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I’ve been to a few conferences lately: our own IBF 'Wake up and smell the intranets' breakfast in London on 21st April; then on to the SimplySummit conference that same day and again the following morning; and the PR Week event for Communications Professionals on 29th April.

Recurring themes at each event were the importance of collaboration and social media and how these strengthen the organisation in a number of ways.  And the major key to getting the things done that people at these sessions found essential, is getting the executive on board – then things just happen!

At our intranets breakfast, Aviva showed a live tour of their intranet – this has much new functionality and was only possible because their CIO said he wanted it done in 100 days!  At the other conferences I saw presentations from British Gas, Tetra Pak, BBC, BT and Unilever.  At each one, collaboration and social media was very much at the forefront – and the importance of securing a place at the top table for change to be approved.  And there appeared to be a recognition that the old intranet just being used as an electronic notice board should experience not just an evolution but, in many cases, a revolution.  There is widespread acceptance that the intranet, and a range of technologies now available in the digital workplace generally, should support collaboration and interaction across the workforce.

Two main issues surfaced at all these events: the first was just how much ‘freedom’ should be allowed when social media functionality is introduced into the intranet.  It seems that, generally, the executive feel that there is a need for traditional control and therefore a high degree of moderation.  The consensus at each event from the communication professionals however was that you should treat people like adults and give them the freedom to say what they feel needs to be said.  Experience appeared to indicate that, apart from rare occasions, people knew that they could be identified and would be subject to normal disciplinary procedures and so would be sensible.  One organisation though did talk about reaching out to ‘the naughty people’ and having a group session with them to surface issues which they may have with their employer. This debate over concerns about risk has had considerable air-time in recent years, and while it is valuable there is also a sense that (as Paul Miller commented on Digital Workplace Live this week) if senior management aren’t communicating and allowing employees to interact with them via the intranet, they’re not doing their job properly.

The second point which excited some debate was the whole issue of the CEO blog.  Almost unanimously supported as useful, it was recognised that the best leaders take little prompting to get involved and get blogging themselves – the Obama campaign was quoted as a well known example.  The key is that that they do write the blog themselves and that everyone can see that this is happening. Where the CEO delegates the task to others, and sometimes even to a committee replying to comments, people rapidly recognise that this is happening and see little value in the blog.  Again at Digital Workplace Live this week, we heard a creative way round getting real blog posts from the time-strapped during a live tour from AEP – their CEO dials in his blog post and it is typed up by the communications team without making any changes. Employees can see that it is in his own, distinctive voice, and know that it is genuine.  The best situation is where anybody in an organisation, at whatever level, is able to ‘have a conversation’ with the CEO – something in most organisations that is very new and of great value.

It’s been interesting to follow these themes across the recent intranet and communications events, and get a a real sense of the growing impetus to not only make intranets more social, but to take them to a whole new level of integration within the workplace. At IBF we're excited about continuing the discussion around these themes at IBF 24 in just a few weeks time, and hope that you'll be joining us!

About the author

Nancy Goebel - DWG's Managing Director for Member & Benchmarking ServicesNancy Goebel is the Digital Workplace Group’s Managing Director, Member Services & Strategic Partnerships.

During her six-year tenure with DWG, Nancy has been involved in account management, benchmarking, research, blogging and executive producing Digital Workplace Live and DW 24.

Prior to joining the Digital Workplace Group, Nancy was a accomplished executive at JPMorgan Chase where she built and led a global team in desigining and implementing an award-winning intranet. She also led digital enablement and business re-engineering initiatives.

Outside work, Nancy is a wine maker, fundraiser, meditator, wife and mother of two.

Connect with Nancy on Twitter: @nancyatdwg or on Google +.

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