Seven things I heard at SmileExpo17 this week

The future of internal communication is conversations, but how can technology aid us and what trends are on the horizon?

This week I attended Social Media in the Large Enterprise (SMILE) Expo in London hosted by Simply-Communicate #SmileExpo17 and attended by 150 professional communicators.

I always enjoy these events and it was good to see lots of familiar faces.

I worked out over the past week I’ve had conversations with at least 50 communicators – at SmileExpo17, my Masterclass and judging the IoIC awards – you definitely can’t beat face-to-face comms!

I’ve been researching and writing about the role of social media for internal communication since 2008. Unfortunately, I felt like I was stepping back in time listening to some of the conversations at SmileExpo17.

If you were also in the session led by Lawrence Clarke and Peter Furtado from Shilbrook, you’ll have heard me refuting the point being made about digital not being possible for hierarchical organisations. That’s a whole other post. Would you like me to write it?

Disclosure: Marc and the Simply team kindly invited me to attend for free, thank you. 

Here are seven things I heard at SmileExpo17:

  1. Enterprise Social Networks can reveal hidden stars
  2. All intranets are static and dead
  3. Clear definition of digital workplace
  4. The future of communication is chat
  5. The importance of connecting behaviours to change
  6. The rise of Shadow IT
  7. The Periodic Table of Internal Communication.

1. ESNs can reveal hidden stars

Workplace by Facebook were the event sponsor. I had a chat with the team at their stand as I’ve featured the evolution of the platform on my blog numerous times over the past 18 months, and they’ve since sent me updated case studies and videos I’ve linked to in my guest post featuring RNIB.

Matt James of RBS and Julien Lesaicherre of Workplace by Facebook opened the event and shared how the social network has been developed and adopted internally in Europe’s largest case study.

You can watch their session below:

What stood out for me was Matt talking about hidden stars in the organisation who have been discovered because of Workplace.

I’ve written many times how I believe one of the benefits of enterprise social networks is making previously invisible conversations and people visible.

This was a great example, as Matt shared information about an employee who creates cartoons, which are now being used internally after emerging via Workplace. Love that!

2. All intranets are static and dead

I couldn’t disagree more with the view that was shared regarding intranets being “static and dead”, therefore ESNs (Workplace specifically) are needed to encourage conversations.

It felt like we were being told the only way is ESNs as intranets are one-way and outdated. With the rise of Office 365 and the option for integrated Yammer conversations, that couldn’t be further from the truth.

None of the intranets I’ve rolled out in recent memory have been designed or used that way! I know that’s true for my husband too and his clients. Yes there are lots of static intranets around, I certainly discover them while auditing organisations, but to say ESNs are the only way is not true.

In her write-up of this event Jenni says: “The thought that everyone is picking up shiny new collaboration tools to sit alongside other intranet platforms, getting users to go to lots of different places and then only measuring the click rates or the likes or the number of people with profile pictures is not where we should be – where is the conversation about the content and engagement?”

I couldn’t agree more with this. It doesn’t have to be that way. Regular readers will know how important I think employee voice is and creating ways and opportunities for people to be heard and share their views. But writing off all intranets seems foolhardy.

Intranets don’t have to be the place where PDFs go to die. They can be a vibrant and effective environment where people go to get work done. 

Regarding the technology, you need to understand what’s out there. But remember a medium is only social if it allows for interaction (e.g. if you have a blog, that’s not social if comments are turned off!).

I shared my view via Twitter:

I have seen some excellent examples of effective intranets and effective ESNs over the years. What do I think makes them effective? Having a purpose. And communicating it constantly with your workforce – “this is why we have x” “this is what you can discover in y.”

It doesn’t matter whether it’s your intranet or an Enterprise Social Network, or even face-to-face sessions – success to me is making the right decisions for your people to facilitate, curate and join discussions.

Be your own case study. Highlight what’s working well in your organisation and showcase that behaviour

There was a lack of conversation about engagement and content during the whole event, which jarred with me.

3. Clear definition of digital workplace

Here are the slides from this session:

Could this be useful for discussions in your organisation?

SmileExpo17 made me think about preparing intranet content for launch. Jenni Field captured my musings succinctly… Thanks Jenni!

4. The future of communication is chat

The rise of messaging apps looks set to increase, with them becoming integrated into the way people work. I’m certainly having more conversations about them including clients wondering what to say to their workforce about using WhatsApp.

The future of communication is conversations, which includes messaging apps and chatbots.

It’s here already, but there are techniques and technology around the corner to help and I enjoyed hearing independent consultant Sharon O’Dea @sharonodea talking about chatbots in her session.

They turn interactions into conversations and put tools and content into the hands of the users.

She said: “Chatbots can act as a bridge between systems designed by IT and those designed for humans. They allow you to automate simple tasks and do the hard work, keeping things simple for the users.”

As a group we developed our own chatbots, following rules based communication (similar to how a decision-making tree works on a telephone, press 1 for x, 2 for y etc). Her advice is to buy rather than build your own.

This photograph the Simply team took of my fellow The IC Crowd co-founder Jenni Field and I hard at work in the task during Sharon’s session makes me laugh. I love sitting next to Jenni at events, am guaranteed stimulating discussions and a lot of humour. She’s the Chair of CIPR Inside and you can find her on Twitter @mrsjennifield:

Further reading: Read the report from the Simply team about Sharon’s session.

Earlier in the day, Julien from Facebook shared how they’re using 100+ bots internally. Tasks range from booking people in at the reception desk to logging IT issues and solving problems.

You can view Sharon’s slides below:

Are you using bots? If so and you would like to share your story, do please get in touch.

I can see a clear purpose and use for them in organisations. But, we will always need humans! I view chatbots as complementing the workforce, with humans and machines combining efforts and working alongside one another to enhance our organisations. This future of communication excites me and I read about it a lot.

Would you like me to share further thoughts on this topic? Do let me know.

Further reading

5. The importance of connecting behaviours to change

Something that struck me as a recurring theme at SmileExpo17 was linking behaviours to change. This isn’t talked about enough in the IC world.

It’s becoming trendy to feature neuroscience on conference agendas and look at the science of language and comms, which is all well and good. But I’d love to see more focus on behaviours and the outcomes of campaigns, rather than just outputs.

I heard the start of conversations along these lines at SmileExpo17 and would love to hear more in other events along these lines.

6. The rise of Shadow IT

Shadow IT is on the rise and I have a feeling Shadow Comms is too. Shadow refers to: “The use of IT devices, software and services outside the ownership or control of IT organisations.” Sound familiar?

I’ve been mulling over this topic recently and plotting a post on Shadow Comms.

When Digital Workplace Group surveyed attendees at #SmileExpo17, they found 56% of pros in the room are experiencing Shadow IT in their place of work.

7. The Periodic Table of Internal Communication

Alan Oram at Alive with Ideas hosted a session on creativity and shared the latest version of the Periodic Table of Internal Communication he developed with Chuck Gose @chuckgose.

If you’ve not seen it, I recommend checking it out. It’s a collection of ideas, tips and hints to help you solve comms conundrums.

You can view his slides from the session online:

Final thoughts

Well done again to the Simply team for a thought-provoking day.

I may not have agreed with all the points of view raised, but that’s the beauty of working in this field, that we can debate and bring our own views to the table and then make the right decisions for our organisations and people we work with.

I think the next Simply event will be in November, I’ll let you know when I hear more and you can find them on Twitter @simplycomm.

I’ll leave you with reports about #SmileExpo17 from people in my network:

Our key takeaways from SmileExpo17 – by Alive with Ideas
My thoughts from SmileExpo17 – by Jenni Field
SmileExpo17 – by Lisa Pantelli.

Thank you for stopping by,

First published on the All Things IC blog 28 May 2017.


  1. Sina says:

    Hi Rachel!

    Thanks for the great article!
    I would really love a follow-up piece on Shadow IT. I feel like this is becoming more and more of a problem for many organizations.



  2. Hi Rachel, thanks for your interesting account of SmileExpo. Just to clear a couple of things up – as far as I was aware DWG weren’t at the event or certainly weren’t presenting. I think the presentation you’re referring to (by Lawrence Clarke and Peter Furtado) was from Shilbrook not DWG, although they featured a couple of screengrabs with DWG branding. Also I’ve guest posted a few times on All Things IC (Thanks!) but I was not writing on behalf of DWG but from Step Two. I’d also be interested in hearing your thoughts about digital transformation in hierarchical organisations…I agree it’s definitely possible! Cheers Steve

  3. Thank you for clarifying Steve, will update the text to ensure accuracy.

  4. Donna Burtchaell says:

    Hi Rachel – you mention how there was a lack of conversation about engagement and content during the whole event, which jarred a bit. Pity you missed our presentation (Poppulo) on delivering multichannel campaigns for business impact. We chatted a lot about measuring engagement with content across key channels (intranet, ESN, video and email) during campaigns – as well as adapting content strategies based on what employees are actually engaging with. With so many great sessions on in parallel it’s impossible to cover everything I suppose. Thanks for a great blog as always.

  5. Thanks for your comment Donna, it was good to see you last week. Sounds like an interesting session – yes parallel sessions made it tricky to choose!

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