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smileexpo 17 – my notes

Date: May 29 2017
smileexpo 17 – my notes

Last Tuesday saw the latest smileexpo event in London (23 May 17) and I was lucky enough to attend. As ever it was a packed agenda, with over 100 people in attendance to chat with too. Here are some of my notes from the day.

Setting the scene

Consider this – when did you last email a friend? And yet at work we still rely heavily on email. But it is often over used and becomes a burden stopping us from working to our most effective.

Then consider this – 50% of the work force will comprise millennials by 2020. So business has to get ready for this – it’s only three years away and if we aren’t using email in our personal lives millennials certainly aren’t.

Businesses will have to take up new tech and social tools to communicate and collaborate if they are to stay ahead of the game, work with the best talent and deliver in a forever changing and challenging business world.

People will use what they want and need, and mobile first. They’ll take to other platforms if you don’t provide them and then they’ll be using tools and working outside the bounds of IT support.

To kick off smileexpo we heard from Workplace and how RBS implemented the tool within their business. RBS’s platform now ranks #1 as the trusted source in the business and gives employees a place to make their voices heard. They launched as a pilot with a mix of early adopters and risk averse people across the business. They’re now working towards the late adopters. The content mixes formal and human interactions and leaders are regularly posting. Ross McEwan, Chief Executive posts regularly and his posts are often trending. They’ve also uncovered hidden stars like the part time financial controller who’s also a stand-up comedian and cartoonist and brings his talent to his posts.

Cartoon from one of the hidden talents at RBS

Starbucks is another company using Workplace. When Starbucks employees reported that they were serving 20 – 30 drinks daily that were not on their menu but being shared on Instagram and requested by customers, the team responded swiftly to get these new recipes on the standard menu for everyone to access. This took just one day.

The rest of the smileexpo day was a menu of workshops.

I’d selected my choices in advance and here’s a summary of my notes from each:

Social Amplification with Jonathan Phillips

We looked at social amplification tools in action and how they source content, curate and can help aggregate messages into one place and enable individuals to consume and on-share messages. When you consider that our interactions with messages are quick, they have to work hard to be read, understood and even harder to be shared.

We experience on average 150 mobile ‘moments’ a day, spending 240 minutes a day attending to them and that means each moment gets just 96 seconds of our attention. When you consider our internal news and messages are competing internally and with a raft of external news and interesting content, the struggle of the internal message is even harder.

We have on average 33 apps on our mobiles, (some of us have a lot more…Like Wedge who had 200 + ), 12 of which we use daily. These social amplification tools are suggested to help with on-sharing and I want to see them in action to understand more how they’ll encourage employees to share more from their work in their personal world. I think it would depend who people work for. I can see that some big brands whose values are clear and employees can get behind would probably benefit from these tools, but perhaps this would be more difficult in less ‘consumer-friendly’ work. It’ll be interesting to see these tools in action and understand more about their impact.

The Adoption Maze with Naomi Venables

This was a fun and interactive session, using a large floor mat with squares on it which looked a little like a giant chessboard. It is like a network of pressure mats. Step on the wrong square and it beeps and back you go to the start. We were split into two teams, each of which was divided in half. One half had to create a plan and devise a strategy to get the other half of the team to the other side of the mat. The catch? The task had to be done in silence, so we could not tell our team members where to step, but use non-verbal communication instead. The challenge demonstrated working together to achieve the goal.

I was in the communicators half of the team for our first attempt, and it was tough. We were much quicker second time around, with the benefit of learning from our mistakes and the team working better together.

It was a good exercise in setting clear roles, objectives and strategies at the outset, working as a team, listening and focusing on the task in hand. I could see that this tool could be used in a range of team building exercises and for me demonstrated the importance of clear strategies from the start that everyone was on board with.



The Rise of the Bot in Internal Comms with Sharon O’Dea

Most of us are used to chat bots in our personal lives, helping financial services and local governments filter our consumer queries into manageable groups and provide us with answers on line wherever possible. Although my recent experience of a phone based chat bot with PayPal and my really difficult challenge for a client truly tested my patience. Nonetheless I can see that chat bots could add real value to our working lives and Sharon O’Dea presented some clever examples that showed they can streamline services and remove much of the time we can waste at work on menial tasks such as holiday requests.

The chat bot simply turns a question and answer tree into a conversation, making the interaction more human and natural but also with the right tools interrogating the various platforms into one conversation. This can save time. Take the holiday example, you may go to your manager first to ask for leave, then check the team diary, then go to your intranet to book through your HR system, then it goes back to your manager to approve and finally back to you. That can take days. With a chat bot it could much quicker, interrogating the systems for you, and providing a near instant answer. I like the idea of chat bots and can see a place for them to solve some of those irritating tasks that most of us dislike having to do to manage our jobs at work.

Some tools that were discussed are:



And examples are:



Bus uncle (Singapore)

Of course these are all external examples, but the one thing that you can see is bringing human personality to these chat bots is what makes them fun to use as well as providing useful information. That will be a challenge in part for IC folk to bring a corporate personality to life if you use a chat bot in your organisation. Advice from Sharon included, start with repetitive tasks and address a pain point first with your chat bot interventions.

Elements of IC – The Formula for Creative Communication with Alan Oram

Internal comms professionals will remember Alive With Ideas and ICology launching the Elements of IC in February this year. At smileexpo the new and updated version was shared with us. It’s a continually evolving and growing resource, crowd-sourced by the internal comms community and brought together by the partnership of Alive with Ideas and ICology. It’s a brilliant resource that brings together everything that internal comms folk deliver or get involved with at work.

What’s more anyone working in internal comms can use this tool to show those who they work with where they can add value and what they deliver in their organisations.

We also discussed the weird science of internal comms.

Such as:

  • The startling differences between the tappers (IC folk and stakeholders) and the listeners (the rest of the organisation) and the difference between the expectation and reality of how listeners will understand and interpret the ‘songs’ that we tap out for them to join in with.
  • Only 10% of an audience recall the message in an oral only delivery, but add a picture and you’ll get 60% recall.
  • Story beats statistics. It’s well known that when you make the news personal, turning the communication into something emotional and personal you’ll get much more traction with your news item than if you go with the stats.
  • When you’re preparing your communications remember the peak- end rule. People will remember how they felt at the peak, and the end of the delivery, everything else is a blur.

The Alive with Ideas team hosted an event on Creativity with CIPR Inside earlier this month and followed up with a webinar. Anyone who attended will know about the ‘duck’. Talk to the duck like you don’t care, share your craziest ideas and get them out to boost your creativity. Check out #ducksalive.

How to Manage your ESN Project with Adrienne Lewis

Adrienne shared her insight to successfully manage the implementation of your ESN. These are big projects, that need vision, governance and thorough planning to ensure that your approach is successful. Organisational cultures and mindsets can be the biggest hurdles to ESN success, so you really have to get under the skin of your business to understand if an ESN will be successful and how to maximise it in your business. People are key and having the right team in place to drive the project forward will ease the process.

Skills needed:

  • Project management – Prince 2 or Agile etc
  • Business analysis – to translate what the senior exec needs into real business requirements
  • User and customer experience needs – to ensure that this is understood for the project and platform requirements
  • Change – experience in planning and implementing change programmes

Core attributes needed:

  • Stakeholder management – engage at all levels
  • Senior line management – leading, coaching and reverse mentoring
  • Emotional intelligence – build trust, understand peoples’ resistance and fears
  • Strategic and details – be able to see the big picture and get your hands dirty

In a very short summary, when you’ve got the right skills and attributes in place, then you can plan, create your roadmap and understand your stakeholders, workstreams and processes, work through your UX and design your platform, develop your content strategy and work towards your build ready for launch. Implementing an ESN takes time, and each project is different. Adrienne used the recent National Trust example, and that stands at about six months.


I always enjoy attending events like smileexpo, you always learn something new about the tech that’s impacting our working lives and of course you get to meet up with some great people. I believe tech at work is an important part of what we do and as internal comms professionals, but needs the same rigorous approach that all channels and strategies need to ensure it fits our businesses and wider comms strategies. Shiny new tools are nothing if they don’t deliver and it’s our job to help our businesses and clients choose the tools that work for them and their cultures and to implement them so that they deliver.


Thanks for stopping by and reading my thoughts. I hope you’ll be inspired.

I work with businesses of all shapes and sizes to help them communicate clearly, reveal the human connections that matter and get meaningful results. If you would like to find out how to take advantage of new tech in your communication with employees and beyond, get in touch.