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There’s no shame in being in a position of responsibility and not knowing how to tweet. Or perhaps you don’t really like social media, after, y’know, what happened with the bullies and your daughter when she was at school.

Your son builds websites in his bedroom, and The Sunday Times keeps running features about Code Being The New Maths in the schools, and the basis of survival for British industry.

At work; digital, social media, or whatever, keeps appearing on the senior management team agenda. So far, you’ve nodded along to the strategy – move customers online, attract millennials on social media – but fortunately your division hasn’t had to contribute any time or money.

Jane over in retail tweets a lot and talks a good game, but no-one can explain to you how this helps her meet her targets. Russ in operations always has a new gadget on the go, but the one time you read his blog, it came across as, well, a bit preachy.

The problem is, Tom who used to do your job was seen as a bit of a digital pioneer, and its only a matter of time before people asking you when you’re going to pick up that baton. Plus, you’re really pleased with Nadine, Guy, James and Lucy – the latest recruits to your team – but you feel the pressure from them. They see opportunities to use the web, but you just don’t get what they’re saying.

Time is the big issue. You struggle to keep on top of an inbox and calendar, let alone have the phone bleeping away with yet more alerts. If that’s even what happens? You don’t really know.

You know digital is part of The Plan, and that it will have more of a bearing on your career in the years to come. But what is it, and how can I do it, usefully?

That’s the story of Amy. In the past six weeks I’ve met Amy, Jane and Russ in a variety of organisations. All of them successful, all of them in ‘leadership’ roles.

Sometimes they have opted to meet me, other times I’ve probably been an annoyingly vague entry in their diary. A blinking red light reminding them that they haven’t done much learning and development in the past year.

Ignore the technology. Focus on your audience

Either way, I’m asking them to each take a slightly different approach to digital. For Amy, we’re ignoring the tech, the language and the strategy. We’re focusing on what she needs to achieve in her role, and where her audience are online. We have been thinking about how the channels her audience use might help her understand the audience better, and how she can listen to these, little and often.

Most importantly, she’s going to talk to her team and find out what they already do online, and how these skills might help the team’s objectives.

Amy is also thinking about she can empower her team to work with a digital mindset. This involves interrogating the data that they gather and developing their work iteratively.

Work out loud. Don’t broadcast

Russ’s needs are different. He loves to use social media, but isn’t getting much feedback. Often he’s using it simply to share a status update, of show people where he’s been. Russ is worried about follower numbers and trying to layer digital on top of everything else. So we’re going back a few steps and thinking about it could be actually useful for him.

This is beginning to look like some reflective thinking – blogging about the successes in his teams, as well as the, er, ‘learning points’. I think I have convinced him that this is proper, brave use of social media, and much more human.

Overcome personal fears. Look at data

Jane has a brilliant team, who she protects and encourages, and she seems confident. However I had a niggling doubt about the depth of her own knowledge and how confident she really is.

Jane’s situation is one of the trickiest to identify, but easiest to solve. We had an open conversation about her experience and feelings about digital – what she does online, how often she uses Google, her fears about security and reputation. Revealing these concerns and an apparent lack of confidence to get online was difficult for both of us, but cathartic.

The result is that she’s committing a little time to find set up her tablet so that she feels more in control of the settings, and sharing her new-found knowledge. She has set herself some goals to look more carefully at data, and evaluate her team’s activity more carefully – getting beyond clicks and followers.

We’re recruiting a Head of Digital Capability here at Helpful towers.

As a team, we’re agreed that building skills and confidence among our clients, makes work rewarding for us. We like helping teams to use the Web more effectively, for communication and engagement. You won’t find us running other people’s marketing campaigns, writing ghost blog posts or publishing big strategy documents.

The Head of Digital Capability role needs a special sort of person: someone who is confident enough to remove the mystery around digital, help others overcome their fears and call out misguided ideas when they see them.

Having lots of first hand experience of doing digital in different organisations helps confidence, but more important is an ability to listen and clearly reflect what you hear. That’s because when it comes to digital capability, there’s usually a bit more to the challenge than teaching people. Our clients have outstanding staff who need a more challenging digital brief, or staff who’ve tried to be innovative and had their fingers burnt. Maybe their business model or purpose is struggling without digital, or established processes are holding them back.

Every week is a busy mix of workshops, classroom courses, online learning, writing, pitching and planning. I’ve found it physically demanding, by the time you add travel on top. A full eight hours delivering training in London, then a train ride to Scotland or Wales that evening to run a workshop the next day, is a typical 48 hours.

That said, we’re fully committed to flexible working, and giving people the tools to do their job wherever they are. The current team work a mixture of part- or full-time, from home and the office. We work to meet deadlines, rather than to be seen to be busy.

Action plan dashboard

If I haven’t put you off so far, good.

You’ll need to be able to stay positive about the potential of your work. Winning new opportunities is only the beginning: when organisations ask for help with digital, they still need lots of convincing.

Back at the office you’ll be responsible for our overall approach to capability: developing the Digital Action Plan platform, the content we use to motivate, explain and inspire, and managing the people who help us deliver.

If this sounds like something you want to do, please get in touch.

This month we’ll complete a project to kick start digital engagement for a relatively small, but important, organisation. The delivery has involved reviews, planning, strategy, pilot projects and training: I feel like I have spent time with everyone, from the CEO to the newest recruits.

What made this project tempting to us, was the fact it had been commissioned by a team other than communications. This is unusual for us, but very welcome. We’re always keen to work with people who are on the front line, seeking audiences beyond media and wanting to get involved in conversations.

This wasn’t a case of the communications team hogging the sweetie jar, or not being helpful. But the impetus to do more online came from elsewhere in the organisation.

The challenge for an established organisation is that they’re used to channeling conversations, statements, broadcasts and engagement, through the communications team. Typing this blog post as I am (as I would have done years ago when employed by big Government departments) and hitting the publish button of my own accord, has been a completely alien concept for the staff we talk to. Without evidence of regular digital engagement from within the communications team, the rest of the organisation feels a little more nervous.Woman under a blanket with laptop

Digital can, and should, live everywhere in an organisation. But it really helps if the communications team are confident digital practitioners. They should have oversight of the critical messages coming out from any organisation, but they also have a responsibility to disseminate digital engagement, and empower their colleagues.

In the case of our latest project, the communications team became some of our best participants and proved to be fantastically flexible, encouraging and enthusiastic.

I used to think it was all about wresting digital from shrinking communication teams. Now, I’m changing my mind. Organisations need a safe blanket: confident digital communicators who encourage and empower.

Late night via photopin (license)

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