“Working out loud”: Your personal content strategy

While collaboration platforms are increasingly attractive to enterprises, most people still don’t know how to use them at work.

After a brief introduction, individuals are quick to understand the concepts: the power of networks, the potential for shaping their reputation, the extraordinary commercial possibilities.

But they struggle with what they should actually do.

Here’s a good place to start.

Beware the YACCs!

Two of the most common objections I hear are “I don’t have enough time” and “I don’t know what to post.” That’s because people often think of using a collaboration platform as an extra thing to do. An additional way to communicate.

And people at work are already overloaded: email, phone, voice mail, mobile phone, mobile phone voice mail, instant messenger, group chat, desktop video, desktop video messages.

The last thing anyone wants is Yet Another Communications Channel.

So, instead of focusing on communicating in new ways, it’s important that collaboration and contribution is in line with the work people do every day.

Working out loud

Recognizing this, Bryce Williams coined the term “working out loud” and defined it this way:

 “Working out loud = Narrating your work + Observable work”  

For Bryce, narrating your work is “journaling…what you are doing in an open way.” And making your work observable is “creating/modifying/storing your work in places that others can see it, follow it, and contribute to it IN PROCESS.”

This used to be impractical with most communications tools. (You’d never send email to a large group about things you’re doing throughout the day.) But modern collaboration platforms combine rich content-handling with Twitter-like activity feeds that make it easy to skim large amounts of content quickly.

That combination opens up new possibilities.

Observable work

The vast majority of people at work are uncomfortable blogging or tweeting. They’re simply not used to it and some may never be.

But everybody works. They create documents and presentations. They schedule and attend events. They comment on other people’s work.

Collaboration platforms make all of that work visible. Every one of those actions can be communicated to your social network without any extra effort.

“John Stepper just uploaded ‘Banking & social media’ in Social Media Community”

Simply by using a collaboration platform to store your material, you make you and your work visible in real-time. And, better still, your work (projects, documents, discussions) is now searchable and discoverable. People will find you any time they’re looking for content related to what you’re doing.

Narrating your work

In 2009, Dave Winer wrote about “Narrating your work” – the practice of providing a brief, running commentary on your work as you do it.

Later, in an extremely helpful article entitled “Do’s and Don’ts for your work’s social platform”, Andrew McAfee also encouraged people to narrate their work:

“Talk both about work in progress (the projects you’re in the middle of, how they’re coming, what you’re learning, and so on), and finished goods (the projects, reports, presentations, etc. you’ve executed). This lets others discover what you know and what you’re good at. It also makes you easier to find, and so increases the chances you can be a helpful colleague to someone. Finally, it builds your personal reputation and ‘brand.'”

Confused about what to write? Simply post about what you’re working on every day. Who you’re meeting with. The research you’re doing. Articles you find relevant. Lessons you learned. Mistakes you made.

The form factor of short posts that are easy-to-skim make this kind of narration practical – for both the author and the audience.

It’s a start

It only takes a few posts before people start seeing the benefits. Being able to work out loud allows employees to make connections – finding people and content relevant to their work – like never before.

As Stowe Boyd writes:

“..bringing activities out of closed repositories and applications, and pulling them into the open increases the likelihood of learning key information earlier…working out loud leads to succeeding (or failing) more quickly…makes a company more intelligent: quicker to improve, and more resilient in the context of uncertainty.”

People already familiar with social tools understand this. For the rest, they’ll have to begin using the tools and experience it for themselves.

Working out loud is the most practical way for them to start.

Your best use of social media may not require a single post

If you’re in a regulated firm, you’re still struggling with social media. Maybe your marketing department uses it, or you’ve read about a few examples in your industry.

But for most of the individual businesses within your firm, you’ll quickly get mired in legal, compliance, data privacy, and data security issues before you can figure out who can post what.

So what if you could realize more value, with less risk, by never posting at all?

Why many firms block access

Over the past year, I’ve met with vendors that help financial services firms use social media. Most of our conversations focus on compliance requirements related to updating profiles, comments, messages, and likes.

You can be in a room with 20 people – lawyers, HR, compliance, technology, and business people – discussing questions such as “Are likes considered recommendations? Do they need to be pre-approved?”

It quickly gets complicated. Legal and compliance, already under siege, get increasingly nervous. And everyone is still uncertain if all this effort and risk has any appreciable return.

In the face of all of this, it’s no wonder that many firms simply block access.

Recently, though, I was talking with Pedro Barreda and Cameron Randolph from Socialware, and we talked about the value of just providing read-only access to larger numbers of people.

Embracing the 90-9-1 

Throughout much of the internet, you’ll notice a reasonably consistent participation inequality.  The “90–9–1 rule”, suggests that “1% of people create content, 9% edit or modify that content, and 90% view the content without contributing.”

Overwhelmingly, the people in your firm will be more comfortable lurking – simply reading LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook – than posting content.

Instead of fighting that tendency, you can use it to your advantage by focusing on read-only use cases.

4 examples

While most use cases limit social media to a handful of people in marketing or support, these are applicable for many people across different divisions.

Monitoring: advice you’ll hear over and over is that the first thing you should do when using social media is listen. This isn’t just for brand communications, but for any business and any function. Knowing what people are saying about your firm, about your competitors, and even what your competitors are saying about themselves, has always been important. Social media just makes it easier than ever.

News: Increasingly, people are getting their news via their social filter and they’re also reporting it on social networks. Many different groups – from trading to business continuity – can benefit from an advantage in being alerted to news more quickly. So they should be monitoring Twitter for news as it’s often reported there before professional news channels.

Recruiting: Companies have long been looking for alternatives to exorbitant recruiting fees, using everything from employee referral fees to alumni networks. But why build your own network when those alumni – and millions of other professionals – are already on LinkedIn and Facebook? And when both your HR department and your employees can easily tap their networks on those platforms?

Lead generation: Every broker is looking for potential clients. And those clients are on LinkedIn and looking for advice. Here are some great statistics from a recent article titled “High Net Worth clients prefer LinkedIn”:

Cogent Research…suggests that of the more than 5 million high-net-worth investors [American and Canadian investors with more than $100,000 in investable assets] that are currently using social media almost 75% picked LinkedIn as the social media platform they use the most for investment research.

The reason for this is respondents felt LinkedIn created a “trusted platform for financial service companies” to engage with HNW investors.

Furthermore, among “ultra affluent” investors [more than $5 million in investable assets] investment research was identified as the top reason they visit the LinkedIn site. And when compared to the average investor, the ultra affluent are 37% more likely to trust information on their LinkedIn network and 157% more likely to trust articles that are shared on LinkedIn.”

Start building a capability

April Rudin, who specializes in marketing in the high net-wroth space, writes:

“The best and easiest social media platform for wealth management firms, private banks and others to begin on is LinkedIn. LinkedIn’s user interface is more familiar and it’s an obvious business platform which makes it the path of least resistance.”

That’s a great way to think about it. Instead of stumbling on all of the complex cases, find examples and modes of access that make it easy for people – both individuals and compliance departments – to get started.

More and more, your firm’s customers will want meaningful interaction using social media.

“53% of HNW investors say they expect to receive relevant and timely content from social media platforms and 45% said they would value real-time interaction and conversation with an advisor or other investors.”

It’s time to take some steps and begin learning how to do that.

Why are banks so interested in collaboration platforms?

This Tuesday, 7 banks attended an event to learn more about Jive, a social business platform.

Insurance, publishing, consulting, and technology firms were there, too. But there were more in banking than any other industry.



The main reason for all the interest is that banks have the most to gain from better collaboration and communication.

Many banks are huge companies. The top 4 US banks alone spend almost $300 billion and employ over 1.1 million people all over the planet.

More importantly, they tend to be wasteful. Over the past few decades, they made enough money that they could afford to be wasteful. They were focused on growth over efficiency – particularly on the investment banking side,

Now, with fundamental shifts in their business models, all the big banks need to seek other paths to profits. Eliminating waste, always an obvious thing, is more of an imperative than ever.

Staff recruiting & engagement

Just as it used to be easier to make money, it used to be easier to attract and retain people. Bank employees always worked hard under difficult, stressful conditions but they were paid a premium in exchange. And there was always a decided cachet to the phrase “investment bank.”

Now, as bonus pools and social recognition have been diluted, banks need to pay more attention to how work gets done. That includes, among many things, giving people the tools and convenience they’re used to at home. It includes making it easier for people to do their jobs and to have a voice.

More than ever, if young, bright people feel like they’re going back in time when they enter a bank, they’ll look for other options.


When it comes to sharing information, banks are conflicted. They aim to enforce “need to know” policies and “only use bank devices for work” policies. Yet they also want to break down the silos and discover more cross-selling opportunities.

Which is it? Well, it’s all of the above. Yet, the combination of old tools combined with restrictive policies leads to a set of incoherent, inconsistent, and ineffective controls.

Studies by regulators (e.g., looking for business use of public social media by employees) have shown that people, while conscious of the rules, tend to do what’s easiest and most effective to get their jobs done. Regulators caution that “willful ignorance is not an option.” If there’s evidence that policies aren’t practical, then banks need to do more.

Modern collaboration platforms are part of the solution, allowing firms to consolidate the current disparate array of tools. That makes it easier for employees to communicate while also making it easier for banks to retain and supervise communications where they need to.

What are you waiting for?

Every single bank I know recognizes that their collaboration solutions are inadequate. A few have made significant progress. Some started well but stumbled on compliance or organizational churn. But the remainder, the majority, are spending protracted time running pilots and wondering what to do next.

If you’re one of those firms, please stop. Given the extraordinary potential for commercial and personal benefits, the time for dithering is over.

Now is the time to make a decision, lead a movement, and change the way your firm works.

Teaching reputation: How to get recognition for your work

Does this sound like you or someone you know?

You’re working hard, doing a good job, but you’re just not getting the recognition you deserve. Maybe you’ve spent years at the same level or in the same role. Or you’ve had several bosses and had to start over with each one.

Some people seem to get picked out of the crowd, but not you.

What can you do?

Teaching reputation

When I talk to people about their careers, their most common complaint is feeling stuck. They want more recognition and appreciation but have no idea how to get it. They want access to new and different opportunities but don’t know how to discover them.

So, as part of a course on “Building a purposeful social network”, we’re trying to teach people some new skills.

In the second of six sessions in the course, we focused on different ways to shape your reputation and build relationships.

5 ways to make your work more visible

We talked about the basics of networking, drawing on resources as diverse (and yet as similar) as Dale Carnegie and Keith Ferrazzi. And then we talked about the power of on-line channels to amplify your message.

We wanted to show how these channels make it easy for more people to recognize you – who you are, what you do, and how well you do it.

We picked 5 on-line channels, including an internal social collaboration platform we just launched, and asked “How effective is this tool in shaping your reputation?”

Then, we asked how often they used it (on a scale from 1 – 100).

Note the correlation.

People thought the most effective tools were the ones they used most often. Since everyone was most familiar with email – notably the most limited of the 5 tools in shaping reputation – they thought it was the most effective. Since 75% of the class never used Twitter, they thought it was the least effective.

A few hours later…

During the class, we walked through each of the tools and provided examples – from people inside and outside of the firm – of how people used the tools to shape their reputation and connect with other people who could help them.

Afterwards, we asked them again: “How effective is this tool in shaping your reputation?”

The perception improved for every single platform.

Just by providing relevant examples, we changed people’s familiarity with the tools and changed their view of their effectiveness. Scores for the new collaboration platform, for example, went up by 25%.

Learning (more) by doing

The first step in this class was aimed at increasing awareness. In the next class, everyone will use each of these channels and start building their purposeful social network while they develop some new skills.

We’ll help people use the new collaboration platform, freshen up LinkedIn profiles, and set up Twitter accounts. We’ll look for and subscribe to relevant blogs. And we’ll even revisit email styles.

Over time, they’ll become more comfortable with these channels, more active, and more proficient. And they’ll gradually take more control over their reputation and career.

That’s something everyone deserves. And something everyone can learn.