Internal enterprise social media during times of crisis

A lot of attention is being directed at the use of public social media during the London riots (for good and bad). But, if the experiences of my own company are anything to go by then its likely that organisations based in or with staff in the UK will have used internal social media to respond to the riots too.

Globally we used it to check in with our UK based colleagues, to make sure everyone was ok. If they needed our support, there was a channel already in operation for us to use.

Our London team also used internal social tools for dealing with the practical issues that the riots created, including:

  • Sharing updates about individual staff members who had been personally affected by the riots.
  • Rescheduling meetings and organising where and how people would work.
  • Responding to emerging situations, like changes to public transport.

While they didn’t need our help directly, because we work outloud we would have known quite quickly if that situation changed. Most importantly, being a global company doesn’t stop us from providing social support to our colleagues in times of crisis because we have the tools in place to connect with everyone who works for Dachis Group around the world.

And quite honestly, I can’t understand how some companies are still trying to deal with events like this without giving staff access to collaboration tools like social intranets, instant messaging and enterprise microblogging. No wonder, as we heard during the Queensland floods, that staff in some organisations were forced to resort to using public tools like Facebook to communicate and collaboration internally despite the risks (and all the more reason why governments should think carefully about how they might choose to censor social media, as it might impact on business and community services too).

The London riots and social media

The wonderful thing about news in the Internet age is that we have unfiltered access to both first hand reports and the perspective of overseas news channels. In this panel interview, Guardian journalist Paul Lewis emphasises that he feels the use of social media and Blackberry Messenger in particular to orchestrate the riots should be considered in the loosest terms, rather than it being a defining factor.

The comments from the panel also reflect some of my own experiences of watching the riots unfold online – the positives far outweighed the bad.

Its also interesting to reflect on the evolving relationship between the traditional media and social media. Lewis immersed himself in the medium, like photojournalist, adding credibility and insight into his reporting in parallel to user generated content. The Guardian newspaper also leads the way in using open data to share facts, so we can judge for ourselves. The public record of social media also means we can check quotes for the original context too (scroll down to Misquoted).

The UK Police are also using social media to track down offenders, although perhaps they should have read from Queenland Police’s book for their approach to #mythbusting during an emergency (PDF).

Such is the ever tightening relationship between our every days lives, the delivery of community and government services, professional media reporters and social media I can’t see how in reality we can really untangle the technology without unintended consequences.

Managing the transition from one social intranet tool to another


Social intranets are now maturing to the point where some organisations are moving on to their 2nd iteration of software tools. In this instance, following a 12 month trial with Yammer, the Department of Education & Communities in NSW (aka “DET”) have migrated to Socialtext. They are calling their social collaboration tool, Maang (an Aboriginal word for ‘message stick’). This is a big deployment, with over 150,000 users having been automatically provisioned into Socialtext compared to the nearly 10,000 users of Yammer!

One of the things that impressed me about DEC’s approach is how well they supported their initial pilot (they were a case study at Intranets 2011 in Sydney) and it looks like that work is continuing with the new platform – they are thinking beyond just the technology.

Its quite likely that as organisations experiment with social collaboration tools and look for the best fit solutions (and there are many dimensions to this) then such a transistion is something that many will need to manage. For example, during my time at CSC they moved from multiple wiki experiments, then a corporate pilot of Confluence before finally settling with Jive SBS (just after I left).

Note: I couldn’t embed the Prezi above, you’ll need to click through to view it. However, there is some great background information you can spot there about the supporting policies and guidelines that DEC have built around Maang.

Intranet, Internet, Extranet merger imminent?

It’s clear that the once clear distinctions between intranets, internet sites and extranets are blurring somewhat as the technology evolves and business needs develop. Traditional distinctions between internal and external communication teams (and outputs) will also likely diminish, mirroring this application of technology. This merger though will bring some clear advantages.

  • A single design with a single user experience for all places, giving a clarity of corporate identity with smaller overall design bills
  • Publicly listed companies are obliged to publicly reveal some materials to the markets before telling employees (see our intranetizen post on laws and intranets). A single merged space could limits the chances of a mis-timed publishing.
  • Employees read the corporate site too! Merging ensures that there is no chance of mixed messaging especially if the former intranet and internet materials were managed by different teams. Consistency of content is critical when information consumers can compare and contrast.
  • Reduced licensing and support costs as to you move to using a single technology foundation.

We are definitely heading down this path – I’m seeing this issue come all the time during the planning stages for social intranets.

However, in practice right now it doesn’t necessarily deliver all these benefits – e.g. licensing models for external and inward facing versions of the same platform can throw a spanner in the works. In some companies, the public internet site is also a more reliable source of information than the intranet – so some users might not see this as an improvement.

But there is not doubt that in the medium term, the intranet is definitely going to be a victim of extranet-isation; meanwhile organisations are also building external facing spaces where staff and customers will mingle. Just a question of if and when these will merge.

The internet is actually making us more socially active

The commonly held belief that the internet is turning an entire generation into solitary web-junkies is a myth, according to new research. The findings may offer succour to parents worried that social networking sites such as Facebook are reducing their children’s participation in school sports and cultural activities.

In a paper to be presented to a gathering of Nobel prize winners later this month, three influential economists claim their work demonstrates the internet is actually making us more socially active.

Stefan Bauernschuster, Oliver Falck and Ludger Woessmann of the Ifo Institute in Munich reject the claim that the internet isolates people socially and erodes the traditional foundations of society. “There are no indications whatsoever that the internet makes people lonely,” Bauernschuster said. He explained that their study revealed that a broadband connection at home positively influences the social activities of adults as well as children.

More research supporting the positives of being online.

If working in an office is bad for your brain, where does that leave intranets?

A study has found that the hustle and bustle of modern offices can lead to a
32% drop in workers well being and reduce their productivity by 15%.

They have found that open plan offices create unwanted activity in the brains
of workers that can get in the way of them doing the task at hand.

Open plan offices were first introduced in the 1950s and quickly became a
popular as a way of laying out offices.

Having a clean and sterile desk can also leave employees with smaller brains,
scientists claim.

The findings are revealed in a programme made for Channel 4, The Secret Life
of Buildings, to be broadcast on Monday.

This type of research, IMHO, has implications for both our online and physical workplaces. Implementing a sterile, impersonal intranet is probably as bad as a clean desk policy.

But for physical workspaces at least, why does it always have to be one or other – open plan OR individual offices, work from the office OR work from home?