Rita Zonius is a force in internal communications, with more than 20 years' experience in corporate comms including her current role as the Head of Internal Digital Communications at Australia and New Zealand Banking Group (ANZ), one of the world's top 50 banks. Rita is passionate about building and leading high performing corporate communications teams that understand an organisation's strategy and take pride in their contribution to business outcomes.

Chuck Gose: I saw you a few months ago at the IABC World Conference in Washington, DC. How was your experience at IABC World?

Rita Zonius: That was my first World Conference and it was fantastic!

CG: What made it so fantastic for you?

RZ: Well, for starters, I got to meet some of my Twitter buddies in real life. People like you, Chuck. The wonderful thing about social is if you've been investing in those online relationships, when you do finally meet up, it's as if you’ve known each other for a long time and it means you can jump in right away and start talking about serious stuff. Also, I’m of Lithuanian descent and I got to meet the wonderful comms measurement guru Angela Sinickas and Gold Quill winner, Vija Valentukonyte - Lithuanians from the US and Lithuania respectively. Had great fun meeting them.

CG: I stopped reading after you said I was the reason IABC World Conference was so fantastic. I’m sure the rest of your answer was equally insightful.

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Let's not get carried away Chuck.

CG: Oh yes, let’s. I noticed your Twitter bio lists you as a global IC influencer. Is there a button you wear at events or a badge of some kind?

RZ: No badge, but I like to think my efforts to share what I've learned after many years of working in IC has helped others feel comfortable turning to me for advice and to find out how we handle things from an IC perspective at the bank. If I can help someone avoid a mistake or show them an opportunity, then that's a good thing, I reckon. 

CG: I lied about not reading your first answer, because I noticed that you left out that you spoke at World Conference this year. And here’s my public apology for showing up late to your session. What was your talk about?

RZ: Well, I was trying to repress that memory. That's why I didn’t bring it up.

CG: Ah.

RZ: But now that you mention it, my talk was about helping IC people understand enterprise social, which when harnessed properly, can have a massive impact on business results. But we have to get out of the comfy IC shoes and stop thinking ESNs are just tools for chat.


"Skating on the surface of enterprise social means we're missing the opportunity to play a stronger role [...] because we're failing to tap into the true potential of social technologies to get ‘real work’ done, beyond communications."


CG: Is that one of the biggest mistakes internal communicators make with ESNs? Limiting their potential or reach?

RZ: Yes. For years we have fought the good fight to get a seat at the table with the businesses we serve to ensure the contribution we make as IC professionals makes an impact and is valued. Skating on the surface of enterprise social means we're missing the opportunity to play a stronger role in helping the business to achieve its goals, because we're failing to tap into the true potential of social technologies to get ‘real work’ done, beyond communications.

CG: Side note, so you’ve seen this alleged and magical table that people want a seat at?

RZ: Yes. There was a unicorn at the table I was at last week. Seriously though, if you want to engage in conversations that go beyond the next newsletter or set of key messages, then enterprise social provides IC professionals with an opportunity to reinvent themselves and play a stronger role in helping our stakeholders achieve better business outcomes.


"Enterprise social is about being a little vulnerable and asking for help or input when you need it."


CG: Let’s take a step back. In your mind what is the definition of an “enterprise social network?” Because I know there are a lot of tools and software options out that might interchange various features. I want to know where you think the lines are drawn, if there are lines. 

RZ: I believe engaging with enterprise social tools is not really about the technology at all. It's a state of mind. It doesn't really matter what platform you're using. Social at work is about helping people to work visibly to both help get their work done and to assist colleagues to do the same. From an early age, we've been conditioned to believe you must have all the answers when someone asks you a question. 

But in enterprise social, we unpack all of that and say to people: It’s ok not to have all the answers. It’s ok to turn to a network of colleagues and ask them if they know the answer to a curly question you might have. Enterprise social is about being a little vulnerable and asking for help or input when you need it. I’ve seen serious business issues solved, because someone was prepared to get in the ESN and work through an issue openly, rather than in the depths of an email inbox. The outcome is usually better and is achieved at pace. What’s not to like about that?

CG: It all sounds great, but be patient as I talk my way through this next questions for you. I wrote that employee advocacy has been around a long time and technology has simply made it more visible and trackable, largely through our social media networks. Following that same logic, do you think that ESNs have been around a long time and that technology has simply provided a platform and more visibility to them?

RZ: Yes, technology is transforming employee advocacy. One could say email is a ‘cave painting’ version of an ESN. The trouble with email is when you send one, you've already made a call as to who you believe can help you to solve a problem.

The beauty of modern ESNs is you can post and not know where the help you need will come from. In large organisations, even when you’re personally well networked, you can't possibly know who will have the answer to the question you have. ESNs provide the opportunity for serendipitous knowledge accidents to happen. That makes me feel warm and fuzzy. The challenge though, is encouraging people to get out of their email or their immediate team or wherever to change their work habits and work more openly and visibly. This can make people quite nervous.

CG: That’s the perfect segue to my next question. What are some simple tactics or strategies communicators can use to encourage the colleagues to change behavior and begin using an ESN the way you described?

RZ: I always encourage a nervous or reluctant user to do a couple of things. First, ensure your profile in the ESN is complete, so people have an idea of who you are, what your job is about and your subject matter expertise. We ran comms campaigns on this very subject to help people build out their profiles. Second, you don't need to ask users to boil the ocean. Ask them to think about what might have been keeping them up at night. The worst thing that can happen is that no one answers your question. The best outcome of course, is you might finally solve your problem and make some new contacts in your organisation as a result. It's also fun being social in your ESN! I find if people give it a go by taking one small step, they will come back and perhaps tackle a bigger issue or at least begin to appreciate that serious business can be worked through with enterprise social in the mix.


"Leaders must first listen and be interested in what is going on around them and engage in dialogue in authentic ways. No enlisting the friendly comms manager to masquerade as them!"


CG: Is the strategy the same or different to encourage leaders to be active and visible on ESNs?

RZ: Ah, leaders. Bless. We love them and many instinctively understand how ESNs can help them super charge their staff engagement. But they too, need support to understand how these tools can help them better appreciate how their business is functioning by going straight to the people who know what’s really going on. So forget about going through layers of the hierarchy to get the information you need as a leader. In ESNs leaders can cut to the chase, ask direct questions and get some pretty direct feedback. However, working in an ESN is not like writing an email. To encourage people from around your organisation to engage with you, leaders must first listen and be interested in what is going on around them and engage in dialogue in authentic ways.  No enlisting the friendly comms manager to masquerade as them!

CG: How do you feel about CEOs and other leaders participating in AMAs (Ask Me Anything) on ESNs?

RZ: Love it. We have many leaders who participate in live chats in our ESN. Life is not perfectly scripted and working in an ESN is the same. Good leaders aren't afraid to engage in a constructive conversation and let it see where it goes. The leaders who typically get nervous about free-flowing conversation in ESNs tend to like to control their comms. That’s not fun or engaging though, is it?

CG: You’re very active on Twitter, even getting up at an ungodly hour (Australian time) to participate in #ESNchat. Why has this been so valuable for you?

RZ: When I was first thrown at the project to introduce ANZ’s first ESN, I’ll admit I thought it would be quite technology intensive. Because I didn't really know where to begin, I turned to the ESN tribe on Twitter and started asking them for advice on what worked in their organisations and more importantly, what didn't work.

This year, our ESN was awarded a series of Quills from the IABC - gold, silver and bronze. I don't think this would have been possible if we’d simply navel-gazed to get the job done. Instead, the Twittersphere and the amazing people I met there gave us so many great insights, my team and I were able to build a plan to launch our own ESN and feel confident we were going to pull the right levers to make the project a success. Without any history working with ESNs inside our organisation, Twitter was an invaluable resource. I love my ESN people so much I recently became a permanent host of #ESNchat. I was thrilled to be asked.

CG: We'll wrap up this chat with the same question everybody gets. Describe your feelings toward internal communications via an emoji.

RZ: ❤️

I have loved working in IC for many years and I still do. IC professionals play such an important role in mobilising people around what truly matters in organisations and the world would be a very sad place indeed without us.

CG: Great choice Rita.