Karyn German had an interesting post about information under-load last week, and I wanted to add to the conversation by talking about how Web 2.0 technologies such as Enterprise RSS systems should make us take a look at how communications occur within an organization.
As someone who speaks to our customers and prospects on a regular basis through Webinars, events and as part of my job assisting our sales teams, I often find myself in a familiar discussion. People quickly see how their own organizations could benefit from Enterprise RSS solutions, but they often inquire about what is the best way to get their stakeholders - whether the executive staff, the sales force or the entire employee base - to change how they go about doing things so they can take full advantage of blogs, wikis, podcasts, RSS and other Enterprise 2.0 social media tools. After all, portals were supposed to be the holy grail a decade ago, but according to Forrester, 2/3 of organizations who deployed them saw a negative ROI.
Before answering that question directly, it helps to make sure that everyone understands the gravity of the problem with e-mail. If you think about the medium, e-mail is great for communicating externally, communicating 1:1 (although IM does this as well, if not better) and conveying urgent (read: act upon it now!) information. It's not ideal for communicating information to groups, because inevitably people start to comment and reply, and before you know it, there have been 20 e-mails sent on the same topic, and pity the poor soul who was in a meeting and walks back to the whole string.
E-mail also isn't great for important, but not urgent (meaning needs to be understood and action possibly taken, but not at that very moment) information because the sheer volume of e-mail that most people receive tends to cause this type of stuff to get lost or ignored (a problem I deal with every weekend when I go to clean out my e-mail box and discover the 10 things that I lost or forgot about).
Companies can tackle this problem two ways. They can move the discussion/update elements to blogs and wikis, which are far better-suited for this purpose than e-mail. Rod Boothby does a great job of demonstrating this in his blog.
However, they have to make sure that they distribute those updates via RSS and not e-mail, or the e-mail overload problem won't improve. They can also start using RSS as the dissemination mechanism for much of the important, but not "drop everything you are doing at that moment" urgent information, particularly the content coming from marketing and corp comm (company, product, competitive and industry news as well as sales tools). Some of that information can actually go on a portal and then be distributed via RSS when it changes, killing two birds with one stone.
So let's say you buy into this line of thinking. How do you go about getting this to work? You can't just snap your fingers and say, "Here's how it’s going to be; violators will be tarred and feathered." You need to be very deliberate about how you do this because if several people (particularly those at higher levels) resort back to using e-mail, you seriously diminish the value of these tools because everyone gets pulled back into responding via e-mail. My advice, based on what I have seen from our customers and also speaking with KM and HR people, is the following:
• Identify the most pressing communications problems that could be solved and start there.
• Pick a finite group of people for the first project (make sure that some are outside of your department).
• Identify the metrics you want to track and the results you are looking to achieve (set a not-too-distant time horizon as well).
• Inform the stakeholders about what you are planning to do, either in-person or through some recorded training.
• Start the project and continually pay attention to the reports that are available (this lets you figure out how to adjust on the fly).
• Interview people after the project is complete and find out what worked and what didn't.
• Take all of that data and feedback and devise a program for broader deployment.
• Use the results from the first project to ensure buy-in with senior management.
• Work jointly with senior management to help communicate during broader rollout.
• Keep existing systems (such as newsletters or e-mail alerts) in place, but set a near-term deadline for phasing them out.
The exact method will different from organization to organization, as each has a slightly different culture and different tools in place, but this should be a good way to get started.
Director of Marketing