ICology: How will Workplace by Facebook impact internal communications?

Ep #38, Michelle Mahony, Ketchum

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Worldwide, there are 1.8 billion active Facebook users with 1.2 billion of them logging in daily. These are huge numbers but will internal communicators benefit from this activity with the recently launched Workplace by Facebook product?

In this episode of ICology, Michelle Mahony, SVP & Regional Director at Ketchum, talks about about the agency's role in the Workplace by Facebook beta. Initially only about 200 companies around the world participated in the beta launch. She shares what they experienced using Workplace and how their own employees used and benefited from it. And since being a part of the beta group of users, Ketchum is now one of the key global implementation partners to help other companies adopt the new enterprise social network (ESN). 

Is Facebook ready for the enterprise? We're about to find out. And if your business is considering Workplace by Facebook, you'll want to listen to Michelle's experience. 

Ketchum blog: Workplace by Facebook: The Internal Communications Game Changer

Episode Transcript

Chuck: Recently there's been a new entry into internal social networking, and it's Facebook. There have been headlines around this that I thought were really interesting, where it's things like, "Facebook headed to the office," and, "Facebook is now on the clock," and, "Facebook tries to muscle in on your job," and, "Facebook is picking up the slack." I thought that was really interesting ways for them to begin relating Facebook to internal comms.

I think two of the most overused words today that we see in business are "disruption" and "game changer." Mostly because whatever is being disrupted, or whatever game is being changed, really isn't. It just ends up being noise. When I saw what Facebook was doing with its new internal social networking product, now call Workplace By Facebook, I think it is very disruptive. I know some communicators have been apprehensive about enterprise social networks, some for good reasons, other maybe not so good, but I think it's worth investigating what Facebook is doing, and seeing if it makes sense for your company. I chaired an event a few weeks ago, and a healthcare communicator mentioned that he's already submitted a proposal to adopt Workplace By Facebook. It'll be interesting to see if Facebook's name recognition will help or hurt in the process.

The other "disruptive" thing I see is, I think this could help wake up some of the software companies in the IC space who provide social networking. In the past it was easy to pick on Yammer, and then everybody sort of jumped on Slack, and that seemed to be a very popular choice. We'll have to see where Facebook fits in among this variety of other choices. I know Slack has already responded to Microsoft's new teams product with a full-page ad in the New York Times, so I'm curious to see how or if others now begin to respond to Facebook's involvement.

That's why I have today's guest on the show. I want to welcome Michelle Mahony, the SVP and director at Ketchum Change. Michelle, welcome to ICology.

Michelle: Thanks so much, Chuck.

Chuck: Happy to have you on, but before we get into our conversation about workplace by Facebook, why don't you go through your comms background that got you to Ketchum, and then discuss your role there now.

Michelle: Sure thing. It's been a long and windy road. I have been in this profession for a little over 20 years, which I'm actually sort of loathe to admit. It started out really as kind of a fluke as a consulting firm in New York City in my mid-20s. Back then I was doing some HR communications consulting for clients. That's really where I began. Over the years that's evolved as my passions have evolved. First really as I stoked a passion around employee engagement and how communications can support engagement. Then over time, very interested in how one can leverage communications to support organizational change, whether it's some kind of a financial transformation, organizational transformation, change in strategy, and the critical role that communications plays in that. I've seen it evolve over the years, but the profession has remained exciting far and wide, and unpredictable. I think we're here to talk about one of those other, as you said, disruptive, unpredictable platforms.

Now I'm lucky enough to have had the opportunity to lead our Change and internal communications practice at Ketchum, so my role is to lead our North American team in this area. What we really do is focus on helping organizations leverage communications to drive change effectively, as well as to help them just in general with communicating change in the organizations more effectively, and really getting employees engaged and committed to the change.

Chuck: Ketchum was part of the Workplace By Facebook beta. I think I saw 200 or 300 countries that were part of that beta. What I'm curious is, what was that like, and how did Ketchum employees respond to it?

Michelle: We started, at the time it was Facebook At Work, we launched probably, I think it was five or six months ago, and I have to say, it was fairly seamless. We started with a bit of a pilot group to get comfortable using it, and provide any feedback about how we should launch it within the organization, and just to sort of start talking it up, which I think worked really well, so it was sort of a little bit of a grassroots movement there. The actual launch and execution was pretty seamless in the sense that people were very quick on the uptake. I think within a couple weeks we had 70% of our organization on with their claimed accounts, which is, for an organization of 3,000 people, I think is pretty phenomenal for any adoption of a technology platform. Again, the learning curve was fairly low.

One of the things I know we've all heard about is, the fact that Facebook has 1.7 billion users makes it pretty easy to transition, for most folks, over to this platform, so I think people found it pretty seamless. Since then I think our user uptake has increased even more. I find myself using it more and more, I am on Workplace every single day, and beginning to really drive my team to Workplace to source documents, for discussions, and away from email. That's been kind of an interesting process, we start to see the decrease of email and the increase of usage of Workplace. We can talk about why that is, I think, in this discussion.

As we go forward we are going to be launching a phase two Workplace at Ketchum to really help folks understand all of the capabilities of Workplace. I think this first launch is really about getting people comfortable with it, and the second one is going to be about really leveraging all of the cool capabilities and functionalities that'll help support our work.

Chuck: You made mention of this when, earlier on, you talked about how it used to be called Facebook At Work. Some people might remember it being called that. When it was now made available to every company outside of the beta they changed the name to Workplace By Facebook.

With there being some management out there who still complain about, or at least there's alleged complaints about employees using the traditional, or public, Facebook while at work, I would imagine that you guys are behind this name change, going from Facebook At Work to now Workplace By Facebook.

Michelle: Yeah, I think there's a couple of aspects of that that were really smart, in the rebranding of Facebook At Work. First, to your point, I think there was some feedback in the very beginning. As they went through the beta launch, some concern that, "Oh gosh, this is just another way for employees to spend more time on Facebook and less time working." Which is really interesting, especially in the context, if you look historically, I read the other day that when the telephone was introduced, employers had the same concern, that folks would be spending more time on the phone and less at working. If you're old enough, like me, to remember the onset of email, there was sort of the same concern that was raised. Any time that there is a new communications platform, I think that concern is raised until it becomes part of of the fabric of how we work.

That's one point. I think the second point around the rebranding is that, Mark Zuckerberg has gone on record saying that Workplace is a way to run a company. It's much more than a communication platform. If you think of this platform as a spectrum, and I think the intrigue point for a lot of us as communicators is facilitating greater discussion, more collaboration more transparency among employees, and that is certainly true of Workplace, and I think that has been true of us as we've used it at Ketchum. I think if you, again, begin to understand the different capabilities and functions within Workplace, it actually becomes a place of work, and a way to get work done. I think in both senses the rebranding was really smart, and it really says what it's really meant to be, which is a virtual workplace for folks.

Chuck: You've certainly dated us both. I wasn't part of the telephone generation, but I do remember, and this might be, I don't want to say shocking to people, but there was a time where you had to develop a business case as to why you would need an email address. It wasn't just something that was handed over on day one. Now, and email's great, so this isn't a dig on email in any way, shape, or form, but there's probably some days when we wish we could shed our email addresses and our email accounts, to focus on things. But that's not an email problem, that's a user problem. From your perspective, what makes Workplace a bit different from other social networking platforms, or other collaboration software? I'm not really looking for an apples to apples type comparison, but what's the feel that you get there that others might think makes it a little different than other offerings?

Michelle: I can speak from my experience in helping organizations implement some of these other platforms, to varying degrees of success. I think there's been a lot of good platforms out there that have been used, and will continue to be used. Some of the differences I can point out for Workplace, first, as we mentioned before, by far I would think their best competitive advantage is that people are already there. It is truly meeting employees where they are now. As we mentioned, with the 1.7 billion members of the global population already on Facebook, it just decreases the learning curve so much. It's a little different, but it looks very similar to Facebook, and people just feel comfortable navigating it and using it. I think that's probably number one.

Second, they've designed the platform to be mobile-first, meaning that you can access it both from your computer, at your desk, but it's also really easy to access while you're on the move. That's probably how I access it, even more than through the computer. Their mobile interface is very, very good. That's very purposeful on their part. It makes it, from a work perspective, makes it really easy to reach difficult-to-reach employees. I just slammed that sentence. It makes it easy to reach those folks that are on the move, away from their desks, like so many of us are. Or even, heaven forbid, after hours at work. If people start to integrate work and their personal lives together they get the easy access.

We've also found that companies who are large retail chains, companies who have large populations of mobile employees companies that have large populations of manufacturing employees who don't, again, have easy access to desktop computers, those are places where Workplace is really succeeding. I think that's another big advantage.

Then of course, I think a feature a lot of folks are talking about, a lot of leaders I talked to are talking about, is the live video stream. We're seeing that growing so much. If you're on Facebook at all I think you've seen the growth of that feature, and I think it's really, really cool. From a workplace perspective, and a company perspective, the ability for people and leaders to really livestream from events that are happening, make real-time announcements, or even just from your desk, to be able to broadcast news or perspective, is something that I think organizations are really excited about. Now it's part of the platform, so it's no additional cost, and it's easy. I think those are really big things.

Then there's things like being able to create groups across organizations, across different companies, so if I'm working at my firm on a client project, we can open up a group to collaborate on that project. I think that's another big advantage. There's several, but I would point to those as the big ones.

Chuck: It seems to be from a pure mechanics standpoint that the groups seems to be the big differentiator from how they might think of how they use the traditional Facebook, versus Workplace By Facebook. How do you see groups really helping teams communicate? Or are people sort of forming teams there within groups?

Michelle: Yeah. I think that's a really good point. I think groups are the big differentiator from Facebook, although you can start, obviously, Facebook groups. Workplace is really designed to work around the group dynamic. When I go to my Facebook page and do an update, I go to my profile page, I put an update there, attach a photo, whatever it is that I'm doing. At Workplace you almost never put up a post on your profile page. In fact I don't think I ever have put up a post on my personal profile page. All the posts that you make are within specific groups, and that is really to facilitate the interaction and the networking amongst people in those groups. I think there are really natural ways that you can set those up.

In our company, for example, for Ketchum, you sort of have the overall Ketchum group and newsfeed, where general company news is posted and we can discuss. Then we have my New York office group, that is the whole entire Ketchum New York office, and there's groups like that, that are really organized geographically. Down to our Ketchum Change group and practice, where we have our own group. Then beyond that you can form groups based on interests, projects, et cetera. I really do kind of skim across them, and interact with all of those groups, and it's a different way of working, but it really does facilitate that collaboration and network and connection, which is the real purpose of Workplace.

Chuck: It's good to hear that employees have the ability to create some of their own groups, because I've always said, when technology, if someone can use it professionally but also personally, they'll get more out of it. They might have these various professional groups, like I said, based on where they work, or they're part of a department or a team, but also if, let's say, they're a runner, and they wanted to start a run club, and then they can organize their runs in a group, while also working In a group that's a work-related project. I think that then they're getting the personal and professional benefit at the same time, and obviously then spending more time in the product, which is then beneficial to everybody there.

Michelle: Yeah, I think that's a really good point, and I think it really does touch on both those personal connections, that we know are so important at work, and that we know really drive how happy and productive an individual is at a company, so having that flexibility to do that, and to your point, having it really employee-driven. The whole point of this is that it's really a grassroots kind of platform that facilitates work and collaboration across the group. Although I think it's a great tool, in fact we haven't even talked about that, but a really fantastic tool for leaders as a way to really connect with employees as humans and talk with them, it's also a great tool for anyone in the organization to really leverage, to connect with people that may be outside of their immediate office space.

For organizations that are looking at, "How do I do this." We touched on this a little bit before in terms of Workplace being a good substitute in a lot of instances for email. In big organizations you have these national emailing groups that exist, and essentially taking those and applying them, easily applying them, to create groups for Workplace, is a very good place to start.

Chuck: I think for some in communications, and you alluded to this before, there's a bit of a, "If we build it they will come," philosophy, instead of a "Let's go where they are." Given people's individual use of Facebook, do you think this will help Workplace, but also, to the contrary of that, there are some people who are just generally anti-Facebook for whatever reason. Do you think that could hurt Workplace? How the fact that there's a public Facebook, and now this Workplace, how do you think that'll help or hurt it overall?

Michelle:I think, as we've already alluded to, the fact that so many people are already on Facebook is, I do believe, a big competitive advantage for them, as we already talked about, because people are already there so it's easy for them to use. We should actually mention, if listeners aren't aware of this, that Workplace and Facebook do not talk to each other. They look very similar but they're two different systems, two different entry points, so you're not mixing your friends with your work groups. In fact, actually another little interesting point about Workplace, the difference is you don't call people your friends on Workplace. Everyone's your colleague essentially, so you follow people, and that sort of operates in the same way.

I think that overall it does work for Facebook, but to your point, I think the detractor is, that I've seen, and these are from people, honestly, that as far as I can tell are not really on Workplace, and maybe have seen a demo, is they're feeling like they want to keep their social life separate from their work life, and don't like that connotation that I'm bringing Facebook to work. Because they see that as more of a personal and social platform. Again, I think that's actually part of the reason behind the rebranding.

I would say, though, that I would caution people to think, "If I just slap up Workplace at our company, people will just start using it," to your point, the "if you build it they will come" mentality. I think people will naturally sign up and start using it as they see fit, which is great, but I do think that there's some careful planning and thinking that needs to take place about how organizations do bring this in, and how they do launch it. Because it really is a change for people in terms of how they work and how they communicate. I think careful attention needs to be paid to that in terms of how it is rolled out. Because there are challenges that come with it, just like any platform. There are some good objections, there are good challenges that our clients raise around it, that definitely need to be thought through and addressed in the process.

Chuck: For, we'll call it the original Facebook, one of the areas that I know some people get frustrated, or a challenge that they have with it, is the algorithm of determining what they see, or what they don't see, or what shows up in their feed. Is there anything like this, or are there other forces at play, that determine what employees see, or is it more just the true chronological time element?

Michelle: The one thing I can say about that is, and actually it's been interesting, because I think some of the concerns about Workplace is that some organizations want certain posts to float to the top, and not it be completely democratic all the time. If you have an important post from a CEO, for example, or a piece of company news that you want to make sure that everybody sees first when they go to that group, even if they haven't logged on in a day or so. I know what you can do is, you can pin importance to certain individuals, so that when that individual posts, their posts all essentially float to the top for a while. You can also do that for just particular posts that you want to make sure go to the top for a while. Other than that though, I can't say for sure but it's not the same kind of algorithm that you see in Facebook, which as we know is always changing.

Chuck: Do you think that Facebook, as a company, and they've been highly successful, like we said, the billion-plus people that are on there, but do you think that they are ready for the enterprise? Do you think they are ready to deal with customer bases in these groups? They might be 500, they might be 10,000, 100,000, or more. Do you think they're ready for that?

Michelle: I think that Facebook, and one thing I've really learned about them is, they are an amazing learning organization. As they have launched this I've really watched them, they take the feedback that they get from their customers. The channels for feedback are always open, they take that feedback very seriously, and they act on it incredibly quickly. It's pretty impressive to see actually, that for a lot of platforms you get a new update every six months, or new features every six months or a year or so; for them, they're taking that feedback, weaving it in, and updating it on a weekly basis.

I think they're very responsive to their customer base, first of all, and I think second of all, another element to your question is, the reason that they have gathered around the implementation partners like Ketchum and like others, is because we as organizations do have deep experience in helping enterprises implement new platforms, technology, and to implement change. They're leveraging those competencies of their implementation partners, like us, to help them be more successful as they implement and roll out Workplace. Their core competency is just making a fantastic platform, and I really think that they've done that, and they're working with other corporations who have that enterprise strength to help ensure that it's successful.

Chuck:That's a great segue to my next question. You mentioned that Ketchum is a partner with Facebook on Workplace, so what does that entail? What sort of work do you guys do with companies to help implement Workplace?

Michelle: For us, what it means to be a partner is, you're simply helping organizations get familiar with Workplace and to roll it out. As I mentioned, each of the partners have specialized competencies that can support customers based, and clients and organizations, based on their needs. For us, I think we really help in three different areas. One is to help navigate the complexity of organizations, and gets the stakeholders and the folks on the ground involved that need to be involved just to launch it. For example, working with communications or HR, whoever is sponsoring this, to get leadership support for Workplace, because it is really a very large-scale change. To get IT support, which is a huge stakeholder that really needs to understand Workplace, and a lot of the back end issues, security issues, and things like that before that they can feel comfortable in, and are able to deploy it. It's that kind of navigation that we help with in organizations to just get the approval for the implementation itself.

Then in the second piece I think what we can do is, what we do, is to help launch Workplace and engage leaders and employees in that launch. How do you go about it? Do we want to do a pilot group or do we want to open it up to the whole organization? What's the role of leadership in helping people get engaged and get involved? What do we want to do around training to ensure that everybody really understands the capabilities of Facebook? I'm doing it too now, a Workplace by Facebook. I think the launch and implementation plan is important, and like I said, really critical to their success, and we can help there. This really is a cultural change for many organizations. They have to be ready for greater transparency, and there's still some discomfort with that, understandably, but that's really part of it. Really working through the culture issues and helping people get comfortable with it is a big part of what we do.

Finally, and I think this is going to be an emerging issue, as more and more companies adopt Workplace, and that is really, how does Workplace interact with other work processes and platforms that are already in the organization? For example, once we implement Workplace, what's the role of the intranet, and how do we use it? How do we create those rules of the road, or governance, for how we use Workplace versus how we use the intranet? Does it plug into CAM systems? It's really defining how Workplace is used, and how it interacts with other communications and technology platforms in the organization. I think that's messy stuff to work through, and organizations are just beginning to work through it now.

Chuck: What's the best way for someone to reach out to you, or connect with Ketchum, if they're interested in learning more?

Michelle: Yeah, absolutely. If you want to publish my email address directly when you post this, I would completely welcome that, and my contact information. You can also go through the Ketchum website and go to Ketchum Change to contact me if you like. We are actually going to be putting up a special page that discusses in more detail our services offerings related to Workplace. Folks can enter in all of those ways, or through LinkedIn.

Chuck: Like I said, I'm not a Workplace By Facebook customer, I'm not a service partner, but for me, just looking at it as an outsider, I think there is a ton of potential here. I think some of the roadblocks that maybe previous internal social networks have had, this could overcome. You bring up a lot of great points, too, around integrating other enterprise technologies. Where does something plug into the intranet? Will people complete expense reports through this, or through something else?

There's a lot of those processes that are obviously a big part of any company, large or small, and it'll be interesting to see how Workplace, are they a navigator to that? Is it an integration part? Because I think that will ultimately dictate some of the possible future success.

Michelle: I couldn't agree with you more, Chuck, on this. I think the point you're raising around things like doing expense reports, ordering business cards, that's where we start to see the transition from Workplace as a communication-collaboration platform, to how work gets done. If you think about things like help desk ticketing systems, there's been a lot of success with organizations in the beta version of using Workplace to facilitate that process, and it's actually enhanced it and set it up. Even simple things like getting approvals on documents, If you post it right there you can make the edits in real time and follow the thread of comments. People are seeing approval processes and review cycles happen more quickly. Escalating problems and issues and providing customer input and feedback, I've seen some experimentation with that that's been very successful.

Again, I think it's that transition of moving into how we get, not just communication, but how we actually get work done. It's got to be really thought through and carefully planned. At the same time, I think organizations need to be okay with trying things, and seeing if they work or not, and then moving on from there. I do think a platform like this allows you the flexibility to do so.

Chuck: Yeah, it'll be interesting to see where they go. I'd go back to a guest, and we alluded to his before as well, it was JoEllen Saeli-Lane, that her advice was, go where your employees are. Of course not every single person in the organization is a Facebook user, but it'd be interesting to know how many are, and will this help your company communicate if they're comfortable? It's not necessarily what's the coolest, or what's the slickest, or what's the most expensive or least expensive, it's what's going to get used. That's where I think that workplace might have a bit of a leg up compared to other platforms out there.

Michelle: Yeah, completely agree. When you've got more than 1/6 of the global population already on their core platform, it's a pretty compelling argument for usage and adoption.

Chuck: Especially when you think about global organizations. Then because Facebook is almost everywhere, for global organizations there's going to be that familiarity as well.

Michelle: Yes, absolutely, and I think that really is an advantage, and with that though, and I think you bring up a really good point, there are some cultures that are not such big users of Facebook. They're using other social platforms. We have found, even in our company, that some of the adoption's a little bit slower in some of those countries, which is why, again, I think it's important to think through how you launch this, especially if it is a global organization, and taking into consideration some of those cultural differences.

Chuck: All right Michelle, well thanks for walking us through some of your experience there with Workplace, both as part of the beta and now as a company who's trying to encourage and help others take advantage of it, or at least investigate it to see what's possible. We're going to now move on to the lightning round part of the episode, which is a chance for listeners to learn a little bit more about you. The first question up is, what is your favorite TV show of all time?

Then, listeners to the podcast, obviously there's a lot of people from internal communications or HR, but also just the general business community listens to this. What's a final piece of advice that you want to share with the listeners?

Michelle: I think it's a tough world to navigate right now, with the acceleration of change, really from a business perspective and a personal perspective. Change from the outside, change from the inside, and that kind of world transformation is one that we live every day. I think my biggest piece of advice in the context of that is to try stuff. I'm really a believer these days in the 70% or 80% rule, and that we don't have time to really cross all of our T's, dot all of our I's. My advice is, experiment, use your employees to conduct experiments, and put stuff out there, and try them. If it doesn't work you can always try something new. I think that's what I would say in this day and age.

Chuck: Thank you, Michelle, for coming on ICology, sharing your experiences and your thoughts on Workplace By Facebook. Again, I think it really has the opportunity to change a lot of organizations' thoughts around internal social networks, but also maybe for the first time, introduce some employees to social networks. I think the fact, as you mentioned, that it's a mobile-first technology, is probably unique compared to other platforms. Be interesting to see down the line how people respond to it.

Michelle: Thanks so much for having me Chuck, it was a real pleasure to talk with you.