Spirited Communication

Category: technology

What You Missed at CorpComm Expo

Attendees of the Nov. 15-16 CorpComm Expo (CCE) at Navy Pier in Chicago  heard communication tips and updates from communication pros, and saw the latest software and hardware for interactive content solutions.

CCE is the world’s first and only conference and trade show exclusively dedicated to showcasing digital communications technology and education that specifically serve the needs of corporate professionals.

Two educational sessions that I attended were a case study on an internal branding campaign at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and a panel discussion regarding best practices for internal marketing and growth of an internal media department. I’ll highlight a third conference presentation in a separate post.

Kelly Hipchen, a communication officer at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, shared a case study on an internal branding initiative during the CorpComm Expo.

Kelly Hipchen, a communication officer at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, shared a case study on an internal branding ambassadorship (advocacy) initiative during the CorpComm Expo.

The case study was presented by former IABC Chicago Board Member Kelly Hipchen, who now serves as a Communications Officer at the Gates Foundation. Hipchen provided background and detail of a brand ambassadorship (advocacy) initiative that her team launched at the foundation.

The foundation leadership saw a need to redefine and refocus its “story” so that its 1,400 employees and “foundation alumni” across the globe could better share its core mission and accomplishments.

One learning from the branding initiative that Hipchen pointed out was that leadership had to work with employees to let the meaning of “keeping humble” evolve. The leadership team believed early on that the foundation’s work wasn’t supposed to bring glory to the foundation, she said. But she and other communication professionals were able to explain that “being humble doesn’t necessarily mean being silent” about accomplishments made from the grants originating from the Gates Foundation.

Jeff Boarini, consultant and former director at McDonald's Creative Services team, speaks during a panel discussion at CorpComm Expo.

Jeff Boarini, consultant and former director at McDonald’s Creative Services team, speaks during a panel discussion at CorpComm Expo.

The best practices panel included Jeff Boarini, former creative director at McDonald’s Creative Services; Chris Barry, senior director/Group creative director at Best Buy’s Yellow Tag Productions department; and David Leonard, WorldBank division manager of printing and multimedia services.

Boarini was part of a downsizing at McDonald’s, in which he ended up training people from the outside company that McDonald’s hired.

In light of a Forbes article I read titled, “No—I won’t Train the Intern to Replace Me,” I asked what benefit he found in staying there and training his replacements. Boarini said, he has maintained professional bridges with former associates, and he recommended that anyone in a similar situation consider the value of maintaining good relations with employers during layoffs.

Barry then discussed his role managing an internal creative unit within Best Buy. He shared two videos that his team created for internal audiences, including one parody of “Hamilton,” that included professional dancers and actors performing a Best Buy-related song meant to motivate Best Buy employees at holiday time. Barry said his team has earned trust by continuing to provide efficient and effective work that gives internal clients “what they need, not always what they want at first.” He said communication professionals need to “push back when necessary” to ensure that their internal customers understand why a certain approach or content would be most effective in meeting their needs.

One tip that he shared with conference attendees is to add subtitles to videos that might be seen on kiosks or computer screens within work areas with the sound turned off. That way, employees understand the message even when viewing the video in an environment where the sound cannot be played.

Chuck Gose, BroadSign corporate communications practice leader and sales director, shows the company's popular "Periodic Table of Internal Communication."

Chuck Gose, BroadSign corporate communications practice leader and sales director, shows the company’s popular “Periodic Table of Internal Communication.”

During the CCE, I also spoke with Chuck Gose, BroadSign corporate communication practice leader and sales director. Gose, whose company developed a popular “Periodic Table of Internal Communication,” shared the news that he is currently working on an updated version of the Periodic Table that will include new content provided by communication professionals who have used the Periodic Table in their work.

The Periodic Table of Internal Communication groups common elements of smart internal communication. “Like the original Periodic Table, our table was developed with the knowledge that additional “elements” would be discovered, and the table updated to reflect them,” Gose said.

VR, AI Will Be Mainstream Soon Enough (Part 2)

My previous post summarized the growing attention to virtual reality (VR). This post focuses on another breakthrough technology that is gaining interest and acceptance: narrative science and artificial intelligence storytelling.

Kristian Hammond explains AI and narrative science during the G&S Global Street Fight business communications conference.

Kristian Hammond explains AI and narrative science during the G&S Global Street Fight business communcations conference.

When I joined VW Credit, Inc. in 2004 as its first (and only to-date) IT Communications Specialist, my boss told me that they were looking for me to help communicate the “value of IT” and other messages. One of the biggest difficulties that IT leadership faced then, he said, was that they were “data rich, but information poor.”

In other words, they didn’t know how to extract deeper meaning and narratives out of the massive amount of data to which they and the organization was privy. I did a good job, I believe, but we would have benefitted from the analytical and narrative text-generation systems developed by one of the presenters at the April 17 “Global Street Fight” business communications conference in Chicago!

At the Global Street Fight conference organized by G&S Business Communications, Kristian Hammond, chief scientist and co-founder of Narrative Science, explained that human beings aren’t built for the kind of data analysis that so many employees within financial services and other fields toil.

“There is a phenomenal amount of data today; way more data than we can understand,” Hammond said to Global Street Fight attendees. “There is a gap between the data and the end-user. We don’t want the data; we want the analysis derived from the data.”

Humans don't want data that we aren't built to analyze efficiently. We want the analysis from that data.

Humans don’t want data that we aren’t built to analyze efficiently. We want the analysis from that data that machines can process for us.

Although humans are not built to analyze data efficiently, machines are, he said. That is why he has spent decades working on the science of extracting narrative text from data and creating a system that automatically and efficiently creates accurate, useful narrative text for reports, press releases and other publications.

Hammond founded the University of Chicago’s Artificial Intelligence Laboratory in 1986, and formed Northwestern University’s Intelligent Information Laboratory (InfoLab) in 1998. Lately, he is marketing Quill™, an “advanced natural language generation (Advanced NLG) platform.”

According to the Narrative Science website, Quill “goes beyond reporting the numbers—it creates perfectly written narratives to convey meaning for any intended audience.” Hammond told us that Quill can create a financial analysis report in a professional, conversational tone literally within seconds. Compare that to the days or even weeks that some financial firms devote to their reports written by human analysts—who, as Hammond pointed out, don’t tend to like creating those documents.

One aspect that remains important in the AI narrative business is human oversight, Hammond said. He gave an example of a future in which he might enter a self-driving car and tell it to take him to the airport. “If it suddenly diverted to the nearest medical facility rather than the airport, I might be upset…unless the car told me that it detected, by monitoring my vital signs through a device on my wrist, that I was having a cardiac issue. We just want to know why it is making the decisions that it makes.”

Hammond’s belief in the need for human understanding of the software’s decision-making is a relief. Especially when I read that he most recently has been part of a United Nations Institute for Disarmament Research (UNIDIR) team that is working on shaping policy “regarding the control and regulation of the weaponization of autonomous devices.”

As my fellow Terminator fans would agree, we don’t need a real-life Skynet!

VR, AI Will Be Mainstream Soon Enough (Part 1)

VR Demo by Matt Overbey at VCI IMG_4265Two presentations focused on “breakthrough” topics during the April 19 “Global Street Fight” business communications conference in Chicago, organized by G&S Business Communications

The topics, virtual reality (VR) and artificial intelligence (AI) narrative science, were fanciful ideas just a few years ago. They have become nearly mainstream, but awareness and adoption by communication and business leaders is just now accelerating.

No better sign of that move toward the mainstream is possible than a photo of U.S. President Barack Obama and German Chancellor Angela Merkel geeking out on VR during a tour of the Hannover Messe trade fair.

Rather than discussing world leaders engaged in VR activities, two presenters at the Global Street Fight shared how VR is becoming part of news coverage by media organizations.

Raymond Soto, Gannett creative lead of applied technologies, and Holly McCall, Midwest vice president at the USA Today Network, led a discussion of how media companies are warming up to the idea of virtual reality journalism.

The Des Moines Register and its parent company, Gannett Digital, were awarded an Edward R. Murrow journalism award last year for coverage of dramatic changes in a rural community using VR technology. The Harvest of Change series included a 3D tour of an Iowa family farm, possibly the first example of VR journalism.

Global Street Fight attendees could download a USA Today VR app that, along with free VR goggles distributed by the presenters, allowed attendees to experience VR on our own.

During a Q&A sessions, my hand shot up and I asked whether people with motion sickness can comfortably watch VR videos. (I had a bad experience with the Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts 3d ride at Universal Orlando, and didn’t want a repeat experience.)

Soto said VR video creators are sensitive to that issue now, and use techniques such as zooming in and out, rather than panning left to right, which brings on motion sickness.

He was right, because later at home I was able to enjoy a VR ride along with Blue Angels as we made several maneuvers, without me needing an airsickness sack!

As the above photo of a work colleague shows, the VR videos were a big hit when I shared them with coworkers the day after the conference.

NEXT POST: VR, AI Will Be Mainstream Soon Enough (Part 2)

Highlights of the 2016 Global Street Fight

The Fourth Annual Global Street Fight Study is being released next week by G&S Business Communications, and earlier this week, study highlights were made available to attendees of the G&S “Global Street Fight” business communications conference in Chicago.

The study, conducted in March by Harris Poll on behalf of G&S Business Communications, queried 2,018 adults online. Study highlights provided to me and other conference attendees, focused on social media patterns and preferences. Some results were broken down by generational categories of Millennials and Generation X, as well as the “General Public” and “Opinion Elites,” which G&S defined as “a sub-segment of the main survey respondents who are more informed, engaged, involved in current issues and exert influence on the general public.”

In subsequent posts, I’ll share some of the great content provided by conference panelists who covered global trends in:

  • Corporate compliance and diversity challenges in the C-Suite
  • Reputational and economic challenges that are plaguing organizations
  • Breakthroughs and advances in narrative science and artificial intelligence storytelling
  • Virtual Reality in journalism and media
  • Leadership and crisis responses

Here are three slides from the G&S 2016 Study Highlights:

Global Street What They Should Post

Study respondents (46%) want senior business leaders to share information about their company’s business activities.

They DON’T want senior leaders at large companies to share personal opinions on social media (64% of all respondents and 71% of opinion elites).

Global Street What They Want From Leaders

More than one-third of study respondents want senior leaders to use social media to address company vision, company products and services. Low on their list are posts focused on advice on running a business (13%), personal stories and anecdotes (15%) and professional development tips (18%).

Global Street Why It Matters

It matters, to somewhat varying degrees, to each of the study subgroups because large percentages of the study respondents use social media to familiarize themselves with a company before deciding whether to purchase that company’s products or services.

They tend to place more trust in information about a company when they get it through social media. And they tend to believe that senior leaders who are transparent on social media are more trustworthy.

NEXT POST: Leadership Amid the Battleground

Who Needs Training on Social Media, Anyway? (Part 2)

Commakazi was taught to prepare employees before launching a new business tool. But is social media different? Does it offer a 'new way' to roll out social media tools?

Commakazi was taught to prepare employees before launching a new business tool. But is social media different? Does it offer a ‘new way’ to roll out social media tools?

In Part 1 of this two-part post, I posed the question of whether the success of a social media implementation requires training and a formal introduction within an organization. I provided the context for a discussion that I had with a colleague from the company IT Department after a pilot implementation of the social media tool, Yammer, grew exponentially for a period of time, then stalled.

When I noticed that employees weren’t engaging on the Yammer site, I asked my IT colleague whether he had put together a plan to train employees on how to use Yammer. His response was to state that if an employee needs training on any social media tool, it is not intuitive enough to be successful in the long term.

Here are snippets of our email conversation.

 Do you think that people received training on Facebook, LinkedIn or other social media sites?  If a user needs training and the interface is not intuitive, it will ultimately fail.  It is the responsibility of the provider (in this case Yammer or Microsoft), that has the responsibility to make sure that the user can utilize the site without significant training. — My IT colleague

My response:

Points that you are not considering are:

A large portion of our non-I.T. employee base do not have the interest in technology that someone in I.T. has—and may struggle to find software “intuitive.”

We are all time-crunched, and simply WILL NOT spend time “reading the online manual.” That boils down to: “If I cannot quickly understand the value of this tool, and feel confident in using it in a productive way, I will put it aside.”

The “training” that we should provide goes beyond what you describe. Most people understand Facebook, but I have heard several comments from employees who do not understand the business use of Yammer and Lync. THAT, along with frustration over the limitations of this free Yammer version, is what ultimately will limit uptake of the tool.

I was amazed that the IT colleague thought that NO ONE receives training on Facebook, LinkedIn and other social media sites. A quick Google search returned millions of results for courses, webinars and other training just on Yammer!

As of the end of March 2015, only a handful of employees remain active on the company Yammer site. One area of the company regularly collaborates on the site, sharing questions, ideas and information. That is the only exception, save for a couple of people who regularly regurgitate company and product news that originates on other sites.


  1. Should employees receive training and introductory information prior to the launch of social media tools within a company?
  2. What has YOUR experience been with learning new social media tools?

Who Needs Training on Social Media, Anyway? (Part 1)

New Skills Concept.While cleaning out old emails from my work inbox, I reread an exchange with an IT colleague from a couple of years ago. I had purposely left the email unanswered at the time because I wanted to take a fresh look at what the IT colleague had said regarding the introduction of social media within the company.

Quite frankly, his response had floored me, and at the time, I didn’t want my incredibility at his response to cause me to write a harsh reply.

About two years later, my thoughts are the same, so here is what I hope becomes the start of a discussion with you regarding whether the success of a social media implementation requires training and a formal introduction within an organization.

Yammer LogoThe background is that some mid-level members of the company’s IT network area decided to make Yammer available to all employees by unblocking it on the company firewall. Not everyone is familiar with Yammer, so I’ll describe it here as “Facebook for companies.” Only people whose emails end with the company domain name (e.g., ju**********@us********.com) can register to that company’s Yammer site. Once someone registers, the site offers similar features to Facebook:

  • The option to post articles, links, photos and videos that other members of the Yammer group can like, share and use as the starting point of discussions.
  • Capability to see which group members are logged into Yammer at the same time, and the option to send a message just to a single member, in the spirit of instant messaging.
  • The option to save and share files.
  • The option to invite other people from within the company to join the Yammer group.

That last feature caused an unexpected (to IT) situation that led to me “talking” with the IT colleague via email.

The IT colleague decided, without input from me, marketing or company leadership outside of IT, to invite a few people into the company Yammer Group as a “pilot group.” To his credit, the IT colleague thought to include me, the communication guy, at that point.

However, the “pilot” quickly grew out of control, because Yammer wouild send a notice to the newly added group member with the names of several other employees, whom Yammer suggested inviting as well. What began as a small pilot group of 5 to 7 people soon ballooned to more than two hundred—and the number of new members continued to grow. That’s because people would ask their coworkers whether they had seen the new Yammer application. Not wanting to be left out, the coworkers would ask to be invited, and they, in turn, sent invitations to everyone they knew within the company.

Here’s the rub, and the point of my discussion with my IT colleague: The Yammer “pilot” was launched before anyone had discussed or developed:

  • Introductory communications that would ease concerns of employees regarding whether they were “allowed” to use Yammer at work
  • Basic user instructions regarding how to get the most from Yammer
  • Feedback and measurement mechanisms that would allow the Yammer “owners” to evaluate the effectiveness and value of Yammer within the company
  • A plan to promote and encourage Yammer usage throughout the organization and to align it with other communication vehicles already in-place
  • Contact information for employees who needed technical or administrative support

When I saw hundreds of employees who blindly joined the Yammer group without understanding what it was, and who mostly stalled after inviting their coworkers and making a single post of “Hi, I am on Yammer,” I reached out to the IT colleague.

Our interesting “discussion” is the subject of my next post.

Repost: If you want us to call, stop using words

Originally posted to the Commakazi Speek blog on 12-20-2010
With the news that OfficeMax and Office Depot will merge, this might be useful to the new marketing team there.

I used to think that it was clever to convert a telephone number into a word, using the letters on a telephone keypad. “What a great way to make a phone number easy to remember,” I thought back then.

But technology (actual mobile phone design) has changed all that, and companies that use words, rather than numbers, in their advertisements are showing that they are out-of-touch. And that’s exactly the effect that they are having with their device-dependent customers.

It actually is annoying to have to hunt-and-peck on a telephone when all you have to go on is the “secret word.” That’s why I told my church’s marketing team years ago that it was fine to list the phone number for Joy Lutheran Church as 1-847-362-4JOY, but that they should include the final four numbers in parentheses (1-847-362-4569).

What back then was annoying, today is harmful to potential sales and customer satisfaction. That’s because the correlation between letters and numbers on mobile phone keypads is no longer standard.

Here’s an example. I wanted to call OfficeMax regarding its MaxPerks(r) reward program. The only phone number listed in the MaxPerks brochure is 877.OFFICEMAX. The first thing I noticed is that OFFICEMAX is nine letters, and U.S. telephone numbers (minus the area code) are seven digits. So OfficeMax has tacked on two letters that are meaningless–and confusing–to a customer trying to dial.

The adventure continues, depending on the customer’s mobile phone. Here is a keypad similar to the one on my Nokia phone.nokia-phone-keyboard

See how each number 0-9 is assigned to just one letter? That is not the way that old-time landline telephone keypads are designed. But more and more people are opting away from landlines, and using their mobile phones exclusively.

So when I tried to dial 1.877.OFFICEMAX, I experienced this:

◦The letter O–no corresponding number
◦The letter F–the number 4
◦The letter I–no corresponding number
◦The letter C–no corresponding number
◦The letter E–no corresponding number
◦The letter M–the number 0
◦The letter A–no corresponding number
◦The letter X–no corresponding number

Without the actual digits shared in the OfficeMax brochure, I was totally unable to call them. Frustrating! Would that be the case for my Blackberry friends? Oh yes!

blackberry-keyboardHowever, their numbers 0-9 are assigned to different letters than on my Nokia, so the picture is even more muddled. Imagine a Nokia user trying to share a “decoded” number with his colleague using a Blackberry. They’ll never get the number right!

Ok, since so many creative types adore all things Apple, surely the iPhone designers anticipated this issue and made an app for it. Not really:

apple-iphone-keyboardIn fact, I’d say that iPhone users really have no chance, because their phone’s keypad makes no attempt to correlate numbers with letters. Perhaps it’s for the best, right?

If you work in advertising, marketing or sales, point your communicators to this post. It will save your customers much frustration, and prevent you from having a real “hang-up” with customer satisfaction.

I’m Getting Comfortable With the Blackberry Playbook

blackberry-playbook-OS2-img-1As I recently updated the operating system on my Blackberry Playbook, I reflected on how I’ve made peace with the tablet. I’d say that peace came from lowering my expectations.

For the background on my love/hate relationship with the Playbook, read this post on my former blog.

I’ve since updated to the latest release of the Playbook OS ( as of this post), and the glitch that kept me from reading emails sent to my Blackberry phone has been resolved. I also can log into my work’s wifi network after getting a tip about disabling bluetooth prior to logging in. (I restart bluetooth after logging in, to link the tablet with my phone.)

The tablet’s poorly designed onscreen keyboard still frustrates me as I have to toggle between letters and numbers on separate screens. I also dislike being unable to sort images by date, meaning that whenever I want to view a recent photo, I have to spin down screen after screen of saved photos to get to the recent ones.

The tablet’s larger screen is better than the phone when I need to use the calendar or lookup a contact. The browser is quick, but it can’t handle certain sites like Hootsuite. For example, I have several columns set up for direct messages and search terms like #iabc12. I can’t move across the screen cleanly to see columns to the right of the current view. Hard to explain, but maybe I’ll make a video and post it.

Still, I use the Playbook every day. It has become useful enough that I forgive its faults…for now.

Your Privacy Might Take Another Hit, Thanks to “Nomi”

Woman angry at phoneDo you want your mobile phone to be used to track your presence in a store, how long you stay, where you browse and what displays make you linger—all without your prior knowledge or approval?

That already is happening in merchant locations served by retail-tracking startup Nomi, according to Advertising Age (online registration may be necessary to view). The system currently is tracking such information at stores in New York City.

My concern as a private citizen is that Nomi (“Know Me”–yikes!) has little, if any, notification on consumers’ phones that the tracking is occurring, and consumers are automatically “opted in” to being tracked, according to AdAge.

Until Nomi moves to a system that would provide deals or some other tangible benefit in exchange for the consumers’ opt-in approval–and refrains from automatic opt-in, we have one option to protect our privacy. Click the “Opt Out” option in the footer of the Nomi site and enter your phone’s MAC address to be removed from Nomi’s database.

Don’t know your phone’s MAC address? The opt out link provides other links for iPhone, Android, Blackberry and Windows  7 phones, detailing how to locate your MAC address.

As marketers focus on gathering data on the shopping, viewing and buying habits of consumers, these kind of intrusions into our privacy will continue to creep up. Technology developers like Nomi certainly don’t “know me” if they think I will blindly accept it.

What do you think?

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