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.

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 impact will Facebook at Work have on the digital workplace?

Ahead of its rumoured launch later this year, excitement has been building about Facebook at Work – the enterprise version of the billion-strong social network – among intranet, internal comms and digital workplace pros.

It’s not hard to see why. While social intranets have come on leaps and bounds in recent years, thanks to products like Jive and Yammer, there’s also a sense that ESN hasn’t yet been as transformative as many would hope.


Facebook at Work brings the platform’s functionality into the workplace

With its familiar features and user experience, earlier adopters of FB@W have seen exceptionally high levels of adoption and use compared to Yammer, Jive and the like. If this can be replicated elsewhere it could be a real game-changer in the workplace.

There’s little official information out about FB@W, but with a growing number of early adopters on board more details about its functionality and specs are starting to emerge, and I, for one, can’t wait to get my hands on it. I’ve seen a preview and there’s no two ways about it – it looks awesome.

I’m keen to discuss what some of the implications might be for comms, so I’ve arranged to discuss in a live videocast on Blab with scarlettabbott’s Tony Stewart and enterprise collaboration champion Luis Suarez. And we’d like you to join us too. You can jump on your webcam and join us on the video, or ask questions via the Q&A panel.

We’ll be discussing:

  • What we know about Facebook at Work and what it means for the ESN space
  • How communicators might use it
  • What impact it might have on organisations
  • What the challenges may be to successful roll-out

We’ll be live here via from 3pm BST (10am ET) on Wednesday, 10 August. Subscribe and join the conversation then, or leave a comment below and we’ll try our best to answer as many questions as we can.

We’re all Millennials now

Another week, another report on how the demands of the millennial generation are disrupting long-established companies and industries. This week it’s the turn of Oracle, who have produced a report on banks’ urgent need to redesign themselves for the future.

Like the slew of reports that preceded it, Oracle’s Banking is changing… with or without the banks report concludes that established players are facing an existential crisis. Millennials demand more from their service providers, it contends. Banks have been slow to change, but there are a host of FinTech challengers poised to grab their custom.

Study after study shows that banking is the industry most at risk from disruption, but it’s hardly alone – insurance, law, accountancy, real estate, retail and… well pretty much every industry is on the verge of collapse under the weight of millennial demands.

Every day, hundreds of new articles and blog posts about millennials appear. Despite this, no one seems to have a clue what a millennial really is. The mental image it conjures up is of a young person, replete with a printed shirt, reasonable beard and a taste for craft beer. Yet the definitions are much broader than that; even the Wikipedia entry highlights the lack of consensus:

“There are no precise dates for when the generation starts and ends; most researchers and commentators use birth years ranging from the early 1980s to around 2000.”

Overall, the earliest proposed birthdate for millennials is 1976 and the latest 2004.

I was born in 1980, which means I’m either a millennial or I’m not, depending what definition you use. This incoherent infographic explains why I am so awesome:

According to this I’m also unproductive and self-obsessed, so I couldn’t help myself procrastinating further by finding out one way or the other. Pew Internet have a helpful diagnostic which told me I’m 86% millennial. That I listen to Radio 4, have a few grey hairs, live in the suburbs and spend my weekends gardening in my allotment suggests something rather different.

All manner of often contradictory behaviours are typically ascribed to this group. They’re simultaneously narcissistic and self aware. Selfish but socialist. Lazy and entitled, but lacking access to secure jobs and housing. Careerless but ambitious. Fat but fit.

All of this is philosophically damaging in the extreme. My own experience of being – or not being – a millennial highlights just how meaningless the term has become. This demographic window includes people who are pushing 40 as well as those who are still at school, yet are portrayed as a single and very different cohort who are about to disrupt everything.

Millennials’ expectations, we’re told, are shaped by the experience of being digital natives and growing up in a consumer society. A study from PwC on how millennials view work found:

  • They place a really high value on flexibility – 66% want to work from home
  • They also value workplace culture – they want a work environment that emphasises and enables teamwork and collaborative working, and a sense of community.
  • They want transparency and two-way communication and expect to be able to input on decision-making
  • They want recognition for their work and the contribution they make

Millennials have high expectations of their consumer experiences, too. Oracle’s banking report recommends that banks invest heavily in delivering the omni-channel experience that the next generation of customers demand, using data to develop and deliver products that suit millennials’ lifestyles.

Those lifestyles aren’t, however, looming on the horizon for corporations and governments to prepare for; they’re already here. The oldest millennials are, like me, in their 30s, married with a mortgage. They’re leading organisations. Making purchasing decisions. Changing the world by designing amazing products.

Millennials already make up the majority of the workforce in much of the world. By 2025 three quarters of working people will come from this generation.

What’s strange, then, is how millennials continue to be portrayed as ‘other’. Their expectations – of flexibility at work, for example, or banking services that better meet the needs of the modern consumer – might be second nature to millennials, but Gen X can and increasingly do demand these too.

Millennials might have grown up in the era of instant communication, one click purchases and 24 hour delivery, but they are far from the only users of these services. Brand loyalty might be a mystery to them, but consumers from Generation X (and older) aren’t averse to voting with their feet either. Millennials are posited as the smartphone generation, but half of all Apple products are sold to baby boomers.

Rebecca Onion wrote last year that “Overly schematized and ridiculously reductive, generation theory is a simplistic way of thinking about the relationship between individuals, society, and history. It encourages us to focus on vague ‘generational personalities,’ rather than looking at the confusing diversity of social life.”

By decoupling consumer and employee demands from age brackets, we could remove the sense of otherness that has come to characterise future-scanning reports into millennial behaviours. These trends aren’t ones for the future, but for now.

The desires and consumer needs of millennials are those of the mainstream, and that trend will only increase. Successful brands are those which establish appeal across generations. Conversely, those organisations which continue to view millennials as different to the mainstream will quickly find they fall behind.

We’re all beginning to expect personalised well-designed services, delivered across devices and channels around our needs as customers. Those trends might be most visible amongst millennials, but they’re almost as commonplace amongst those born in the sixties, who are at least a little bit millennial too.

As notable modern philosopher Kanye West, who is almost 39, said at last year’s VMA awards, “we the millennials, bro”. And he’s right; when it comes to consumer behaviour, we’re all millennials now.

Seven signs of the social media snake oil salesman

Being on the internet doesn’t make you a social media expert any more than going for a jog makes you an Olympic athlete.

Yes, anyone who goes for a run is more qualified to talk about running than someone who sits on the sofa; but simply having a Twitter account doesn’t mean you know how to deliver real business outcomes using social channels.

Yet while it’s easy to tell the difference between a truly talented and experienced athlete like Mo Farrah  – who is considerably faster than your average Joe – and someone (like me) who finishes a marathon in over five hours, it’s not so easy to quantify someone’s expertise in something as subjective as social media.

As organisations recognise that making a mark in the social space is essential, they’re looking to hire in expertise – but often they have no idea what they’re looking for. And this provides rich pickings for a growing army of social media charlatans, peddling bad advice to unsuspecting punters.

How can communicators, marketers and executives spot – and avoid – these types? I asked my network: what marks a social media ‘expert’ out as a chancer? Suffice to say, this generated some Strong Views, which can be grouped under seven themes. Here’s the seven sins of the social media snake-oil salesman – and how to spot them.

1) Robo-posting

There’s a host of web services which post to social media on your behalf. Used well, these can be valuable – but they can’t be a substitute for real two-way interaction. Buffer, for example, can be a useful service for sharing links to interesting blog posts, allowing users to schedule posts in to create a steady stream rather than spamming your followers.

But if someone’s just spending half an hour a week lining up a stream of links, only sharing headlines – quite possibly without even reading the posts themselves – they’re no more useful to the audience than a bot. The giveaway here is if they seem to post all day, every day, but rarely reply or engage in any real conversation.

“Thanks for the value add. At least follow web best practice 101 and make it easy for your reader to get the crux of the message.”
Marged Cother

But mark of the true amateur, however, is the use of spammy services such as Rebel Mouse – what Anne McCrossan called “robo-posting, content-aggregating, click-baiting waste-of-attention platforms.”

Screen Shot 2016-03-08 at 21.09.58

Stephen Waddington agreed, “Get out of my feed. You can’t automate a conversation.”

2) Quantity over quality

Social isn’t a numbers game – it’s about generating value for your brand or company. This means giving the audience something of value to them – insight, information, even just a laugh – in exchange for their attention. It’s a value exchange.

Steer well clear of anyone who advises generating huge volumes of low-quality content – think “ooh, it’s Friday” pictures – to post multiple times daily to grow reach. You’re almost always better off posting one good piece of content daily than ten bits of crap – and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

Instead, look for people or firms who will help you develop and deliver content that your audience will find useful, engaging or interesting. The target here isn’t volume – of content, or engagements – but delivering outcomes such as conversion or brand awareness/consideration.

3) Self-describing as a guru

“People that write how to articles and guides that have plainly never actually worked in a crisis, managed trolls, planned a campaign or created a measurement framework.”
Stephen Waddington

“My feeling is that I/we will be the judge. It is not for them to declare themselves a guru.”
Jonathan Phillips

Like hotels called ‘Palace’ or countries with ‘Democratic’ in their name, it’s only necessary to mention this if it’s not immediately obvious from their reputation.

Look past the LinkedIn headline “Joe Bloggs – Social Media Marketing Expert” and keep an eye out for extensive, real-world experience managing social media – and showing tangible results from that.

Closely related this this are the constant ego-promoters:

“Resharing content that mentions you. Don’t get me wrong we all do it occasionally. But I’ve nothing but contempt for people who constantly reply to tweets with the RT comment function”
Stephen Waddington

4) Suspicious follower counts

There are two legitimate ways to get a big Twitter following: join in 2008, or be a celebrity. If someone’s not famous, and not a Twitter old-timer, yet has more than 10,000 followers, then often it’s because they follower-farmed or bought followers in order to inflate their influence to those who don’t have the nous to spot it.

Social media is not a numbers game: “reach” is meaningless. 10,000 followers gains you nothing if those followers aren’t real people who might spend real money.


Be sure to look at someone’s follower list. Are their followers real people with photos, descriptions and followers of their own? If they have a large number of followers with no profile picture, low follower numbers and/or little obvious reason to follow the person in question, it’s likely they tried to buy a following. And if they’re willing to do something so embarrassing with their personal brand, they shouldn’t be trusted with yours.

5) Sucking at search

If you’re hiring anyone, or considering an agency to provide any digital service, the very first thing you should so is Google it/them. Firstly, do the first three to five results clearly relate to them? If someone can’t even get their SEO act together to clearly own the first page of results themselves, they won’t be able to do the same for you.

Next, look at the successive few pages. Any individual who claims to be a digital specialist but isn’t visible – positively – on Google is either bullshitting, or has something sufficiently awful to hide they’ve made the effort to have it removed. Either way, it’s a big red flag.

Finally, take a look at both the agency and any named individuals they offer you to work on your account to see how they manage their social presence. If they don’t have one at all, or they have a Twitter account they barely use, that’s a warning sign.

“An eyebrow is always raised when I hear ‘but I don’t use social in my personal life…’. Say whut?”
Tony Stewart

You wouldn’t hire a Head of Press who said they didn’t read the news. Likewise, it simply isn’t credible for someone with responsibility for social/digital media not to have an active social presence. To really succeed on social you need to really get it – and that means using it, gaining a deep understanding of the community you’re trying to engage with, and demonstrating that through your own and your agency/company’s digital footprint.

6) Offering second-hand expertise

Alarm bells ring when a supposed expert relies on case studies they weren’t involved in in their sales pitch or conference deck; it’s often a sure sign they lack hands-on experience of their own.

“My issue is with those where the main parts of the conference speaking and/or training isn’t delivered from first hand knowledge” said Stuart Bruce. “Some of it inevitably won’t be and can’t be… But they should at least offer some inside knowledge gained from speaking to the people involved.”

“The same is true with ‘bad’ case studies where the reality of what happened internally isn’t what the gurus on the outside are saying as they throw criticism without understanding of the realities of operating in challenging environments”.

If someone offers a case study that’s delivered second-hand, challenge them on what inside insights they’ve sought to add value for you.

7) Claiming there are hard and fast rules for social media

Social media is ultimately about people, and like anything that relates to human behaviour, there really are no hard and fast rules.

Take, for example, the one I made above about robo-posting. I detest it, so much so that I have and all Facebook quizzes muted. And yet there are real and powerful use cases for both of these things, in the right context.

But no one can tell you that your brand is best conveyed on social by, say, posting six times a day at these specific times, because every audience will be different.

“There are no blanket rules or guidance – best time to post, when to use images, frequency of posting, this network or that network. It’s always going to be different as it depends on what your objectives are and the make-up of your community/audience/stakeholders (delete as appropriate).”
Stuart Bruce

The only hard and fast rule is that you should listen, try, measure, learn and iterate. Post different types of content at different times, measure what works – and by works, I mean delivers actual outcomes, not just ‘reach’ – and keep on improving.

People who promise to deliver big social media results using shortcuts – like robo-posting, or follower-farming – could give you some good social media stats, but these are numbers which offer little real-world value for your brand and reputation. “We should be focusing on KPIs and measurement that relate back to business objectives, not to pathetic 0.5/2% engagement rates” said Julio Romo. “What about the 98% who don’t engage?”

Why do people fall for it?

“We should be calling out these snake-oil tradesmen. But then again, is all this their problem? Or is it a case that there is still a basic understanding of social within many organisations?” Julio added.

That’s a large part of the problem – if the people who are buying, commissioning or hiring in social media expertise don’t know their digital arse from their elbow, it’s no surprise there are chancers ready to cash in.

If you were to task me with buying a car, I’d make a crap job of it since I don’t drive and know nothing about cars. I’d have to bring in people who do know about cars to help me choose. But when people fall for these chancers they’re doing much the same – admitting they lack the expertise themselves and attempting to plug the gap. So the problem is perhaps that those buying don’t know what to look for.

Maybe that’s where organisations like CIPR, CIM and BCS can help – each of these organisations can offer accreditation in their respective areas. As social is changing every profession/discipline, they have a role to play in championing good practice; by evolving their certification and advisory offers they can help buyers navigate their way to worthwhile social media advice.

Meanwhile, snake-oil salesmen give true social media specialists a bad name. To protect our own reputations and that of social media as a practice, the rest of us should be braver and call poor practice out when we see it.

Many thanks to Stuart Bruce, Paul Clarke, Amanda Coban, Marged Cother, Carol Ferro, Anke Holst, Ingrid Kohler, Anne McCrossan, Julio Romo, Tony Stewart, Steve Waddington, Steve Way, Louise Woollam for their input on this post.