Social media in financial services: six trends for 2016

Last week I had the pleasure of debating the role of social media in banking and finance with Nick Jones (Head of Digital Communications at Visa Europe) and Keith Lewis (Social Media Manager at Zurich) in the latest CIPR C-Suite podcast. Podcast host Russell Goldsmith has blogged about it here, and you can listen to the podcast on iTunes.

Social has transformed the way businesses engage with their customers and potential customers, and that’s as true in financial services as any other industry. Despite the three of us coming from quite different parts of financial services, we all felt that this is an exciting time for social in the sector.

Digital is now the primary way most of us access our banking services – I haven’t been in a branch or even phoned my bank in years – and social is a central part of that experience. So what lies ahead for social in the financial services sector? Let me jump on that year-end bandwagon and predict some trends for 2016…

Consolidating rather than innovating on platforms

As Nick commented on our podcast, when we were first getting into social four or five years ago, new channels would come along and everyone was happy to experiment for a month or two before disposing of it. Platforms would rise within weeks – and fall away even more quickly (who remembers Ello now?).

Social has grown up, and as it gains the attention of the c-suite there’s more demand to focus attention – and spend – on platforms that already have established audiences, ensuring these deliver tangible returns. Tolerance for experimentation will fall.

Fighting for attention on Facebook

Facebook recently rolled out its Instant Articles feature – which means users are served a version of content from Facebook’s servers, rather than directed to publishers’ own sites. Early indications show this could be a huge change to the way the internet giant directs traffic to websites outside of its own ‘walled garden’.

Commentators are widely predicting that Facebook’s algorithms will prioritise Instant Articles over links to websites. And while it’s traditional media publishers who are being courted to publish direct to Facebook now, brand publishers are the next logical extension. Expect to have to pay Facebook to get eyeballs on your blog content before long.

Banks finally embrace Instagram

2014-15 saw many brands dive into Instagram, but financial services firms have been slow to follow suit. Financial products are necessarily complicated – as are the regulatory demands to explain these in detail, which has led the sector to focus on long-form content.

But people find finances complicated – scary, even – and snackable content provides a means by which we can demystify what we do. A few are starting to dip their toes in the water, most notably Capital One and American Express. In the coming year more banks, insurers and payment providers will switch to visual formats in order to make their products simpler and more appealing, particularly for millennials – learning from media and other industries how to boil down messaging for the format.

Making conversation to conversion seamless

The growth in mobile wallets means that in a couple of years payment has gone from being the most annoying part of any e-commerce experience, to being simple.

Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest and Instagram have introduced buy buttons, making social and mobile commerce integrated. App developers have monetisation front of mind, so that conversation leads seamlessly to conversion. FinServs are likely to get in on the game this year, using social to collect leads directly from apps.

Mobile wallets get social

Taking that one step further, mobile wallets are becoming even more integrated into IM 3.0 apps. This innovation has been driven from the East, with Chinese banks offering payment services within WeChat as long ago as 2013.

WeChat has continued to build more financial products into its offering, from merchant payments (a bit like Shopify) to a nascent Private Bank called WeBank.

This trend continues to spread across emerging markets – where people are less likely to have traditional bank accounts – with WeChat-powered payments breaking through in Africa.

This innovation could spread to mature (Western) markets in 2016, as tech firms become bigger players in the finance space. Millennials, in particular, don’t just expect to talk to their bank on social – but expect to be able to transact there too.

Keeping it real(time)

While the integration of transactional and lead generation features into a wide range of social platforms could allow financial firms to generate tangible income from social, at the same time it places greater demands on those managing social channels. Customers expect 24/7 presence for customer services, and the growth of channels like Periscope require community managers to be more responsive to spot and respond to issues.

2016 looks set to be a demanding year for social media managers in finance, with increased demands from both consumers – to respond and provide better and more integrated services – and from those in the boardroom to show value. But if we rise to the challenge, the year ahead could be when social grows up and becomes a transformational force in finance.

What do you think of my predictions? What do you think we’ll see in 2016? Let me know in the comments below.

 

The email-free future is here. It’s just not evenly distributed yet.

It’s over five years since Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg predicted email is probably going away, and yet I returned from holiday this week to a bulging inbox. So what went wrong?

Here I explain why email alternatives haven’t yet made the breakthrough – and what needs to happen to really see an end to inefficient email culture.

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Underestimated the need for culture change

Cultural barriers in moving from email to enterprise social have been wildly underestimated. Email has had a long (20 year +) period of dominance, and has found its way into a vast range of tasks (many of which it’s inappropriate for, but nonetheless). Old habits die hard, and email is quite some habit – taking up 28% of employee time. Intranet expert Sam Marshall once commented that only two things will survive a nuclear winter – cockroaches, and email.

Email, for all its faults, offers privacy, preservation of silos and hierarchy, and the hoarding of knowledge – all things which fit with traditional ways of managing business. For enterprise social networks to really make a difference they need to form part of a massive change management programme – one that sees the ESN as a small part of a change to make the organisation fit for the future.

If an organisation is serious about embracing openness, meritocracy, flexibility and collaborative working, as a means of making itself more agile and innovative, and engaging its people, then an ESN will enable that. But the organisation needs to lead that change – the tool is merely a means of delivery, and can’t be seen as the culture change itself.

Few organisations have done this successfully yet. Most have barely started. But as hardly a day now passes without another news story about how traditional industries and business models are being disrupted by smaller, newer players – firms who are already embracing those values and working in open, collaborative and innovative ways – big business has to adapt or die. That culture change isn’t a nice to have: it’s existential.

The tools sucked

Back in 2010, the tools to go email-free just weren’t widespread enough; few enterprises had rolled them out, and where they had they were found wanting. Let’s be blunt here: they sucked compared to what was available on the web.

Enterprise social tools lacked powerful enough functionality to make people ditch their long-held habits. They were typically rolled out organically, which meant they relied heavily on enthusiasts and failed to gain critical mass.

All that has changed, though. Social intranet products such as Sharepoint, Jive and IBM Connections have continued to grow and evolve their functionality. At the same time, products like Salesforce, Oracle and SAP have moved on from token inclusion of social functionality to offering fully social systems. And a host of new entrants like Slack have come along to shake the whole enterprise collaboration market up, forcing everyone to raise their game.

The current crop of enterprise social tools now offer substantial and realistic alternatives to email with functionality and usability that are as good as anything offered to consumers.

The challenge, then, is ensuring the organisation has the right tool or set of tools. And that means focusing on user needs…

Lacked understanding of user needs

Too many intranet projects are conceived and designed from the corporate centre, designed without a detailed understanding of how, when and why people work – so that social fits the way people work, rather than expecting people to change the way they work to use social tools.

In this (old) blogpost, Andrew McAfee suggests that the continued use of email when superior alternatives are available is an example of the 9x problem. That is, that people are generally averse to change, so they overvalue what they have by a factor of three, and undervalue alternatives by 3x. So something needs to not just be better than the alternative for people to be convinced to change, but it needs to be 9x better.

The number one driver of adoption is utility. Intranet and digital workplace professionals need first to understand what people do and how they work – and why they use email – then select and configure tools so they provide a compelling alternative – one that users perceive as genuinely useful enough to be worth investing their time in learning.

Poor integration

All too often social intranets are yet another in the plethora of workplace portals, presenting users with a hot mess of interfaces and user experiences. It’s no surprise that people reached for the comfort blanket of Microsoft Outlook.

Email dominates because it’s familiar, and it’s made its way into almost everything we do at work. Email doesn’t force people to think about what tool to use – and nor should your digital workplace. The current generation of enterprise social tools are easy and cheap to integrate with each other, and with other systems. Crack that and present a coherent, integrated digital workplace that doesn’t require users to think, and you reduce the barriers to change.

Too inward looking

Finally, they didn’t extend beyond the firewall, forcing people to go back to email if they want to collaborate with anyone outside of the organisation. In this day and age collaboration can’t just be inward-looking; it will necessarily involve third parties like agencies – and ideally customers too.

With most vendors offering robust cloud-based solutions, there’s no longer a need to limit collaboration to inside the firewall, nor to force people to go back to email to collaborate externally.

The future

These five factors can explain why predictions about the imminent demise of email have failed to come true. While the tools have improved markedly, implementations must focus on user needs so that users feel social tools are substantial and realistic alternatives to email.

As William Gibson commented, the future is here… it’s just not evenly distributed yet. While the tools now exist to deliver on Sheryl Sandberg’s prediction of an email-free future, without significant investment in culture change email will persist.

Photo credit: Daniel Voyager

 

Social media lessons from Ed Balls

Today marks four years since Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls accidentally tweeted his own name, and inadvertently became an internet phenomenon.

It was back in 2011 when Balls was shopping for the ingredients for a 14-hour pulled pork recipe in Asda that an aide suggested he search for an article on Twitter which mentioned him. Balls began typing in his name, but a phone call distracted him and he accidentally hit ‘send’, to the delight of the Twittersphere.

Balls didn’t delete the tweet afterwards, apparently because he didn’t know he could. It has since been shared over 37,000 46,000 times. Tweeting Ed Balls became an internet meme – spawning photoshopped pictures, celebrity endorsements, media coverage and even fame on London’s tube network.

In 2013 internet users began marking the anniversary of the tweet’s now-legendary publication, tweeting Ed Balls at 4.20pm GMT. 28th April is now known as Ed Balls Day.

What can we learn from this?

  • Memes and social media backlashes can come from anywhere. While Balls is in the public eye, even private individuals can find a single tweet can make them a target for mockery or even hate. Balls was lucky; most people just found it funny. However, social media mistakes may have serious consequences. Once made, those mistakes are not easy to fix. Be mindful of what you share on social media. This story about comms professional Justine Sacco’s very ill-judged tweet is a salutatory lesson.
  • Tweet in haste, repent at leisure. Ed Balls’ attempts at multi-tasking made him the butt of many jokes. Take a moment to proof your social media posts, particularly if it’s anything important or serious. (That includes checking the links. I once tweeted a link to some underwear I was buying online when I meant to share a news story. #awkward.)
  • The internet never forgets. Balls’ eight-character mishap happened four years ago, but it’s still very visible. Be mindful of your digital footprint. Social media has not only made us more accessible to one another, but also more accountable. Your online presence can be an asset or a liability. Any remark you post in the public domain can be found, mocked, distorted or misinterpreted – even years later.
  • Acknowledging mistakes can earn you (some) respect. Four years on, the offending tweet is still up. And that Balls has accepted and even joined in the (largely good-natured) ribbing has earned him a little respect (alongside the inevitable laughter at Twitter incompetence).

UPDATE, 4.20 GMT: Ed Balls responds from the campaign trail:

Social media, serendipity and the power of trivia

For most of us – and certainly anyone reading this blog – social media plays a significant role in our lives. We keep track of our friends’ lives through Facebook updates, message them on Twitter, see what they’re up to on Foursquare, and ‘like’ their photos on Instagram. I do this more than most, since social media is a big part of my job; my friend Richard commented that he doesn’t need to ring me anymore as he can find out exactly what I’m doing, thinking and feeling by looking at my various updates online.

A couple of weeks back my colleague Keith wrote an interesting blogpost, wondering if this stream of minutiae is bad for us, akin to obesity for the mind. He asked “is it possible that we have filled our brains with information, images, adverts, arguments, thoughts, news, features, blogs and opinions, to the extent that our brains aren’t functioning as they used to?”

The stream of updates about unimportant things, from lunchtime burritos to Daily Mail click-bait, are thought by many to be distracting us from the reading of improving books or forging of real-life relationships.

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Keith certainly isn’t the first person to ask if the sharing of trivia is affecting the way that we think. Plato argued the technology of writing would destroy humans’ ability to remember. 17th century lecturers complained that their students spent too much time in coffee shops catching up on news and gossip. Even the walls of Pompeii featured graffiti from Roman Jamie Olivers exclaiming ‘I baked bread today’.

As Tom Standage argues wonderfully, the sharing of tidbits of information in a peer-to-peer way is by no means a 21st century development, and nor either is the suggestion that this has a negative impact on wellbeing.

I’m an internet optimist. Sure, the internet gives us plenty to be worried about, from privacy worries to the impact on older industries and the economy. But in my lifetime the 20th century model –  in which mass-produced media were piped at us, to be passively consumed at a set time via a small number of TV or radio channels – has been completely transformed. The 21st century has seen a diversification in media in which has given us access to a wider array of information sources than we’ve ever had before.

While some may argue that this overwhelms people, I’d argue that on balance being informed via a wider range of sources is a good thing. The web gives us access to more information than we even knew existed, as well as the power to publish ourselves. Yet far from overwhelming us with a torrent of news, the amount of time younger people spend consuming news has gone down. It’s been suggested that we’re simply becoming more efficient, able to learn more in less time.

Yet it’s also wrong to say the web hasn’t had an impact on the way we think. When I’m talking to a friend or colleague and we’re not sure of a specific point, one or other of us will reach for our smartphone and settle the argument immediately. I don’t remember; I research.

On the one hand there’s a large body of evidence which suggests that the increasing complexity of the media we consume is leading to increased cognitive capacity and rising IQ scores. But there’s also a healthy academic debate taking place over how our behaviours are adapting to the changing information environment.

Just as printing put paid to the one-valued skill of memorising entire books, communications technology is changing what we choose to commit to memory.  For example, studies have shown that regular users of GPS devices begin to lose some of their innate sense of direction. It would seem we’re putting our faith in external storage, and reallocating our mental energy.

This is the same phenomenon Socrates described, in which writing will implant forgetfulness in their souls: they will cease to exercise memory because they rely on that which is written, calling things to remembrance no longer from within themselves, but by means of external marks.”

What’s different is the ease of access to these external marks, such that it’s available to anyone with a smartphone in seconds. The question is whether this reliance on external storage and recall (‘exomemory’) is such a bad thing. What Socrates failed to see was the incredible opportunity created by access to knowledge greater than that our own heads can hold. As Amanda Palmer noted, we can only connect the dots we can collect. The out-housing of our collective intellectual capital has exponentially grown those collections of dots.

Having a network of information sources creates greater opportunities for serendipity. Some of the most useful things I’ve learned in recent years are bits of digital lint in my browser’s belly button.

Euan Semple made an interesting comment on Facebook today about location updates. Seen by many as a social media irritant, the ambient knowledge of knowing when someone’s in town also facilitates the arranging on real-life meetings. Similarly. the answering of questions about where to find lunch creates bridging capital, which helps us to establish trust in others.

The internet’s not going away; it’s speeding up, and growing at frightening speed. With the web being the gateway to our collective hive-mind, the ability to access and analyse information from the sources it provides has become an essential skill.

It’s said that in the West our environment is obesogenic – that food is so readily available that it encourages overeating. But just as you don’t have to eat everything, you don’t need to read everything you see either. The problem is not that we have too much information at our fingertips, but that we haven’t fully developed the tools and behaviours to help us manage it effectively.

Yet it’s the very technologies that cause the problem – search engines and social networks – that are also the solution.  Through knowing and using a wide range of sources, effective searchers are quickly able to sort the wheat from the chaff in our exomemory.  By establishing a network of trusted sources, I can quickly find a person or organisation who can give me the answer I need. By sharing and reading just the right amount of trivia, we create trusted connections – and learn what to scroll past.

Socrates argued that, exposed to writing, people would become “hearers of many things, and will have learned nothing; they will appear omniscient and will generally know nothing”.

The harsh light of history has shown this to be wrong. The human mind is a wonderful thing; by freeing up those synapic connections that might previously have been used to remember bus timetables or phone numbers, or discuss the 1989 first division football scores, we can put them to better use creating or connecting in ways that open up new possibilities for us all.

Brands on Facebook: a cautionary tale

Yesterday, staff at Bizarre Magazine found their Facebook page had disappeared. Not only that, but the personal accounts of all of the magazine’s editorial staff had disappeared too. This marked the latest twist in an ongoing battle in the social media sphere; for many months now, the magazine found its content deleted from sites like YouTube following claims of unspecified breaches of terms of service.

The motivation behind this isn’t clear – it could be a reader with a grudge, or a commercial rival or something else entirely. Social media sites don’t give you the details of allegations against your brand, nor are you given an opportunity to respond before your content is removed.

Now it’s true Bizarre has a reputation as, in the words of Dave Grohl, a “titty gore mag”. But Editor David McComb replies “Bizarre is an edgy brand, but still a mainstream one. You find us in Smiths alongside Kerrang and FHM. But we know social media sites have strict rules on content so we take an especially cautious line; there’s nothing on any of our social media pages which wouldn’t be permissible on British TV – before the watershed.”

Right now you might be saying to yourself, I don’t run a magazine, so why should I care? But this is a worrying tale for anyone who uses social media for work purposes. Whether you’re a publisher or a public sector body, no organisation is universally popular. That means that any brand using social media is at risk of similar malicious use of the ‘report this’ function on social media sites. Anyone can flag your content as breaching terms, and on many sites this will pull it down automatically.

This happened a couple of times in my previous role – someone with a grudge against the council had a video removed by claiming they breached copyright. And they were deleted, without warning.

Organisations are increasingly heeding the call to focus less on a single site which expects customers to come to them, and instead on fishing where the fish are – taking your own brand to where people are already. Confectionary brand Skittles has gone so far as to replace its entire site with links to its social media presence.

There’s a strong case for doing this. But as Bizarre’s experience shows, there are some significant risks attached to doing so too.

More and more organisations are hosting their rich media content on sites like YouTube and Vimeo then embedding it on their own site. This makes a lot of sense – it’s cheap, easy to do, and needs little tech support or hosting. But what happens if this content disappears? You’re left with The Big White Space in the middle of your webpage, that’s what.

A second risk is the loss of customer data. When Bizarre lost their Facebook Page, they lost all means to contact their hundreds of Facebook fans. They used their page to let readers know when the latest issue was released, and to invite them to their live events. If your company/council/department lost your Facebook fans, do you have an alternative means to contact these people?

Thirdly – and I didn’t know about this – is the problem of guilt by association. When Bizarre’s page was deleted, so too were the personal accounts of those listed as page admins. They’ve lost thousands of contacts, pictures, and personal messages, seemingly with no way of retrieving them. Are those currently managing your organisation’s Facebook page aware they could be risking their own account by managing yours? And if they did, would they be willing to do this?

Blogging today, Rich Millington argues it’s easier to build businesses around successful communities than communities around successful businesses. Bizarre was a great example of this in action; it positioned itself as one of the key players in the alternative scene, using its social media presence to really connect with readers in their own online environments. But they don’t own this community; it can be taken away without warning.

So what can you do about this? Well, you pays your money – or rather, you don’t – and you takes your choice. You company doesn’t pay for Facebook or YouTube, so has no Service Level Agreement to enforce when it goes wrong, and no protection against malicious attacks. This level of risk is acceptable to some, but for many household name brands certainly won’t be. The important thing is to be aware of those risks. Are those in your organisation pushing for greater use of social media sites aware of the potential pitfalls?

Some old thinking about new media

What a difference a week makes. Thursday’s televised debates could be said to put paid to suggestions this is  Britain’s first social media election. A whopping 9.4m Britons watched the debate,  demonstrating old media certainly still has its place in our political landscape.

Pundits took just minutes to announce who they believed to be the winners and losers in the debates, and within half an hour the first polls on audience reactions were out (but as my job is politically restricted, I’m not telling you what I think).

It’s estimated 36,483 people were Twittering about the debate as they watched. Now as I’ve blogged about before, Twitter isn’t always a great indicator of sentiment amongst the wider public.

But unlike the BNP/Question Time TV event I blogged about previously, what was interesting this time was how people on my social networks seemed to view the same events in widely varying ways.

In many ways, this reflects a longstanding debate within communication theory on how people are influenced by the media they consume. 

Discussion ahead of the debates focussed on how the leaders’ performance would influence the electorate; in the days since, commentators and pollsters have concluded the debates will have an unprecedented effect on the outcome of the election.  But this is a rather simplistic way of thinking about media influence, assuming that there’s a direct relationship between cause and effect. 

In the real world, we need to remember that people use the media they consume in different ways. We have different reasons for consuming media, and these fundamentally affect our experience of it.

Denis McQuail is one of many communications theorists to take a closer look at TV consumption. He found that in order to understand how media is recieved, you need also to consider why it is consumed in the first place.

With this is mind, he analysed TV viewers’ responses and motivations for viewing.  The result of his study is called the Uses and Gratifications Approach.

McQuail found there were four broad types of ‘media-person interaction’: surveillance (information-gathering), personal identity (resonates with who you are); personal relationships (swotting up on the big TV event in order to talk about it with others); and diversion (entertainment).

Looking at responses to the debate on the #leadersdebate twitter hashtag, it appears can be categorised in a very similar way. This isn’t a statistically sound study, of course. But communications researchers  – like ethnographers and anthropologists – look for patterns (of behaviour, language, etc) and try to relate these to their social and cultural contexts. Looking at hashtaged tweets there seemed to me to be some clear trends in types of participants, and in how they behaved.

Commentators have focussed particularly on those whose motivation for viewing was what McQuail would categorise as surveillance – ‘undecideds’ who watch in order to inform their own voting choice. A Guardian/ICM poll found one in four of those watching will change their vote as a result of watching.

The flip side of this, of course, is that three-quarters of those who watched didn’t change their mind at all. In my quick n’ dirty, unscientific analysis of the #leadersdebate hashtag , it appears a sizable proportion can be attributed to the personal identity category – that is, people who already have an opinion and watch in order to reinforce that pre-existing view. Many of these already sported a party Twibbon on their icon, indicating a clear, pre-held party allegiance. These tweeters – praising the leader they already liked and criticising those they disliked – came from the Twitterati across the three main parties and were not swayed by the content of the debates.

While this group comprised a small number of tweeters, they account for a disproportionate volume of tweets as they posted frequently during the 90-minute programme.

The third group were interested in personal interaction. Unlike the previous group, they’re not overtly political tweeters, but rather interested in the leadership as they would be another other televisual event, like finding out who killed Archie Mitchell in Eastenders. Their motivation is gaining social capital; they want to know about the debate in order to inform their on and offline interactions with others.

The smallest number of tweets could be summed up as motivated by diversion. This group watched, and tweeted, because… well, it’s something to do. They forgot to turn over after Corrie, or realised they’d already watched that episode of Have I Got Old News For You on G.O.L.D.

So what does this teach us? First, that noomedia isn’t (yet) proving to be the game changer it was talked up to be this election. The 36,483 people twittering about the debate represented just 0.004% of those watching. As I’ve said before, what people on Twitter say does not neccessarily reflect what the nation is thinking. That being the case, I would take Twitter sentiment analysis services with a pinch of salt.

But secondly – and somewhat conversely – while we talk about social media audiences being more actively engaged than those consuming mass media, it seems they don’t behave so differently after all. They have different reasons for consuming, producing and participating, and these reasons affect the outcome of that participation.

The field of communication studies has a rich vein of literature about mass media audience research. Those of us working in the field of digital engagement might learn a thing or two from looking at it again.

UKGC10 Session two: Socialising Internal Communications

The second session of the day was the one I was looking forward to the most, having discussed it ahead of the event with Kim Willis and Mark Watson.

Kim took the lead on facilitating, but as it turns out the discussion managed to veer though the full swathe of internal comms issues without the need for much facilitating at all. It seemed like we covered an awful lot in under an hour, and could have talked for at least another hour.

Almost everyone agreed  social media could play a much bigger role in internal communications, but within the public sector at least there hasn’t been widespread adoption yet.

Someone described social networking as “what intranets are supposed to be” – enabling you to connect and collaborate with colleagues, share information and improve communication.

A social intranet enables the recording and sharing of organisational knowledge. But while knowledge management looks at how we manage our intellectual capital, we need also to look at how we record, share and pass on social capital too – that is, sharing that knowledge of people and processes that we all build up over time.

Shane Dillion said we rely too much on traditional, top-down methods of communication that no longer suit the way we work. To become more effective, everything we learn outside the organisation should be bought back in and shared.

By enabling colleagues to connect with one another, and by making working lives a little bit easier, good social intranets have a positive impact on employee engagement too.

Many cited middle management as a barrier to adoption of social media. In some ways this is understandable, as social internal comms reduces the middle managers role as a gatekeeper of information.

Our current organisational structures are built for command and control, not collaboration. So the success of internal social media  depends on moving management towards a culture of co-creation.

The question of culture is a very important one. Technology cannot itself create a collaborative culture; if people aren’t talking to each other already, introducing social tools isn’t going to make them.

Other common barriers include silo culture and concerns around security, particularly in relation to things like Government Connect. Platforms like Yammer are incredibly simple to use, and have some great functionality, but sitting outside the firewall are considered too risky by many.

(As an aside, while I like Yammer, I find its default email setting – which emails for every notification – begins to grate remarkably quickly and is itself a barrier to adoption).

But as I blogged about recently, the business case for internal social media is strong and growing. Carl Haggerty gave an update on the Devon County Council social networking pilot he talked about at LocalGovCamp. They branded this ‘business networking’ to counter accusations of frivolity and timewasting. This succeeded in winning hearts and minds, and in evaluation recently he found it produced considerable (but non-cashable) savings.

So what do we do to hasten the adoption of social media inside the firewall?

  • JFDI. The old adage that it’s easier to ask forgiveness than permission is true to some extent, but it isn’t that simple when it’s your job on the line. But start with a small, agile pilot that can be scaled up if successful. If it works, the organisation will buy into it. If it doesn’t, you won’t have lost much.
  • If you want to promote new ways of working, switch the old ones off. Carl Haggerty said his team made a commitment to use their Business Networking tool for discussion rather than sending group emails. People like their tried and tested methods, so you need to provide incentives to change.
  • Dave Briggs said change needs to be dramatic to work – new tools have to do the same thing at least nine times better to win people over.
  • Get buy in from leadership, and encourage them to use social media internally to communicate, listen and lead.
  • Don’t focus on the negatives. Yes, some people will misuse social tools, but most will not. Posts have real names on, so are self-policed.
  • Don’t reinvent the wheel. Adapt your code of context to say how it applies in an online context rather than write a new code from scratch – that way you avoid protracted negotiations.
  • Hug your CIO. Work with ICT to reach solutions to problems like security rather than focus on barriers.
  • Demonstrate value. Budgets will be tight for many years to come, so we need to set out the business case for social tools, though improving flexibility, sharing knowledge, and improving productivity.

Internal social media sits at the intersection of culture change, innovation and knowledge management. It has the potential to deliver innovation and collaboration, but to do that we need to adapt to the cultural and technological barriers in our own organisations.

This was a vibrant and varied discussion, and we could all have talked for ages. Phil McAllister suggested an internal comms barcamp, which a few of us have begun to discuss in more detail. Watch this space.

Intranets are key to recovery in 2010, say surveys

Each January, Jakob Neilsen’s annual intranet design annual is released. This showcases the top ten intranets of the year, and is a good indicator of trends in intranet design and usability.

This year’s Neilsen report found intranets are becoming a higher priority for organisations, intranet teams are growing in size, and increasing numbers feature mobile accessibility and social networking.

On the face of it, the improved functionality comes as no surprise. Mobile internet and social media has grown exponentially over the past few years. Our experience of using the web creates expectations of the kind of content and functionality we want at work too; as we rely on our iPhones to do everything for us when we’re out and about, we expect to be able to use our intranet on it too.

That intranet budgets and teams have continued to grow despite the long recession reflects a growing realisation that intranets can deliver real return on investment for organisations.

Significant and measurable returns can be made by making information easier to find – quite simply, less time spent searching for things is more time people can spend doing something worthwhile. Functionality like self-service HR can see sizable reductions in administration costs.

Less easy to measure, though, is the value of the intranet in improving engagement. Last year’s MacLeod Review on Employee Engagement (from the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills) found that more widespread adoption of employee engagement approaches could impact positively on UK competitiveness and performance, and meet the challenges of increased global competition.

Good intranets not only make life a little easier for colleagues, they improve communication, facilitate collaboration, enable people to connect and have their say, and help workers feel part of their organisation. This, in turn, encourages employees to say, stay, and strive.

Another study out this month, from communication research specialists Melcrum, would suggest organisations have heeded Macleod’s call for greater focus on engagement.

In the survey of 2,212 senior communicators, 40% said the business case for social media within internal communication was clear and that there is visible return on investment, while 53% of those who responded said they were planning to increase investment in their organisation’s intranet in 2010.

The results of this study show that not only are organisations investing in good intranet design, but also in functionality and content. When asked about channels used for internal communication, the intranet ranked as the most effective channel by 73% of senior communicators worldwide, with a clear majority believing webcasts and video would grow in importance in 2010.

Respondents highlighted a wide range of business benefits from investment in internal social media. These included improved levels of employee engagement (21%), better communication with remote workers (16%), knowledge management and collaboration (25%), improving employee feedback (20%) and making business leaders more visible and accessible (14%).

Both the Neilsen and Melcrum studies show intranets are maturing. Increasingly they’re moving away from being a simple repository of information and becoming instead a platform for communication, collaboration and engagement.

Victoria Mellor, CEO of Melcrum said: “There is a fundamental shift happening with how information flows inside an organization. Peer-to-peer online networks are enabling real-time feedback from employees to inform decision-making, not to mention facilitating collaboration between remote workers.”

With budgets tight, the pressure is on for organisations to demonstrate value for money. But with growing evidence of the business benefits of investment in intranets and internal social media, it’s clear they’ll play an even more important role in 2010.

Twitter is not a barometer of social attitudes

Like a lot of people, on Thursday night I tuned in to the BBC’s Question Time to see how Nick Griffin came across.

As I watched, I tweeted my thoughts, which became part of the huge stream on the #bbcqt hashtag. Looking at the hashtag search, you’d easily come to the conclusion everyone thought Griffin came across very badly.  Tweetminster reported that 99.9% of tweets were negative about Griffin.

Yet 24 hours later, a poll for YouGov found support for the BNP had increased following the show.

So why was the Twitter barometer of social attitudes wrong?

Quite simply, that’s because Twitter hashtags only tell us what people on Twitter think about something.

The comments on the BBC’s own Have Your Say forum, or submitted by viewers hitting the Red Button on cable or satelite had a far less critical view of Griffin’s performance, with a sizable number saying they agreed with his views.

So what this demonstrates is that what people say on Twitter should not be taken as what people in general think or feel.

There’s been a lot of discussion lately on the value of real-time search, with social media monitoring services selling sentiment analysis as an accurate method of understanding what people think.

This isn’t strictly true. It merely tells you what people on Twitter think. People on MySpace might think differently, and people not on the internet at all might have different attitudes altogether.

This is what ethnographer danah boyd (she does not capitalise her name) describes as the Not So Hidden Politics of Class Online:

‘For decades, we’ve assumed that inequality in relation to technology has everything to do with “access” and that if we fix the access problem, all will be fine. This is the grand narrative of concepts like the “digital divide.” Yet, increasingly, we’re seeing people with similar levels of access engage in fundamentally different ways. And we’re seeing a social media landscape where participation “choice” leads to a digital reproduction of social divisions.’

So for instance, boyd found that while discussions about social media tended to focus on Facebook, as this was the platform used by social commentators themselves, at least as many young people were using MySpace.

Our choice of social network, boyd argues,  isn’t about features or functionality. It’s a result of what sociologists refer to as homophily, the social phenomenon which means we choose to socialise with people like ourselves.

Because of homophily, the platform on which we choose to socialise online is inextricably linked with factors such as race, education and socio-economic status. This is reflected in the stats, which consistently show Twitter users are older, wealthier and better educated than people participating elsewhere online.

The phenomenon of homophily is evident not just in choice of platform, but who you interact with once using that platform. In following people who are interested in the same things as us on Twitter, we inevitably choose to follow people who are quite a lot like ourselves.

This means it can be something of an echo chamber, with views and opinions like our own reflected back at us.

This makes it inherently unreliable as a social barometer. It only reflects a certain strata of society, while other platforms may vary from this considerably. Let’s not forget that 10m adults the UK are not online at all. They have views (and votes) too.

Those of us working in engagement (as well as lazy journalists) would do well to remember that the views that echo through our own Twitter streams do not neccessarily represent everyone.

October’s dead tree reading list

I love books. I always said when I grew up I wanted to have my very own library. And now I have. I’ve got a ladder and everything.

Granted, my need for a ladder is greater than most.

Anyway, inspired by Sarah Lay and Dave Briggs, here’s my Dead Tree Reading List for this month:

bookstack

Risk: The Science and Politics of Fear (Dan Gardiner): At work I’ve been thinking lately about how we handle risk. Does our perception of risk create organisational paralysis? Often potential risks prevent us from innovating and trying new things. Do we need to get more used to taking risks?

Most books on risk look at the gap between statistical likelihood and perception of risk; this one goes into the psychology and politics of fear, so hopefully is a good basis on which to look at these questions.

My Invented Country (Isabel Allende): In this book, Allende explores her own perceptions and understandings of her home country, Chile. I admit I’m a little obsessed with South America, but I picked this up as it reminded me of Benedict Anderson’s concept of nation as imagined community.

We Think (Charles Ledbeater): This book explores how the web is changing our world, creating a culture in which more people than ever can participate, share and collaborate. That’s why the web is such a potent platform for creativity and innovation and has the potential to transform our democracy. I love this stuff.

Here Comes Everybody (Clay Shirky): This looks at organising without organisations. The social web gives us the tools to make group action a reality. That, in turn, could change our whole world.

The latter two are part of the growing body of literature (digital as well as dead tree) on the potential of the social web to transform the way we live our lives.

By lowering transaction costs and allowing people to self-0rganise, the web makes possible a whole raft of activity that was previously impossible or simply uneconomic.

So, for example, if you love reading and regularly buy books, you’ll know that new books are expensive. Even when you buy secondhand books, you get charged a fortune for postage and packing.

The social web makes alternatives possible. ReadItSwapIt is a book exchange website which allows users to simply swap the books they no longer want for ones they do want – for free.

Once you’ve finished a book, just register it with ReadItSwapIt and then find a book that you want to read. If someone has a book you like, you can arrange to post them to each other. All you pay is the cost of postage.

In my years of living in poky flats with shelf-space at a premium, I operated a strict(ish) one-in, one-out system using ReadItSwapIt that kept my bursting-at-the-seams shelves at some kind of equalibrium (and saved me a fortune).

A fine example of the way the web can transform the way we do business with each other, if you ask me.

Anti-Disclaimer: Links above aren’t affiliate ones, so I don’t make any money if you buy the books. However, I am probably obliged by my employers to point out there are more free books than you can shake a stick at available at your local, council-run library.