A couple of weeks ago, Mike and I spent a not-so-sunny Saturday at ebay’s Richmond office along with 100+ other internal communicators from around the country. That’s right – the big yak, an internal comms unconference organised by the fabulous IC Crowd, returned for its second year. Having enjoyed the event so much last year, theblueballroom was excited to be a sponsor this time around. I have NEVER experienced so much IC energy on such a large scale before! The buzz of the conversation was incredible, and I think everyone came away feeling like they had truly explored the issues facing the IC profession today – as well as meeting with old friends and making new ones.

The day was packed full of content - in true unconference-style there were five sessions, each with six different delegate-led groups to choose from. As you might imagine the hardest part of the day was picking which session to join! With session titles like “HR Comms: How to make HR cool”, “How to engage an increasingly mobile workforce” and “Joining up internal and external comms” to name but a few, it was clear that we’re not alone in the challenges and themes we work with every day here at theblueballroom.

Many delegates have blogged about their experiences and takeaways from the group discussions – but here are a few of ours:

1)    Some organisations are still fighting the ‘social battle’ internally. Despite many people noting the clear progression even in the space of a year, it seems some IC departments are still trying to convince their organisations that the value of social cannot be ignored. Progress is made externally, but leaders don’t always appreciate that social efforts should be reflected internally. Not only that, but employees too must be assured of the value of enterprise social networks (ESN's) because for large sections of the workforce, ‘putting yourself out there’ on a social network (internally or externally) can be intimidating. I loved hearing success stories from organisations where ESN’s have been implemented successfully and staff are communicating effectively.

2)    Storytelling isn’t easy for everyone. Again – some organisations are nailing storytelling, others just can’t seem to get it. It seems to be a bit of a ‘buzzword’ at the moment but the general consensus was that it’s here to stay and not just a passing fad, so it must be taken seriously. There are many ways to tease stories out of your organisation and its people, and it’s our job as internal communicators to facilitate them. It’s important to build a culture of sharing, where people don’t feel intimidated to come forward or pressured to ‘get it right’ or ‘be on brand’. Try turning it on its head by asking an employee to interview a senior leader for the company magazine, or showcase their out of work hobby on the intranet – that’s when you’ll stumble across the best stories. 

3)    Internal Communications need to ALWAYS be on brand. This is something which is seemingly as close to the entire Big Yak community as it is to us. Any form of disconnect between the message which goes out externally and any internal communication can resonate very powerfully and the adverse effects could be felt throughout any organisation. Internal audiences need and deserve to be treated with the same respect as external audiences - because ultimately it is they who are the brand ambassadors.

4)    Tension and disruption can be excellent catalysts for innovation. Having all of the different elements in place in order to create effective communications is one thing, but far more important is having an environment in which people feel confident enough to create a bit of tension.  This obviously doesn't mean you should feel free to just lob critical grenades at your colleagues. Treat every idea with enormous amounts of respect and take them at face value - this is a far more effective way to engage with your colleagues and their ideas.