Social intranet nurtures innovation

11 05 2011

A quick rundown of Fast Company’s Most Innovative Companies of 2011 affirms that innovation is synonymous with success.

No. 1 on the list is Apple, an innovator in every sense of the word. No. 2 is Twitter, which has experienced five years of explosive growth by redefining communication. Also present in the top five are Facebook — you might have heard of it — and Groupon, a little coupon startup that’s suddenly worth billions.

It leads one to ask: How have these companies done it? If innovation breeds success in the modern marketplace, what breeds innovation within these modern companies?

There are of course a number of factors. A nondogmatic approach, willingness to fail, and a strong sense of what the company stands for are three that Fast Company identifies.

Another component that most, if not all, of the world’s leading companies have in common is an open internal culture in which knowledge sharing is celebrated. They actively encourage a flow of ideas among all strata of the organization, and just as important, they give their workforce the tools to share those ideas easily and without fear.

In the most innovative companies, those “tools” come in the form of a social intranet.

Monica Krake — Principal and Communications Director of The Social Agency, a PR and social media marketing firm — recently wrote a piece for Manufacturing Business Technology on the role a social intranet can play in the success of a company.

Krake profiled Continuum, a global design firm that has helped create many well-known products, including Proctor & Gamble’s Swiffer Sweeper.

Krake writes:

“In order to help employees build connections with each other and share knowledge easily, Continuum realized it needed an inviting, collaborative intranet. In 2009 they started looking at different software options and decided on ThoughtFarmer, which actually coined the term ‘social intranet.’ Continuum picked the ThoughtFarmer social intranet solution because of how easy it made it for any employee to publish content and for its flexibility in moving content around.”

Modern social intranets make it easy to have top-down, bottom-up, and peer-to-peer communication. Social intranet software finds inspiration in the most popular social software like Facebook, blogs and wikis, and repurposes key social features for business-specific uses.

“It takes two things to make an intranet social,” Chris McGrath, co-creator of ThoughtFarmer, told Krake. “It takes authorship — the ability for everyone to create content — and connections — the ability to see the people behind the content and to connect with them in some meaningful way.”

Continuum allows any employee to post news to its intranet homepage. The intranet, called “Orange” after Continuum’s corporate color, has a homepage news section titled “Fresh Squeezed,” where any employee can add a post with just a few clicks. Continuum employees share news about projects, clients and ideas, and virtually every page allows commenting, which creates valuable dialogue and meaningful connections.

“Orange” also allows any employee to set up interest groups. About 140 groups have sprung up so far, focusing on specific practice areas or professional disciplines.

“Since Orange came online, more people have been able to access the knowledge residing in individuals, but also the contribution to that knowledge has grown in some really wonderful ways,” Continuum’s COO Chris Michaud told Krake. “And that means we’re better at doing our client work.”

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Communication means business

25 04 2011

Imagine a basketball coach who meets with his team in the beginning of the season, assigns roles to his players…and then hardly interacts with them again.

He doesn’t communicate with his team during games. He doesn’t tell the players what he likes and dislikes about their individual performances. And he certainly doesn’t share his overall plan for the team and where each player fits into that plan as the season unfolds.

Sounds absurd, right? Well, that’s essentially how many businesses today are interacting with their employees.

In his book, You Can’t NOT Communicate, corporate communications veteran David Grossman discusses how companies that actively engage their workforce are being rewarded with higher productivity and profits, and how companies that don’t are falling behind.

Grossman, the former head of communications for McDonald’s who now owns his own firm, advises business leaders to view communication as an instrument of strategy, and a strategy in itself. It’s important to remember that employees are actual human beings, and that human beings desire certain things at their job:

1. They want to know where the organization is going and the plans to get there.

2. They want to be informed of things in a timely, honest manner.

3. They want to be able to connect the dots between their day-to-day work and the overarching business strategy and goals of the organization.

4. They want to feel valued.

5. They want a feeling of community; that they are part of something larger than themselves.

6. They want a feeling of excitement.

7. They want specific feedback on their performance, whether that be recognition of a job well done, or guidance in an area where they can improve.

8. They want management that will listen to their input and make a sincere effort to follow through on that input.

By nurturing employees’ communication needs, companies create a real connection with those on “the front lines,” and good things follow:

— According to a 2006 report by The Conference Board, highly engaged employees outperform their disengaged colleagues by 20-28 percent.

— A 2006 report by Watson Wyatt Worldwide found that companies that communicate effectively have a 19.4 percent higher market premium than companies that do not.

— The Watson Wyatt report also found that shareholder returns for organizations with the most effective communication were more than 57 percent higher over a five-year period (2000-2004) than for companies with less effective communications.

Conversely, disengaged employees drain companies. A 2006 study by James Harter and Rodd Wagner titled “The Elements of Great Managing” found that:

— In a 10,000-person company, absenteeism due to disengagement results in roughly 5,000 lost days per year, which is valued at $600,000 in salary paid in which there is no work performed.

— Work groups with lower levels of engagement earn 12 percent lower customer scores than those on the higher end.

— Business units comprised of mostly disengaged employees have 31 percent more turnover than those made up of mostly engaged employees.

There are many in the business world who still view a strategic approach to internal communications as a “luxury” — something that’s nice to have, but not as essential as Accounting or IT. But, clearly, the statistics say otherwise.

“Savvy business leaders have seen firsthand the power of good employee communication and how it can drive business success from the inside out,” Grossman writes. “Quite simply, it helps people and organizations be even better.”

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Hemingway’s 4 rules for writing well

7 04 2011

Simple genius.

That’s the best way to describe the writing style of Ernest Hemingway.

Some writers love to fill their prose with flowery adjectives or complex descriptions that run on and on, but not old Ernie. He wrote simply and clearly, and reading him is like eating a meal of meat and potatoes that tastes better than anything you could order at a five-star restaurant.

A key moment in Hemingway’s development into one of the great American writers came in 1917. Then a fresh-faced reporter at the Kansas City Star, Hemingway was taught four basic rules of writing that he would carry with him the rest of his life.

Because the list of rules is so short and yet so insightful, it’s a must-read for anyone interested in writing effectively:


Short sentences are easier to digest. They make it easier to follow each point of an argument or story.

Your job as a writer — or editor — is to make life easy for your audience. Forcing the reader to navigate through a bunch of long, complex sentences is like forcing him/her to hack through the jungle with a machete. Create a nice, tidy path with plenty of short sentences.


See opening of this post.


Copywriter David Garfinkel describes it like this:

“It’s muscular, forceful (writing). Vigorous English comes from passion, focus and intention.”

This rule is really a reminder to do your homework and fully understand what you are writing about. It is impossible to write with “passion, focus and intention” without having a real grasp of the subject.

In most cases, if you’ve done your homework, you will write with authority and vigor.


Basically, “be positive” means you should say what something is rather than what it isn’t.

– Instead of saying something is “inexpensive,” say it is “affordable.”
– Instead of describing something as “unclear,” say it is “confusing.”

This might seem like a small point, but it’s actually quite important. Being “positive” makes your writing more direct. Whether they realize it or not, readers are turned off by “roundabout writing.”

So, there you have it: eminently practical writing tips from one of the masters — or more accurately, from the Kansas City Star.

“Those were the best rules I ever learned for the business of writing,” Hemingway said in 1940. “I’ve never forgotten them. No man with any talent, who feels and writes truly about the thing he is trying to say, can fail to write well if he abides with them.”

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Social media marketing: back to basics

30 03 2011

Everybody from Abercrombie & Fitch to Allstate is trying to make the most of social media, recognizing the profound effect it can have on their relationships with customers.

Companies realize that there is a conversation going on and that it is essential for them to have a voice in it.

But despite the fact that just about every savvy brand has gotten religion on social media marketing, most are still experimenting and have yet to fully harness the power of Web 2.0.

In a recent blog post, the “Zeus of Marketing,” a.k.a. Jesus R. Graña, predicts that in 2011, companies will go back to the basics of marketing and build their social media plans on principles that were established decades ago.

Don’t be fooled by the “Zeus of Marketing” moniker. Graña — a Cornell grad with an MBA from the University of Michigan — is a senior strategy and marketing professional who has worked for Procter & Gamble and IBM, to name a few.

He writes:

“If you’re like me, classically trained in marketing and strategy, I bet you’ve wondered when the focus of social media development will switch from what’s technologically feasible to what’s necessary to execute real marketing objectives.”

Remember A/T/U — awareness, trial, continuity of usage?

My advice for all marketers and media suppliers is to focus on delivering against these strategies, which are the fundamentals of any marketing effort.

Graña warns against experimenting with social media marketing without having a clear objective:

“Creating a Facebook fan page or tweeting 24/7 without an objective will mean no clear metrics are set, and you’ll only be wasting your scarce resources. A whole business is emerging now on metrics as if fire has just been discovered. The main reason why there are no metrics now is because there were no objectives to begin with.”

Come back to the basics. No need to re-invent the wheel!!!

Graña says that if a company wants measurable metrics, it must review its current marketing strategy and confirm its marketing objectives.

If your objective is awareness, identify which vehicle reaches the largest number of people in your target demo. Facebook is the best option on a B2C basis. For B2B, Graña identifies LinkedIn as the best option. There are LinkedIn groups for just about every industry, and if there isn’t one for yours, create one.

If your objective is trial, identify which vehicle is closest to your point of sale and to your customer. Graña suggests keeping tabs on the location-based, mobile space. Vehicles like Groupon and Foursquare are a great way to get consumers to try your product. Send a consumer a high-value coupon, and there’s a good chance he/she will give you a shot.

Most brands are focused on continuity of usage. As Graña points out, “only via continuity of usage will you ensure a sustainable and profitable business.”

He writes:

“Continuity includes not only repeat purchases, but also referrals from satisfied customers motivating others to buy.”

Continuity is the result of loyalty — “the Holy Grail” for marketers. This is why CRM (Customer Relationship Management) has been so important even in pre-Internet years. It’s also THE area where social media can shine (and few, if any, have mastered it). Leveraging social media for loyalty development is the ultimate goal for marketers in this medium.

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The do’s and don’ts of pitching reporters

1 03 2011

I recently sat in on a webinar about how to pitch story ideas to reporters. There were four reporters who shared their views: a staff writer from The Wall Street Journal, one from USA Today, another from AOL News, and a freelancer for Crain’s New York Business.

Because reporters are bombarded with pitches on a daily basis, it’s important to gain every little advantage you can when trying to draw attention to your product, organization or cause.

Here is a summary of what the reporters had to say:

How To Pitch:

All the reporters said they prefer that you pitch via email so they can read what you are proposing when it is convenient for them, they can digest what you’ve written, and they don’t feel like they are being “put on the spot.” Don’t make your initial pitch by phone, and absolutely no faxes.

The reporters agreed that they like short emails that get to the point in the very first sentence. For example: “My name is Alex Mitchell with Acme Health Group, and I’d like to tell you about a new treatment our physicians have devised for pancreatic cancer that we estimate will raise the survival rate from 5 percent to 15 percent.”

You should include a link to your website or a site that gives more details about your proposed topic. You should also use a short, bulleted list to quickly outline your key points. Provide context for what you are publicizing so reporters understand why they ought to pay attention to your news. Is your news part of a broader trend? Does it relate to a “hot” story that people are talking about?

Pitching Via Social Media:

Social media is more useful once you’ve already gotten a reporter or reporters to pick up on your story. All the reporters said that they don’t want to be pitched on Twitter, and all but one (the AOL writer) don’t like to be pitched on Facebook.

Subject Lines:

Reporters receive hundreds of emails a day, so they are more apt to open yours if the subject line of your message is clear about what you are pitching and obviously tailored to them rather than being part of a mass email effort.

Don’t use the phrase “Quick Question” in the subject line. All the reporters said they see that a lot, and it’s an automatic delete.

Follow Up:

The reporters agreed that they don’t mind some initial follow-up after you send them an email. They are very busy, so they realize that it’s possible they missed your initial note.

Top Mistakes:

— Thinking you — your business — is the news. Explain how what you are publicizing relates to something larger. Provide a news peg.

— Not understanding what a reporter covers and who his or her readers are.

— Sending a pitch with spelling errors or not getting a reporter’s name right.

— Exaggerating. Don’t make claims you can’t back up with data. If you make a claim and can’t prove it, you’ll burn your bridge with the reporter.

— Pitching a story that is too similar to one a reporter just wrote or one he/she wrote a few months ago. Get on Google and research what the reporter has written about recently.

A PR pro who pitches the right way becomes a trusted resource for reporters, rather than a nuisance. Once that happens, it’s much easier to get your message “a good ride” in the media.

MTV’s social media success story

22 02 2011

MTV recently put on a social media marketing clinic with its launch of Skins — the American version of the popular British teen drama.

With a core age demographic of 12 to 34, Skins was ripe for social media engagement, and MTV has taken full advantage.

The first good move the network made was beginning its promotional campaign three months prior to the show’s premiere. Networks generally launch shows first, then build a relationship with fans, but why wait? MTV opted to start the conversation and build a community well in advance of the premiere, and based on the numbers (we’ll get to those in a minute), it worked.

Deciding to promote Skins early was only part of the equation for MTV. The network then had to put together a comprehensive social media plan for the show. Let’s take a look at the components: A home site regularly updated with content, including trailers and sneak peeks.

Tumblr blog (“we are skins”): Microblogging site on which MTV posts text, images, videos, links, quotes and audio from/about the show.

Twitter handle (@skinsTV): A great way to interact with fans in real time — chats, Q&A’s, contests, links to other Skins sites, etc.

Facebook fan page: The widely used site gives MTV another space to post content and interact with fans.

-What’s Your Skins Score? (Facebook mobile app): Asks users 10 questions to determine their party personality. Users can share their score with friends on Facebook.

-Where It Went Down (mobile app): Inspired by the wild and crazy experiences the characters have in the show, this app allows users to share where their memorable moments “went down.”

-Fast Society (mobile app): Fans can discuss the show with group texting or an instant conference call.

“Social media has become a full-time customer service job at MTV,” Tom Fishman, MTV’s Social Media Manager, told “We dedicated resources to engaging full-time and understanding the nuances of what was being said across social media.”

The effort has paid off. Prior to the series launch, the Skins trailer drew more than 5 million video streams and 700,000 uniques on the site, 9,000 followers on Twitter, 55,000 “Likes” on Facebook, and 2,500 followers on Tumblr.

Most important, the Skins premiere drew 3.26 million total viewers, easily outperforming the debuts of competitive shows across both cable and network in its core demo, including CW’s Gossip Girl and ABC Family’s Pretty Little Liars.

Pretty good ROI for what was once considered a silly little diversion.

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Communications issues for 2011

8 02 2011

2010 brought plenty of reminders that words are powerful.

Whether it was a question of transparency or terrorism (WikiLeaks) or a serious case of crisis communication (BP oil spill), the value of thoughtful, well-crafted messages was never more apparent.

Looking ahead to 2011, The Communicator — a great blog for communications professionals authored by industry veteran Peter Schram — recently posted its top 11 issues facing the profession this year.

Here are five highlights:

1. Working with new audiences: Communications pros used to focus on a core group of audiences (traditional media, customers, employees, executives), but those days are over. “This year,” Schram writes, “plan to spend significantly more time on new and influential audiences such as environmental groups, transparency watchdogs and local influencers.”

2. Reducing environmental footprint: Schram points out that the communications department is one of the biggest users of paper in most offices. Building on the ideas of environmental responsibility and brand management, companies will create programs “that both protect the environment and stand as an example to peers, customers and suppliers.”

3. Coaching executives: In Schram’s opinion, the events of 2010 showed that most executives need better crisis and communications training. He expects that communicators will focus more on coaching executives on how to stay cool under pressure and stick to key messages.

4. Communicating with mobile audiences: With smart phones now the norm and e-readers continuing to grow in popularity, communications pros must adapt. Schram writes: “As consumers and audiences migrate more of their communications activities onto mobile devices, professional communicators will need to pick up new skills and strategies to make the most of these new channels.”

5. Writing to differentiate: “No matter how fast technology moves or what new devices are offered on the market,” Schram writes, “one thing always remains a constant: the written word.” With all the new channels available to communicators, Schram argues that most will find that their corporate writing style is about the only thing that really differentiates them from their competition.

Is Schram right on with his predictions? Are there other issues that will take communications pros by surprise in 2011? Regardless of the year, one thing’s for sure: Communication works for those who work at it.