13 Take-Aways from the ALI Internal Social Media Conference

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Your SMUG Chancellor had a great couple of days attending the Advanced Learning Institute’s conference on Social Media for Internal Communications in San Francisco. With a colleague from work I presented on Mayo Clinic’s early experience with social media, and we heard lots of great case studies that will definitely find their way into the curriculum for Social Media University, Global.

Here’s a recap as I digest the presentations and try to synthesize a bit. The links below will open in new windows, so you won’t need to keep hitting the “back” button.

  1. Conference Chairperson Michael Rudnick kicked it off on Tuesday. Biggest Takeaway: By the end of 2008, at least 70 percent of companies without official support for blogs and wikis will have multiple unofficial deployments.  To alter the formulation from Kevin Costner’s last good movie, “If you don’t build it, they (your employees) will go.” They’ll go to Google Groups, or Facebook, or a free blog from WordPress to enable themselves to work smarter. And they’ll think you’re clueless.
  2. The presentation from Sun Microsystems showed what you can do when you have buy-in from the highest levels of corporate leadership. But even with that executive leadership, they recommended starting small with social media and getting some quick wins.
  3. Kay from the CDC gave a good case study from government. Because of trust issues, they allow anonymous comments to really encourage open sharing. That seemed to be a major difference from most internal programs. They use WordPress open-source software for their blog.
  4. Then Linda Donlin and I presented on Mayo Clinic’s experience. I didn’t blog about that. I was otherwise occupied. I did recommend, however, that everyone should enroll in Social Media University, Global and begin getting hands-on experience with social media. So if you attended the conference, and if as part of your SMUG enrollment you start your own blog, your first post could be about our presentation, and you could link to this post. I’d really like to hear what parts of the presentation you found most interesting or helpful, what could be improved, and any questions you have that we didn’t get to address. Or if you’re not ready to take the plunge yet with your own blog, please just leave comments below.
  5. Dan Miller shared his poignant case study of how Toyota’s internal blog ran upon the rocks of a sexual harassment lawsuit after a year of relatively clear sailing. “Sound Off” is in dry dock right now, but Dan is building support for another voyage.
  6. J.C. Bouvier and Kevin Reid shared the story of social media and the IFAW’s Stop the Seal Hunt campaign. IFAW has been characterized as “the pragmatic PETA,” and this campaign lived up to that billing, as J.C. and Kevin showed practical applications of social media to accomplish results.
  7. Maureen Kasper’s presentation on Cisco, like the Sun example, showed a technology company with a widely dispersed workforce using Web 2.0 tools to collaborate in a way that would be physically impossible. Check out the video from YouTube about Cisco’s Telepresence program. I think I’ll skip past Second Life and go straight to Telepresence. And Maureen’s point about needing to take away some of the old communications crutches in order to drive adoption of social media tools is something to consider. Nobody is going to take away e-mail, but if leadership pledges to communicate via blog instead of sending company-wide e-mails, and if important information is put on the blog, people will be more likely to go there.
  8. Chuck Gose’s presentation was about social media for people who don’t have consistent access to computers, using digital signage. He had several good ideas, and one of the things I thought was most interesting was pulling RSS news feeds in to provide the ticker that runs on the bottom of the digital signs. It’s a great way to keep the content fresh. Digital signage is a great way to distribute messages to be passed along through off-line word-of-mouth on the shop floor.
  9. Best Buy’s Blue Shirt Nation rocks! It’s a great example of what you can do with open source software, and a project that probably wouldn’t have worked if it had been done in a top-down, buttoned-down corporate blah-blah-blah manner. After they had some success, they got more resources. And they accomplished one really big corporate goal through the 401(k) video contest.
  10. Chris Heuer’s Tagging Workshop was a good illustration. He didn’t have enough time to do much more than just introduce us to the topic, but I think he created an appetite to know more about tagging. And his really great point is that people use tagging to make their lives easier, so they can find what they’re looking for. It’s not primarily altruistic. The benefit to others is a side effect that increases the power, but if you’re depending on people to change behaviors because it will make life easier for others, you’ve got an almost impossible sales job. Make the new tools the easiest way for individuals to work, and they’ll be used. Then the benefit to the team will create further momentum. Here’s an example of tagging within WordPress that relates to the ALI conference. If anyone else uses “ALI conference” as a tag on your WordPress blog, we all would be able to see everything that was written about the conference. Maybe Chris can answer a question for us: Do WordPress.com tags get fed up to Technorati, too? In other words, if I use the WordPress tags, do I need to use Technorati tags, too…or would that be redundant?
  11. Kevin Winterfield’s presentation on IBM’s experience, covered here and here, gave a vision of what may be paradise someday for large organizations. As a tech company filled with early adopters who have been playing with these tools for a long time — and one that makes its money by developing hardware, software and networking solutions — IBM shows the power of maximum integration of social media tools. That obviously has a significant price tag as other companies buy what IBM has produced for itself. Depending on an organization’s readiness and culture, a vendor-provided all-in-one system like this may make sense. I think, and Kevin indicated in the comments that he agrees, most companies need to at least get some quick wins with low-cost tools before they will see the value of a major expenditure for a social media platform. One way to make it work, though, is to tag onto an IT-driven initiative. If IT is implementing a system like Sharepoint or Lotus Notes 8, blogs and wikis may be an extra benefit.
  12. American Express and AAA illustrated a couple of those quick-win approaches. They got practical results while spending practically nothing.
  13. The first post-conference workshop (covered here, here and here) gave a great model for communication planning that enables communicators to respond thoughtfully and strategically when the boss says, “Get me a blog!” or “We need a newsletter!” Out of that discussion we also decided as a group to create the mother-of-all communications tactics lists. Not because there aren’t some lists like this out there somewhere, but because it gives us a chance to try a wiki as a collaboration tool. So even though we’ll be dispersing across the globe (or at least the half that’s dark right now) from California to the Pepperidge Farms HQ and from Canada to Stockholm, Sweden, we can continue to work together.

I enjoyed getting to meet so many of you during this conference, and I hope the stories you heard will inspire you to get some hands on experience with social media. If you’re looking for continued step-by-step guidance, visit the Admissions Office for Social Media University, Global (SMUG). Then you’ll be able to hang out in the Student Union. You can share your key take-aways from the conference in the discussion board there, or in the comments below. And you can see photos from the conference and a video parable there, too.

Now I just need to figure out where these great examples fit into the SMUG curriculum….

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Author: Lee Aase

Married father of six and grandfather of nine, and the Chancellor of SMUG - Social Media University, Global. By day I'm the Director of the Mayo Clinic Social Media Network. Whatever I say here is my personal opinion, and doesn't reflect the positions of my employer.

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