Corporate Hacking: Powerpoint is Still King

In 1996 I discovered that my large corporate employer had a fairly new, but emerging internal company blogosphere. I set up my own internal blog that was a mix of posts on interesting things I came across, as well as posts about my work.

At the time I was working on social media and customer support. I wrote about using wikis for online documentation, forums for customer support, about making support document feedback visible so customer’s could see each other’s comments, and how customer support problems fit the classical long tail definition made popular by Chris Anderson.

I received great feedback on my blog posts: passionate discussion in the comments, many hits and re-posts. People were genuinely enthusiastic about what I was writing, and I quickly became the go-to expert for social media and customer support.

But can you spot the problem? I was talking to the choir. The people reading my blog posts inside HP weren’t executives or decision makers. They were social media enthusiasts. Of course they got why it made sense to use social media for customer support.

I had a vague notion that I needed more reach further out. So I took my blog posts, and made those into a whitepaper describing the opportunity for social media and customer support. Suddenly the people who were reading my blog posts had something that felt more credible that they could forward on to other people. Now I had more reach.

But I was still reaching primarily technical people - people who would like to read a whitepaper. While that was good, but I still wasn’t reaching the decision makers - the managers who were deciding on the plan of record.

I took the next step and boiled everything down into a set of Powerpoint slides. This is one of those tasks that I always have mixed reactions about. On the one hand, the slides look pretty. On the other hand, it feels like I have dumbed down my content.

But suddenly my presentation found its way into the hands of management across the company. I had mid-level managers asking me to present to their staffs on social media. I had senior VPs asking me to coach them on a presentation to our CEO.

A little while later, after presenting to much of customer support organization, and after coaching the VPs who were presenting to the CEO, our Fortune 500 company had:

  • a dedicated social media team in our support organization
  • we launched our support forums - forums which now handle millions of customers and tens of thousands of posts
  • we started looking harder at embedding social features in our web site, and in a few cases we've done it.

Now, to be clear: other people did the vast majority of the work, and other people campaigned very hard to create the environment for all of that to happen. I don't want to downplay all the very hard work that they did.

But I made a substantial contribution to getting social media into the mindset of managers across the company, and painting a picture of the benefits they could realize by using social media throughout our support strategy.

But none of that could have happened if I had stuck only with blog posts and a white paper. Even though the ideas and knowledge were there, had been reviewed by others and improved, it still lacked the final piece necessary to go viral inside a large company: PowerPoint. Unfortunate perhaps, but still true. I had to endorse PowerPoint, make slides and shop them around, and lastly, get out there and talk to people. If you’re a geek who’d rather be writing Ruby code, it isn't the most natural thing to do. But in the end, the benefits for our customers, our company, and my career made it worth doing the uncomfortable.


Context: Once a new idea is germinated, investigated, and described, at a certain point you need a viral spread of the idea.

Obstacle: Twitter, YouTube, and Blogs spread ideas virally in the global environment, but aren’t applicable for distribution inside a corporate network.

Solution: The most viral communication mechanism inside the corporate is still a pithy powerpoint slide deck. A Powerpoint presentation is:
  1. suitable for mixed visual/written communication.
  2. well accepted by executives.
  3. easy to share via email, the dominant communication mechanism in business.
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