As the founder and owner of simply-communicate, the director of their consultancy, and the creator of smilelondon and smileexpo, Marc Wright is an expert not only in internal communications, but building and sustaining vibrant communities for communicators. Always abreast of the latest developments in the digital transformation of the workplace, Marc has also served as a Past Chair of IABC Europe and Middle East.

Chuck Gose:
Welcome to Chuck Chats Marc!

Marc Wright: Delighted to be here.

CG: We’ve had quite a few IC influencers from the UK on ChuckChats, people like Rachel Miller, Sharon O’Dea, Alan Oram, Dan Penton, Helen Deverell and so on. So I figured it was now time to go to the B list and get you on here. . . kidding of course.

MW: lol. The UK is strong for IC talent. It’s because everyone gets concentrated in one cityunlike in the US.

CG: You and I agree on this concentration effect that is happening there in the UK, specifically in London. And I see a lot of the positives. But are there negatives?

MW: There is a danger that we become too trapped in our own cultural bubble.

When we first started out simply-communicate in 2005, I appointed Kelly Kass as editor deliberately because she was based in New York. For 5 years I travelled regularly to NY and Chicago (working with Ragan), and SF with IABC.

But now I find myself more regularly in Brussels, Paris, London, and Barcelona.  

Europe is really hot for IC and the digital workplace.

Maybe ahead of the States?

CG: On a previous Chat with Simon Wright he mentioned that the UK was ahead of North America in a few areas related to IC. And I told him that you guys got a few hundred years head start on uswe need time to catch up.

MW: Yepbut remember that paper was invented in China, so any hegemony will be short lived!

CG: (Googles hegemony)

So for those who aren’t familiar with simply-communicate, what are you guys?

MW: Good question.

We have built ourselves out of a number of models. On the publishing and training front, we are an unabashed copy of Ragan. When I started out, Mark Ragan was very generous with help and advice on that front.

The second influence was my background in eventswhich encouraged us to do conferences.

CG: So simply will become a teenager this year.

In those 13 years, what are some of the biggest changes you’ve seen in IC?

"Companies used to spend around $100 per staff member on engagement. That disappeared overnight."

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MW: The financial meltdown of 2008 put an abrupt end to engagement programmes, which was a big blow to the industry. Companies used to spend around $100 per staff member on engagement. That disappeared overnight.  

Then in 2011, we started seeing hits on articles increase if we talked about digital (or Chuck Gose/Euan Semple/Shel Holz)the figure span off the dial.  

So we realised there was a real need for knowledge and advice for IC in the digital space.

CG: Let’s talk about engagement programs.

Are more companies getting it right or getting it wrong with engagement?

MW: The old kind of programmes we produced were basically sheep-dips. Put 35,000 British Airways staff through a one day experience, 200 at a time, and watch the engagement scores go up. But basically that was just the Hawthorne Effect at work. A few months later and the scores were back down again.

Engagement only really works when you give staff more autonomy and control over their work.

"Engagement only really works when you give staff more autonomy and control over their work."

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CG: (Googles sheep-dips) Oh yes. I do love me some Hawthorne Effect.

And so what do you see as the communicator’s role with engagement?

MW: Absolutely crucial.

Comms is the only function that has the skills and remit to care about what staff are thinking and doing in their daily work. Comms is the antidote to major IT change and business transformationprovided they take a granular approach rather then try to do it top down.  

If we are just a better megaphone to tell the many what has been decided by the few, we are doomed to fail. The difference now is that we can track campaigns, sentiment, and issues in real time, which means we can point to real outcomes. And that makes us powerful.

CG: How many years have you been organizing smilelondon?

MW: We had a simply summit for a few years, but smile was invented in 2010. Now on year number eight. We also added smileexpo in the spring so people wouldn’t forget us...

"Comms is the only function that has the skills and remit to care about what staff are thinking and doing in their daily work."

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CG: We’ll get to smileexpo in due time. So “smile” stands for “social media inside large enterprise.” I got to attend and speak at smile this past Fall and it’s so much more than just social media now.

MW: Yesthe key themes are now collaboration and knowledge management.

But smile implies engagement (a new kind of engagement) and the name has stuck.

CG: I love the name. We all need more smiles these days. And I also really enjoyed the format of the event, too.

MW: I partly stole our format from Raganand in particular the work of our good friends Steve Crescenzo and Jim Ylisela who make training and events fun! The UK competition was so dreary with their eventsand if you are in Comms you can’t bore your audience!

CG: The same thing happens here in the States. That’s one of the reasons I got involved in PRSA Connect. And there are some similarities between smile and Connect. Great content and even greater energy.

"Comms is the antidote to major IT change and business transformation..."

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: It’s a form of group therapy!

CG: And in addition to more smiles, we could all use more therapy too.

You also have a pretty close relationship with Workplace by Facebook. What has been the response from companies you’ve worked with to evaluate or begin using Workplace?

MW: A very good question.  

The easy answer is that Workplace delivers more audience, more engagement, more quickly. Not surprising perhaps. 2.2 billion users affords them such a huge UX advantage.  

But there is a serious problemmost enterprises need to control their internal knowledge in a way that Workplace is not set up to do.  

Also the groups and structures of a large company do not map easily onto the informal groups that thrive on Facebook. So where we have a client that wants to break things and shake up the organisation, Workplace is a good fit. But if you are a Bank…...

"If we are just a better megaphone to tell the many what has been decided by the few, we are doomed to fail."

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CG: When Facebook first announced the product, I thought it was a great idea. Back when it was called Facebook at Work. I thought LinkedIn had to be kicking themselves for not doing it first.

And I agree with you. The UX seemed like an advantageeverybody already knew how to use Facebook.

But here’s a big “but.”

I wonder if the UX will actually be a hindrance. I find myself somewhat bored by the interface BECAUSE it looks just like the normal Facebook. And am admittedly a bit tired of the experience. I wonder if this could hurt Facebook and am curious about your thoughts on this.

MW: First off, they are filling a vacuum left by Yammer.

If you compare what Microsoft has done with an acquisition like Skype to what they have done with Yammer co-founder Adam Pisoni’s code, it seems like a missed opportunity. But then they bought LinkedIn.  

I don’t think that Slack is going to cut it, and Jive has lost its way. So the market is pretty open with the two monoliths of Facebook and Microsoft, and then a big space in the middle for 3rd party vendors and employee apps.

"We can track campaigns, sentiment, and issues in real time, which means we can point to real outcomes. And that makes us powerful."

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So I take it you’re not a fan of Yammer?

MW: Yammer was great for us when we launched smile and Rav Dhaliwal was very supportive of us in the early days. But they stripped out the good things (like the Customer Success Managers and we are all waiting for what is going to come next...

CG: What I see happening is that Yammer is, for lack of a better word, being dumped on communicators because it’s part of Office 365.

“It’s free so use this.”

MW: Yes but Microsoft has huge resources and fresh leadership. They are going to come back with a powerful tool. For instance they are applying the learnings from Bing to internal search.

CG: A powerful tool to replace Yammer? (Please don’t say Teams, please don’t say Teams.)

MW: Teams was put out there as an answer to Slack.  They chose the wrong battle.

"Workplace [by Facebook] delivers more audience, more engagement, more quickly."

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CG: I’m a fan of Slack. But even Slack can get noisy when you have 100 people on it.

MW: Facebook uses O365.

Yes you are right it’s all about context. In a way I think that the company culture and the way tools are rolled out is more important than product features. They are all just webparts at the end of the day.

CG: Do you think communicators rely on technology too much or are we not taking advantage of what it can truly do for us?

MW: Definitely the latter.  

We come from a background of newspapers and broadcasting, and that means we focus too much on details and making things perfect.  That is important, but it’s just 10% of the job now.

Our task is to move from managing comms to helping managers communicate better. We are in the curation business and you have to be fluent with these social tools to be a good curator - otherwise you become irrelevant.

There is a role for high-end comms skills but I think this will be to cut through the noise and surface great user-generated content.

"The company culture and the way tools are rolled out is more important than product features."

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CG: So do you see user/employee generated content as the future of IC? Letting the people create the message?

MW: It is crucial. Just look at what a bank like HSBC has done with the video app SeenIt to turn round a demotivated workforce following the financial scandals of the past years.

See the covert plug there?

CG: Oh I see it. And speaking of plugs, I promised we’d talk about about smileexpo as well.

MW: We got a lot of feedback from the vendors and the audience at smilelondon that there was not enough opportunity to delve deeply into subjects of interest in what is basically a plenary event.

So we created smileexpo in 2016 to give everyone the chance to pick and choose a workshop.

It is still just one day out of the office, but there are three streams with 15 workshops covering Platforms, Apps and Engagement.

"We focus too much on details and making things perfect."

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CG: And how many people are you expecting to attend smileexpo this year in May?

MW: Last year we sold out with 160 attendees, so this time we have a larger venue. smilelondon attracts 280 attendees.

CG: And what are the dates, website link, registration form, Chuck Chats reader discount code?

MW: 21st of May, 2018. The venue is St. Pauls.

People can find out more here:

We’ll have lots of great vendors there (including SocialChorus) and this year the Gold Sponsor is Microsoft to balance having Workplace by Facebook last year.  

And readers can use the code ChuckChats to get 30% off!

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CG: I’m sure my invitation is around here somewhere. . . . .

MW: Oops - on its way!

CG: Let’s close this chat out the way we always do. Describe your thoughts about internal comms via emoji.

MW: 💥

CG: Thanks for the great chat Marc!

MW: Thanks for having me - it’s been a blast!