Call me an aging communication nerd. I passed up watching the Oscars last Sunday to judge the Intranet feature and internal blog categories for the Ragan Recognition Awards.
I also spent a couple of evenings last week helping judge the publications category of IABC’s Gold Quill Awards. (It's heartening to note that the publications category still draws the most entries -- our group in Vancouver had over 120 publications to judge.)
I always jump at the chance to be a judge in communication award competitions. It’s a rare chance to take a close look at the work of other communicators – to see the kinds of challenges they’re facing and the solutions they come up with. I always learn something from my experience, and this awards season is no exception. So here, in no particular order, are some observations:
1. When it comes to internal blogging, we’re still very much in the early days. Ragan received only two entries in the new category. They were both impressive and engaging, but also rudimentary and experimental. The communicators who put them together knew they would be learning as they went, and the blogs they initiated, although rough around the edges, reflected a positive, pioneering spirit. One of the measures of a good blog is whether it generates lots of comments, and by that measure the ones I judged were great, if somewhat clunky, successes. Interestingly, both blogs were written by communication staff members and not rank and file employees or executives. Both were quite transparent attempts to simply start a conversation by putting issues on the table and then inviting readers to comment. And comment they did, with some posts attracting close to 100 comments. Some good lessons for anyone considering starting an internal blog:
- Initially at least, expect a flurry of comments that don’t necessarily stay on the subject being discussed.
- You may also get a certain amount of bitching and complaining as people take advantage of having a new internal forum to voice their irritations with their employer and their workplace.
- Allowing anonymous postings tends to encourage comments, but here’s a good rule – if you’re allowing a mix of attributed and anonymous comments, allow immediate, unedited posts for those willing to identify themselves, and moderated posts for anonymous contributors.
- The blogs I saw had effective self-regulation. Comments that are out of line (rude, unreasonable, confusing) get shouted down, with different degrees of politeness, by other readers.
- Set out clear, sensible guidelines when you start the blog so everyone knows what to expect, and what’s expected of them one of the blogs I judged did a great job of laying out the ground rules.
2. There’s a lot of great writing on Intranets, but how much of it is being read? I was amazed by how much some of the writers could get done in a short Intranet feature. At this point Intranets are relatively mature channel and the entries I saw were quite effective in telling interesting and relevant stories. My biggest concern is that so much good work gets done on these things, and no one is reading them. If you’re trying to keep your Intranet content “fresh,” that means you’re highlighting articles on your portal for only a day or two, or sometimes a week, before they’re buried by other content and then relegated to some kind of archive. Readers of this blog know I’m passionate about this: it’s a crying shame that so many companies have abandoned the extremely effective print medium, which is still one of the best ways of sharing information with employees and creating a sense of community at work.
3. You don’t have to look good to be good. I’m big on using great design and compelling photos to help get information across to employees. And I know there’s a disheartening amount of really crappy looking publications out there, with tiny photos, bad typography, amateurish writing and so on. But one of the publications that I judged looked about as bad as a desktop published newsletter can look – but it succeeded because it had clear communication goals and delivered on them. On a shoestring budget, an editor who had to do triple duty as writer, photographer and layout person managed to strike a chord with readers and influence bottom-line results.
4. Anecdotes and quotes are perhaps the two most powerful things in written communication. Stories that have them, sing. Those that don’t, sink. I was reminded of this with every item I judged. There’s really no better way to make an article come alive than to focus on an individual who is experiencing change first hand. Tell that personal story, using the subject’s own words, and you will be a better communicator.