Create Conversations at Scale

About Author Graham Brown

Graham Brown is the founder of Pikkal & Co – performance communication agency responsible for producing Award Winning Podcasts for business brands. Clients including McKinsey, Julius Baer, IBM and the Singapore Government. Investors and Advisors from Netflix, Intel, Apple and iQiYi. He is a published Amazon author covering human communication technologies, marketing and branding. He has produced over 1,000 podcast episodes and webinar shows with notable shows including the Tony Fernandes Podcast. Graham is a graduate in Artificial Intelligence and is currently leading Pikkal & Co to use Machine Learning and Conversation Analytics to automate the heavy lifting of communication to elevate the human touch.

Create Conversations at Scale

Define: Conversations at Scale

Conversations at Scale: business conversations that have the authenticity and intimacy of a coffee meeting but can scale like traditional mass communications. conversations at scale

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The problem with your business is that its best people don’t scale.

The more valuable they are, the less scalable they become. That’s human nature.

Much of their value to you and your clients is locked inside their personal experience and relationships. The experience created by your Chief People Officer is often confined to the face to face meetings she can have, which doesn’t scale in an organization of 100s or 1000s of employees. Those valuable conversations between your star consultant and his clients mostly happen behind closed doors, but the insights could apply to many more cases and help other teams in business development.

That’s why the modern Comms Leader needs to consider how Communications can play a key role in the Digital Transformation of the business. Communications is no longer a controlled pipeline of information, but a platform that you can use to curate leaders at all levels of your organization. There are distinct business benefits of podcasts that allow you to curate these conversations within the guard rails and green lights that keep your messaging on point.

Define: Digital Transformation of Communication

Digital Transformation of Communication – the evolution of traditional corporate communication “Pipelines” into communication “Platforms” using Digital channels like Podcasts.

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Leaders don’t scale but Leadership conversations do

Leadership Conversations are the most valuable Underutilized Fixed Asset in modern communication.

The need for Leadership to find their authentic and scalable voice is one of a number of key differences between B2C and B2B Podcasts.

Value means unlocking Underutilized Fixed Assets. Like Airbnb did. Airbnb didn’t create new accommodation, it allowed home owners to unlock their UFAs. These already existed, Airbnb simply gave them an interface. Imagine what you could achieve if you unlocked these assets with the right interface.

It’s the same challenge that faced businesses in the early days of the Internet. Businesses learned they could communicate more effectively and efficiently with their audience. Rather than call a switchboard to get the store opening hours or map, you could look it up online. You could also later on order online. That gave Amazon and eBay – companies that understood communication wasn’t limited to the physical proximity of your customers – massive scale.

B2B Podcasts and Webinars are fulfilling this role now.

Podcasts are to business leaders what websites are to businesses – a more effective human communication interface.

In 1998 there were a recorded 2,410,067 websites.

By 2018 there were 1.6 billion, a 700x increase.

If you measure the number of users per website, the numbers have gone up from an average 2.5 users per website to 78 today. The podcast market is far from saturated.

Podcasts are to Business Leaders what Websites are to Business – more effective human communication interfaces.

Define: Human Communication Interface

The Storytelling Organization is one that creates more effective human communication interfaces that transcend traditional physical and political restrictions.

The Storytelling Organization creates Leadership Conversations at Scale across 2 vectors:

– Horizontal Scale: Leaders start podcasts that turn community and conversations into evergreen scalable content. This creates conversations assets that continue to communication, engage and influence outside the physical limitations of the individual

– Vertical Scale: Leaders create Leadership at all levels of the organisation. Leadership is not a job title, it’s anyone who plants a flag and lets people rally round. (In the Global Branding Forecast, consultancy EY found that 76% of Leaders had, in their own words, “the motivation to lead before asked”. The challenge for CXOs today is giving those Leaders an opportunity to put their hands up and Lead. Traditionally this would be a career development conversation. Today, however, by creating a Podcast where Leaders can step up, you can unlock that potential without lengthy process.

Define: The Storytelling Organization

The Storytelling Organization – a company or government agency that empowers its leaders at all levels to find their voice.

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Scale doesn’t just mean expanding the scale of business communication but also scope, diversity and agility.

More diverse conversations create a robust culture of innovation and employee wellness.

These agile cultures are better adapted to the Shifts that are happening now.

SHIFT 1: Brand -> People

Define: Many to Many Communications

The modern business communication landscape is a many to many one, where unofficial storytelling vastly outweighs the official narrative. The key to thriving in this landscape is not to control communication through the traditional pipeline model but to curate it with a platform like a Podcast.many to many

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Microsoft has 9.3 million followers on Linkedin.

In a recent Linkedin post on their company page, Microsoft shared a series of success stories detailing partnerships to solve customer problems. The post received 3 likes. It’s not a Microsoft issue, it’s a corporate brand issue:

– AWS: 2.8 million followers = 212 likes
– SAP: 1.8m = 78 likes
– Tencent: 574,000 = 65 likes
– DBS: 419,000 = 84 likes
– Grab: 260,000 = 52 likes

So do people dislike corporate brands in 2020? No.

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella gets 6,500x more Likes per follower than MS.

When Tony Fernandes, CEO of AirAsia posted a video of him walking through a shopping mall hugging his son, it received 3,300 likes and 185,000 views. By contrast, AirAsia’s post received only 382 likes. AirAsia has 426,000 followers on Linkedin.

People follow people, not brands.

Even in sectors that have long been dominated by brands are now yielding to the power of the individual. The CEO of the world’s most valuable Auto brand is Elon Musk; the world’s largest retailer is Jeff Bezos; and of course the legacy of Steve Jobs.

In the B2B space, vendors, partners and potential employees increasingly trust brands that have a human face, and importantly, trust the people inside those brands more than the brand itself. The Leaders that communicate publicly become the experience people have of that brand.

Leaders -> Leadership Conversations -> Experience -> Brand Perception -> Reality

Build your communications around people not departments. People don’t care about Mission statements; they want to belong. Create tribes of purpose, small “Cross Functional Teams” (SXFTs) that slice across discipline and department. Give them the tools and the green light to rally round a flag – an idea, a cause or an internal movement either temporary or permanent. Use that energy to create a more positive experience with your partners, clients and employees.

Define: Small Cross Functional Teams

Small Cross Functional Teams (SXFTs) – teams that cut horizontally across an organization, uniting stakeholders of diverse departments but unified interests. B2E Podcasts – podcasts that allow employees to speak to each other by creating these internal “watercoolers” or “campfires” are one way to create SXFTs.

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SHIFT 2: Official -> Unofficial

Your official brand story is just one bird in the tree.

Brands can no longer control reputation. Reputation “happens”.

Take Glassdoor for example. Google your brand name and reviews and if you’re large enough, your company will appear on the Glassdoor website.

Glassdoor is a platform for employees past and present to share the truth about your company – anonymously. And while it does garner its fair share of positive reviews, it’s the first destination for disgruntled ex-employees with beef. The problem is that the 1% now have a megaphone to air their grievances. We have to change strategy from control to curation. Rather than police our people, we need to amplify our internal fans.

Protecting the Official Communications narrative means silencing the unofficial. This is a mistake made by even the most progressive of brands from time to time when they become overzealous in policing communications. HubSpot, for example, was the subject of the bestselling book “Disrupted: My Misadventures in the Startup Bubble” written by journalist Dan Lyons. Lyons wrote of his former employer, “Instead of being offered secure jobs that can last a lifetime, people are treated as disposable widgets.” Things became acrimonious. There was an FBI investigation into whether HubSpot tried to gag the book.

Ironically, HubSpot has relatively high rankings on Glassdoor – an average of 4.7/5.0 for 1,069 reviews. By comparison, a HubSpot competitor Adobe has 4.2/5.0 for 4,200 reviews. Even the best companies have disgruntled employees, and disgruntled ex-employees have a platform – Glassdoor or not.

What Communications should be doing is enabling their internal amplifiers to drown out the negative 1%. Instead of policing the disgruntled 1% – that official Loudspeaker model no longer works – Communications should be empowering the Unofficial 99%.

Define: Unofficial Communications

Unofficial Communications – increasingly Comms Leaders are challenged by the growing volume of Unofficial Communication that an organization creates. Communications cannot be policed through the traditional narrative of Control, rather Comms needs to Curate Communications by building a Platform like a Podcast.

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That 99% are the people who believe in the company story and can amplify it authentically through their own personal interpretations:

– Your top organisational talent who maintain key client relationships
– Authors and industry opinion leaders who are aligned with your meta messages
– Regulatory and infrastructure partners who can influence your business outcomes

The Shift is a move from Controlling Official Campaigns to Curating Unofficial Conversations. Communications Leadership is going to be increasingly less about controlling and managing reputation of your people to one of curating their conversations. The culture of your corporation, the experience by which people interact with it, is not defined in strategy but the conversations Leaders have about it.

Dialog is out there, whether you like it or not.

SHIFT 3: Perfect -> Optimal

Corporate trust is under attack on 2 fronts:

1) An evolving decentralized corporate communication landscape
2) The exponential growth in personal communication

Consider the data from Edelman 2019, which states that 81% of people surveyed said “trusting the brand to do what’s right” was a key factor in purchase decision. Needless to say, this % will increase with the value of the purchase.

But how do clients and customers know what that brand thinks, does or feels? What is their backstory? How human are they? What are their views on diversity and sustainability?

This is why corporate podcasting is on the rise, because people trust what’s human rather than what’s perfect.

B2B audiences are turning to more effective ways at interacting and interfacing with those brands. People want their Presidents and Celebrities in the car drinking coffee with Jerry Seinfeld, not polished, efficient and invulnerable. If we want “perfect”, we can communicate with machines. But for everything else, we need humans.

Be agile, be authentic, be more human.

[defineauthenticity]

Comms needs to give latitude to their people to communicate Optimally.

Rather than a monolithic brand narrative, we need to encourage human stories within our organizations. Identify stories of your own people who you want to showcase as role models of experience or behaviour As the say, the 3 laws of leadership are: example, example, example. That “example” could be a story of your client and how they use your SAAS platform, a story of your top sales rep and their client relationships, a story of the CEO and how she left her comfortable world, too a risk she believed in to start this business. Comms can amplify those examples by catching somebody doing something right.

The best people need latitude to perform. They need to be able to exercise decisions and speak with authenticity rather than parrot the monolithic official narrative.

The best people don’t want more budget or better technologies; they want more air cover.

As Navy SEAL Jocko Willink writes,

“Junior leaders must know that the boss will back them up even if they make a decision that may not result in the best outcome, as long as the decision was made in an effort to achieve the strategic objective.”

The success of the US Navy SEALS teams is often attributed to its ability to divest leadership to the frontline and act in a decentralized manner. Everyone leads in the knowledge that they’ve got your back covered, not your back marked.

Air Cover comes in 2 forms:

– Guard rails – tools to keep the communication on point
– Green Lights – the “go ahead” to get started and to communicate authentically

In Storytelling, these parameters become the responsibility of Comms Leaders and CXOs.

– Comms Leaders – Guard Rails
– CXOs – Green Lights

Guard Rails: What Comms Leaders Can Do

– Pipelines to Platform
– Control to Curation
– Create clear Guardrails and Guidelines
– Give them Aircover

The Digital Transformation of Communication

Define: Digital Transformation of Communication

Digital Transformation of Communication – the evolution of traditional corporate communication “Pipelines” into communication “Platforms” using Digital channels like Podcasts.

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The 2020s will see a rapid Digital Transformation of Communication. This means the changing shape of communication caused by digital. Look at that word again: trans – change, form – shape. Comms needs to evolve from a Pipeline model of Control to a Platform model of Curation.

Pipelines: Just like the Pipelines that carry oil, they need to be watertight. Leakage is risk. Pipelines need supervisors – internal functions like legal, IT and comms – to manage this risk. Pipelines train their people to supervise and control, not innovate and curate. General Electric’s “Six Sigma” teaches supervisors how to avoid leakage through diligent planning. PR managers control the message. Marcomms ensure everyone keeps on point. HR eliminates the free thinkers who may speak out of line. Go to any Marcomms event today and much of the conversation itself is couched in themes of “Crisis Management”: controlling risk, rebuilding trust and averting a meltdown.

“A High-Ranking Public Official Tweets Your Company… Now What?” This was the keynote opening speech at The Corporate Communications Conference and Awards in New York last year.

Recently I learned of one large technology consultancy (not a client) who spent 7 figures on installing a communications platform internally. The goal was to equip their Leaders with the tools to tell stories and share them across a social media. The problem was the the platform only curated official stories. Leaders could only select, customize and share stories drip fed from the Official Narrative. While Leadership were excited to play with the Platform, the novelty soon wore off. Their audience got bored of canned posts and the posters soon lost interest.

The platform today remains largely unused and redundant.

Podcasts: Get our Guide for Corporates

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Control to Curation

Control comes at a price. If this tech consultancy had, instead of installing the platform, spent the money on giving their people training and tools to tell their own stories, they’d still be communicating today. If it’s scripted people disengage.

Instead of controlling the narrative, curate it with effective Guard Rails. Guard Rails are guidelines that give your people the starting point of conversation. In Storytelling this would be giving your Leaders “Meta Messages” and “Key Talking Points”.

Podcast Guard Rails

When we record with clients for their podcast, we encourage them to be authentic and communicate naturally. But not many Leaders understand what that really means. They are used to a world of stiff event presentations and polished media.

That’s why one Guard Rail we help Comms Leaders install is the Storyboarding session. In this session, often taking place 1-2 weeks pre-recording, we gather the Comms Leader, hosts and guests to coordinate on creating a cohesive narrative for the conversation beforehand. In Movie terms it’s called a “Table Read” where the cast gather for the first time. Often it’s less about agreeing on what exactly to say and more on creating an authentic connection between the cast, a chemistry that the audience will sense.

Define: Podcast Storyboarding

Podcast Storyboarding – at our Podcast Agency we see every podcast as a co-created narrative between the host and the guest(s). That’s why it’s important to help structure the narrative as a team rather than set the podcast up as an “interview”. The most authentic and spontaneous podcasts are also the ones that have an outline narrative arc for the speakers to follow.

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Guard Rails also give the cast confidence they won’t stray out of bounds, a fear that will often make them default to safety or inaction. In the context of Podcasting, this means sticking to the script. With proper Guard Rails, your Leaders can communicate authentically and effectively.

Podcast Green Lights: What CXOs Can Do

– Give your People a Voice
– Create effective Human Communication Interfaces

Stephen Covey, author of “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People”, with over 25 million copies sold globally, found that as business evolved into the digital era, he needed to reflect this change in his writings. He later published “The 8th Habit”, to detail the need for servant leadership in the digital era. The 8th Habit, in Covey’s words, was the habit of

finding your voice and inspiring others to find theirs.”

– How do you help your people find their voice?
– Identify the key storytellers within your organization
– democratize leadership with data

Leaders want you to give them the green light and remove the red tape that restricts their inherent ability to take risk.

Jessi Hempel, for example, hosts the Hello Monday podcast by Linkedin. The CEO Reid Hoffman has a separate podcast. These aren’t “Linkedin” podcasts per se, but a communications channel for the authentic 99% within Linkedin. Hoffman isn’t part of Hempel’s podcast, but it’s clear he gave Jessi the green light to make it happen.

Give Your People a Voice

Consider the potential business benefit of that Leadership decision by reviewing that data from Microsoft’s Linkedin post again.

MS has 150,000 employees on Linkedin. Each employees knows at least 150 people. That means MS employees can reach 22,500,000 people authentically.

If only 1% of Microsoft’s Leaders were given the green light to tell stories, that would be 1,500 awesome storytellers. Imagine what they could achieve in telling stories about the new Surface.

If Microsoft CXOs embraced Unofficial, it would crush recruitment, employee engagement, Glassdoor, customer success and PR in one swoop.

Your role as a CXO is to identify that talent and work with them.

– Who has something to say?
– Who has the attention of an audience that matters
– Who is working on an interesting project that needs exposure?
– Which case studies can you showcase?

As a CXO your role is shifting from one of being an expert to one of knowing who to ask. Not knowing the answer is okay. You don’t need an answer for your company’s policy on diversity or climate change or plastic waste or why a feature didn’t work on a latest product launch or why a partner is misbehaving. You have a Platform of curated voices to work with.

Looking for Podcast Case Study Examples?

10 business podcast case studies

Podcasts: Get our Guide for Corporates

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About Author Graham Brown

Graham Brown is the founder of Pikkal & Co – performance communication agency responsible for producing Award Winning Podcasts for business brands. Clients including McKinsey, Julius Baer, IBM and the Singapore Government. Investors and Advisors from Netflix, Intel, Apple and iQiYi. He is a published Amazon author covering human communication technologies, marketing and branding. He has produced over 1,000 podcast episodes and webinar shows with notable shows including the Tony Fernandes Podcast. Graham is a graduate in Artificial Intelligence and is currently leading Pikkal & Co to use Machine Learning and Conversation Analytics to automate the heavy lifting of communication to elevate the human touch.
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