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    Information is a key resource in a company. A major part of the job of internal communications is ensuring that the process of collating, storing and disseminating information is done automatically, or at least as easily as possible.

    However, judging by a recent survey by Accenture which appeared in eMarketer.com, a large number of companies are not that good at it according to their own middle managers. The figures reported are shown below:

    Survey

    So whats the solution?

    Well, I guess that it depends on what the problem really is. In some companies, it may well be caused by the company culture and the resultant attitude of those involved. In others, it is more likely that the information exists in small pockets around the company and so is difficult to access and share.

    So could using a blog as an internal communications tool be a magical solution to this issue? Not necessarily. But it certainly be a great way to pool all the information and make it accessible and, because it is so easy to add and update information, it may well help overcome the reticence of some people to use online systems to make the information available to all.

    What would the benefits be?

    Some of the immediate benefits of an internal blog based system should be:

    • Information distribution: It would make information instantly available across the company or to pre-determined levels within it if required. Not only does a blog allow easy and automatic organisation of the information but both the categorisation and the search facility makes retrieval quick and simple;


    • Information accessibility: since the internal blog is accessed through the browser, there is no need to develop additional costly interfaces that bespoke systems might require;


    • Information updating: having many contributors (indeed the whole company if required) means that there is no barrier to adding new information to the blog. The easy Word type of interface also means that people who regularly work with PCs will almost immediately feel comfortable using it, hence reducing any training requirements;


    • Single source of information: whether it is departmental information, company information, project details, competitor analysis or any other type of information, having it all in one place makes it that much easier to keep up to date and relevant;


    • Information storage (easily located): the information will build up over time creating a repository which will be invaluable to the company. Organisations often have hugely valuable information which they didnt even know existed because it is locked away in individual email systems or PCs. This would help to avoid that happening.

    You will also find that the implementation costs of such a system are really very low and that the time required is short. This means that this is an ideal solution not only for corporate organisations with multiple offices, but also smaller companies which need a coherent and cost effective solution themselves.

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    At the end of 2006 and perhaps prompted by Time’s lead article declaring “Person of the Year: You“, there was a lot of talk about user generated content, thats to say information on sites being supplied by those using the site rather than those who set it up and run it.

    There are many good examples of websites which work primarily on content which has been generated by the users themselves. Sites such as YouTube and MySpace are ones which have attracted a great deal of press coverage at the social end of the spectrum.

    Business and Networking Examples

    In business, there are equally impressive examples. Amazon contains a huge amount of product information but arguably more valuable are the reviews written by people who have read the books. Similarly, sites such as TripAdvisor contain lots of information but the dynamic part comes from guests who leave their own opinions on the hotels and holidays mentioned.

    In social and business networking, many sites are primarily online structures or shells which allow their members to post articles, share information and advice or generally interact in forums. Their challenge lies in creating something which is appealing and then attracting users with similar interests who will use them and participate. Many do this very well and it shows in their success and their growth.

    Collaboration on Business Blogs

    But it is not only sites of this size which can benefit from this trend towards online collaboration and sharing of information. Your company blog offers the ideal place for exactly this type of cooperation and community building after all, it is targeted at a specific group

    So, for your own business, look at the benefit that you can accrue by getting some of the stakeholders in your company working with you:

    • Sales & Partner Networks: companies with non competing sales or distribution networks can use their blogs as a central source of information that their partners can use to increase their sales and coverage, as well as share their own experiences

    • Internal Communications: from a company perspective, tap into the collective ideas that bounce around inside of a company with nowhere to go. Give them an outlet and a chance to be expressed. Using an internal blog, you allow them not only to be put forward but also developed as others add to the initial idea

    • Market Research: tap into the combined ideas of your most valuable assets your customers. Give them a place (open or private) where they can suggest new ideas or show how they are using your products and services already. It may be quite eye opening

    • Product Development: in certain industries, particularly in hi-tech, allowing developers and customers to put forward new ideas extends the type of research and product marketing that you can achieve 100 fold. You also increase the chances of developing a group of product evangelists into the bargain

    As you can see, you don’t need a site the size of Amazon to enjoy the benefits that collaboration can bring – your business blog has all the elements that you need provided that you focus it correctly.

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    Cadbury SchweppesHopefully you will have gathered by now that one of my key messages regarding business blogs is that they are there to support you in your business activities consider them simply as tools to help you to achieve business goals and work forward from there. Once you manage that, then a whole range of potential uses will start to appear.

    For me, one good example of this has been at Cadbury Schweppes where they have been using blogs as a way of promoting their graduate recruitment. They have encouraged some of their current graduate recruits to talk about their experiences at Cadburys across different business areas and have given them the opportunity to do this through a series of individual blogs. Hopefully by posting their experiences, they are giving a more personal view of what they are doing and what their opinion is of it and allowing potential applicants a little more insight into what the company offers.

    Its impossible to tell how much editorial control is going on and the blogs themselves are not that exciting but that isnt the point. The point is, do they achieve their goal of giving people interested in working at Cadburys additional insight into what it is like to work for the company and whether they should consider it. I believe that it does and therefore, as such, is a good blog set-up because it achieves its goal.

    Only time will tell but I think that alongside the huge increase in companies implementing blogs to help their internal communications or customer relations activities, we will also see a whole raft of specific uses for blogs appearing such as this one.

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    Most of the talk and information relating to Business Blogs centres on external blogs: those which focus outside of the company and are designed to communicate out to customers and prospects. However, arguably the type of Business Blog which currently has the largest number of users is the internal blog, designed to improve communications within an organisation.

    Using blogs for internal communications is an important and growing area, and a key use of internal blogs within this is for Team Blogs. Good communication and interaction is part and parcel of a successful team, whatever its focus, particularly when the teams members may not know each other or have the opportunity to frequently meet face to face. Happily, a blog offers the chance to develop the interrelationships and the communications no matter where the team members are based.

    Teams are brought together for a myriad of different reasons but they do have in common five key requirements at a communication and information level:

      1.Good communications between its members;
      2.The ability for all members to participate fully;
      3.Easy collaboration across the team;
      4.Dissemination of the results;
      5.A permanent record of the information, results and conclusions.

    Internal Blogs are able to help in each of these key team areas and, by being able to be set up quickly and easily, can be up and running as soon as the team requires it.

    The benefits that a team blog offers

    These key elements for a team to work well together are all areas where a blog can help. In particular, a many to many method of communication is important to ensure the dissemination of information and allow all members of the team to participate and contribute equally.

    Internal Business Blogs can offer the following benefits to teams, whatever their goals:

    • Group communication: it is critical that all team members know what is going on and are able to communicate in an open yet trackable environment. A blog can provide such an environment and involve everybody.

    • Sharing information: for successful team interaction, it is important that the information is easily shared between all parties and can be added to by all. A blog and RSS will allow information to be spread quickly and safely which offering a non technical route to adding content;

    • Discussion Area: discussion and sharing of ideas will help to develop the team and its aims. It is important that all team members can participate by seeing others ideas and being able to add their own. Using blog categories, independent ideas and streams can be discussed and developed in tandem.

    • Information Resource: there will be key documents that everybody needs to have access to – a blog is an ideal way to store this information and make it available to everyone. This may take the form of a project journal in the case of project teams.

    • Project Resource: information and knowledge which is accumulated during the course of a project is so often then lost to the rest of the company once the project is completed. A blog will provide and ongoing repository for this which will benefit all going forward.

    By having all of these elements in place, the foundations are there to allow the team to move forward and concentrate on its specific aims.

    Types of internal teams that can benefit

    So, what sort of teams could benefit most from the opportunities and communication abilities afforded by a team blog? Some of the main ones that are worth mentioning are:

    • Ad hoc teams: teams that have come together to run short-term projects need to have a central resource which is quick to set up and easy to use;

    • Project Teams: a blog can be used to record and communicate the progress of a project (ie. a project journal) as well as allow easy sharing of information between the project team members;

    • Product Development Team Blogs: one of the key areas in many companies and the ones which understand the process best will open the blog up to external participants and create a team of product evangelists in the process;

    • Function specific teams (such as HR managers from across the organisation): a blog could be used to share experiences from all areas in the organisation as well as a place to develop and debate ideas which could then be used as the definitive resource to communicate them to all relevant managers;

    • Cross functional teams: teams bringing together members from different functions are looking for input from all these areas to create real value in the team. A blog allows everyone to participate and makes sure that brainstorming ideas can be given the chance to be developed fully;

    • Department Teams: use the blog as a central resource for a department which might include sharing competitor information, industry news, templates, best practice etc.

    • Quality Circles: group of workers from the same functional area who meet regularly to examine and look for solutions to work related problems and opportunities for improvement.

    Of course, the widest team of all is the company as a whole which itself could benefit from using a Business Blog as an internal communications tool, perhaps in addition to any intranet that may already be in place.

    With internal teams being formed ever more frequently for specific projects, the possibility of not making full use of the members of the team or not retaining the knowledge gathered at the end of the project is an increasingly worrying possibility. However, by using an internal team blog, you can easily minimise these possible downsides and let the team get on with the job for which they were brought together.

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