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Three take aways from the IABC summer social

Three take aways from the IABC summer social

On 3rd July the UK chapter of the IABC gathered to hear about the three themes Lisa Riemers had brought back from the IABC world conference. I joined Lamar Willams, Lisa and Susi O’Neill on a panel to discuss the themes and have shared some of my insights below (both from the session and following further percolating in my head). My perspective is formed following many years researching and evaluating the best products on the market, as well as even more years as an internal comms practitioner, and I think we all could have talked for hours! 

Topic 1: The importance of storytelling 

Storytelling was a topic that came up several times across the various conference presentations, as it is a powerful tool for communicators when used correctly. I’ve found in the past that publishing and communications management features can effectively support the art of storytelling, but there are a couple of things to consider first. 

Before attempting to tell a story, I think it’s important to understand the appropriateness of the story you wish to tell. This goes beyond the topic (which obviously needs to be carefully considered) into considerations surrounding the format. For example, video can be an effective medium for conveying messages but if 80% of your workforce are on the frontline and aren’t allowed devices in the workplace then the effectiveness is likely to decrease. (As an aside, LumApps handles video very well.) 

Once you have your story, you’ll need to reach the right people at the right time. Some intranets / employee experience platforms will use preconstructed audience groups (such as from Entra ID or an HR system), while others give you the power to dynamically build an audience on-the-fly if wanted. Similarly, scheduling articles might be as simple as setting a publication date, while some platforms offer kanban boards or sophisticated calendars to help you release a message at the best time (such as in Haiilo). A handful (such as Firstup) are turning to AI, allowing the platform to release messages at the best time for the employee and the message itself.  

The comms calendar inside Haiilo. 

Topic 2: The power of listening and getting together 

I’ve not been to as many in-person events as I did pre-Covid, but when I do I’m reminded of the power of meeting up with like-minded people. This is something Lisa also brought away from the conference too and is something that can also be applied to digital workplace strategy or research. 

If you’re thinking of replacing your intranet, or doing research into why something isn’t as effective as you feel it should be, then listening to your employees’ thoughts will be incredibly helpful. When this is done with a smaller number of employees – such as focus groups, interviews, or job shadowing – the insights you’ll glean will steer you towards a better future solution. It’ll also give you real case studies or quotes to add to your findings or strategy documentation – adding a storytelling element to bring power to your findings. If you have a distributed workforce or limited budget for research, don’t worry as there are ways around this

Intranet and employee experience platform vendors understand the power of listening and many now feature helpful tools to facilitate. Surveying tools and polls are obvious ones, but communities of practice or interest offer amazing opportunities for employees to ask questions and share / gain knowledge. Some vendors offer a lot of support, providing templated spaces that are structured to help the community collaborate (Unily, Appspace and Omnia for example). Features like highlighting someone as an expert or marking an answer as ‘correct’ are unusual but really helpful in this area. 

Listening also takes place through less structured community and social features too (Workvivo, Blink and Staffbase do this well). Encouraging employees to comment on articles can be a great way to temperature-check how they’re feeling or how well a message has landed. A simple, yet uncommon, feature on these platforms is multiple reaction types to articles. I think this is vital, as it allows people to express themselves without feeling like they’ll get in trouble. With the closure of Workplace from Meta, many vendors have added further functionality so they can be viewed as alternatives to this popular tool, so I hope reactions will become more popular as part of this.  

A well structured ‘Knowledge Base’ inside Unily. 

Topic 3: AI (of course) 

How could we talk about top-topics without talking about AI? I’ve written and spoken a lot about AI trends recently, but shared a couple of new points. Firstly, I feel that “supportive” AI is the type of AI that will bring the most benefit to communicators and those who manage their intranet. By that I mean using AI to improve repetitive and less fun tasks, or helping people make decisions. For comms folk accessibility checking is valuable (such as in Interact) and configuring settings such as ‘tone’ is useful (such as in Sociabble), but I think analytics is where this would be particularly helpful.  

Lisa shared a great analogy of “2 + 2 = 4, but what does 4 mean?” I think a lot of platform analytics feels like that at times – showing the number of hits on a page, or dwell time, or number of comments etc. Great, but what does all that mean? I’ve seen the first example of AI-driven analytics (from Oak Engage) that delivers commentary and recommendations to help people make decisions. It’s still early days for the Oak functionality but it’s got great promise and I really hope we see other platforms delivering something similar in future. 

One AI-related topic surfaced a few times during the panel discussion and broader chatter: the subject of trust in the world of AI generated comms. A couple of weeks ago the Institute of Internal Communication released the IC Index Report: The Trust Issue. It’s a interesting read that shows a real mixed bag when it comes to AI generated content and trust levels. This quote stood out: “It seems we’re a bit more comfortable with AI being used to develop impersonal communications, but using it for something that is supposed to represent a human being is less palatable.” I was also struck by how consistent the result rate was – reflecting that most employees probably don’t really know how to feel about AI just yet.  

Oak Engage delivers monthly reports that include AI generated guidance such as this. 
Suzie Robinson

I've always worked with intranets, and have practical experience with all aspects of intranet management, including research, implementation, governance, and strategy. My roots are in internal communication and I focus on employee experience and engagement.

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