against the educational campaign’s main objective was measured by independently run surveys of awareness amongst the general public, which showed that the level of overall awareness of the new £10 note increased over the duration of the campaign”.

Surveys aren’t, in principle, a bad way to measure awareness levels. But unless combined with additional approaches they tell you nothing about the role of the campaign in driving any increase in awareness (versus people simply becoming aware through, say, receiving the new note in change). To get a broader picture of campaign effectiveness this could have been combined with secondary metrics looking at advocacy and impact. For example:

  • Are people talking about the new note on social media?
  • Are there differences in volumes of queries about the note among groups who have seen the campaign versus those who did not?

Channel metrics are meaningless unless these are mapped against business objectives. We need to move away from outputs like impressions and look instead at outtakes and outcomes – that is, the stuff that actually matters. AMEC provides a useful, robust framework with which to do this. As a public body the BofE should also have followed the GCS OASIS framework. It’s not clear why they haven’t.

Value for money

Awareness surveys tell us nothing about the performance of any particular channel or asset, which makes it difficult to see whether Snapchat was a good use of resources. They did, however, share this insight:

“the Snapchat geofilter was used 1,415 times, earning 101,000 impressions”

What this does reveal is a spend of £1.99 per Snap and 2.8 pence per impression. Impressions are just vanity metrics, as they don’t tell you anything about whether the audience understood or recalled the message. But using the more common ad industry standard, this works out at a whopping £27.91 CPM. This is astoundingly poor value for a brand awareness campaign compared with other online display ad formats and platforms.


In response to my question about the cost of developing creative for the campaign, the BofE told me “the geofilter was designed in-house, and therefore there were no associated design and content development costs.”

The concept of cost-free internal resource is a new one on me. There might not be an invoice to pay, but bums on seats still cost money. In the context of the waste of resources that the filter represented, though, this is small fry.

Where did it go wrong?

By asking the right questions, communicators help an organisation determine and align to campaign metrics that drive business results rather than get distracted by vanity stats.

When this doesn’t happen, opportunities to test and optimise are missed, objectives aren’t met and money is flushed down the drain.

These days it not just enough to guess what is and isn’t working. The tools exist to track results, so they must be used and the data they produce be put to good use determining the effectiveness of any campaign.

So what’s perhaps most surprising of all is that this approach was, according to the FOI response, signed off by senior Bank of England officials, who then failed to ask for any evaluation or reporting. That suggests a worrying lack of strategic communications oversight.

While this was a small amount of money and a trivial campaign, the lack of management scrutiny over planning, execution and evaluation makes me wonder what else our money is being wasted on.

Read the FOI response in full.

Are there any stats or lessons I’ve missed? Am I just out of touch? Let me know in the comments below.

Long hours: a labour of love or toxic work culture?

This week Business Insider ran an interview with Revolut founder Nickolay Storonskyon his startup’s culture. As one of the world’s fastest-growing startups there’s no question Revolut are, to quote Storonsky himself, getting s**t done.

In the interview, the CEO claimed his team are “really motivated, really sharing the vision of where we want to go and as a result, they work long hours — they work at least 12, 13 hours a day. All the key people, all the core team. A lot of people also work on weekends.”

But this exemplified, to me, the very worst of the long hours culture that’s endemic in banking, tech, startups – and especially where those all meet in FinTech. So I shared this on Twitter, adding “and people wonder why there’s a gender diversity problem in Fintech”.

This generated quite the heated debate with replies coming from those (mostly women) who agreed with me, a handful of wearyingly predictable mansplain replies, and a bunch of more thoughtful contributors who believe there’s nothing wrong with employees working those hours if they want to.

I can understand why people might say that, but here’s why I think that argument is wrong.

Storonsky’s quoted as saying “No one is sitting there telling them they have to work long hours”. Which is probably true. In my experience, rarely are employees told to work 50, 60 hour weeks – but instead find they’re overlooked for projects if they don’t, side-eyed for leaving at 6pm when others don’t, looked over for bonuses and promotion, and generally saddled with guilt at not pulling their weight compared to others.

While there is a difference between people who work those hours for the love of the product/company and those who are coerced into doing so, it’s rarely clear-cut – and plenty of orgs harbour under the illusion they are the former when in fact they’ve just created a culture which normalises unhealthily long working days. Been there, done that – more than once – and while at the time it felt like passion, on reflection it was more like Stockholm Syndrome.

And if you like the people you work with, then of course you want to spend time with them, in the office and in the pub afterwards. Work quickly becomes your primary social circle, especially if you’re young and new in town. I get that too. Some of my closest friends are people I worked with and bonded over impossible deadlines, late-night tubs of M&S mini bites and rather too many glasses of post-work sauv blanc.

But there’s a fine line between healthy camaraderie and the siege mentality that comes from teams being under extreme stress (and for some this ‘work hard, play hard’ team ethic is a byword for an unhealthy dependence on alcohol for stress relief).

While of course it’s necessary to burn the midnight oil at crunch points to get a product over the line, if people are doing it all the time that’s poor planning and resourcing. As one commenter on the increasingly useful fintechinsidernews forum said:

“If you’re building software in a sensible fashion with a project plan, a project manager and product owner and a skilled, empowered team, then if they’re having to work 12-13 hours a day on a regular basis, your plan is wrong and your project is doomed. it might not show immediately, but give it 6 months and the signs will become clear. People will burn out, quality will drop, team members will leave and the end result will suffer. It’s not sustainable.”

Working at that pace long term is bad for business. People burn out and leave; replacing people and the organisational knowledge they take with them costs money.

It also makes the business less resilient. When a real crisis hits you won’t have any goodwill or energy from your team, or any slack in your resourcing to plug the gap as everyone is already at 120% burn.

And there is a limit to what people can really achieve in a day; when people are tired and stressed they make mistakes and bad decisions. What should matter is what you deliver, not how long you hang around the office doing it.

Excessive hours culture is bad for the product, too. If your team never experiences real life because they rarely leave the office and only socialise with one another, how is your product going to meet anyone’s needs?

If your team is drawn from the narrow demographic who can (or want to) stay in the office until 10pm, will they really understand how to develop products that meet the needs of a wider group of normal humans with social lives?

Reading Storonsky’s description sounded like a classic case of toxic work culture.

“The majority of people, they pass through but some of them, they just realise it’s not for them. It’s not because they are stupid – they just don’t share our vision and our passion.”

That reads to me like people who don’t conform to that culture – who aren’t sweating spinal fluid and pulling all-nighters – are considered lacking in the necessary passion and exit the firm. Still more, I would imagine, are put off joining in the first place. I’ve lost count of the number of capable developers and product managers in their 30s and over in my network who, when touting around for work, will explicitly say they’re not interested in fintech because of its perceived long hours bro culture.

Companies which make a virtue out of long hours are missing out on a wealth of experienced talent. Particularly, but not only, female talent.

I write this having worked the weekend, again. But I’m self-employed, so I have skin in the game and the only person making me do this is me.

As a leader, however, in bragging about the core team doing 12-13 hour days and weekends, Storonsky either explicitly or tacitly creates an expectation among those who work for him that they should do the same (perhaps to demonstrate sufficient commitment or passion).

When it’s your own company of course you’re going to give it all you have. But be wary of the example you set to your team or you risk creating a toxic work culture. Good leadership means modelling healthy ways of working yourself, and telling people to go home before they burn out or screw something up – because ultimately it’s you who carries the can when they do.

Startup life is demanding and isn’t for everyone. But for startups to truly scale they need to morph into sustainable businesses – ones which normal people can and want to work for long term – delivering great products in realistic, properly resourced ways, meeting the needs of real people. I hope high-growth players like Revolut can make that shift.

Jamming: creating conditions for enterprise innovation

An orchestra is a bit like a well run company. All of the elements of the orchestra – the strings, the brass, the percussion – are able to come together with a visible, engaged leader to make something better than the sum of its parts.

But in the modern world, is it enough? The orchestra plays beautiful, complex music – but while they may do it brilliantly, it is still old music performed just as thousands of orchestras have done before.

To maintain competitive advantage, companies need to innovate. If banks, for example, want to be around in 20 years they need to create new and different products to complete with a host of startups.

In other words, they need to do more of this…

Musicians, jamming

Pic: travellingwithoutmoving/Flickr (Creative Commons)

Jamming is the activity of getting a few musicians together in an informal setting to do their thing, simply to see what happens. There’s a fluid coordination there, with people working together as equals. From this collaboration exciting new sounds can emerge.

Regardless of the output, the process of jamming is also a rewarding one for participants. Jamming is fun; doing it helps people to become better musicians. When they play something magic happens for the individuals, and for the group, and potentially for the wider world too.

I first became interested in the concept of Jamming last year, when I read an essay by academic Eric M Eisenberg, Jamming: transcendence through organising.

“Jamming experiences are worthy of study because they are an often ecstatic way of balancing autonomy and interdependence in organizing. As such, they offer a different route, other than reciprocal disclosure, to community.” (Eisenberg, 1999, p. 139)

It struck me that Eisenberg’s description of jamming as an organisational approach is also a perfect description of the balance we need to achieve inside organisations if we are to help employees be productive, rewarded, engaged and innovative.

Researchers overwhelmingly agree engaged employees drive innovation. Engaged employees are empowered to find ways to innovate, whether that’s developing new products, improving the customer experience, or finding more efficient ways to do things.

And, in a neat circle, innovation also drives employee engagement. Help employees innovate and they become more engaged, which makes them even more likely to innovate, and so on.

Organisations bring in Enterprise Social Networks (ESNs), ideation programmes and the like in order to deliver this virtuous circle. But few use them successfully to drive innovation because they’re focused on stopping things going wrong – not helping them go right.

Leveraging collaboration tools inside the firewall can transform communications and engagement, providing a means to break down silos and help people work better together. But concerns around risk can prevent them driving real benefits from collaboration tools – particularly in regulated industries like banking.

On the one hand, they need to ensure policies, systems and processes minimise any risks of compliance failure. On the other, too many rules create a culture of fear and inhibit people from taking the risks necessary for innovation.

For most organisations that balance tips in favour of minimising risk. And not without reason, as the financial and reputational costs of failure are huge.

But in this post I’ll argue that if organisations want to build the kind of successful innovation culture that’s essential to their future growth, they need to create the right conditions for jamming.

What is jamming?

Eisenberg noted jamming has four key characteristics:

  • Jamming is transcendent. It allows people to become part of something bigger than themselves, even if that bigger thing is just the group itself
  • Jamming embraces diversity. For it to succeed participants need to have different skillsets and knowledge that complement each other
  • Jamming is fragile. It is rare and temporary. No one can force it to happen, and participants need to go into it with an open mind about the outcome
  • Jamming is risky. When people improvise they are, by definition, venturing into the unknown. They must accept and embrace the vulnerability that comes with the potential for failure.

These characteristics don’t come about by themselves. Jamming requires a number of preconditions – skill, setting, structure and surrender.

“To facilitate jamming experiences, an organization must create a structure for surrender, within which risk is rewarded, not punished, and work groups are kept sufficiently autonomous to ensure the development and survival of novel ideas.” (Eisenberg, 1999)

In other words, jamming thrives when leaders give highly skilled people the freedom to take risks together in pursuit of common goal.

Enterprise Social Networks and innovation programmes could provide an ideal basis on which organisations can provide the conditions for jamming, if done well. Let’s look at each of these preconditions, and consider at how they can exist within the enterprise.


Once you have a reasonable level of competence you can really get stuck into – and start to enjoy – a task. We sometimes talk about being in the zone when someone is fully immersed in a feeling of energised focus and enjoyment in an activity. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi described this as a state of flow – a highly focused and creative mental state.

Video games have perfected this flow concept, becoming more complex as the player progresses and learns. Winding your way through Dark Souls III provides both experiences of failure (from which you can learn), but also more rewarding moments of success, giving a sense of achievement. Once the player has developed sufficient understanding of the environment and controls, they can get ‘in the zone’ and really enjoy playing while being neither over- nor under-challenged.

The same is true in most collaborative contexts at work. For a group to work together effectively everyone involved needs to be unselfconscious enough about their own mastery to get on with the task. Collaboration requires a minimal level of skill at the task in hand.

So to create the conditions for jamming, organisations need to help people reflect on the skills they have and what they can bring to collaboration. This could be through your performance process, through connecting the ESN to your learning and development platform, or providing other ways for people to identify their own skill and knowledge levels.

In the context of the large enterprise – where people are collaborating as virtual or dispersed teams, it also requires a minimum level of skill at collaborating itself.

First, people need to know need to know how to use the tools provided (such as Office 365 or Jive) so this doesn’t present a barrier to collaboration.

But they also need to adapt working practices so they enable collaborative working in virtual teams – from managing linguistic and cultural differences to being able to motivate others when separated by distance.  Martin White’s paper on Managing Virtual Teams sets out some of these challenges.

To make the most of collaboration tools, organisations need to upskill their people on both the technical and cultural practices of virtual teams.

Jamming requires participants’ skill levels to be comparable. Professional footballers rarely enjoy playing with amateurs, because their inferior skills stop them scoring. A band jamming is only as good as the weakest member; a poor bassist will let the rest of the band down.

But that doesn’t mean they have to be the same. People need to have different sets of skill and knowledge that complement each other in order for it to work well. A football team needs a good striker as well as a good goalkeeper.

To create the conditions for innovation and collaboration at work, organisations must help people of comparable and complementary skills to come together.

A good people directory and people profiles that feature skills experience could support this. In the future this could be developed further to use AI to match people with comparable and complementary skills and interests and proactively suggest who they could work with toward a particular challenge.


As I said above, too many rules and too much governance close down the possibilities for innovation. Excessive structure represses creativity.

Yet structure can be liberating. Contradictions arise only where some things are inflexible. Necessity is the mother of invention. So in the workplace there are defined roles and rules – from what job you do to how you book a meeting room – but at the same time people are given freedom to approach their work as they choose.

When musicians jam they don’t make a random noise. Instead, they work within established conventions of their chosen musical genre and riff from there. So 90% of what they do is predictable; it’s the 10% that’s unpredictable that makes it all exciting.

Organisations have formal rules and processes that everyone needs to work within. In addition there will be informal ones like behavioural norms and communication conventions.

When groups form to work together, they might also wish to set their own rules of engagement – for example decide who will do what and how long they will spend on the work.  This helps people to understand what is expected of them, enabling them to feel comfortable enough to work with others.

People prefer to play by the rules. But those rules must allow enough flex and autonomy in the structure for people to be able to self-direct and take some risks.


Jamming happens best when people step away from normal life, so those involved can approach the task as equals, based on skill alone.

Eisenberg talks about the behavioural coordination that happens in jamming as being characterised by minimal disclosure. That is, that it’s because people know so little about the other participants that they perform so well.

In other words, jamming is easier with strangers. People who already know and work with one another have to work to set aside their established interactions and ways of doing things. With entirely new people it’s much harder to fall into established patterns and habits.

At work we have little reason to work with complete strangers – and are unlikely to have the time to do so. So organisations need to more proactively bring together strangers and give them the time, space and permission to try something new.

Intrapreneurial work teams need to be sheltered from normal organisational constraints and rewarded for their efforts. For innovation and creativity to happen organisations need to think differently about employee performance and reward so that seemingly unfocused collaboration is considered a valuable use of staff time – regardless of what it delivers.


By definition jamming isn’t something that can be forced, and has no predefined outcome. To jam successfully everyone involved needs to accept a loss of some control.

That’s not to say successful jamming is entirely dependent on luck. Good preparation and innate skill are important, and it’s absolutely critical to approach this kind of unstructured collaboration with the right attitude.

That means being willing to cede control and feel comfortable with uncertainty.  This concept of surrender is particularly common in Eastern philosophy. My yoga teacher, for example, often talks about surrendering into a pose. That means just accepting that it might feel a bit odd or uncomfortable, and being ok with that.

As kids we are creative all the time; as we grow older we stop being creative as we fear being judged by our peers. To innovate we have to expose a little bit of ourselves and accept that vulnerability.

To really get value from ESNs as ways to drive innovation and new ideas, people need to surrender and accept that it might feel strange. To accept the risk that nothing might come of it in order to create the possibility that it will.

But to drive innovation, organisations need to surrender too. They need to be open to people finding new and innovative ways to use to solve problems, and in so doing deliver tangible value.

They need to accept that not every unstructured collaboration will result in something exciting, but by encouraging it they create conditions for great things to happen in time.

Structure for surrender – and innovation

To identify and develop new and innovative ideas, organisations need to provide a structure for surrender.

Enterprise Social Networks are in many ways ideal tools to do that. They enable people to identify others with comparable but complementary skills, using people search and facilitating connections. They provide a setting in which these self-organising groups can collaborate without any baggage. The organisations they support provide familiar rules and structure in which collaboration can take place.

But to take collaboration up to the next level – to really jam – means organisations need to pivot their approach, and create an environment in which risk is rewarded, not punished, and collaborating groups are given the autonomy to develop their ideas.

It’s clear collaboration presents a governance challenge for organisations; the more tightly they prescribe how a tool should be used, the more they close down the possibilities for innovation and engagement.

To enable innovation organisations need to focus less on managing risk and more on driving value. On creating the conditions for jamming so they can reap the benefits of serendipity.

What if Twitter isn’t broken?

Earlier this month writer Lindy West left Twitter, claiming in a blog for the Guardian that it’s now unusable for anyone but trolls, robots and dictators.

This came as something as a surprise to me, as I’m none of these things and I still find it useful every single day. So this left me wondering: is Twitter really unusable thanks to trolls? Or is it simply that media commentators see this as an overwhelming problem as they’re the ones disproportionately targeted by trolls?

West is by no means the first high-profile user to walk away from the platform; her flounce is the latest in a long series of op-eds exclaiming Twitter is dead.

No one can deny there’s an abundance of arseholes on Twitter, ready to dole out abuse from behind a Pepe avatar. It’s hard to quantify quite how bad the problem of abuse is on Twitter, but research by Brandwatch found 15,000 instances of misogynistic hate speech used on Twitter every day. A report by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) counted a whopping 2.6 million tweets containing anti-Semitic language in a year (that’s over 7,000 per day).

That volume of abusive language – and the failure to tackle the problem – is said to have been behind Disney’s decision to drop their bid to buy Twitter late last year.

Yet I’ve been an active, daily Twitter user for almost a decade and haven’t experienced much abuse or trolling at all. I still find the platform invaluable.  And I put this question to my network of mostly-not-high-profile Twitter users, who overwhelmingly felt the same.

Different filter bubbles deliver different experiences

That’s because your experience of Twitter is not like mine, or anyone else’s. Twitter is a vastly different experience depending on who you follow, who follows you, what you tweet about – and, perhaps to a lesser degree, your approach, style and tone.

I follow around 3,000 people who tweet about things I’m interested in – intranets, the digital workplace, digital engagement, data, innovation, FinTech, user experience, travel, London life – and broadly tweet about the same topics myself.

And while I follow a bunch of people and organisations talking about politics and current affairs, because I work for the government I steer clear of talking about politics myself. That, it would appear, is the critical difference; while Twitter began as a network for nerds, now it’s a highly political arena in which influencing and winning arguments is believed to shift mainstream public opinion enough to win or lose elections. In that super-charged environment controlling the message matters, and trolling is one way that control can be taken.

However, these two positions aren’t incompatible; while there does seem to have been a surge in abuse on Twitter in recent years, a great many users – probably the majority – using it to talk about work or what’s on the TV don’t experience this at all. 15,000 daily instances of misogynistic hate speech is a huge number – but that represents just 0.00003% of the 500 million tweets published daily. Tens of millions of people still enjoy using Twitter to talk about all manner of topics every day.


Much of the differences in experience are down to volume; have a handful of followers and you might get the occasional rude tweet, but the bigger your following and the higher your profile, the more you experience the dark side of Twitter.

Nick Jones noted: “I think those under attack are often in very asymmetric relationships. I am followed by people like me who share similar interests. It is symmetrical.”

If you’re in the public eye you have far more people who want to talk to you, and a small but noisy proportion of them are pricks. This is particularly difficult for anyone who relies on their public profile to make a living – like journalists and authors, who these days are expected to build and manage their own fanbase online.

I was discussing this (online, natch) with a journalist friend – herself with a large Twitter following and with it a regular stream of keyboard warriors taking it upon themselves to Tell It How It Is. In her view the suggestion the trolling problem is overstated because it disproportionately affects media commentators comes across like a teacher saying that bullying doesn’t need addressing “it only happens to some privileged kids and most pupils love this school!”. Which is a fair challenge and an excellent analogy.

But no one’s saying the troll problem doesn’t need addressing. It does. However, there’s an important distinction to be drawn between the kind of stuff journalists are complaining about – essentially the comments section writ large, stuff they used to be insulated from in the days “letters to the editor” were the only form of feedback – and the general deterioration of civility on Twitter.

Twitter have been too slow to address abuse, and the steps they’ve taken to protect people have been inadequate. But solutions need to be designed for all users, not an unrepresentative group of power users.

Chilling effect?

For most average, unfamous social media users, abuse isn’t a daily experience that needs a mute button. Instead the presence of widespread trolling may have a chilling effect, with many – particularly women and minority ethnic users – consciously or unconsciously steering clear of controversial topics for fear of a potential backlash.

Anne McCrossan commented: “I think there is a mob mentality out there, and that some people find that out pretty decisively if they get on the wrong side of their prevailing opinion, whatever that happens to be.”

Social media strategist Rina Hiranand concurred, noting wariness of trolls “definitely stops me from tweeting now. It’s not that I think my views would attract anyone, but I’m aware that all it takes is one tweet for it to start.”

Nick Jones also admitted to self-censoring online: “I am very, very careful to think through how what I tweet might be misconstrued or used against me at some future point. It’s partly good training for the day job and an intellectual challenge.”

Regular users might experience a fraction of the bullying newspaper journalists do, but it’s likely they have a far lower tolerance for it too – and so need different mechanisms to deal with or report this behaviour. So trolling and bullying aren’t problems that can be fixed for the mainstream with a few code updates.

Blog posts like West’s, and the many hundreds of similar ones that preceded it, both overstate the issue – potentially exacerbating the chilling effect – and, by focusing on the problem only as it is experienced by high-profile individuals rather than the full spectrum of users, misjudge the solutions too.

Or, to use the school analogy, these flounce-pieces focus only on the privileged kids and not on the rest of the class.

Twitter has myriad problems; a lack of focus, obsession with new user growth over existing user delight, falling stock price, failure to monetise, and a decline in trust in the information it presents, not to mention inadvertently ushering in a kleptocracy. Against this backdrop, its failure to deliver an effective anti-trolling mechanism for minor celebrities is perhaps the least of its problems.

Instead, media commentators would do well to remember that for people (like me) who follow nice people talking about social innovation and user experience and other such non-controversial stuff it’s as useful as it’s ever been. Writing the platform off as irretrievably broken paints them as out of touch with the reality of how online abuse is experienced by the mainstream and its effects on public discourse.

Many thanks to Alex Blandford, Alex Hilton, Ann KempsterAnne McCrossan, Hadley Beeman, Ingrid Koehler, James Royal-Lawson,  Jonathan Phillips, Laura Marcus, Mike ButcherMike Wilkins, Nick Jones, Paul Clarke, Rachel Clarke, Rina Hiranand, Sarah Lay and Stuart Bruce for their input on this post.

What’s setting social alight in 2017?

It’s a year since I got out my crystal ball and made some predictions for social media in 2016. Was I right? Partially.

It was indeed a steady-as-she-goes kind of year on social, with brands focusing their resources on a smaller number of channels rather than experimenting with new ones. Meanwhile, the platforms themselves have evolved, driven particularly by a desire to compete with upstart mega-unicorn Snapchat. Chat and real-time interaction grew. But the financial services sector has been slower to move than I predicted, so my suggestion that banks would finally embrace Instagram and move mobile wallets to social wasn’t as accurate.

You don’t need to be Mystic Meg to see where social media is going; it’s becoming more visual, more creative, more interactive – and more commercial. But that’s balanced by growing demands for quality and veracity. So what’s going to set the social world alight in 2017?

Going live

The biggest new trend this year was live video, which burst on the scene in 2015, but really took off this year with Facebook Live, YouTube Live and Instagram Stories all trying to copy Snapchat. Live social video was at the centre of several big news events, and it quickly became a key tool in the news producer’s armoury.

Forward-thinking brands such as the FT are already on board with this. My guess is that the ‘mass market’ will follow suit soon, as a means of giving audiences a view behind the scenes while delivering engaging content quickly and cheaply. The platforms themselves are starting to roll out support for pro users (such as Periscope Producer) and by the end of 2017 brands should have live video as a central plank of their social media strategy.

Twitter: turn it off or turn it up

It’s been a tough year for Twitter with its share price dropping following failed takeover talks. But it’s responded to rumours of its demise by pivoting from a social network to a real-time news and entertainment company and embracing its place as a second screen in an attempt to regain lost audiences.

As a result brands will question the value of Twitter as a delivery mechanism for content and links to websites. Some will close their channels, but more switched-on communicators will up their Twitter game to capitalise on the strong relationship between Twitter and TV.

Twitter audiences are smaller but highly influential compared to those on other channels. 35% of Twitter users regularly share their opinions on people and brands; these people are a third more likely to actually convince people of their opinions. They have a discovery mindset and seek content that is live, open and shareable so they can influence and engage others in an informed way.

Top-performing social brands can leverage this by using their feeds to provide the “pub argument ammo” this influential group want. That means shareable visuals which inform and educate, plus key facts that help them back up an argument.

Twitter’s not dead, but it’s a very different beast to 2008 so brands need to revise how they use it to make the most of its current strengths.

Enabling self-expression

In this year’s Internet Trends Report Mary Meeker charted the evolution of social tools that enable people to express themselves by creating an artefact – beginning with simple emojis through to Bitstrips and, more recently, Snapchat, with its simple-to-use lenses.

This trend shows no sign of slowing down, with apps like playground phenomenon  taking off this year. In 2017 brands will need to find new ways to enable their customers to be creative if they want to win the battle for eyeballs.

Hybrid public-enterprise social

Facebook’s now well established as a customer service channel, but the long-anticipated launch of Workplace, Facebook’s first foray into the enterprise market, creates new possibilities for conversation to flow in and out of organisations seamlessly.

So for example a customer could raise a query on the brand’s public Facebook page, a customer care team could pick it up and use Workplace to investigate and discuss it, before responding to the customer via Messenger. Workplace’s app platform could make it easy to track conversations flowing between public and closed social spaces in order to deliver better customer experiences.

Quality filters

With the rise of fake news, inaccurate polls and political attacks on experts, 2016 has been a challenging year for the concept of truth – and nowhere more so than on social media. The tech firms have already announced drives to clean up their newsfeed, but this is likely to be a race to stay ahead of the spammers.

The desire for quality could push users to seek out trusted names to help them filter, using humans rather than algorithms. So while some have declared the reign of the celebrity influencer to be over, the demand for content quality could create a new generation of influential ‘quality filterers’.

Facebook have released Signal for journalists to help them with the task of curating content to improve content quality, and I expect further moves from all the main platforms to rebuild trust in shared content.

Inside-out advocacy

The dawn of the post-truth era brings new challenges for organisations and brands, who need to find more creative ways of getting their messages through to an increasingly cynical public. This year’s Ipsos-Mori Veracity Index highlighted how little faith the public have in business leaders, politicians, economists and civil servants – yet trust in ‘the ordinary man in the street’ remains strong. Brands can take advantage of that trust by equipping and encouraging ordinary employees to share on their behalf.

There are a host of social amplification apps on the market which allow comms teams to upload content for their employees to share. But this has to be a voluntary process – the employee needs to choose to open the app, choose content and share it on.

Faced with the need to make content appealing enough to be both read and shared, companies who want to leverage their employees’ networks will be forced to up their content game. 2017 could be the year companies start giving employees content as compelling and engaging as that given to customers.

Chatbots take off

Customers increasingly expect prompt service via social channels, placing pressure on companies to resource real-time social customer care. Artificial Intelligence (AI) can help manage that demand, in the form of chatbots – computer programs that you interact with by “chatting”, for example in threads in messaging apps. These are an important new human/machine interface, simulating intelligent conversation, answering queries and managing simple workflows, increasing the speed of engagement with customers.

Mark Zuckerberg opened the Facebook Messenger Platform to third party chatbots in April, and in the months since more than 30,000 have been built.

2017 will be a year of conversation, with customers talking to brands on Messenger, WhatsApp or Slack. Bots will enable that growth as they become more realistic and more human.

Chatbots are able to bridge the gap between services designed for humans (like text message) and those designed for machines, by breaking complex transactions into conversations. And these conversational interfaces will open up digital engagement to groups who have previously struggled to use online services, by making them more human in design.

Conclusion: convergence creating complexity

The most notable trend for 2016 has been the race for each of the main platforms to ape one another. Snapchat copied Facebook by adding Memories. Instagram encouraged users to share Snapchat-like content by adding Stories. Facebook is testing Snapchat-like disappearing messages and added Twitter-like trending topics.

This creates more complexity for users – and for brands, who now have to plan for multiple different content types within each of their channels. In the short term this gives communicators the option to experiment with different, visual content types to see what works. But by the end of 2017 I expect most will have worked out where they get the most bang for their buck and will settle into a more regular publishing pattern that’s more focused in order to reach the right audience with the right content.

Making sense of SharePoint with out-of-the-box intranets

It’s reckoned that 70% of intranets run on Microsoft SharePoint. It’s been the lead in the Gartner quadrants for enterprise content management and enterprise social for as long as either has been around. It’s perhaps surprising, then, that only once in my decade-long career as an intranet practitioner have I actually recommended to an organisation that they choose it.

That’s because while it’s packed with features and eternally popular with IT departments, it remains painfully difficult to deliver a simple, usable intranet with it. While it improves with every new edition – and 2016’s offering has made considerable steps forward in usability – the complexity and flexibility of this hydra of a product too often results in intranets that are over-complicated, ugly and hard to use.

The search continues to suck, the branding and customisation options limited, and the analytics it offers lags behind its rivals. Sure, it offers a lot of functionality – but much of it is stuff that few organisations want or need, merely making the intranet harder to use.

More often than not SharePoint intranets are an afterthought tacked on to any Office upgrade or rollout rather than actively chosen as a tool to deliver a best-in-class digital workplace and intranet. Where user research and planning does happen, and real investment is made in design, user experience and content, SharePoint can – and does – deliver truly great intranets.

Nine of the 10 intranets named as the world’s best in this year’s Neilsen Norman intranet design annual were SharePoint-based, as were around half of Intranet Innovation Awards winners. What sets these organisations apart is that they’ve invested planning and resources in really making a success of SharePoint – focusing on user needs, design and usability. But for everyone else this almost never happens.

So what do you do if you don’t have these resources and for whatever reason you’re stuck with SharePoint?

The last five years or so has seen the development of a wide range of products built on SharePoint that claim to quickly transform it into a useful, usable and fully-functioned intranet.

I was delighted to be given the opportunity to look more closely at a number of these products, as one of the team of reviewers for the second edition of SharePoint Intranets-in-a-Box, from Clearbox Consulting.


The report looks at 26 of these products in all. They each had a slightly different focus and approach, but almost all delivered significant improvements in usability compared to a standard implementation. Some so much so that you hardly knew you were using SharePoint at all. Some products built on the SharePoint platform to deliver key transactional functionality for intranets, like HR or IT, while others had a heavier focus on enhancing and streamlining SharePoint for internal communications and engagement.

What they all had in common was the speed and ease of implementation. While the NNg award winners took an average of 1.3 years to deliver their intranets, out-of-the-box solutions can be up and running in days – or even hours. This makes it possible to deliver a decent intranet on top of SharePoint even with a limited budget and few development resources.

The SharePoint Intranets-in-a-Box report is out now. It’s packed full of practical advice and honest reviews (bad as well as good), and gives a useful overview of the available options at-a-glance. Between the team we’ve done over 200 hours of research to help you choose the right product for your requirements and budget.

Confession: I’d probably still recommend organisations starting from scratch consider alternatives. But as a self-confessed SharePoint Skeptic I’m delighted to see vendors come to the rescue for those who are tied into the Microsoft ecosystem, doing the hard work to make SharePoint suck less, so you don’t have to.

If you’ve read this far, reward yourself with 10% off the purchase price using my discount code IIAB2CBOX10.

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