#SilverLinings: How the new Twitter Rules will force you to rethink your Employee Advocacy Program

Just because we can all agree that the wild west needed to end at some point, doesn’t mean we can’t miss it a bit.

As many of you already know by now, Twitter has changed its policies to counter, as Yoel Roth, API Policy and Product Trust at Twitter, wrote on the Developer’s Blog, any “attempt to artificially amplify or inflate the prominence of certain Tweets.” These new rules stem from the now well-publicized social media shenanigans from the U.S. 2016 elections. I encourage you to read that blog to get context and details around these changes, which go into effect March 23, 2018.

However, boiling this down for Internal Communicators, this is definitely a bump in the employee advocacy road — especially for those who use third party vendor software that help you provide tweets that employees can push out on their social media network with one or two clicks. Actually, any internal communications or social marketing group that delivers ready-to-send tweets for employees can to use (even if they have to cut and paste those tweets) will have to stop doing that on March 23 or put your employees at risk of losing their Twitter accounts.

While I find it hard to argue with the thinking behind implementing these new Twitter rules, that doesn’t mean it isn’t a bummer for those of us trying to implement Advocacy programs. Converting even your most engaged employees into advocates is no different from any other change program. To paraphrase from the Heath brothers’ great book Switch, it is sometimes not enough to win head and heart; you need to make the pathway clear and easy. Providing ready-made tweets and posts that are editable, goes a long way towards making it easy to become advocates. After March 23, you are basically saying to employees, “here is a link and a hastag, write your own tweet.” While that doesn’t seem like much, those of us who work with busy employees know that it can make a HUGE difference in adoption.

In preparing for a Post-March 23 world, I have to admit, I felt a bit negative about the prospects of our Employee Advocacy program. But after conferring with more intelligent and less emotional communications professionals (like Mercer’s global head of Social Media, the great Danielle Guzman) and our third-party software vendor, Dynamic Signal, I feel much more hopeful for the future; in fact, we may be on an even better pathway than before the rule. It is true that the idea of hundreds of employees lazily sending out the exact same tweet, while reaching a larger social audience, did seem a bit lame.

Three Pathways Forward

  1. Champion Retweets: Instead of providing editable posts through your Employee Advocacy system, you can simply point employees to retweet posts from the company’s handle or from leadership. In my mind, this is just as attractive in terms of ease. Further, you can appoint certain SME’s and people already engaged on twitter, as “champions” on certain topics, having them create the original tweets that get retweeted. This will help grow those “champions” as influencers, and will still allow individuals to build their personal brand and drive messaging for the company.
  2. The Harpoon instead of the Net. Launching software that allows you to provide employees one-click tweets and posts is akin to dragging the net on the bottom of the ocean floor. You don’t know what you will pick up, but you’ll pick up a lot of it. One-click editable posts make it so easy that you are bound to get some good percentage of your employees to sign on and start posting. But how engaged will they be? Their lack of effort means they can always take or leave the advocacy. The new Twitter policy forces us to spend more time trying to harpoon the bigger fish, by convincing them to put some “skin in the game” in writing their own tweets. There won’t be as many of these advocates, but their greater activity will mean they are more engaged and see a benefit that makes them want to put in the effort. You can entice them further by offering them social media training, and perhaps even give them some “swag” to make them feel like they are part of an exclusive group. So while losing the greater numbers is not what I would have freely chosen, the alternative is a smaller group of pro-active participants that will give you a richer employee advocacy program.
  3. LinkedIn, anyone? Finally, this is a policy that affects ONLY Twitter for now. You can still provide posts for LinkedIn, Instagram, Facebook and other platforms. And frankly, most of your employees may feel better about posting company and industry-related messaging and information to their LinkedIn network.

So while you may have an initial shock and sense of dismay over the new Twitter rules, a silver lining or two can be found if you change your perspective. #GoodbyeWildWest

Steps Internal Communications Can Take To Embed Change

I recently read an excellent article by Kristy Hull in last May’s strategy + business (I’m a bit behind) on Getting to the Critical Few Behaviors that Can Drive Cultural Change. In it, she provides a strategic framework around change that centers around zeroing in on those impactful and actionable new behaviors by employees that are key to getting to a particular business outcome. To brainstorm those behaviors, Hull invites us to ask the question, “In a future state in which we’ve achieved the goals, what would people actually do (or do differently)?”

As communicators and change professionals, we know that we are rarely lucky enough to answer that question with a behavior that employees only have to exhibit once or twice. It’s almost never “employees need to click their heels three times and say there is no place like home,” or the princess or prince is kissed and everybody lives happily ever after (and by the way, Hull does not at all imply that this is the case). Usually change behavior needs to be exhibited multiple times, often daily and often for the long-term. In other words, the behavior ideally turns into habit.

As Hull says, behavior change needs to be built on a foundation of the right incentives, focused performance management, and sometimes organizational design and leadership change. However, a good communication strategy needs to be overlaid on top of these other actions. Internal Communications can help embed the behaviors and turn them into habits with tried and true tactics.

Gathering Virtual Dust and Real Cynicism

This may be controversial (or maybe not with veteran Communicators), but I go into planning these change strategies and tactics with the belief that unless you are a brand new organization, every company has a credibility problem with their employees — especially their more veteran employees – when it comes to change. Every company, with the best of intentions, has started a corporate change “program” or “campaign” that has died on the vine because it wasn’t well thought through, just didn’t have the commitment by leadership that it needed, or circumstances changed and the need for the change was no longer appropriate. Whether it ended for good reasons or bad, employees are left with yet another water bottle on their desk, poster on their wall, or digital card on their screen saver with program logos or slogans like “Imagine the Possibilities” or “Innovate to Create,” that are gathering real or virtual dust.

Look, it happens. You try something; you put a lot of work into it. You do as many right things as you can. And you still fail. Trying and failing should not be a crime when it comes to cultural change programs (or innovation of any kind). This is how you learn. However, employees may start to lose faith in these programs. Maybe not after one failure, but after two or three, employees may be naturally skeptical. If failures keep happening, skepticism turns into cynicism, and then you have to recalibrate how you approach new programs.

It’s a problem, but not an insurmountable one, because through experience, I have also come to the conclusion that most employees want to believe. They want plans to improve the culture of the company to create growth to succeed. Why not? Growth means more money to do more interesting things (and better bonuses). Improved culture often means a better environment to work in, streamlined processes and less focus on unimportant things.

Stacking the Deck in Your Favor

The bigger elephant in any room when it comes to change is layoffs. Employees may be concerned that change could put their job in jeopardy. And let’s face it, with some change programs there may be some job loss. If layoffs are part of any change program, the earlier in the plan that can happen, the better off you will be. As upsetting as layoffs are for employees, if they can see that they are part of a broader change plan (and not just cost cutting) and that they are now “safe,” they are more willing to move forward even if still feeling badly for their laid off colleagues. Again, they want the company to succeed; they just need to know there is a plan.

When they see that they are safe, a few precautions can be put into place that will reinforce that desire, start embedding change behavior into habits, and give them some confidence that it will succeed.

  1. Start with Leadership: This is table stakes. Simply put, if employees don’t see their leadership exhibiting the behaviors they are asking from employees, then it won’t be long before they begin to wonder how committed the company is to the change. If there is training involved, start with the top leadership, and then have that trained leadership be part of the programs for the next level of leadership and so on down the line. It is important to remember that in a large corporations, while the C-Suite and the next level of division/business presidents are important for setting the tone, it is usually the CEO-2 and -3 leaders that employees see and hear on a more regular basis.

    Making sure to engage that, what I call, “upper-middle” level is so crucial. I was once part of a research effort to find out how certain changes were being embedded into the company by conducting hour-long interviews with non-leadership employees. What we found out was shocking: not only were change concepts not being passed down from this upper-middle layer of leadership, but because the changes were seen as a threat in terms of where certain teams reported, some of that leadership layer were actively engaged in turning their people against the changes. We had done a poor job of engaging that level and helping them own the changes, and in return they stopped the change program in its tracks. Other research has shown that it is not always so nefarious; some leaders just don’t know the “where or when” of how to communicate the change.

    A few business leaders I have worked with schedule calls with those next two levels of leadership on a regular basis to help them feel engaged with what is going on. The calls are followed with tool kits or “message maps” so that it is easy for the next layer to know what and how (and sometimes when) they can communicate with their teams. You can see how Internal Communications can play a huge role in this crucial piece.

  2. Paint a visionary picture with measurable milestones. As they say, it’s hard to get where you are going if you don’t know where that is. If employees are presented with a vision of the future as a result of the changed behavior that is both sunnier and feels realistic, they are more likely to want to get on board for the long haul. And if they are presented, in a transparent way, measurable progress, that will further boost your chances of changing behavior into habits. It’s the old charity thermometer trick. Some charities set campaign goals and show their progress by using the visual metaphor of a thermometer, and as the donation rise, you can see the mercury rising in the thermometer (never mind that in real life, this would mean you were getting sicker). While people may start a new behavior to get to a sunnier future, having shorter term milestones and a visual reference created by Internal Communications for employees to see the progress will drive them to continue to exhibit that behavior.
  3. Find your bright spots. Nothing motivates more than success. Related to showing progress is demonstrating quick wins and recognizing “heroes” of the new changes. Employees may sometimes have credibility issues with leadership, but they are apt to trust their colleagues. If you can show how fellow colleagues are prospering or how clients are happier with the new changes, you have done much to validate the changes. It is not foolproof, but it is incredibly effective.
  4. Make it easy. This is related to the Heath brothers’ idea of “shrinking the change,” which refers to helping people boil down a big change into specific actions. Many of us love using numbers for something like this. So if you want to boost prospecting, you create a “20 + 20” program where you ask everyone to spend 20 minutes a day researching new prospects, and make 20 calls a day to new leads. You can even make this into a challenge to heighten the fun. So if you are trying to embed learning in your culture, you can do “15 for 15” challenge, where you ask people to pick a topic and spend 15 scheduled minutes a day learning about this topic for 15 days straight, and then share what they have learned with others.
  5. Creating a change-adaptable culture. I listed this as one of the 5 greatest Internal Communications opportunities for 2018. It comes down to this: some changes are going to succeed and some will fail, but employees are going to need to get used to the idea that they are going to continue to happen at a faster rate. In fact, if you feel like your company is not in the midst of change, you should be concerned. And the change is not just about companies and what they do and how they do it, but it is about employees. In the last two years, I have seen a number of great articles on and speeches on the concept that they old pattern of education-then-career-then-retirement is over. Lifelong learning and career shifts will become the norm. That’s why a culture of learning is so important as a key building block to change adaptability. Training for leadership and managers on how to manage through change is going to become more important as well.

 

All this to say that Internal Communications can play a huge role in embedding change. However, it requires Communications to be in on the planning stages of the change and not brought in only when an announcement needs to be made. Also, it requires leadership to have a picture of not just the longer term vision, but the new behaviors and skills from employees it will require.

And with all of that, some changes will still fail, but if you have the right culture, employees will be with you when you brush yourself off and try again.

10 Steps to Pulling Off a Multi-Office, Immersive Internal Communications Campaign

I remember lying in bed at 3 a.m., staring at the ceiling, heart racing while I tortured myself – as you do at 3 a.m. — by retracing over and over again how I’d gotten myself into this mess. One stupid act of bravado. One “I’ll do it” in the middle of a meeting, not really understanding what “it” was, took me down in hindsight a very predictable pathway to where I found myself now, which I assumed was a humiliating end to a long career at my company.

We’ve all been there for different reasons. These particular thoughts of doom originated when I agreed to lead the first-ever multi-office immersive campaign in my company. By “immersive,” I mean that activities would be happening face-to-face in each office. Also raising the difficulty level, all of this activity was supposed to happen in a single, galvanizing day.

Why on earth does a company something like this? Well, in this case, the idea was to have leaders all over the world speak about our new strategy to our employees, saying generally the same thing with some customization for their region and business. Also, the act of all employees “pausing” on the same day to take in the same information projected two other important ideas: (1) the company is saying clearly that the learning the new strategy is a priority, and (2) we are one company. For the many companies out there that are trying to become less silo’d, a galvanizing day like this can really act as a catalyst to a more unified culture.

Why on earth volunteer for this? At 3 a.m. I could think of no rational reason, but now in hindsight, it was the best decision I ever made because I learned so much (and it didn’t hurt that it turned out so successful that the company has repeated it every year since then). I know many of you may have created campaigns like this, but if you are planning to do it for the first time this year, I have 10 hard won lessons I can share; some of which came from an amazing team I worked with, and some . . . well, we got lucky.

  1. Find your People. Of course, for any multi-office campaign, you need to build a top notch project team. That may go without saying. We also hired a fantastic agency, Instinctif, to help us, and thank goodness. They not only came in with experience, which we lacked, but they brought in fresh engagement ideas, and another source of project management to keep us in line. It is worth the budget, if you have it.

    You also have to find your people on the ground. Every office has that person (and in bigger offices, it is often several people) who plans the team lunches, makes sure the birthday cards are bought and passed around for signatures, and sits at the front row at every work event.  They can be the site office leader, the local communicator, or an administrative assistant. These are your ground champions. You need to recruit at least one in every office to be your “champion” to set up and run the local festivities. Usually the site leader can identify that person (or people) fairly quickly.

  1. Make it easy for the ground team. Any student of change knows that a key piece of the puzzle is to make it as easy as possible for the people who you are asking to enact or live the changes. “Shrink the change,” as the Heath brothers say in their wonderful book Switch. So even if you recruit the most engaged people in every office to be your champions, you have to remember that you are asking them to throw a site-wide event, and promote it. So among other things, you should . . .
    1. Give them time: Unfortunately, when we planned the global event the first time, we simply didn’t give the champions enough time. To be fair, we had no idea how long things would take. How much time you give them should depend on what you are asking them to do, and if this is their first time, or have they thrown an event like this before.
    2. Give them instructions: This we did get right. We created a PDF booklet that gave the Champions step-by-step instructions of what to do when. For example, they knew exactly when they would get images for the posters and exactly when to start displaying them. No guessing.
    3. Give them cover: Because we had the site leaders handpick the Champions, the Champions knew that their time spent on the preparations for this event was fully sanctioned. Very few people have slack in their schedules, so when you ask them to do something like this, it means they are not spending time doing something else – usually the job they were hired to do. You have to make sure that they know that their time spent on your event is totally blessed from the top.
  2. Get your leaders to commit early. This was something that we could have done better. As we got closer to the day, one of the things that kept me up at 3 a.m. was wondering if the CEO was even going to participate in the day. He had not committed to any one activity either on the Intranet or in person. However, about two weeks before, something changed (can’t say it was anything I did) and he committed to participate in several activities. Once he committed, the rest of the executive team also came on board, and so it went down the line.Actually one of the great wins of that day was having so many leaders participate. They showed alignment in a way that I had never seen before, and their participation energized them. After the event, my Chief Communication Officer noted that as great as the day was for our employees, it may have done even more good for our leadership.
  3. The cake should be global, but the icing should be local. I regretted writing that phrase as soon as I had finished, but I can’t think of another way to say it (and I love cake). At the center, we supplied the scripts and the decks for the leaders to deliver, as well as an entertaining video from our Chief Strategy Officer, promotional materials, and some gifts to hand out. Not to mention the step-by-step instructions. Then we asked them to do whatever they thought would make the day fun.With that, the reason we were able to attract over half of our 50,000-person population to live events from Australia west to California was the amazing work the local champions did in adding a local flavor to the event. Whether it was pot luck meals, games, or cupcakes with our logo on it, the Champions did far more than we ever thought we could even ask them to do. We at the center made the day informative; they made the day memorable.
  1. Create a bit of a competitive atmosphere. This tactic of course helps spur that local activity. We encouraged the Champions to “show off” by posting pictures on the Intranet of the cool things they developed for the day, creating a bit of competitive atmosphere among the different offices. But I really recommend only a “bit” of competition, especially if your goals are similar to ours. While site competitions can be effective and fun, in an exercise where the goal is for people to feel like they are part of one company, too much competition can work against that goal.
  2. Have activities that lead up to the day and have something that follows it. We had a lot of promotion prior to the day, and also some activities which included a buzzfeed-type quiz on our intranet about our new Strategy that assigned people “personas,” depending on their answers. People then posted their personas on their profile pages. The second year, we had employees opt in to be randomly paired with another employee from another country and business. The two employees had to find things in common and post them on the intranet to be in a drawing for a prize. These and other activities started to present the themes of the day, acted as another source of promotion, and created good buzz that led to a more successful day.

    The bigger question is what to do after the day is over. Certainly, you can just go back to business, but that felt like we were leaving all this momentum on the table. So we tried 21-day challenges. The idea was to get people managers and their teams involved with the strategy by having them commit on our intranet to do something for 21 days after the event that would advance the strategy. It felt like a good idea, but the reality is that we had low participation. I have some theories about why, but the main one is that even though the day is fun, once people get back to their jobs, they just want to get back to their jobs. After I left the company, they moved away from the 21-day challenge (which was smart) and were going to try a “mini” day later in the year as a reminder and reinforcement of the ideas that were part of the original event day. I have to admit that I have not heard whether that worked better, but it did make logical sense as a tactic.

  1. Measure! In terms of measuring outcomes, in our case, we were trying to increase people’s knowledge about the strategy and change attitudes about a one-company culture. So we did before-and-after surveys to measure knowledge and attitudes, and were happy to see improvement, especially with knowledge. Attitudes always take longer to change.

    In terms of measuring activity, we wanted to find out how many people “participated” in the day. If you are dealing with three offices, that may not be so difficult, but when you are trying to figure it out for more offices (in our case, over 100), it is trickier. For the first two years, we begged the exhausted Champions to report back to us after the event about how many people attended the meet-ups. This was an inexact science, to say the least. It also took a long time, which was not appreciated by our executives who were anxious to get a sense on the success of the day.

    After the second year of frustration with the metrics, I checked in with a Marketing Analytics specialist on staff. When I told him we were manually counting, he looked at me like I had two heads. He asked why we didn’t just send out a two question survey right after the day on whether people participated in an activity during the event and which activity, and then extrapolate a number from the sample we got. He said it would not be that much less accurate than the way we were doing it with manual counting. I left the company before getting a chance to try it, but it makes sense. He said we could even continue to ask for the manual counting to validate the sample results, but at least would get a sample number to provide to executives earlier.

  1. Don’t forget your work-at-home folks. This is an often growing part of the employee population and includes many very critical people to the success of the business (including field sales). For them, we had a 24-hour intranet chat during the event day where every hour a new set of executives would answer questions. (Of course, we had different leaders in different time zones, so no one was up at 1 in the morning answering employee questions). We also held a few virtual meet-ups with leaders who gave the same presentation as the in-person meetups.I am not convinced that we replicated the experience for them because so much of the day was about local activities with colleagues. The second year we had a “Work from Home” Champion who helped us make the day a bit more interactive for them.
  1. Social advocacy!! Like measurement, this can be filed under “yeah, of course.” However, to show how times have changed, in my first year doing the event (which was about 4 years ago), we were pleasantly surprised that many employees posted pictures of the day on their social feed, even though we had not encouraged them. The second year, we encouraged them to do that and got more postings. Today, in my new company, we are planning a multi-office internal communications campaign, and we are starting with social media as part of the promotion leading up to the event.
  2. Encourage regional organized events. If you are doing a multi-office internal event to create a greater sense of unity, and you are in several countries, I recommend having offices within a region or country organize a few activities together. In our second year of the event, our offices in the Middle East held a regional photography contest as part of the day’s activities. This type of activity creates an even stronger feeling for employees that their company extends beyond the four walls of their office or the people on their team.

 

I highly recommend these types of events, particularly for larger companies. Even with these tips, you still may have some sleepless nights, but I can guarantee you, it’s worth it!

I would love to hear your experiences with these types of events and tips that you may have. If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to reach out through my blog or @adschair on Twitter.

 

 

5 Internal Communications Opportunities for 2018

At the turn of every year, like many of  you, I feel a sense of promise as I put together my annual internal communications plan. Just like my annual “this is the year I lose the extra weight” New Year’s resolution, I have that buoyantly hopeful sense of  thinly re-enforced optimism.

However, this year, for the first time in my over 20 year career, I feel a real momentum shift in our workplace. To be fair, the signs have been there for a long time: how long have we been using the phrase “new normal” and spoken about the ever-increasing pace of change in the workplace? How long has our employees’ consumer digital experiences been outpacing their work experiences? We’ve been talking about the effects of Millennials for so long that now Gen Z is college age and interning in our offices.

The idea that this is just talk is over; our workplaces are already changing. To me, these changes translate into real opportunities to expand the boundaries and influence of what we do in internal communications. So looking at 2018, I see 5 opportunities for internal communications that have a foot in the past, but also feel new, pressing, and exciting:

  1. Creating a true Digital Workplace. ESNs will be around for a long time and so will e-mail (no surprises there). But what is different are the growing cloud-based digital work systems , accessed anywhere, anytime, and fully integrated. To me the epitome of this model is Microsoft Office 365, although Google has some claim here.An integrated, cloud-based system refocuses the point of innovation and creation from the individual to the team.  Even more amazing, because an integrated set of tools sees who you are collaborating with, what documents you are working on, and who you are e-mailing, it is able to use machine learning to recommend other relevant documents and experts in your company who can help you with a current project. Yes it’s a little creepy, but it does fulfill the true potential of working in a large corporation by connecting you to people who you would not normally think to connect with. Finally — and here’s the real philosophical, late-night, dorm room question — if everything is in the cloud and is integrated, does that mean that everything becomes the intranet or perhaps nothing is the intranet. Discuss.*
  2. The Rise of People Marketing. My CMO, Jeanniey Mullen, coined the term “People Marketing” to talk about the importance of engaging employees in external marketing campaigns and converting them into advocates. When I was a marketer, some of my biggest failures were because I forgot this rule; and this was back in the stone age before social media. Now it’s not just about playing defense, but playing offense. On January 1 of this new year, I have a new “People Marketer” starting on my team. It is a brand new position who focuses on three things: (1) working with marketing to make sure every major external campaign has an internal campaign embedded within it; (2) collaborating with social to continue to recruit active employee advocates; and (3) partnering with sales enablement to ensure our customer facing colleagues present the full Mercer brand instead of just the piece they happen to be selling. With this role, we are attempting to create a catalyst in  blending the external with the internal.
  3. Talking about Automation in the Workplace. This is a tricky challenge that many of us have been facing, or will soon need to face. As robots and AI are introduced into the workplace, Internal Communications is going to have to help leaders understand how to talk about it with employees. In a 2016 study by the World Economic Forum of 15 major economies concluded that the rise of robots and AI will destroy a net 5 million jobs by 2020. And Pew Research  Center found that 72 percent of Americans were “worried” about a future in which robots and computers substituted for humans (there was less worry in other countries, particularly those with stronger public safety nets for healthcare and retirement). Very few, if any, workplaces will be spared this phenomenon, and helping employees embrace this inevitable change will be one of our biggest challenges as a profession.
  4. Getting Comfortable with Change.  The ideal of a “change adaptable” organization is something we (with our partners in HR) have been trying to puzzle out for a few years. Related to my 3rd opportunity, I have a feeling that this could be our last year in which having a work culture that is comfortable with change still may be considered a competitive advantage versus what it will inevitably become: table stakes. What I have learned is that simply launching one change after another is not going to be enough to help; no matter how many times employees are asked to accept changes, they still hold out hope that this will be the last one. Great change communications help with each change, but not in evolving the culture and frankly, human nature which is organically anxious about change. If anybody has any thoughts in this area, I would welcome them.
  5. And yes, measurement, of course. I know, I know. You’ve heard this one before. It is starting to sound like the “this is the year I get in shape” New Year’s resolution. However, every year, the output/activity metrics get better and better. Especially, as we move to a digital workplace, measuring how people are communicating and collaborating will become easier. Of course, the difficulty still is in the outcome metrics of around what business good was achieved. It is frankly one of the reasons I continue to work closer with our social team. Employee advocacy has real measurable outcomes that are tied to real revenue and retention.

These are, of course, just a few of the challenges that my team and I will need to focus on in 2018; however, these feel to me like the ones that will move the needle significantly in terms of the value we can add to our organization’s success.

What have I missed? What are the major opportunities you are facing in your company?

*By the way, if you want to read from someone who is truly expert in this space about what is on the horizon, I recommend Paul Miller, CEO of the Digital Workplace Group. For instance, his recent My 10 digital workplace predictions for 2018 is excellent.