Is the Olympics effect on Social Media usage a spike or the start of a trend?

It’s difficult not to know the Olympics is being hosted by London this year. It’s on the TV, it’s on the radio, it’s in the news, and it’s the talk of offices and coffee shops all over the country… and most interestingly it is also the first Olympics year in which Social Media has been playing a huge part in those conversations.

There were fears before the Olympics that the infrastructure may not be able to cope with the influx of twitter use, photo texts, mobile TV, & Facebook status updates etc which were expected during the opening ceremony and the events in general. Most of these concerns seem unfounded but the fact that Twitter has repeatedly hit the news since the start of the Olympics, including for impacting the ability of broadcasters to get accurate information on the cycling road race and for the abusive messages sent to Tom Daley, does demonstrate that the use of this particular type of Social Media is now an integral part of the Olympics 2012.

I have friends who are lucky enough to have obtained tickets for Olympic events who are posting photos and results to Facebook, I am following numerous Twitter feeds of athletes, reporters and broadcasting organisations & am enjoying participating in sharing results and supporting and discussing the various events. For someone such as myself who has not managed to get tickets, and who really wanted them, it has helped to make me feel involved and helped to bring to the event to life. Interestingly I am also seeing increasing involvement from less sporty friends and colleagues who would not normally be interested in the Olympics but who are finding themselves drawn in to the excitement and able to follow the sports better due to the increased information available at our fingertips.

I am sure there will be numerous stats available around usage of various media during the Olympics, and I very much hope that the many companies using social media as a marketing tool linked to the Olympics are measuring it’s success. It will be really interesting to look into these and see how the usage is split across the various media, and whether conversations and engagement were up as well as broadcasting of messages. However I think even at this early stage we can say it’s been a big impact.

For me though, the big question we can’t answer yet is: Is any increase in the use of Social Media resulting from the Olympics likely to be the start of a more general increase in usage – or is this just a large spike and the normal trends will resume in a few weeks time. What do you think?

Pedalling the team message…

Bradley Wiggins and Mark Cavendish racing for Team Sky in the 2012 Tour de France (ITV)
Bradley Wiggins and Mark Cavendish racing for Team Sky in the 2012 Tour de France (ITV)

I’ve been following the Tour de France this year. In all honesty this is largely a defence mechanism as my husband & other half (OH to my twitter followers) is an ex racing cyclist and a huge fan. So with an air of ‘if you can’t beat them join them’ I have been reading online blogs, watching the highlights, reading the reports and trying to get my head around the ins and outs of the peculiar coloured lycra tops the commentators keep referring to! The key thing that has struck me more than anything else is how important Team Work is for the riders. To the uninitiated cycling can seem like quite a solitary sport, after all unless you’re on a tandem there is only one person pushing those wheels around; but the more I’ve watched The Tour this year the more I’ve realised what a shining example of being a team player these guys show.

Now, I apologise from this point onwards if I upset any Tour aficionados, as I’m sure I am about to hugely oversimplify concepts here, but it’s a great opportunity to show how you can match the team work principles from sport to the teamwork which makes businesses successful.

This year’s tour is being largely dominated by Team Sky. They have a clear goal: Bradley Wiggins to have the yellow jersey at the end of the race in Paris. They have a strong team full of cyclists with different strengths who are very capable of shining on their own, particularly if given a task which plays to their speciality strengths, however they all support and are working towards this team objective. To do this the team are cycling immediately in front of and behind Bradley, helping to ensure there is a clear route for the most efficient line, protecting him from the wind and other riders who may accidentally get caught up in a crash, and keeping up supplies of food and drink for the person they are trying to ensure finishes consistently closest to the front of the field. (for a great guide to the ins and outs of The Tour and correct Tour terminology I recommend this Telegraph article)

This year’s Tour De France has a long Time Trial on the second last day which it is widely thought that Bradley Wiggins will do very well in, and according to the pundits I am following it seems that if someone is to beat Bradley Wiggins then they need to get a significant time lead prior to this penultimate stage. The layout of the race has meant that with a strong team supporting Bradley they have been able to try and prevent a time lead occurring so far, and time is running out for their competitors. By recognising the strengths and weaknesses of the team they have been able to protect their leader so far and are continuing to work well towards their end goal.

The press has been making much fuss about Chris Froome being as strong, if not stronger, than Bradley Wiggins on certain stages this year, and as much fuss has been made in certain quarters about Mark Cavendish not being given a chance to show off his excellent sprinting skills this year. However interviews with Mark and Bradley and the team show that there is mutual respect of everybody’s skills and that the belief in the team goal has not changed. In a different event, a different year, or a different race the goal maybe different but in this race they all want one thing.

In many respects strong characters show themselves in every good team. If you look at a web development team then there will be people who are superb at database challenges, people who are great at front end user journeys, some who excel at making things look special and some who are good all rounders. In teams creating a marketing campaign there may be somebody who is good at ideas, somebody who is creative, and somebody who is good with figures and keeping things to budget. Often one of these jobs may appear ‘more important’ to the outsider who frequently only sees the front end or final product but in reality the end result would not exist if all the little bits were not there to support it.

In today’s press Bradley Wiggins has reiterated that he will work towards a team win whomever is the leader, and that leader should be chosen based on the strengths needed for the race.

Whatever the event, sport or business challenge, the key to a successful team is playing to the strengths of the team for each challenge and ensuring everybody understands and supports the end goal.

Allez Bradley!!!!!

How do you use your Intranet?

I’ve been thinking a lot about Intranets this year. The question is coming up more frequently with clients as to how to use Intranets to lower costs, and improve employee engagement; and the one word which keeps coming up in one form or another is Collaboration. How do you get turn your Intranet into a tool which employees both want and need to use on a daily basis, and one which they use for working with other employees?

Collation of Intranet tool images
Collaboration seems to have been the buzz word of 2011. Much in the same way that Social Media has really taken off and become a key tool for businesses to talk to their customers, it seems that Social Media type tools are being increasingly used to engage and communicate with staff. Bulletin board and twitter style update tools that spring to mind which are focussing on this niche are yammer and but it still seems to me that these one-line Facebook style updates provide just one channel and you can’t rely on all employees wanting to to engage in this way. Often they will be trying to find or communicate information regarding policies or procedures which are better housed in a document library or sent only to certain individuals.

Back in 2001 I worked with Phones4u when John Caudwell hit the news for banning email. I have no idea if he was the first big business man to hit upon this concept, and he certainly hasn’t been the last – in fact Atos recently declared a ban on all internal emails. In principle there is a sound argument that emails are distracting, prevent people from doing their day to day job, and that people overly rely on it for all communications, when often picking up the phone and talking is a far better way to get a resolution. However in truth, like with bulletin or discussion boards this is only one channel and it is about using it in the correct way. Email is a very efficient tool for confirming actions & minutes, sending contracts & agreements or providing notifications of events. Where email fails it is frequently because it is being used instead of conversation. The Inbox fills up and the important notifications get missed. However, in today’s world of overcrowded diaries,  flexible hours and working in different locations and different time zones, an alternative mechanism for conversation than face to face meetings is still required.

For the past decade or so I think it’s fair to say that Intranets have most commonly been used as a broadcasting tool and document repository; with sales messages, staff policies, organisation charts, structure changes and staff bulletins being the key purpose of the site. Unfortunately over time many Intranets have become clogged with information, with fewer people keeping them up to date and relevant information becoming increasingly more difficult to find. More recently Intranets have been plugged into more interactive tools such as HR systems, time management systems or Management Information Systems. However there was still largely a disparity between the types of interaction: interaction between users and Intranet tools, and interaction between multiple users.

Increasingly though organisations are spotting this gap. The fact that employees are having to move between email, Intranets and various interactive tools is being seen as a barrier to efficiency; and so there is a desire to bring the systems together and the line between which mechanism to use when is becoming increasingly blurred. When you look at systems such as IBMs Connections software which links email to a social media type interactive bulletin/discussion board, and can also host content managed web copy and documents or when you look at the various ways you can use Sharepoint tas a web publishing tool for both pages and documents, and where you can not only publish documents but feedback on them and introduce version control – then you start to realise how joined up Intranets could really become.

It is great to see more organisations looking to technology to improve efficiencies in this way. Too often I think Intranet projects are given lower priority as they are not seen to bring in the value to organisations that more commercial e-commerce based web projects could bring. However I do think that before any business embarks on this road it’s important that they go back to basics and identify the key requirements:

  • Who do staff need to communicate/interact with to do their day to day job?
  • What tools do staff need to do their day to day job?
  • What information does staff need to do their day to day job?
  • How are you going to train staff as to which elements to use for which types of communication and then ensure a culture of correct use is followed?

If you start to get too carried away with the technology, or don’t invest the time and therefore forget to ask these key areas, then I fear that no matter what solution is put in place it will ultimately grow into another example of an Intranet which ultimately is undervalued.

What does ROI mean to your organisation: Innovation or Documentation?

pile of coinsIn an ideal world, the work which organisations do and the projects they undertake have some sort of Return on Investment (ROI): a cost justifiable reason for doing the work in the first place. It could be cost saving or profit increasing, and could be via actual money or via another means such as increased brand awareness, however it is still a cost justifiable reason.

In a formal project management world the Business Case which holds this Return on Investment is a fundamental part of the project kicking off. However for many organisations this just isn’t reality. Projects are often kicked off because somebody somewhere has had a ‘bright idea’ and senior people have decided that it would be a good thing to progress it. This needn’t be a bad thing as, depending on the piece of work, it could be more effort to document the ROI than it is to just do it; and there is an argument that innovation is hampered by the question “why”. Never the less, I do totally believe that if a project is to be successful, and that success is to be measured then the cost/benefit needs to have had some consideration.

The reason I’ve been mulling this over most recently is because I was lucky enough to be able to attend the brilliant Be Good Be Social event in Edinburgh. I was privileged to hear 3 inspiring examples of how the use of Social Media has been effectively harnessed for the good of charitable organisations. The most impressive thing about these examples was that with minimum cost it was possible to achieve huge benefits. The ‘Return’ ranged from increased PR/Awareness and support through to real monetary benefits through donations. The details of the case studies we looked at are on the Be Good Be Social website and a great overview of the evening has been blogged about by Be Good Be Social sounding board member Sara Thomas, so I won’t go into them here. However I can assure you that these guys are great and I love the level of innovation that is demonstrated at their events.

As someone who has done a variety of work for charities over the years, I’ve always been struck by how innovative people within this sector are. Their ideas work to get maximum Return On their Investment, be it their investment of time or money. I don’t know if it is a cultural thing within the organisations, the belief in the cause, or the situational facts (i.e. there is not much money and every penny must be accounted for!). Yet I wonder how often does anyone physically write down a business case, or document expected ROI for this work; or is it that they just wouldn’t ever go ahead and do the work without believing it will bring back value?

It would be a mass generalisation for me to say that this doesn’t happen outside of the third sector, and of course I’m sure there are cases people could cite to me where Charitable causes have been perceived to do work which was without any ROI atall, let alone any innovation. However I do wonder: for these organisations that do look for new and alternative ways to get that little bit more: what is it that drives their innovation? Is it an unspoken, intrinsic desire to maximise ROI, or is it something else more fundamental about the way they work?

Thanks to Ed Henderson (Jack’s Dad!) of Jack Draws Anything, Conrad Rossouw of Shelter Scotland and Lesley Pinder of Missing People for sharing their learnings, and showing how amazing the results of an idea can be!

The Girl Effect – I’m a product of it… are you?

When I heard about the Girl Effect blog week I just had to get involved. I come from a family of strong, educated women and am proud to share their story, and the great things that have come from it. It would be nice to hope that stories such as ours help to inspire future generations of women and raise the cause of educating women around the world, and help to raise lives from poverty.

In the UK, in general, there is no real reason why a girl shouldn’t achieve as much or even more than a boy, at school and beyond. In fact I’m one of those people that don’t believe in corporate glass ceilings, I truly believe in choice and I think that often women choose of their own accord that they would rather not play office politics at the top of the ladder. I don’t think this is a glass ceiling, I just think that women don’t need to prove themselves in that way – we have more sense! Some people may be shocked by my attitude but I am lucky – I have a history which shows me that the opportunities are there in this country for those who want to take them, and I believe they have been for some time.

My Grandmother
My Grandmother: An amazing and inspiring woman who would have loved The Girl Effect

On my Mother’s side, my Grandmother was a doctor. I have a picture of her with her class at Edinburgh university and she was the only girl in the class. After she graduated she looked after her brother’s doctor’s surgery in Orkney whilst her brother and her husband went away to war to heal the wounded there. She ran the doctor’s surgery and then after the war she set up a doctors surgery in Yorkshire with my Grandad and they both worked there until they retired when they moved back to Scotland, their real home. My Grandmother must have been in her 30s when my Mum was born, partly due to the war and partly due to her work commitments. 

My Mother was a dentist, when I was young I remember being amazed that my Mum could recite Latin, Shakespeare and Burns by rote (my memory is that of a gnatt and I still struggle to recite poetry I supposedly learnt at school!). After my Mum separated from my Dad and left home, she started again from scratch so that she wouldn’t impact the education of my brother or I. She set up her own dental practice in a different part of the country and built a new life with her new husband. We continued to see her regularly but that must have such a brave decision to make.

For my teenage years I was brought up by my Father. He must have had the patience of a saint to put up with my typical teenage rants, but he continued to encourage my education and bravely rose to the challenge of being a part time Mum as well as a full time Dad.

On my fathers side, my Grandmother was a midwife. She saw many things during the war years which would probably make your hair curl. Her husband was a drunk and violent man and she  threw him out of the house to protect her family,  in a decade where women just didn’t do that. Her sister, my Great Aunt worked in a factory during the war and took the secrets act she signed so seriously that even since her death we do not know what service she was able to provide this country.

With genetics like this, and no knowledge of a life where woman are not strong, independent and capable of standing on their own two feet, I did not even question whether I should go to university; nor did I question undertaking a technical degree. I have always enjoyed the outdoors lifestyle, I was a member of Venture Scouts, and was always surrounded by boys as peers rather than as ‘the opposite sex’. It is probably as a result of this that I never see the people I work with as being male or female, I see their qualities as they are. I do not believe in feminism, I believe in equality – true equality where either sex can prosper in equal fashion or alternatively stay at home and live the family life if they so choose. I see being in a couple as a partnership, and believe if you have children then you should share the responsibility in the way that will be best for their upbringing, whatever that may be.

Unfortunately not everybody is as lucky as I am, and across the world there are thousands of girls who believe that they should leave school early to keep a home and raise children, that is if they get a choice or an education at all. What little research there is shows that by educating women you are increasing the chances not only of the individual girl’s survival and well being, but you are improving the chances of any family she may have. Like the women in my family before me have inspired me, I hope that these girls can be given the opportunity to inspire their children.


  • When a girl in the developing world receives seven or more years of education, she marries four years later and has 2.2 fewer children. *1 
  • An extra year of primary school boosts girls’ eventual wages by 10 to 20 percent. An extra year of secondary school: 15 to 25 percent. *2
  • Research in developing countries has shown a consistent relationship between better infant and child health and higher levels of schooling among mothers. *3
  • When women and girls earn income, they reinvest 90 percent of it into their families, as compared to only 30 to 40 percent for a man. *4


If this article has inspired you or moved you in any way please leave a comment, and do go and check the Girl Effect website to find out more. Or if you’ve got a story to share, whether you are male, female and whatever your age you too can help the campaign to spread the word through the Girl Effect Blog Week.  Take the time to read some of the stories there, they are moving and heartfelt – voices of women and men who are speaking up for girls across the world.

*1 United Nations Population Fund, State of World Population 1990
*2 George Psacharopoulos and Harry Anthony Patrinos, “Returns to Investment in Education: A Further Update,” Policy Research Working Paper 2881[Washington, D.C.: World Bank, 2002].
*3 George T. Bicego and J. Ties Boerma, “Maternal Education and Child Survival: A Comparative Study of Survey Data from 17 Countries,” Social Science and Medicine 36 (9) [May 1993]: 12 07–2 7.
*4 Chris Fortson, “Women’s Rights Vital for Developing World,” Yale News Daily 2003.