Enterprise 2.0 Featured Articles

Why content strategy only tells half the story

Some interesting tweets yesterday drew my interest to the content strategy discussion. See for example Content strategy is, in fact, the next big thing & Why Brands are Becoming Media. But, as is often the case this is only half the story. Why so? Well the focus in only on the social media market side, the brand as an external entity. The debate doesn’t cover the internal conversations, the internal brand, the social intranet. It’s not holistic. Not yet.

This line of thinking led me to 3 conclusions:

1) If a large enterprise (say 20K + people)  is serious about creating a content strategy, it needs to commit resources across the company. It can’t just be a marketing or branding exercise. It can’t just be social media marketing.

2) This means connecting up the brand and marketing teams with corporate and internal communications, & the .com and the intranet teams and potentially too, also aspects of the business including sales and product development.

3) To do this the enterprise needs an enterprise social network. You can’t connect these people up without social software.

Now here’s the rub. In making this commitment and doing all of this, the enterprise becomes social. It changes as a business. The roles change too. Something different emerges and evolves.

It’s for these types of reasons, that I see enterprise social software as business transforming.

Featured Articles Film Intranet

Steampunk Intranet of Brazil

Over lunch I started to mull over movie depictions of the intranet. I like the idea of film as a sort collective unconsciousness.  There’s quite a few films where some sort of computer network and database is central to the narrative, but I can only think of one where an intranet is central to the narrative and that film is Terry Gilliam’s 1985 masterpiece Brazil.

Here we are presented with a wonderfully retro steampunk intranet where the central contrivance of the film – mistaking Buttle for Tuttle is caused by a misprint of the machine. Data is transferred as paper in pipes, all connecting together to create a 1940s retro sci fi dystopia. It’s a wonderful vision of where we might be without personal computers, the electronic network and SharePoint.

The downfall of the film’s hero Sam Lowry (Jonathan Pryce) is also due to the intranet, or rather to his blatant sabotaging of the system by forcing two intranet data tubes together. It’s not quite the employee feedback system most would recommend…

After a bit of Googling I’ve managed to find the very scene where this happens. Don’t try this at work kids with your intranet….;-)

nb. I wonder what the earliest film intranet is.  The best I can think of is Fritz Lang’s 1927 Metropolis where the ruling eleite only learn of the troubles at the mill and the workers’ revolt through an internal data ticker. Anyone think of an earlier one or better examples of the  intranet on film? Or other Steampunk Intranets?

Enterprise 2.0 Featured Articles Theory

Towards deconstructing the Signal / Noise Theory

Signal / Noise Theory
A while back I remarked on Twitter that we needed to embrace Critical Theory into our theory and practice of communications. The stimulus to this was a remark about Signal to Noise Ratio (SNR) theory. Lee Bryant picked me up on this and I expanded a little more on the topic on Twitter.

Firstly, what do I mean by Critical Theory? The term originated in the pre-war  Frankfurt School, specifically in Max Horkheimer’s Traditional and Critical Theory (1937), and has evolved in to an uneasy tension between its original radical ethos and a motley school of cultural theory, sometimes just abbreviated to Theory. It was the latter I uncounted at the University of Nottingham in the early 1990s when I took their MA in Critical Theory.

The MA was tremendously educative and covered a wide array of theoretical schools ranging from the ‘Hermeneutics of Suspicion’ – Freud, Marx and Saussure, through to contemporary Feminist and American critiques and Postmodern / Poststructuralist thinkers. All of which were viewed as complete heresy by the traditional philosophy department.

Now if there was a common thread in all that we looked at, it was a shared distrust of any sense of a ‘natural essence’ or primordial authentic base on which to build from.  Indeed it was almost taken for granted that theories of Signal Noise Ratio (SNR)  had no real place in these philosophies – at least to the extent that some primers had a section on SNR as a means of counterpoising how communications theory had moved on from its reductive past. It was also a concept that 1st year arts students would be taught was too simplistic and reductive to have merit in what they were about to study (at that point the pain would be almost audible as they were introduced to Roland Barthes and many wished they’d signed up to study computing or some other clearly more useful area).

So what’s so wrong with Signal Noise Ratio then?

It’s a theory originally developed in the study of radio:  where “signal-to-noise ratio is defined as the power ratio between a signal (meaningful information) and the background noise‘:

Which seems very plausible for internal comms or marketing comms theory until we point out that:

  1. It becomes a metaphor when moved from radio signal science to social comms theory (and yes there’s buckets of leaky metaphors here too and I could do with lots of “”).
  2. Human comms are not radio signals, society or other people or voices are not noise
  3. The signal is never pure meaning that is corrupted by surrounding noise – who, where, what defines the signal as having meaning and the noise as pollution corrupting that noise? Think of this in the 2.0 world (and many do so thus) and the broadcast message becomes the signal and the socialness surrounding it is what, noise?
  4. It implies a purity of meaning divorced from any social setting – power, discourse, ideology, narratives, that somehow becomes noised up by signals that shouldn’t be there – who says so?
  5. Signal theory embraces a unity of signifier and signified that Semiotics blew out the water almost a century ago
  6. What if there are two competing signals (of course this never happens in the corporation0 who says which is signal and which is noise?
  7. If noise can become signal and vice versa by decree, or a redefinition of usefulness (as often happens with for example mashups or mixes), where is the primal meaning of the signal

And there is more, but I’ll finish at this point as I think I’ve made my point…and without Derrida either 😉

See also Stowe Boyd & David Armano on this area The Human Feed: How Humans Filter Signal From Noise and The False Question Of Attention Economics, though David makes a slightly different use of the metaphor, I’m with Stowe on this one…

Interested to hear what others think on this – I may need to dig out some old notes here…

Featured Articles

Birds playing the guitar

Céleste Boursier-Mougenot at the Barbican 27 Feb – 23 May 2010

Enterprise 2.0 Featured Articles

Strategy & Tactics: internal communications + social media

Now indeed, I thought Steve Crescenzo posted a good piece this week on the thorny internal comms question of whether ‘Strategy or Tactics?’ Question: Should you be a ’strategist’ or a ‘tactician?’ Answer: Yes & a fine answer, because as Steve rightly points out we need both. I think it’s essential to never forget that tactics are essential. Take for example a game of chess…

Perhaps only at the very highest level when both players are equally matched does strategy finally decide the outcome. However, most games of chess are not won through strategy, they are won through tactics (or, as some might argue, through whoever makes the least mistakes). And whilst the strategy might be to control white space or to lure an opponent to over extend their attack so as to compromise their defences, it’s the singular combination of tactical moves, culminating in forks or pins and the rest, that decides the final outcome.

Now of course the chess player has one significant advantage over those deploying a strategy via tactical means and that is that they are a singular person – there should be no disconnect between the two. This as perhaps we all ought to admit is not always the case in the corporation. Indeed I’ve heard it said that making that connect between the actions of an individual on the ground, impacting in part by tactical messaging, to follow and enact a strategic path; is, if not the Holy Grail, at least a fine and noble embrace of internal comms.

I saw this on a project once. We surveyed the field sales guys on internal comms, messaging and channels and found an interesting and very salient fact. The message got through ok, the comms channels worked but the sales guys didn’t really know what to do with the message – ‘what can I do with this, how does it all connect up, what can I take to my customers?’ were their common laments.

What we were seeing was a disconnect between the delivery of the strategic message and it’s interpretation. The tactic of delivering it was working well, it was just that people didn’t understand what it meant or what to do with it.

Now I’ve heard people such as Bill Quirke talk about this as something that can be addressed by ensuring that middle management are able to relate, respond and translate  the message into something more meaningful and useful at the specific instance. This of course is a more than useful approach, but it’s one I would argue, that is labour, time and resource intensive. And there is a way that can support and reinforce this approach whilst reducing cost and increasing scope and that is to use social technologies to connect up the delivery of the key core message.

The idea here is to ensure that there are collaborative spaces at the intersections where the message is delivered, be it e-mail, live meetings/town hall, the intranet based channels, video or a face to face; in the form of team lead blogs and responses, discussion forum threads and editable shared documents. The idea here is that these social elements are located in the heart of the intranet at the very points where the strategic message needs to connect with what needs actually doing to deliver it.

The aim here is that this collaboration layer allows people to engage with the strategic message, to ask questions – and get answers, to discuss between peers and experts and to learn what works and what doesn’t. The result is to transform the well delivered but potentially fallow message into something with fertile resonance, a strategy that is social and tranformative both in terms of how it gets used and also in how it in itself gets transformed too.

In a future post I’ll look at what this social intranet looks like.

Chess image from

Enterprise 2.0 Featured Articles Intranet

Architecture of the Intranet, deconstructed

I’m trying to think of a contemporary building or architecture that defines what I’m trying to conceptualise about the new intranet will be transmogrified in the next few years. I guess I’m looking for a metaphor in the same way Fredric Jameson took the Bonaventure Hotel to characterise postmodernism as a cultural logic

“they [these postmodern buildings]  no longer attempt, as did the masterworks and monuments of high modernism, to insert a different, a distinct, an elevated, a new Utopian language into the tawdry and commercial sign system of the surrounding city, but rather they seek to speak that very language, using its lexicon and syntax as that has been emblematically “learned from Las Vegas.”

“There are three entrances to the Bonaventure, one from Figueroa and the other two by way of elevated gardens on the other side of the hotel, which is built into the remaining slope of the former Bunker Hill. None of these is anything like the old hotel marquee, or the monumental porte cochere with which the sumptuous buildings of yesteryear were wont to stage your passage from city street to the interior. The entryways of the Bonaventure are, as it were, lateral and rather backdoor affairs: the gardens in the back admit you to the sixth floor of the towers, and even there you must walk down one flight to find the elevator by which you gain access to the lobby.”

I keep on coming back to the Lloyds building as an ‘inside-out’ building (or is that outside in?) in reference to Paul Miller talking about the inside out intranet, but the Lloyds building is too structured and hidden/enclosed. I also like the Museum of Fruit in Yamanashi west Tokyo for its literal transparency, but once again it is too defined in terms of space.

Perhaps I should think in reverse and look for the new formations of the intranet being found in new architectures?

Enterprise 2.0 Featured Articles

An ideal insomnia- or why internal comms & the intranet will disappear

Last night I was struck by a Joycean ‘ideal insomnia‘ and rather than unravelling Finnegans Wake I spent several hours rethinking how to configure a way of understanding contemporary communications. There are several strands of ideas I want to tackle in the near future and in doing so I’m going to try at least to treat this blog in perhaps more detailed seriousness than I may have in the past.

What I’m re-imagining is the impact of what I see as a set of interrelated trends. The first is the increasing permeability of the corporation in terms of its ‘inside and outness’. What started as a barrier has now become more an osmotic membrane: a firewall that prevented communication across it would be useless, but it now needs to cater for an accelerating level of collaborational and communicative activities from both employees working within, without and across its boundaries; partners; customers and consumers and even competitors’ the so-called ‘frenemy’ complex.

This tendency will have and indeed is having a big impact on how communications is organised – Internal Comms + PR and Corp Comms. It also impacts and interrogates the Brand, especially if a brand is seen as an entity with resonance and meaning inside and outside the company. In this sense internal communications can be seen as an articulation of the brand within and to the company itself. It is an internal dialogue, or at least becoming more of one as collaborative and social technologies arrive and evolve as part of the office landscape.

I jump ahead of myself, let me articulate how we are now as so:

The next area to tackle is the growing confluence of internal communications, the intranet and with the arrival of the collaborative technologies, the 2.0 experience. In this, the social software will transform both the intranet itself – we can see this happening already, but also the roles of the intranet manager and the internal communicator. If we represent this as 3 circles of activity or space we get this:

We might also start to trace further levels of complexity here by adding the division / connectedness with the intranet and the .com pointing to an ultimate fusion or hybridity between them. Suffice to point out one aspect here in all this. Namely if we overlay the two diagrams we start to get a sense of a 3 dimensional picture that is reforming itself into something quite new. We haven’t seen this before. We haven’t seen the roles it creates either.

Where these new roles and technologies will appear will be in the areas where the spheres overlap, where comms becomes a collaborative intranet that encompasses all parties engaged in the activity, both within and without. This is the end and start of something new. Maybe it needs a wake, or what Joyce dubbed the ‘funferal’…

Enterprise 2.0 Featured Articles

The Prince, 2.0

“And it ought to be remembered that there is nothing more difficult to take in hand, more perilous to conduct, or more uncertain in its success, than to take the lead in the introduction of a new order of things. Because the innovator has for enemies all those who have done well under the old conditions, and lukewarm defenders in those who may do well under the new.”

Nicolo Machiavelli ‘The Prince’ c.1505 (translated W. K. Marriott)

Enterprise 2.0 Featured Articles Intranet

Social intranet widgets

The future of the intranet is something I’ve mused on in the past in terms of a intranet specific browser and also about the way that I think intranets and the .com of an enterprise are going to get all mashed up by this social stuff. This post muses on what the intranet might offer in terms of a central controlling point and a radical DIY at the edges. This is an almost Lukacsian concept of control and dissent that I’ve seen in some  corporations – where maximum control at the centre, maximum dissent at the periphery can actually (at times) lead to a happy synergy.

The leitmotif of my thoughts is more mundane. Someone mentioned (who?) on Twitter that WordPress’ plugins are its Apple iTunes. I like this idea alot and it was all the more reinforced when I tracked back a ref today from Dion Hinchcliffe “Tracking the “DIY phenomenon Part 1: Widgets, badges, and gadgets“. If you think of it, both the iPhone (or I use, the iPod) and WordPress’ legion of widgets allow an almost limitless ability to customise based on a central defining core – the phone itself or WP application.

My thoughts developed on this to think of what it might be like if this model was moved to the intranet. We see shades of this in WordPress Multi User (WPMU), especially when combined with BuddyPress (a w.i.p or Elgg (completed  Drupal (West London Web hasn’t built a social network in that yet!). But I think the most developed vision of this is seen in Jive SBS, a platform I’ve been doing some very developed work on in a global intranet social network pilot rollout that already spans over 50 countries and many thousands of users.

What the Jive model could offer more traditional intranet applications is the way that it offers 2 layers of modularity, at the Group/Space/Community level and at the individual level. It’s that individual level that potentially the most fertile possibilities lie. A structured and centrally administered regime could coexist with a high level of local customisation.

And this is what the localisation looks like in our Jive SBS – this could be a model for the intranet:

Each of the prefigured Jive widgets shown here could be replaced by some configured for a specific intranet widgets type use. And of course, the structure could be pre-loaded with widgets that are either fully or partly locked to ensure that the most important elements are in place . I wish to return to this in more depth and to cohere some of the ideas together once we’ve upgraded to Jive SBS 4.0. An area that interests me here is how the middle layer of customisable configuration seen in Jive (see for example Gia Lyons’ Jive SBS Structure Best Practices, Part 3) and how the future intranet might support organic and structured spaces and reblends of taxonomy / folksonomy