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How corporate IT is actually killing employee communications

Years ago, I worked for an accounting and consulting firm here in Minneapolis. They ran their systems on Lotus Notes.

For those of you born after 1985, Lotus Notes is an operating system that runs all sorts of programs internally for big organizations, including email. It’s actually surprisingly easy to use, and simple. But it’s extremely dated.

Yet, I know of AT LEAST two big companies in Minneapolis that are still using Lotus Notes. As a polite reminder, it is the year 2014. The internet has been in play now for a full 25-plus years.

Lotus Notes

Now, I don’t have a huge problem with Lotus Notes, on the surface. It does its job. I’m sure it’s a fine operating platform.

But here’s the thing: When your employees go home at night, what programs and platforms are they using?

Most likely, they’re accessing sites and platforms like:

* Facebook, Instagram and Twitter

* Blogs/web sites (which largely run on WordPress and other dynamic and intuitive content management systems, which make them very easy to navigate)

* A wealth of apps on phones that allow these employees to do everything from bank to make travel reservations to buy clothing with just a few simple clicks.

And yet there’s Lotus Notes. I mean, it really does LOOK like a program that was used on the world’s first computer.

And it’s systems like Lotus Notes that are killing employees.


Because employees don’t discriminate. They see intuitive, easy and painless experiences on their iPads and phones at home. They tweet freely. Buy merchandise by swiping and clicking. And browse a myriad of blogs and sites using fantastic tools like Flipboard.

And then they come back to work. And, they have to deal with ornery VPNs, password issues, and horribly designed and orchestrated internal systems (not saying Lotus Notes is any of these things, really; just indicative of this larger issue).

It’s gotta be frustrating the heck out of employees (I say “gotta be” because I am not an employee).

Now, I’m not saying I have an answer. That’s left for people MUCH smarter than me. All I’m saying is that there’s a big problem and disconnect for employees of larger companies across the U.S. today.

What are the specific problems facing employees when it comes to internal systems? Here’s a few I see:

File sharing is lacking

Much of the file-sharing I do with clients these days happens on Google docs. It’s seamless. Easy. And it saves both me and my clients a LOT of time. Then, I think about the painful process some companies go through sharing files on “drives” and editing docs via email. I cannot overstate how big of a waste of time using that approach has become in light of file sharing and collaboration tools like G-docs.

Collaboration and presentation tools with vendors/customers needs to improve

When it comes to collaboration tools, I, like many, have grown fond of tools like Dropbox and Basecamp. Since they’re web-based, they work well with any system and any computer. But, for some reason, many companies like to use their own tools for collaboration and file-sharing–which creates immense headaches and added (and needless) hassle for vendors, partners and customers. Dear companies: Make it EASIER for us to work with you–not harder. This will be table stakes in the years ahead.

Publishing options need to be faster. Much faster.

“Client A” has a web site. It has hundreds of pages of content. It’s run by the client’s web team. And, in order to publish a piece of content, you have to go through about 14 steps of approvals and governance. It’s a story that’s still all too familiar–and again, the year is 2014. With the publishing tools available to today’s companies (big AND small), there is absolutely NO reason any company should be in this kind of position. Publishing content should now be a task that can be accomplished inside half hour (even with approvals and governance, if the issue is important enough). I think we’ve long past the time when that point is even debatable.

Why the best dreams are those you stumble into

You’ve seen those American Family commercials by now. The “If you can dream it, we can protect it.” These ones, specifically.

They always get me thinking about dreams. Now that I’m older and wiser, I have a few dreams. Walking my wonderful daughter down the aisle someday. Getting to be a Grandpa. Living either near an ocean or in the mountains at some point in my life. Simple–but wonderful–dreams.

But, it hasn’t always been that way. I haven’t always had dreams. In fact, when I was younger, I can’t really remember having any dreams. Sure, I dreamt of playing competitive golf at the collegiate level (that one actually came true…for a year). But, that wasn’t really a “dream” in the way the American Family people think of it.

Instead, I fell into my dreams.

For example…

I never really dreamt of getting married and having kids. It just wasn’t a huge priority for me when I was in my 20s. But, low and behold, along came my wife when I was 27. Once I met her, all that changed. Suddenly, I wanted to get married. I was dreaming of having kids. Next thing you know, I was LIVING my dream–except I had completely fallen into it.

Or, my business. That was never a dream of mine either. I never really considered myself a business owner or someone who could go out on their own. It just kinda happened. I needed a change–and the solo counselor role seemed like a good fit. I did a bunch of homework. Mapped a plan out. And, I jumped. And now, again, I’m LIVING my dream. But, it was never my dream to begin with–I completely fell into it.

My point? Sometimes the best dreams aren’t the ones you have when you’re 10 years old, gazing out at what life will be like when you’re 40.

Sometimes the best dreams are those you just kinda fall into.

The key is you have to be alert enough to take advantage when the opportunity presents itself.

Meeting my wife in 1998–complete happenstance. But, once I met her, I took advantage. I basically stalked her for a month (she loves to tell this story, believe me).

Starting my business in 2009–another product of a situation. I wasn’t challenged in my “day job.” I was looking for other opportunities. I saw a chance to build something for myself. I took advantage.

Sometimes life is weird like that. It’s not as much about those dreams you have when you’re younger that you hope you “achieve” when you’re all grown up. It’s most about reading the cues and taking advantage when opportunity presents itself.

So I guess my advice from all this is this: Don’t fall asleep at the wheel. Life is constantly giving you signals. Cues from which you can either learn and capitalize on. Or, cues that you will continue to ignore, and as a result, flounder at your own discretion.

Do yourself a favor. Pay attention to your life. Read the cues.

You might be surprised what kinds of dreams they can lead to.

Talking Points Podcast: Why we Should Start Ignoring Millennials

In this edition of the Talking Points Podcast, Kevin and I talk about the future of Ello (or, non-future, in my view), the CEO/rank-and-file salary gap and how it could impact PR efforts and my favorite topic: Millennials! If you haven’t read the Ad Contrarian’s post on why we should all start ignoring Millennials, take five minutes and knock that off (see below.

Enjoy the show!

SHOW NOTES – October 2, 2014



“You Say Ello. And I Say Oodbye.”


“The Need for Middle Ground and Skepticism – Not Hype, Not Contrarianism – On Social Networks (eg, Ello)”


“Why Ello isn’t the new Facebook (and the reason has nothing to do with technology)”


“5 Good Reasons To Ignore Millennials”


“Here’s why your company could suffer terrible PR if it doesn’t narrow the CEO-worker pay gap”


Why do PR people hate Excel so much?

Of course, I know the answer.

I know the answer because I’m one of the people who hate Excel. It is the bane of my existence. But, it’s something I need to know (and, I need to know it better), as I work with many Fortune 500 clients, and in that world, Excel and Powerpoint rule. And by rule, I mean R-U-L-E.

Many PR people hate Excel because it’s all about process. And, deep down, it’s about analysis.


And those are skills many PR people lack–and, don’t care that they lack. More importantly, those are skills PR people never learned–in school, or on their own.

But, those process and analytic skills are becoming more important all the time.

And it’s high time our academic institutions caught up.

I was discussing this very topic with a couple of professor friends last week. Here’s the crux of what’s happening.

Academia thinks liberal arts degrees prepare students for the real world. It’s about theories, concepts and well, liberal arts (and they’re right–it is, to a large extent).

The business world thinks students should graduate ready to hit the ground running, with some training (I may be speaking out of school here, as I don’t hire individuals, so I really have no basis here–just speculating based on what I see/hear).

Academia, despite what they may say, doesn’t care as much about preparing kids for the business world. If they did, wouldn’t there be classes in PR programs for video production, Facebook advertising management and Powerpoint development? Aren’t those some of the skills that employers need from young talent?

This is the same issue as back when I graduated almost 20 years ago. Back then, the internet was shiny and brand new. But, the conundrum was the same. Don’t get me wrong. I got a great education. I love my university (Winona State). I sit on the Alumni Board. But, what my school didn’t prepare me for was much of the technical (and somewhat important) parts of jobs I was applying for. At the time, that meant experience with programs like Quark and Photoshop. Those were discussed at a very high level in class–but we never dove in deep. But those were the skills employers were looking for. So, I taught myself.

Is that what we’re expecting kids to do now? Teach themselves digital strategy? Teach themselves how to edit video? Teach themselves how to run a native advertising campaign?

Because those are just some of the things employers are asking these kids to do today.

Is academia failing the future of our profession?

I know that sounds a little inflammatory, but I’m really just hoping to spark a discussion.

What do you think?

Why Ello isn’t the new Facebook (and the reason has nothing to do with technology)

Last week, new social network Ello was all over my social streams. I mean ALL OVER them.

Early adopters were handing out invites. And people were snapping them up. Hell, people were BEGGING for them. BEGGING!

Lots of tire kicking I’m sure went on over the weekend. And, I’m sure we’ll see tons of posts this week about how Ello is going to be the next Facebook. Or, how it isn’t (whoops–we already saw that post).


But, here’s the funny thing. Through all this testing and “early adopting” (although, to Jeremy Pepper’s point, testing new platforms is something you owe to your clients), Ello isn’t going to be the new Facebook. It’s not going to be like Twitter was in 2007. It’s not going to take off.

And you know why? Nope–not because the “beautiful, clean social network” isn’t easy to use (it’s not, in my opinion). Not because it’s ad free (they’re hanging their hat on this). The answer has nothing to do with technology.

And everything to do with behavior change.

Getting people to test out Ello–OK, that’s not too tough. Especially when you’re talking about the plugged in of the plugged in, which was what was happening last week.

But, to get people to give up Facebook or Twitter and start using Ello wholesale? That’s something completely different. And, let’s be honest, that’s what you’re asking people to do. Because, the average person (heck, the above average person when it comes to digital) just doesn’t have time to keep up on all these networks. Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Yo. I mean, the list is getting pretty damn long.

So, to change that behavior–that’s REALLY tough.

I know, I know, people will say Twitter took a while to take off. And that was once a very small niche network. But you know what–that was a MUCH different time. Twitter didn’t have to compete with itself. It didn’t have to convince people to leave another network to come to it. There was no other network (just Facebook, I guess). Yeah, I know about Plurk. But man, that was REALLY niche. I’m talking big numbers here.

So, if Ello is going to be successful, it needs to win some of those folks over. It needs to “convert” people, to use marketing language.

And I know, I know, maybe Ello isn’t trying to be the next big social network. But, even if it’s going to be niche and survive, it’s going to have to gain a following.

And, that’s going to be tough because it has a few key things working against it right now:

1: It’s not all that user-friendly. It took me a while to figure out how to post–and apparently, I’m not the only one (David Armano also struggled). If you’re going to “convert” people, it HAS to be easy. Huge deal-breaker here.

2: WHY? What’s the “value proposition”, as they say? In other words: Why should I spend time on Ello? Because they protect my privacy? Because it’s ad-free? Those are nice, but they’re not strong enough reasons for people to convert.

So, Ello will go and quickly as it came, I’m afraid. I may be wrong, but that’s why I see right now.

It’s just awfully tough to build a new social network from the ground-up these days with all the existing competition.


PS: If all that wasn’t enough, it looks like Ello is venture-funded, which can be a big red flag re: their “manifesto” as this post points out.