It may have started as a curious ritual among teens, aided and abetted by their growing dependency on mobile phones and text messages, but the concept of communicating via micro-messages that pack a punch has entered mainstream business. It's no longer a matter of abbreviated words and acronyms that are undecipherable to the over-20 crowd; thanks to online platforms like Twitter, which limits the length of messages to a mere 140 characters, executives are beginning to grasp the art of brevity. The use of digital channels is firmly imbedded in external communications strategies for many companies, but the focus on connecting with these stakeholders kept many organizations' internal use of online technologies in the realm of intranets and employee newsletters--child's play when compared to the innovations being implemented to reach other target audiences. However, that too is changing as many management teams are beginning to appreciate the value (monetary and otherwise) of taking their internal communications strategies to cyberspace. Employees Only: Join The Private Club As the interest in microblogging for closed communities increases, so does the number of sites that provide these services. Yammer, Present.ly and FriendFeed are just a few that are "privatizing" the public phenomenon by allowing managers to create closed networks through which only their employees can communicate (for a more robust list of private microblogging services, along with a few key perks of each, see sidebar on page 6). But the rules of the game remain the same in terms of character limitations, which might make some wonder about the inherent benefits of relying on snippets of conversation to govern internal communications strategies. Yet these benefits are straightforward if the platform is properly implemented: Messages are both quick to read and quick to write, meaning that neither activity is a drain on a person's time; Messages posted via a microblog don't flood one's e-mail inbox, and responding is voluntary; Most private microblogs allow users to tag posts based on specific projects and then subscribe to feeds that only show what's relevant to them; and, Messages can be posted or read via any number of devices, including computers and mobile phones; thus, a person need not be at their desk to participate in the conversation. Lead, Follow Or Get Out Of The Way While the technological application of private microblogs doesn't differ from popular public forums like Twitter, the strategic application does--at least for managers. Unlike open micro-communities, these closed networks require an active, capable leader to facilitate collaboration; otherwise, it will turn into a communications dead zone--or a platform for planning the location of this week's happy hour. To avoid these ends, executives should consider the following strategies for streamlining internal collaboration via microblogs: *Get organized. Fortunately, setting up a private microblog doesn't require fluency in computer programming languages; the services themselves were created to make the process as painless as possible. That said, these platforms don't do your chores for you; you still have to organize the way you want conversations and content to be grouped. This will benefit everyone in the long run, as it will keep employees focused on their own project updates instead of distracting them with comments about the work of their colleagues on other tasks. A few organizational strategies: Create a category/tag for each internal project, as well as a few common ones such as "whereabouts," "activities," "suggestions," etc. Encourage (or require) employees to subscribe to feeds that are specific to their project, so only those mini-messages appear when they sign in. Use a "whereabouts" tag to track employees' travel/meeting schedules, or an "upcoming events" tag to remind staffers about presentations or conferences that are approaching. *Make it official. Once you've established--and tested--the private network, hold a meeting to introduce it to employees. Use conference calls or Webinars to reach remote offices. If you don't debut the service and explain how to use it with some fanfare, before lunchtime employees will forget it ever existed. And definitely don't send out a mass e-mail announcement from HR or management. The fact that no one reads those messages is among the worst-kept secrets of the business world. *Use your seniority to require participation; then, create virtual name tags. Once you've introduced the private network, urge/require employees to join. Remember: It's hard to believe, but when e-mail was first introduced as a widespread office communications vehicle, there were more than a few people who resisted actually using the tool. Don't let these traditionalists get away with ignoring the service. Also, make sure employees use their full names when creating accounts, as this is how micro-messages will be identified. Nicknames and aliases don't fly (unless you really want to have a serious conversation with someone identified as luv2rockout, hippiechick0347, superdad ... you get the idea). Make sure everyone relegates their alter egos to their extracurricular activities. *Get--and keep--the ball rolling. As the manager, it's your job to ping employees frequently; otherwise, the service will lose momentum rapidly. Start and/or end the day by sending a quick message about the status of each project, and ask employees to provide updates on their progress. Start scheduling meetings via the platform--it's a fast way to take attendance of the people who are actually engaged with the network. *Don't be a buzz-kill. Just because the service is intended to facilitate productivity doesn't mean it should be a virtual copy of a stodgy corporate mouthpiece. Employees will be happy to participate in the forum if the tone is casual (which it is inclined to be given the character limitations of each post). Just be sure to keep the internal community's look and feel consistent with the corporate culture; just like employee newsletters and intranets, private microblogs are great internal branding opportunities as well. *Play by the rules, even if it means getting schooled. Finally, remember that the defining feature of a ?microblog is its length limitations, so don't send one up if you want to write a press release or epic poem about something. Even if you need your kids to give you a lesson in succinct communications over the dinner table (surely a day you never thought would come), remember: Short is sweet, less is more and good things really can come in micro-packages. PRN Private Microblogging Services: If You Can't Beat 'Em, Join 'Em There are so many private microblogs out there that it's tough to decide which one is best for your organization. Here is a list of a few services, and what differentiates them from each other: OnePlace (http://www.oneplace.com): A worker collaboration system whose micro-messaging service allows users to decide who receives each mimi- comment, as well as to set up specific work groups based on different projects; minimizes the clutter by keeping everyone on task without overwhelming them with updates that aren't relevant to their work. Motion (http://www.movabletype.com/motion): Social application with features that allow users to create their own microblogs and then apply a custom "action" aggregator to track other conversations around the network--and the Web. Edmodo (http://www.edmodo.com): Created specifically for teachers and students. Soup.io (http://www.soup.io): A microblogging platform with additional multimedia features and capabilities. Prologue (http://www.wordpress.org): Created by blogging platform WordPress; messages can be tagged according to each project, and users can subscribe to RSS feeds for any tag or person. Yammer (http://www.yammer.com): Based on the exchange of short, frequent answers by employees to one question posed by a manager: What are you working on?
Mtg @ 2: Private Microblogs Make Internal Comms Short and Sweet
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