Monday, October 24, 2011

The Conversation - developing a digital strategy

Erins ePortfolio

This is part one of a story. It is the synthesis of a number of recent conversations in contributing to thinking of PR strategies.

Mary T who has worked in PR for a generation, the client, represents herself and a number of very talented people entering the realm of internet mediated public relations.


Mary T suspects that very soon she will be asked to present a plan for her company to rapidly move towards being involved in the wider aspects of online public relations.

In our conversation she says she is certain she will be asked for her thoughts on social media, perhaps also the company web site and she is aware that there is more to online public relations than these very visible manifestations of the internet.

In the first discussion there are three people present: Mary, her media relations manager and an intern.

True to all forms of Public Relations Management, the team spends a considerable time defining objectives.

At present, the brief for this company (which  manufactures and licences some manufacturing and sells to wholesale, retail and direct to consumers) is, of necessity, vague. It is not uncommon for PR briefs to be a trifle vague. Most management policy making tends to emerge.

Digital impact

The initial discussion revolves round the the nature of the digital impact on business.

Digitisation of so many functions offers considerable benefits for the organisation. It empowers people, reduces cost and enhances capability to serve all stakeholders. At the same time it opens opportunity for risk which could damage reputation and,more importantly, relationships.

It comes as something of a surprise for Mary to discover that the company’s accounts were digitised before her intern was born and the first accounting computers were in operation before she was born. Her company has sophisticated order fulfilment which depends on computers that makes her a bit uneasy and so she is surprised to find out that management consultant’s Arther D Little developed the first computerized inventory control package for IBM in 1962. These are technologies that are pretty well bedded-in now.

Not only is a large part of company operations digitised it has been for a long time and there is huge experience and reliability in the systems.

Digital process and inventory is not new or or particularly frightening.

We could agree quickly that, strategically, digital risk should be added and included in PR issues and crisis management.


From the network and intranet to the IT centre, there are things to worry about and none the less that IT need to cut cost - a lot. There is talk of closing the computer centre and contracting out computing ‘to the cloud’.

Of course this is a worry because so many activities are being ‘out-sourced’.

A moments thought brings this into perspective. Here am I, a consultant, an outsourced resource.

There are lots of of them each vested with very sensitive information. Lawyers, accountants, franchise manufactures using the company secret IP in production processes every day are some examples. The fact is that management processes for outsourcing already exists in the company.

They need to be brought up to date. Including an outsourced communication channel such as Facebook is a challenge. The Terms and Conditions of Service (T’s & C’s) become critical here. In some cases T’s & C’s may be too onerous or some risk has to be accepted to take advantage of the opportunities available.

What we discover is that the company already has outsourcing and contracting processes that can be used and adopted (some may need to be adapted) but within the existing management capability and management structures in the company.

This is of comfort in being able to present new forms of communication within the existing company and management framework (we laugh at the idea of delegating both implementation and budget sideways).

In terms of strategy, we have a solution which is to purposely and in a managed fashion using existing protocols use existing corporate expertise.

Internal communication

Love it or hate it, company email is the backbone for internal communication. It is fast and can get to everyone literally in an instant. Its capability is its downfall. A lot of internal email is irrelevant, personal, junk or spam and is simply ignored because it is regarded as internal spam.

There is a long history and much research to inform the practitioner.

There is a big HR/management discipline responsibility here (the corporate email policy is important and should be refreshed in the minds of employees at regular intervals) but there is also a huge PR element too.

When people find forms of communication are not helpful they find work-arounds.

  • 79 per cent of people send work emails from their personal email accounts, with 1 in 5 saying they do this on a regular basis
  • 71 per cent of people recognise there is an additional risk in sending work documents outside the corporate email environment, but 47 per cent think it is acceptable to send work emails and documents to personal email accounts
  • 40 per cent of those asked say that if they had an unlimited mailbox at work, they would be less likely to send work emails to personal email accounts
  • More than a third (36%) of incoming email to work inboxes is NOT work related
  • Over 300 work-related emails are sent per person via personal accounts each year
  • Generation Gmail is particularly predisposed to personal email; 52 per cent rated it as better than work email in terms of mailbox size, compared to just 29 per cent of over 55s

(source: Mimecast)

Today the ubiquitous mobile phone is  the easiest work round and modern phones give options of email, instant messaging, social networks and much more to as alternatives to company internal email.

This means there is a need to both review the company email policy at regular intervals and review the range of media that is in use. For some organisations the replacement of much email traffic with company social networks is a consideration.

In addition, because there are many instances of contractors, consultant and employees working externally, there has to be consideration of capabilities that extend beyond the physical limitations of the company, including hot desking and  home workers.

In some instanced this may mean that wifi is a better option than networks; laptops or slates are more cost effective than PC’s and, in some cases cloud solutions will be appropriate ( the Google example here Gmail – Google Apps includes secure instant messaging).

As the communication expert, we need to be aware of what is happening and what the alternatives may be.

Engaging  and empowering employees to not just monitor but to proactively contribute to both best practice and enhanced organisational effect through devolved responsibility is a major corporate strategy decision.

The decision has, to a large extent, been taken out of the hands of the one time dominant coalition. The mobile phone has seen to that!

This means that PR now has to take a hand with both the agreement and active support of the Board.

An open system where 1000 employees are engaged in enforcing commonly help best practice has been shown to be more powerful that one employee attempting to enforce 1000 views of best practice.

A recent high profile example was at Google.

Forbes reports:
Google engineer Steve Yegge accidentally published to the world a rant about his company’s new social network that was meant to be shared only with his Google colleagues. (Tricky sharing settings were actually not among his complaints about Plus.) Widely circulated, the devastating critique said Google Plus was “a prime example of our complete failure to understand platforms from the very highest levels of executive leadership.”

Luckily for Yegge, those highest levels of executive leadership are forgiving types. Company founder Sergey Brin told the AP this week that Yegge wasn’t fired because he had intended to only share the post with other employees.

“Amazingly, nothing bad happened to me at Google,” writes Yegge (publicly) on Google Plus, also saying the Plus team will be making some changes in reaction to some of his criticisms. “Everyone just laughed at me a lot, all the way up to the top, for having committed what must be the great-granddaddy of all Reply-All screwups in tech history.”

Yegge started the post with harsh words for his previous employer, Amazon. Yegge regrets that going public, too — as well he should. Hiring managers, understandably, frown on negative comments about a previous employer when they’re doing their social media research on a candidate.

Understanding of these issues among employees is very important.

Long ago, lecturing to 60 final year PR students in I explained that for all intents and purposed everything that goes online is there for ever and that Facebook owned all those compromising photos as well. I simply asked if they would like a future employer or their children to see the images. Within 24 hours a lot of photos vanished from Facebook entries.

Being more open and still retaining high levels of corporate security is possible and can be positively beneficial.

The advantage of having an intern present is that she offered a reality and, perhaps a naivete and reality check in her minutes of our discussions. If she had difficulty understanding our deliberations, it was reasonable that the Board would too.

Long before we had examined the external strategy needs of Mary T, we had developed some really important and grounded strategies that she could use as part of her presentation to the Board.

Next time I will reflect some of the conversations about external communication.

Early Electronic Computers (1946-51) Accessed October 2011
The first accounting computers accessed October 2011
Arthur D Little Timeline Accessed October 2011.
Mimecast report Accessed October 2011
Employee Internet Abuse: Risk Management Strategies and their Effectiveness. (2003)
Case, C. J. and Young, K. S. Accessed October 2011
Ranting Google Engineer, Still Employed, Rethinks His Amazon Bashing accessed October 2011