What? No Microsoft or Facebook on stage at smilelondon! What else did I miss?


Having reported on the last few smilelondon conferences I’ve come to expect a bit of a ‘battle of the big boys’ at these flagship events. Neither Microsoft nor Workplace by Facebook were on stage at this week’s smilelondon 2018; consequently, it had a rather different vibe yet, in my opinion, it was the best yet. If you weren’t lucky enough to be there, here’s a quick run-down of the day’s highlights.

With over 230 guests, 13 sponsors and exhibitors, seven live-on-stage case studies and various expert sessions, it had all the ingredients of a successful day. Throw in a great venue, delicious food and a few toys to play with, it was hard not to have a good time.  Judging by the high level of activity on Twitter – where it trended throughout the day – it hit the mark with our audience too.

Throughout the case studies it was clear that the focus was on core IC and Engagement issues with almost a conscious avoidance of discussing technology for technology’s sake. While it’s fair to say that the day’s emergent themes are not new – purpose, leadership buy-in, relevance, engagement – it was certainly reassuring for many in attendance that we are all in the same boat, and yes: that boat might be called Boaty Mcboatface! (Groan)

At Plan International, a very diverse and distributed workforce of c10,000 worldwide, they knew they had a problem with engagement. Their story of combining the power of Workplace by Facebook with the knowledge management capabilities of O365 in a world- class hybrid intranet, with the help of Azuronaut, is an example of how quickly it is possible to impact the culture and mood in an organisation. Launched just two months ago, adoption levels are already at 80% and Ben Roche, Head of Internal Communications and Engagement, says: “I love the casual nature of the new platform. It’s full of user-generated content that visually demonstrates the impact of our work. Using Workplace to share the stories of our day-to-day – where we operate, what we do and even the minutiae that make up our daily lives – helps make our world a smaller place in which to work.”

Practical take aways:

  • Collaborative success doesn’t so much lie in the channel choice but in the commitment behind it.
  • Some of your best champions will be non-comms people.
  • Educate your people about what is relevant and useful – endless ‘sharing’ creates more noise.

“To win in the marketplace, you need to win in the workplace first.”

Next, we had Penny Grivea, Managing Director UK & Ireland of Rituals, the fast-growing bath, body and home brand launched in the Netherlands and now in 1500 locations across 27 countries. Penny introduced their employee app (by Speakap) in May this year, wanting a quick way to communicate consistently with all teams ahead of going paperless in 2019. The app carries corporate news and updates, celebrates professional achievements as well as personal moments, and sets up healthy levels of competition between stores. It’s already proved its worth in crisis comms too when a technical problem put all their tills out of action. Penny has nothing but praise for it and is very active on it herself. Early results are certainly impressive, and we will be bringing a detailed case study to you soon.

Practical take aways:

  • The tone from the top drives an organisation’s culture and the success of its digital platforms.
  • If new employees download your employee app before they start, it can dramatically improve the onboarding process.
  • Believe that employee engagement drives customer satisfaction, which drives cash flow – measure them all and track the trends.

According to recent research from Intrateam, 78% and 72% employees respectively think that the main purpose of a digital workplace is to support colleagues in doing their work and sharing knowledge. This was brought to life by Fuse – the intelligent workplace from Korn Ferry, who have proved in just five months that with access to the right information and knowledge, clients can be better served with quantifiable success. Bryan Ackermann was one of two CIOs to fly in from the US to address the conference – proof positive that the IC function is getting the recognition it deserves for the crucial role they play in helping land these important digital channels! He didn’t disappoint and, on stage with ClearPeople, made a compelling case for having clear measures of success based on business outcomes.

 Practical take aways:

  • Treat your employees as adults and they (mostly) won’t let you down. If you’ve given them the right tools for their work, they will use them properly.
  • Having an identity for your digital workplace or intranet is important – it creates momentum and involvement.
  • You know you’re on to something when you start to have difficult conversations!

Putting the smile into Smilelondon

Lorraine Solomon, now Head of Communication and Engagement at Monster Worldwide, is no stranger to the smilelondon stage, but always offers good value and bags of wisdom with a light touch and a big smile. This week was no exception, and it was great to hear from her now that M-Space, the new social intranet at Monster, has been up and running since July this year. Monster thought about the business problems they wanted to solve before they went out to select a suitable vendor. They had four key things on their social intranet shopping list: to be able to collaborate globally; they wanted personalisation; document management and AI. It was a project that simply consulted on and, after assessing various market options, they chose to go with Beezy. It took just six months from start to launch and has been a great collaborative effort both between Monster and Beezy, and within the company. Change Makers and Community Managers were all volunteers and their success mostly comes from user generated content, rather than the corporate curated content.

“Go where the energy lies, where people are natural users. Don’t stress about the people who are reluctant…”

Lorraine has really pushed to not duplicate on email: this has been extremely effective, for example, as a perk, all staff are to be given Christmas Eve off. This was only announced on M-Space and got great levels of engagement: a staggering 1666 out of 2000 users. Even the most senior leaders are forced to engage with the platform – their agendas for executive meetings are now only in M-Space. In this way, they are seeing behaviours change surprisingly swiftly at Monster. Perhaps some of the best received wisdom of the day came from Lorraine: “Go where the energy lies, where people are natural users. Don’t stress about the people who are reluctant. They will gradually come on board if the platform works in the organisation.”

Practical take aways:

  • Establish a user support community so that people solve most problems amongst themselves.
  • Get buy in by talking about business issues on the site and not duplicating information on email.
  • Manage expectations around your bot. They are not like Alexa or Siri at the start. They are like babies and need training and time to grow up. Keep their scope narrow.

Illuminating the pain points
Even though Microsoft were not on stage this year, there was no escaping the fact that the majority of organisations are using O365. As Dave Bowman from Content and Code admitted: “Office 365 has 42 tools. It’s baffling!” Little hope for mere mortals then! But that’s where the reason to further invest in a tidy out-of-the-box solution to sit atop the O365 suite comes in. Making it easy for an organisation to get value out of their (not inconsiderable) O365 investment, products like FRESH from Content and Code – (incidentally, appearing for the first time in the latest SharePoint-intranets-in-a-box Report 2019 from Clearbox, published today and free to members of simplynetwork) – demystify the O365 stack. “FRESH allows us to home in on the relevant bits of O365 and make it palatable and usable”, says Matt Groshong, CTO of McCann World Group, over from the US to talk through how using Microsoft Teams in particular is improving productivity. Look out for a more detailed case study article about how McCann World Group are driving cultural change by using O365 to address the identified pain points in the organisation.

Practical take aways:

  • Email is used the most but hated the most too – we can do something about it.
  • Microsoft Teams is the one app that really can change how people work. It does what WhatsApp does but it’s safer and links to relevant documents.
  • Put the power in your employees’ hands and don’t be tempted to over control your digital workplace.

Content is still king
Towards the end of the day, Steve and Cindy Crescenzo gave us a taster of their now-famous masterclass in internal communications. As well as being highly entertaining, it was sharply critical of the inadequacies of our profession. You can read more about Steve and Cindy’s ideas below in Sarah Harrison’s review, but just take away this: all the shiny new technology in the world is for nothing if your content is not up to scratch.

I felt there was an overwhelmingly positive feeling about what is going on in the digital workplace/social intranet space, perhaps more evolution than revolution this time. You can read more about that in Rachel Miller’s transcript of the panel session discussing Culture and Disruptive Technology.

People went away with ideas aplenty and a belief that they can influence things for the better. For me – and others on the Twitter feed – perhaps not enough was made of measuring success, beyond the anecdotal. That’s one to focus on next year perhaps.

In the meantime, if you’re hungry for more and wish to build your knowledge and insight around digital workplaces and social intranets, consider joining our  simplynetwork . It’s your home for advice, strategy and training to help you plan, develop and drive adoption of your digital workplace intranet. Contact Malin Wagner at malin.wagner@simply-communicate.com