Engaging people digitally to drive meaningful and lasting change

Engaging through digital SmartFeeds
Richard Jacobs of yes indeed.com

For the last 25 years my company Yes Indeed has been designing change programmes for  the likes of Google, Coca Cola, Unilever, government organisations, NGO’s and now the EU. In that time we‘ve trained hundreds of thousands of people around the world driving measureable, sustainable changes in people’s mindsets and behaviours.

The culmination of this quarter of a century’s worth of experience has been the creation of a revolutionary approach to digital engagement and mass communication that drives lasting change. It’s called SmartFeeds and it’s a way of drip-feeding mindset and behavioral change through digital media directly into people’s natural Facebook feed and via an organisation’s Learning Management System. There are a number of fundamental reasons why we came up with this approach and why, we think it will be a default practice for communications and learning and development in the next few years.

1. There are 3 Strands of organisational change:

  • Strategy – ‘where are we going and how do we intend to get there’
  • Processes – the people, functions and tech that supports the strategy.
  • Mindset and Behaviours – how people think, their behaviors, outlook, perspective and the ability to see the impact of their actions.

In our experience none of these three elements is optional. Organizations spend a lot of time on the first two areas of strategy and processes but have very little focus on enabling mindsets and behaviours. Giving a person wonderful tools such as a Mont Blanc pen or Microsoft Word does not make them a writer. Great writing comes from how a person thinks and is also enabled by technique. In the same way, communication does not necessarily lead to transformation. We can tell people what the strategy is, give them tools to help them achieve it but if their mindset is locked in the old way of delivering they are simply incapable of meeting the new requirements.

We have designed SmartFeeds to work this area of Mindset and Behavioural change so that after an individual has consumed a piece of media, read an article, or engaged with an online exercise they can fundamentally do something differently on Monday morning and everyday thereafter.

2. Drip-feeding creates habits and habits lead to lasting change.

We don’t get fit by going to the gym once per month. However, so many communication strategies and learning programs rely on people receiving information irregularly or going to courses a few times per year and yet they are expected to integrate all that information immediately and forever.

It doesn’t work. If it did, leading brands would only advertise at Christmas and we could tell our children once when bedtime is and they would adhere to that forever. Becoming fit comes from exercising regularly. Developing meaningful, lasting change means constantly feeding mindsets and behaviours. The most obvious mechanism for this drip-feeding to take place is on the most intimate medium in the world… people’s mobile phones. SmartFeeds drip-feeds through social media on people’s smartphones as well as other devices.


3. Always ride the horse the way the horse is facing.

I have been told that this is a famous Chinese proverb. So far, though, I have not met a Chinese person who recognizes it. However, going with the flow and working with the forces of nature is the frictionless route to success.

When people take a break at work, go to the toilet, have a cigarette, go for their lunch etc, do they spontaneously check out the latest piece of media on the intranet? See what townhall updates the CEO has posted? Or checkout what learning courses have just been uploaded on the LMS? No?…

What do they do instead? – they go on Facebook. That’s the way the horse is facing. People willingly check-out their natural social media feeds and as a result they are open and receptive to the information they receive there.

Many of our clients have said that at least half the time and effort they spend in getting their people to engage with their organisation’s digital media is spent competing with people’s personal social media feeds. They say it’s an uphill struggle and that it’s getting worse. SmartFeeds therefore rides the horse the way it’s facing and delivers essential learning and development in entertaining ways through people’s natural, personal social media feeds. We recognize however that other forms of social media are active within organizations and that significant time and resources have been pumped into these areas. We thus ensure that all our feeds are also available through these sources.

Encouraging better conversations at Coca Cola

4. Blending offline and online media

Over the last 25 years we have developed many different methods of driving change. We have pioneered the use of interactive theatre and immersive experiences with large numbers, we have developed online tools to enable managers and team-leaders to deliver programs to their people with the same level as using external facilitators and we have created media which has produced quantifiable behavioural shifts. For example

Cemex: We developed online media to enable change agents in the organisation to deliver a communications and training programme to 3,000 people spread across 500 locations. By their own calculations this saved the company 7 years and £2.5 million.

Coca Cola European Partners: We developed digital media and created a basis for user generated content to drive a mindset shift in the organisation. The fundamental principles of change were delivered using a healthy use of comedy and storytelling whilst the user generated content started a movement that spread throughout the teams so that the programme took on a life of its own.

SAB Miller: We designed an ethics programme which went to 70,000 people in 80 countries. This was entirely driven by media. Using a hybrid of info-graphics and comic book-style storytelling, we created scenarios highlighting ethical dilemmas. These were sent to managers around the world along with session templates. Managers had highly structured discussions with their teams who came up with solutions for the dilemmas prompted by key criteria called ‘a mindset funnel’. Those responses were fed back to us allowing us to make the next chapter in the story. This form of digital engagement allowed us to have a real-time meaningful conversation with tens of thousands of people and respond to their input in real time.

Unilever’s Valhalla campaign

Unilever: We created an online game called The Race to Valhalla. Teams spread over 25 different countries came together to play the game for 6 weeks. We launched the game in a series of films where leading Unilever executives were dressed as vikings and interviewed comedically around the key outcomes of the programme. Team members subsequently took pictures of themselves in Viking attire and had a place on a longship. They then ‘raced’ online towards Valhalla gaining points for contributions and ideas. They received webinars from Thor (Thorts) which enabled them to fulfill realworld tasks which drove the business and won them prizes as well as productivity and results.

In all these examples digital media has been a conduit for real-world changes. They have enabled a different quality of discussion and ideas to be generated within teams and the outputs have been measureable and substantial. Blending online scaleability with offline or realworld actions is highly effective. SmartFeeds employs the same dynamic… on a constant, drip-feed basis.

5. Communities of interest.

Channelling key communications and learning through SmartFeeds creates communities of interest in the same organic way as Facebook creates conversation threads. Whilst this is interesting from an entertainment perspective, it is essential in driving organisational change.

People who favour particular methods and approaches become visible and are therefore the obvious people to engage as change agents. New networks are also formed within the organisation based on common principles and understandings. These become highly valuable both in terms of recycling learning but also in creating new, unplanned connections across the organisation. SmartFeeds gives rise to the growth of new communities of interest.

SmartFeeds for skills training

In summary, we think that we’ve hit upon a unique alchemy with SmartFeeds:

  • Learning materials which are habit forming and highly effective.
  • A delivery system which already has high levels of adoption and works with people’s natural tendencies (Facebook as well as internal online content)
  • A diverse Media offer to appeal to a wide variety of people and cultures, including video, animation, articles, gaming, infographics, comic books, live streaming role-plays and much more.
  • A blend of online and offline activities with a proven track record thus turning a ‘digital engagement programme’ into a movement.

I was talking about SmartFeeds to a client recently explaining the above. They said “in 3 years time, it will be unthinkable not to be communicating and driving learning in this way”. I think they’re right.

Richard Jacobs is the head of the YES consultancy and the author of The 7 Questions to find your Purpose