The Social Enterprise Blog

The Future Of Business Communication: Moving Beyond Email

By Richard Hughes in Blog on October 06, 2014

BroadVision are proud to be sponsoring a series of free webinars hosted by Our Social Times entitled The Future Of Business Communication. The first of these, Moving Beyond Email, will be on October 15th and will consider the impasse so many organizations have got to with email as a business communication tool – everyone knows it has become overused to the point that it damages business efficiency, but they struggle to find the solution.

I’ll be joined by Angela Ashenden of MWD Advisors, Luke Brynley-Jones of Our Social Times and Belinda Gannaway of NixonMcInnes. Both Angela and Belinda have posted some of their thoughts on the subject as taster of what’s to come in the webinar, and below you can find my article, originally published on Our Social Times blog.

I hope you’ll be able to join us on October 15th for what promises to be an thought-provoking discussion.

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Email – the business communication tool we love to hate.

Yes, there are people who just hate email and have done something about it by moving to an enterprise social network or similar. And yes, there are some people who, despite all email’s well-known failings, still love it. But the vast majority of us are somewhere in the middle – our business lives are dependent on email as our primary communication tool, but it is a constant source of frustration to us. We know there’s a better way of communicating – social networking in the consumer world has demonstrated that to us – but we just don’t know how to get our companies to make the towards this 21st Century communication nirvana.

It’s not as if there is any shortage of new communication tools to move to. Quite the reverse, and the vast array of options available can be overwhelming. Barely a week goes by without another VC-funded start-up claiming to have reinvented email for the mobile age.  But while we may, as consumers, be happy to flit from one shiny new app the next, moving an entire company’s communications on such a whim, unsurprisingly, never happens.

Indeed, it is hard to overestimate just how resistant change many companies, and their individual employees, are when it comes to kicking their email habit. For the last three or four years, the introduction of enterprise social networks (ESNs) were seen as the solution to corporate communication woes, but their promise remains unfulfilled. For many organisations, ESNs have proved to be too big a step to take all in one go. The open, transparent way of working that an ESN represents is a destination, rather than the first step of the journey.

More recently, an avalanche of WhatsApp look-a-likes has promised employees a simple way of communicating efficiently from mobile devices. But these often represent many IT departments’ worst nightmare, where corporate control and discoverability of data is even worse than in the world of email. Different is a not always better.

So it seems that this “let’s-kill-email” plan is going to require a bit more thought…. That’s why BroadVision is pleased to be running The Future Of Business Communication series with Our Social Times, which is kicking off with our Moving Beyond Email webinar on 15th Oct.

Maybe we don’t want to kill email at all. Instead, what we really want is to go back to using email for what it’s good at (e.g. quick person-to-person ephemeral messaging , simple notifications)  and stop using it for all the things it’s really poor at (e.g. big group discussions, carrying company knowledge, transporting large files around).  When we consider what’s beyond email, we shouldn’t assume that email plays no part in the new communication landscape. Yes, it will play a different part, and almost certainly a reduced part, but it will almost certainly still be there.

Perhaps the biggest omission from most of these beyond-email debates is the recognition that we don’t all use email in the same way, and we don’t all hate the same bits of it. I know that in my company, further up the management chain the biggest frustration is the classic overflowing-inbox volume-of-email issue. But personally, that doesn’t bother me much. 20+ years of using email have trained to be to be really good at filtering an inbox very quickly. No, my biggest frustration is people who don’t reply to messages I’ve sent.  It is email’s lack of accountability that I hate. Take a cross-section of any company and you’ll find a similar disparity in opinion about what’s wrong with email and what the company should do about it.

So, any beyond-email plan first needs to understand how people in the company are really using communication tools today, their frustrations, and their hopes for future innovation. Only then can we formulate a comprehensive, credible strategy for updating our business communication habits.

 

How We Communicate #1: Bill Porter

By Richard Hughes in How We Communicate on October 01, 2014

First, tell us a little bit about yourself

My job is in UK Sales for BroadVision, and I am responsible for all of BroadVision’s sales activities focused on communication and collaboration solutions. I am based at my office at my home in southern England, but travel a fair amount around the UK visiting customers, partners and prospects, and occasionally outside the UK for company meetings. When I am travelling I rely heavily on my iPhone and my iPad for communicating, and getting work done. At my desk, I use a Windows 8 laptop, but quite often find myself looking at, or responding to messages simultaneously on all three devices!

How many different services do you send and receive business-related messages through?

For communicating and working with other people in BroadVision, I use our Clearvale social intranet and Vmoso for sharing information such as meeting notes, exchanging ideas, raising questions, updating status notes, etc. When I am at my desk, Skype gets used for voice calls, including conference calls, and I also use a web conferencing tool. When I am out and about, I use the Vmoso iOS app heavily, and the Clearvale app on my iPhone or Clearvale via the browser on my iPad. For voice, I use the iPhone as a phone.

Although there is relatively little internal email communication to/from people within BroadVision, I do use email quite extensively for arranging appointments, sending information, answering questions, etc from prospects and others outside of BroadVision.

For networking, I look at LinkedIn sometimes, and follow Twitter. I also belong to a London meetup group, which has a simple social networking site. 

For keeping up to date and sharing photos with friends and family, I use Facebook. Some of my friends are not on Facebook or other networks, and I communicate with them by email and text messages. Sometimes we even talk! My sons like to use WhatsApp and Snapchat, so I use those from time to time as well, and I share photos with some of my friends using Apple’s Shared Streams.

What’s the first communication tool you check in the morning when you start work? And what device do you access it from?

Before I get to my desk each morning, I use either my iPad or my iPhone to check anything new in BroadVision using Clearvale and Vmoso.

How much of your communication takes place from your desk, and how much while you’re away from your desk?

I’d estimate it is about 50/50.

Do you check messages as soon as they arrive, or save them up for specific times of the day?

Generally speaking, all personal emails and messages are left to the end of the day. For business messages, I tend to look at Vmoso chat messages as they arrive since they are often quite interactive by nature or urgency. I will notice when information is posted and shared with me on Vmoso, but will usually not read or comment until I do a number at once on both Vmoso and Clearvale – not at any specific times of day, I am not as ordered as that, but when there is a natural break in other activities. 

How has the way you communicate changed over the last 3 years?

It has become much more varied – there are so many different digital channels now. 

Email – your best friend or worst enemy?

Neither, it is just a fact of life. But it is very helpful in managing my time, that I don’t get snowed by large volumes of internal email. That was something that I was very struck by when I joined BroadVision just over 3 years ago.

Popup notifications – love them or hate them?

They don’t bother me, but I am quite judicious with managing those apps for which I allow pop-up notifications. On my phone, I only really allow Vmoso, Text Messages and the Phone (for missed calls and voicemails). Plus Snapchat and WhatsApp because the only notifications there will be from my sons.

If I stole your smart phone and only gave it back to you after I deleted every app except one, which one would you choose to keep?

Difficult. Do I cut off my personal life, or my business life? I assume the phone would still have voice, so I could still speak to my family and friends! Which means it would have to be Vmoso – it is built to be mobile friendly, and gives me both the interactive “chat” style communication, and a means of sharing and receiving information. Plus I would have all my contacts, and could always initiate a voice call or even an email from a contact’s profile, as well as a chat. Ultimately it could provide me with a “universal inbox” for all my communications activities in any case.

If you could fix just one thing in the business communication tools you use, what would it be?

The mobile coverage out of the towns and cities, and provision of wifi on trains and other transport in the UK is still inadequate. When you’re travelling and may only have 3G connection for short bursts of time, there isn’t time to check lots of different communication tools. I need to quickly and easily consolidate all, or at least most, of my communication channels into a single stream.

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If you’d like to take part in the series, we’d love to hear from you. Please contact Richard Hughes (rhughes@broadvision.com; @_richardhughes) for more details.

How We Communicate

By Richard Hughes in How We Communicate on September 30, 2014

The way we communicate in business is changing. For years, email has been the main workhorse of business communication and it has served us well, but its limitations are becoming increasingly apparent. The rise of enterprise social networking, with products like Clearvale, has the promise to supplant email with a more open, transparent and efficient environment for collaboration. But old habits die hard, and despite all the protestations of email overload, people have proved to be reluctant to abandon their inboxes and move to social networks.

Actually, that’s something of a sweeping generalisation. Some people have been only too eager to jettison their email legacy and wholeheartedly embrace a social future. Others have obstinately refused to change their working practices at all. But the majority of people have been somewhere in the middle – open to the idea of new tools and better ways of communicating, but only if they can see how it makes them personally more efficient. And herein lies the problem with most new communication tools – to succeed, it requires a mass migration of users from old tools to new. Otherwise, communication is fragmented across old and new systems, and even harder to manage than it was before.

But everyone communicates differently. For every person who despises their overflowing email inbox, there is another who considers themselves an Outlook Guru and has no wish to relearn everything in a new tool. For every self-appointed social media expert, there is a Twitter-sceptic or Facebook-refusenik. To carry such a diverse community of people forward to any new communication tool requires us to understand the way people use today’s tools, what they like and what they don’t.

This month, BroadVision have announced Vmoso, a real-time enterprise communication tool that aims to ease the transition from the email-centric world to a more open, more efficient, more accountable and more social method of business communication. Alongside the product launch, we are also starting a new blog series, “How We Communicate”. This is a series of interviews with people about how they communicate today, their current frustrations, and their hopes for future innovation. It is only through understanding the way people use communication tools today that any company can plan a successful implementation of new tools and remove the inefficiencies inherent in the current email-dominated world.

If you’d like to take part in the series, we’d love to hear from you. Please contact Richard Hughes (rhughes@broadvision.com; @_richardhughes) for more details.

Reclaim Control Of Your Business Communication – part 2

By Richard Hughes in Reclaim Control Of Your Business Communication on September 25, 2014

The way we communicate in business is changing. Email has served us well, but its limitations are becoming more and more apparent. This four-part series of animated videos looks at the three major factors that contribute to inefficiency in business communication, starting with communication overload.

Part 2 – Accountability


Reclaim Control Of Your Business Communication – part 1

By Richard Hughes in Reclaim Control Of Your Business Communication on September 16, 2014

The way we communicate in business is changing. Email has served us well, but its limitations are becoming more and more apparent. This four-part series of animated videos looks at the three major factors that contribute to inefficiency in business communication, starting with communication overload.

Part 1 – Communication Overload


Part 2 next week.

Recap: Social Business For Real Work

By Richard Hughes in Social Business For Real Work on July 28, 2014

Last week saw the conclusion of the Social Business For Real Work blog series that ran through the first half of 2014. The series presented practical and pragmatic examples of how enterprise social networking can improve collaboration in many different departments across the company, including sales, marketing, customer service, HR and finance. Together, they hopefully provide a valuable library of ideas from which you can pick those appropriate for your company and start using social business products such as Clearvale  to help you get real work done more effectively.

Links to each of the thirteen articles in the series are below. You can also find the iPad edition in the iBooks Store.

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The Customer Conference

By Richard Hughes in Social Business For Real Work on July 23, 2014

The 13th and final part of the Social Business For Real Work series

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The Challenge

Even in these days of instant connectivity over the internet, there is still no substitute for face-to-face communication. Customer conferences are an invaluable opportunity to make connections, exchange ideas and get feedback. But all too often, all the good intentions that come out of these events are forgotten by the time everyone gets home.

The Social Business Advantage

Building an enterprise social network for your customer conference allows the connections formed with customers and between customers to continue long after the face-to-face event has finished. Before the event, it enables attendees to plan their visit to get the most out of the conference. During the event, it helps people keep up to date with latest updates and schedule changes, and to make connections with other attendees. And after the conference has finished, it lets attendees stay in touch, download presentations, watch replays of sessions, and make suggestions for next year’s conference.

Example

The annual Mobile1to1 Customer Conference has its own dedicated social network. This is separate from the main company social network, as it is geared primarily to the attendees of the conference.

The home page sets out the schedule and different tracks for the conference. It also hosts general discussion before, during and after the event.

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Each conference session has its own community. Before the event, it contains information about the session – delegates can join the communities of events they plan to attend, and this means they’ll receive updates about the session in their main activity feed. It also gives the conference organisers an idea of the numbers expected for each session.

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During the session itself, the community’s activity stream is an ideal place to post questions for the presenter.

After the session, the presenter posts his slides and later, the event organisers add a video recording of the session. Discussions between the attendees carry on long after the conference has finished, and the presenter remains actively involved. The event organisers monitor the communities to identify the most active discussions to help pick topics for the next conference.

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Make It Real

  • Create a dedicated social network for the customer conference. For smaller events, it may be appropriate simply to have a community within a larger network, but a full scale multi-track conference benefits from having its own network.
  • Encourage (or indeed, require) all attendees to join the network prior to the event, and use this as the primary channel of communication for updates about the conference.
  • Consider how much access to the network you are will to give people who don’t attend the physical event. The network can be a great way of connecting with customers who were unable to attend, but giving full access may undermine the event itself.
  • Encourage each presenter or session leader to engage with members of the community for their session, before, during and after the conference.
  • Enable conference attendees to use the network for their own customer-to-customer communication before, during and after the conference to help them get more out of the event.
  • Continue to monitor usage of the network after the conference and keep the conversations going. Use this to help shape the agenda for the next conference.

 

Social Business In The Finance Team

By Richard Hughes in Social Business For Real Work on June 30, 2014

Part 12 of the Social Business For Real Work series

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The Challenge

Most social business case studies concern edge-of-the-organisation departments such as sales, marketing and customer service. Opportunities for improving communication between and within other departments in the company such as Finance, HR and Legal are often overlooked or ignored. This is largely due to the misconception that social networking means indiscriminately sharing everything, which is incompatible with the need for confidentiality in these departments.

The Social Business Advantage

Finance teams can benefit from the easier access to information and expertise provided by enterprise social networks while maintaining the necessary level of confidentiality. A good social network with task functionality can actually increase the accountability in a finance team by providing a clear audit trail of who did what and when they did it, something that is often very time-consuming to reconstruct from email discussions.

Confidential information can be held in private communities, the membership of which is updated as employees join and leave the company. This makes business continuity far easier, as company knowledge is held in one central place, not distributed between employees inboxes.

Social networks also provide an ideal way of providing information to the rest of the company about financial procedures and policies, and receiving feedback and questions on this information.

Example

Nicola in the Finance team has recently updated the company’s policy for employees reclaiming expenses. She publishes this to the “Start Here” community which is managed by the HR team but has regular contributions from Finance.

Carol is a new employee in the Marketing team. She finds the document alongside all the other company policies and is able to ask for clarification about something she doesn’t understand. The comments are available to everyone else who might have the same question, reducing the number of times Nicola has to answer the question.

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Martha is a new member of the Finance team, and is helping out with quarter-end reconciliation activities for the first time. As this work is performed within a private community instead of via email and documents on shared drives, Martha is able to look back at previous quarters to see the procedures followed. She is quickly able to access the both the relevant files and the discussions that took place about these files. Without the community, she would have missed the context of these files unless she spent time piecing together conversations from her predecessor’s email inbox.

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Brad in the sales team is working on a major customer deal which is going to require an innovative and out-of-the-ordinary pricing model if the deal is to close. He creates a task to:

  • First discuss this  with his manager, Ceymore, to agree the proposed pricing model
  • Then get approval from the Finance team to ensure the model meets the company’s standard policies
  • Finally get approval from the CEO.
  • Discussions taking place in the task remain private and only visible to invited members.

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Make It Real

  • Set up private communities for the Finance department. If the organisation is small enough, this may be just one community for the whole department, though for most organisations apart from the very smallest this is likely to be several smaller communities at various different layers for each group who need to work together in private.
  • Encourage the Finance team to be active members of the wider network, publishing policy documents they are responsible for, and actively responding to queries related to these from other departments.
  • Try to move as much email-based discussion as possible into private discussions in the social network. If other people need to take over these discussions when employees move within the company or leave, they can simply be granted access, rather than being sent a long email trail.

Supporting Sales Partners

By Richard Hughes in Social Business For Real Work on May 15, 2014

Part 11 of the Social Business For Real Work series

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The Challenge

Many businesses are dependent on sales partners to widen the distribution channels for their products. But keeping these partners up to date with the latest sales intelligence can be hard work, resulting in potential customers being presented with out-of-date material or missed opportunities for the partner. And managing discussions with a network of partners can be time-consuming; some of these partners may be in competition with each other, meaning that discussions need to take place in private, leading to the same information being repeated time and time again.

The Social Business Advantage

Using an enterprise social network to power a partner network enables companies to keep sales and marketing material up to date, keep the partners informed, and create private communities for any confidential discussions. Raising awareness of the importance of partner activities helps align the whole organisation behind supporting the channel. Feedback from partners’ dealings in the market can help inform product direction and sales strategy.

Example

Carol is responsible for managing the Mobile1to1 sales partner network and keeping the sales materials updated. This has been established as a separate social extranet, independent of the company’s own employee social intranet. This enables a balance of sharing some information with the entire network, while still being able to have private discussions in invitation-only communities set up for certain partners.

When Carol updates a product overview presentation, the new version immediately becomes available to all partners.

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Many of the sales partner organisations operate in different countries or industries, so have no competitive concerns. The partner network allows open discussions between these companies, enabling them to provide feedback to Carol, and to discuss best practices.

However, some discussions are not appropriate for such an open forum. Brad manages the relationship with two sales partners who sells Mobile1to1’s products to UK telco companies. As these two partners compete with each other, discussions around sales strategies need to be kept separate. These take place in a private communities within the partner network.

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Make It Real

  • Consider the most appropriate social architecture for your partner network. Do the partner companies compete with each other, or will they support each other? Or both? This relationship will dictate the best way to determine how open or closed the network will be. In the example above, a separate partner network was established; in some cases it may be more appropriate to create a series of private, guest communities in the main company social intranet.
  • Establish the network as the definitive “source of truth” for all partners. The effectiveness of the network will be reduced if some partners continue to ask questions and request material outside the network. Changing this behaviour may take time and persuasion, so make sure the partner managers can clearly articulate the benefits of the network.
  • Establish procedures for granting and revoking access to the network. It is easy enough to find out when employees in your own company leave and revoke their access to company networks, but it can be much harder to gain similar information about partner employees.
  • Encourage as many employees as possible to participate in the partner network, rather than channelling all communication between partner managers. One of the key benefits of the partner network should be direct access to the knowledge of the whole company.
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