Sunday, 26 April 2015

When social media meets (or breaks) the law

We are all publishers today. But if you have a Twitter or Facebook account, or just a blog, then are you all in the same legal position as the Editor of The Times when it comes to the draconian laws on libel?

"There is no distinction in the law between Fleet Street publishers and online bloggers," says David Banks, one of the UK's most prolific journalists on media law.

"Over the last 15 years there has been a huge change in the way we communicate. Organisations were used to deliver top-down messages. The media itself used to have much more control of the messages sent to its audiences. That model has been shattered."

Increased web communications coupled with the dialogue allowed by social media has give rise to a new era.

"As a company, you no longer are speaking with one voice necessarily all the time. There will be multiple voices coming out from your organisation; voices that haven't been originated by yourself but by the people who you employ and work for you. And, some of those messages may create potential legal liability."

This is true at least in the UK. Many social media platforms have been developed in the U.S., well seated with the Freedom of Speech. Indeed, they have spread worldwide but from a regulation viewpoint according to Banks: "here in Great Britain and Europe there is a lot more law that we can break on a daily basis."

Banks points out to libel, privacy, data protection and copyright. Last but not least is reputation: "even if you don't break the law you can still end up with reputational damage to you as an organisation as well as an individual."

The 'horror stories' 

With a feeling of curiosity mixed to anxiety, I asked Banks to share some of the 'horror stories.' In a very gentle and relaxed manner he replies: "those things happen all the time."

And mistakes happen. Last year during the local elections a group of voters created the hashtag #whyIamvotingUKIP to discuss the reasons why they were supporting UKIP. As often occurs on social media, the hashtag was quickly taken over by another group of people who intentionally did not vote for UKIP, posting their own reasons. When a BBC news producer saw a couple of those tweets, she decided to re-tweet them. "She did not tweet any of them. She just re-tweeted them. But that was enough for UKIP to complain: 'She works at the BBC News; she is meant to be impartial.'"

The BBC producer re-tweeted from her personal Twitter account, which stated 'My views are not those of the BBC'. All the BBC employees seem to have that line. Yet, it means nothing warns Banks: "There is nothing on the employment law that covers that. If you do something on your social media account, which is a disciplinary matter, then that line doesn't protect you as an employee."

And, it did not protect the organisation either from reputational damage. On that occasion the BBC had to act on the UKIP complaint and it damaged this woman’s career as a result.

Remember to sign off

Another example of when things can go wrong on social media comes from a local authority. "They had a really good idea to use social media to get people out on polling day. Several members of staff started to use the Twitter account of the council giving relevant information to voters such as advice on how to avoid queues from the different polling stations. They were able to engage with many younger voters. It was a very good and democratic idea."

But what they forgot to do was to sign off at the end of the day. "A member of the staff went home in the evening with his phone still signed into the local authority Twitter account. While watching Michael Gove on TV, a figure who divides opinions in the country, he started to tweet his own thoughts, which were not complimentary to Gove. So, now it looked like a Conservative council was attacking the Conservative education secretary."


Is there still a place for a private versus public debate on social media? Banks doesn't believe so. Or at least, it depends on how many followers someone has. "If you have a very small amount of followers, maybe. But, when you just have 100 or 200 people following you, that is enough to say that your content is public."

Banks keeps seeing libel threats around privacy. He shares the story of a woman working for a council in Essex. She was involved in an incredibly difficult case where a child was removed from a family where alleged abuse was going on. The woman helped win the case and on judgement day she posted on her Facebook account what a relief it was to achieve that result. 

"This was a thought that you would normally share with your colleagues over a coffee or a drink after the case. But she shared it on Facebook. Ultimately, her contract was not renewed because she had given enough details to identify the family involved."

Is the law catching up? 

Obviously rules are necessary for our society. Yet, many of them were created ages ago sometimes even back in the 19th Century. Are regulators waking up to the fact that the world has changed?

"Yes, they are. But legislation is very slow to catch up."

In fact, when social media first came out the court started taking it into consideration. For example, it began doing something to acknowledge that internet publications are different for print. Equally important, "today, if you want to sue someone for a libel you have to show not only that your reputation was harmed, but also that there was serious harm to your reputation, which raises the bar.

"If a person with a small number of followers tweets out something that takes the mickey out of someone, the court would probably say that this has not done any serious harm. It has not got anywhere."

However, we have to remember the capacity of a tweet to go viral even from a person with a tiny number of followers. "You are not always safe just because you have a few accounts following you."

That is actually the strength of social media - if someone with a large number of followers spots an individual with a few followers, then all of a sudden a message can reach thousands of people. "You must be very boring if you want to be kept silent!"

Humour is still welcome

Is there any latitude in law for humour? "Yes, what is called 'Honest Opinion' covers satire and parody."

Indeed, it is not carte blanche as many magazines are regularly sued for liable. But, genuine humour is protected. Banks shares another interesting story of Elton John suing the Guardian at the time when the publisher was running the series A Day in the Diary of.

"For the Diary of Elton John the article was making jokes that in all the fundraisers that the singer was doing he didn't actually raise any money, but that he just did it because he liked dressing up.
But when Elton went to the court suing the Guardian for the libel, he was told that it was clearly a joke - none could have read the piece and thought that it was by the singer."

Behind the firewall 

Talking about social media inside the enterprise, if what is said is behind the firewall of your organisation, are you completely safe? Let's say for example that you are posting something criticising your competitors, which may not be true.

"No. You are not safe." Banks explains that in libel, all that a claimant has to show is defamatory meaning - which means the reputational damage has to be very serious, identification and publication to a third party. "If it is corporate, it has to have severe financial consequences. It has to show that initially it was published to third parties. That party doesn't have to be external. In fact, it can be within your organisation."

So, if someone leaks that information or becomes aware from those third parties, then they can certainly sue the company where the post was published. This applies to words and pictures as well. Actually, "photos are a rich source of libel. There are plenty of examples of images taken out of context."

Back to social media guidelines

As much as we may like the prestigious British courts we may certainly prefer to stay away from them. So, what advice would Banks give us? How can we fully enjoy social media without breaking the rules?

"People need social media guidelines that can be easily understood."

Indeed, as soon as the medium was originally introduced many companies started introducing policies. "Usually they asked lawyers to write those documents."

The intention was great. Unfortunately, none could understand those papers (except for the lawyers of course).

Banks suggests putting something in place that is comprehensible, speaks the language of the people and the organisation. "Guidelines that just remind individuals the basics. You can't expect your staff to read and grasp the message behind Acts of Law."

He also encourages organisations doing some training, which clarifies what behaviour is and is not acceptable on social channels. "It would protect you as an employer as well as your employees, who may want to be ambassadors and go out genuinely to talk about you."

This can be very helpful. "There can be unpleasant activity on social media such as trolling. Knowing what to do when that happens can hugely help your people to protect themselves."

But sometimes is just about "using common sense." A friend of Banks likes to joke that "people tweet like they are driving" - referring to the psychological dis-inhibition that can surface on social media.

We may want to learn from the BBC, where social media guidelines start with a very sensible number one: 'Don't do anything daft!'

Ultimately, it is about reminding people that the common rules of courtesy and good manner apply to the online world as well as to the physical world.

This article originally appeared on simply-communicate

Friday, 17 April 2015

Internal Communications - new digital skills required

There is no denying that the rise of social networks in the workplace has changed the role of the internal communication (IC) profession forever. The old days of crafting a polished piece of corporate news, pushing the 'send' button and believing that employees have been magically informed and engaged are over.

But, what's the replacement for those traditional activities and mind-sets? Above all, what new types of skills and expertise do today’s internal communicators need to develop?

I met with Michelle Morgan (pictured below), the Lead Consultant in Digital Communications at VMA Group, one of the most remarkable Comms recruiters in the UK.

Gloria Lombardi: How much has Internal Communication changed over the last five years?

Michelle Morgan: Until a few years ago, Internal Communication was not seen widely as a profession in its own right. Graduates did not come out of University saying that they wanted to become an IC Manager.

This is changing. Today, educational institutions provide communications focussed degrees and courses that have substantial elements of internal communication. Hence, people are considering it as a career when looking for that first job.

This is why we launched VMA Direct in 2014 – our Direct Consultants, graduates themselves, recruit for entry to mid-level communications individuals supporting their first steps onto the communications career ladder.

GL: You have been working on a new piece of research about digital skills and job market. Which findings are striking you the most? What should communicators be aware of? 

MM: It is now very much the era of the 'generalist'. Communication Directors are asking for digital experts and enthusiasts who have a background in communications internal and external and marketing comms experience.

In terms of salary, it is striking that the profession is still so much undervalued – usually between 15,000 and 20,000 pounds per year - when such a diverse skill set is required: technical understanding coupled with relationship building underpinned by content creation and management skills!

I think many Communications Directors believe they need somebody young, fresh and good at social media. But, that is far from the truth.

What they really need is someone who can navigate the complex corporate communication environment, and do so strategically ensuring social ways of working (it is not about systems in isolation, it's about positive behaviours and building better businesses). This requires building very strong relationships up and down the organisation, influencing senior leaders, negating risk, negotiating and coordinating resources, inspiring action - that is not the role for someone who has just stepped in the company after University. They add value, certainly – they are comfortable using technology, bring a new perspective and increased energy. It is where there is true diversity where companies excel. Just because young employees use social tools in every day lives, it does not mean that they will be able to apply that to supporting the business.

GL: This is an exciting time to be in IC: the role has grown to include driving an enterprise social networks (ESN), supporting social media in and out (e.g. employee advocacy initiatives), and facilitating online communities. 

What attributes define a good internal communicator today? 

MM: I have thought and talked about this quite a lot over the last year and come up with 5 new Cs of Communications.

One is Credibility. It is the ability to stand up, be confident and deliver. It includes being able to use analytics to build the business case and show the ROI. Internal Communication is still very weak in that respect. Professionals should be looking at what their Marketing counterparts do - they fully research their audiences, using data to inform their strategies, to segment and target effectively and to develop their creative campaigns.

Does the employee audience not to warrant the same level of attention? Who are they? What are their motivations? What interests them? How do they like to be communicated with? What outside companies do they admire? Why? We can better engage an audience we understand.

If we agree outcomes and put measures in place at the outset, then we can demonstrate an increase in understanding and engagement. Hence, a return on investment for the time and effort put in.

I suggest that IC Managers, who are not already doing so, talk with their colleagues in Marketing to find out what analytics tools and tactics are available.

Next is Coordination. This is about having a good understanding of your resources and being able to coordinate them accordingly. Resources can be both internal and external – from employee champions to external agencies.

It is not just about coordinating your own communication team but a multitude of people who could potentially provide you with the right content, stories and ideas, or who could help you move your project forward.

GL: We need to build Credibility and look after Coordination. What else? 

MM: Content. Everything is content now, for both internal and external audience. It requires reframing knowledge in a new way, and coming up with rich and engaging material that speaks to the audience.

Visuals and other forms of rich media are essential- everything from videos to infographics. We have been talking about the importance of visuals for internal communications for a while, but generally speaking it hasn't been widely applied yet or at least not well – still too many stock images of stiff looking people in suits.

Then we have Channels. This is not about knowing every single channel in depth, but much more about having a very good understanding of how to integrate all of them, knowing which to introduce and why and then managing them effectively.

GL: Like a conductor, is it about holding a big picture of all the instruments and orchestrating them accordingly? 

MM: Yes! That's exactly the way I would put it. You need to have a very good eye and ear(!) for that. The best internal communicators that I know, utilise a mix of different channels, new and traditional, on and offline, to ensure true two way communication, sharing information and gathering new insights all of the time. Ultimately, this helps them to inform the overall business strategy.

GL: What's the final C? 

MM: Courage. It is the courage of your convictions, the courage to stand up and say what you think. It’s not about being always right - this is not the point and never good business! It’s about being informed and having an opinion and not being afraid to challenge the status quo, but, of course, doing so constructively.

GL: We know that digital exists and that is imperative to businesses today. But actually having someone in internal communications who is aligned to that is still coming forward... 

MM: In terms of integrating digital with internal communications, there is so much value still to be added.

Face-to-face whilst still recognised as the best way to communicate is not always an option. How do you get your employees’ voices heard when you have global teams, a dispersed workforce, and no office spaces in the traditional sense? Having new tools as part of your communications mix is key in keeping people together – informed, engaged and motivated.

We are all used to smartphones and social media. Yet, it isn't rare to hear of professionals asked to turn their devices off as soon as they enter the workplace. And often the technology that is provided to them it is either outdated, not fit for purpose or not set up to make best use of its functionality.

GL: What is happening there? It is about the culture? 

MM: I believe so. It’s about the fear of losing control and management still wanting to maintain power. But businesses should be moving beyond this to enable true collaboration, innovation and engagement.

My advice, as a recruiter, is to hire people you trust, give them the tools and the knowledge to do their job and then let them do it!

It’s about creating an adult-to-adult environment.

GL: Hopefully, we are moving towards that. Digital has helped move the boundaries.

MM: Digital has been democratising information and democratising our companies. We are in a knowledge economy. Social media has opened up new dialogues, and developed networks among multiple communities. In more traditional cultures, people are still often afraid to challenge the status quo. But high performing businesses are recognising the big opportunities in allowing their people the freedom to collaborate and innovate.

GL: We saw the 5 Cs of Communication earlier. What else can we add? Is there the demand of any new specific skills or maybe attitudes in IC? 

MM: There is more and more demand for internal communicators with journalistic skills - to be able to spot a story, whether this is from inside the organisation or from the external market, and quickly come up with robust and accurate copy that aligns to the overarching business strategy and for that content to be compelling.

Storytelling is also key not just to help create context for the corporate narrative, but as a way of bringing new information and ideas into the business, bringing the best and most interesting stories to your people. And, those can come from any and everywhere.

This is the thing: it is about mind-sets. Internal communicators have had their heads down for too long; they were perhaps too internal facing. We need to be looking outside our own discipline and organisations for inspiration. That way we can become the catalysts for positive change inside the business.

This article originally appeared on simply-communicate

Sunday, 12 April 2015

Internal communications in the UK Government

In a rare break – thanks to the UK elections – I was able to explore the changing role of internal communication with Russell Grossman, the Group Director of Communications at the UK Department for Business, Innovation & Skills (BIS) – a tireless supporter of the profession and all who work in it.

Grossman wears a number of significant communication hats. He is also a Director at Engage For Success and this year’s International Chair of the International Association of Business Communicators (IABC) and last but not least he is a Director of the Government Communication Service (GCS).

I took the opportunity of the political ‘Purdah’ period that suspends ministerial work in the run-up to the election on May 7th to dive into the world of internal communication in the UK Government. Grossman shared his view on the changing role of the profession in the digital age, the distinction between internal communication and internal communications, leadership, Yammer and the importance of authenticity.

Gloria Lombardi: You are heading a project across the UK Government, which is looking at creating excellence in internal communication and engagement. 

Russell Grossman: You will recognise that engagement is something you get and internal communications is something you do. Our approach here is to say that internal communication is a three-legged stool. It only takes place if all of these three parties are included: the staff of an organisation, the practitioners - the 'internal communicators' but I don't like to use that term - and leaders.

GL: You don't like the term ‘internal communicators’. Why? 

RG: In Government we believe that a rounded communicator is someone who has done some of Public Affairs, some Marketing, a some Media Relations, some Internal Communications, and so on. People who are only practising internal communications throughout their career are not maximising their potential.

At the end of the day there is no real difference between Media Relations and Internal Communications, professionally. Only the audience is different. The basic questions remain the same: Where is your audience? What insights do we have about them? What are the objectives that we are trying to achieve? How do we influence them? What's the implementation? How do we know that we have done it?

Those questions are the same whichever your audience is. That is why I don't like the term internal communicator - it gives the impression that that person only understands internal communications.

GL: You make a clear distinction between internal communication without an 's' and internal communications with an 's'. 

RG: I define ‘Internal communication’ as the act of intercourse that takes place throughout an organisation. ‘Internal communications’ is the function that helps that happen.

In every organisation, no more than probably 10% of internal communication is a direct result of internal communications - the rest takes place autonomously. So, internal communications' principal role is to function as the catalyst between the organisation’s staff and the leaders - to help leaders communicate better.

GL: The Government has recently created The IC Space, a dynamic vehicle and resource for the circa 600 people that are practising internal communications in Government. And of course, because it is on the Internet it is used all over the world and it can be a valuable platform for everybody. 

On The IC Space we can find The Internal Communications Standard Operating Model. What's it exactly? 

RG: This is the internal communication model that we use in Government. It was produced last year, as part of the project I’m leading, by a group of practitioners who were keen to know how all the different operating units in Government - and there are over 5,500 at the unit level - could align on the same principles.

The model has been developed for professional communicators and trusted advisors, working in partnership with leaders, to engage staff in delivering the Government's and departmental or arm’s length body priorities and supporting organisational and cultural change.

It defines the role and remit of the profession. This includes:

• To positively influence staff engagement - not to ‘do’ staff engagement. Internal communications does not ‘do’ staff engagement but it influences it. This distinction is very important to understand.

• Ensuring internal alignment with organisational goals;

• High quality, relevant counsel and intervention based on audience insight. There is no difference between internal communications and any other branch of communication in terms of how you run a campaign - you always start where your audience is, not “what the managers want to communicate”.

• Help drive high performance;

• Apply the latest communication theory and tools and evaluate all activities.

GL: So, every single internal communications unit across Government adopts this model? How does that work in practice?

RG: We are working towards this. The 'how' is based on the Engage for Success organisation's four principles of engagement: vision and leadership, engaging managers, employee voice and organisational integrity.

Organisational integrity is an interesting one. I was at a conference last week for local government communicators. One CEO of a Council said he calls it 'Just do it right'. And I also agree that this is what organisational integrity is - Are we doing it right? Are we doing what we said we would do?

GL: Could you explain more about your earlier point that internal communication doesn't ‘do’ staff engagement but influences ite?

RG: It is the staff that ‘does’ staff engagement. Practitioners help to create it; they are the catalyst to make it better.

This is also why I am not a fan of job titles like 'Head of Employee Engagement’. You cannot be the head of employee engagement in my view because employee engagement is something that you get - it is not something that you do.

The problem is that too many organisations think that internal communications people will sort the engagement out. But, the act of saying to somebody that 'you are responsible for staff engagement' cannot be right.

GL: What steps are the Government undertaking to create a more digital way of working? 

RG: Quite a lot, actually. We are insisting that people working in Government be much more digitally aware.

For example, here at BIS, everyone in my team has a digital objective in addition to his or her own goals. This differs from role to role. In internal communications it may be to maximise not only your own personal use but also to encourage staff use of Yammer. Or, it may be to encourage people to have the confidence to tweet in a way which is responsible and sound. It would also, certainly, include developing the skills to use new measurement tools like Google Analytics or Twitter analytics, all of which would help you understand your audience better. It may also extend to managing aspects of our new WordPress-based intranet.

GL: Tell me more about the latter. 

RG: The days of complicated sites to create and navigate are moving on. Our new intranet here at BIS is based on WordPress. It was really designed to be as simple as possible. The design itself is built to make creating, reading and finding content easy.

People no longer have the time to negotiate complicated pages. In the digital age, time is one of the main things that communicators need to consider. Your audience has far less time now. 

GL: How does ‘the time thing’ change the role of the communicator?

RG: We used to produce long-form press releases. Now, we create news releases with no more than typically two sentences comprising each paragraph. Psychology tells us that people scan copy text and would make an opinion on it in less than 10 seconds. Much less for a website. Then, they decide whether or not they want to read the piece in more depth.

GL: Leadership. What attributes do make someone a good leader?

RG: On the IC Space we have created the series 'Engage and Inspire' and published several examples of good leadership. We did some interviews with the heads of organisations that made the Sunday Times 'Top 100 companies to work for'. Names include the CEO of TalkTalk Dido Harding, William Rogers of UKRD, Justin King who was Sainsbury's CEO until last year, PwC's Chairman Ian Powell, and more.

Being yourself is probably the best tip that I would give any leader. The more that leaders feel confident, the more they will be competent. If they act in a way that is unnatural for them, most people will see and feel it straight away. So, it is better to suggest them doing more of what they are good at, and less of what they are not so good at.

Essentially, the key to that is authenticity. When leaders are enthusiastic and confident they will be more competent at connecting. And part of the communicator's role here is to help leaders connect.

GL: All the leaders you mentioned are CEOs. Can leadership be found elsewhere in an organisation? 

RG: Certainly. Some of the best leaders that any particular individual would think of, often, are a long way from CEOs. Normally, they are positive people who give others constructive challenges.

They are good at listening. During a conversation, there will be a point when they pause to check if you heard what has been said, check if you really listened to it, check whether you reflected on it or not, check whether you acted on it or not, and what the result of that action was.

One of the things that communicators should advise any leader to do is to talk, then listen. And, make your response appropriate to the listening. This is particularly important in change.

GL: You mentioned Yammer. How has it changed internal communications at BIS? 

RG: I introduced Yammer at BIS nearly four years ago now. The worry at the time was that people would say certain things that as a government organisation you would expect to be kept secret. But, that has never happened. People are intelligent, sensitive and articulate.

The employee social network (ESN) is important from internal communications viewpoint. It is an easy way to promote dialogue, demonstrate listening and provide feedback on topics that are not controversial. Of course, Yammer itself is only a tool. The real conversation base comes with the people operating it.

So, we do encourage using the platform. Currently around two-thirds of the organisation is on it. We have a group of people – mostly facilities, HR and IT who are always available there and answering discussions. We use it quite a lot for removing the burden on the management of lower level stuff. I'll give you a small example. Lift 12 of this building has been out of service for 4 weeks now. So, I wanted to know when it is going to be in service again. Before having Yammer I'd probably send an email. Yesterday, I went on Yammer and found that someone else had already asked that question. And indeed, the facilities staff had also already answered that - lift 12 will be in operation by next week.

A final observation, which is important for communication: On Yammer, sometimes you can spot grammatical mistakes. While I don't like them, I also say that they don't matter in that context. The typo doesn't diminish the meaning of the message, which was given in real-time - hence, was not polished. Of the contrary, it increases authenticity.

This article originally appeared on simply-communicate

Sunday, 5 April 2015

Novozymes crowdsources innovation - SMiLE London video

At SMiLE London 2015 I interviewed Frank Hatzack, the Head of Innovation Development at Novozymes.

Hatzack launched COLIN 4 years ago: a Nosco-based social platform that combines collaboration with innovation at the biotechnology company. Since its launch in 2011, 35 campaigns have been developed leading to breakthroughs and new products. Now COLIN is being rolled out across all 1,800 blue and white collar Novozymers to run 4 online ideation activities to get everyone's input on long-term strategy.

Hear how Hatzack has helped nurture the platform, the role of the 'Screen Teams' and the extraordinary return on investment that Novozymes is enjoying.

An original version of this article appeared on simply-communicate