There are three types of apologists in communications teams:

“I love working in comms, but I don’t do any digital”

“Who me? Oh not much, I lurk on Twitter now and again”

“I do a bit of blogging, but nothing to do with work”

I really enjoy meeting these people. They have so much more to offer their team than they realise. It is very rare, in my experience, to find anyone who is not using the web at all outside of work.

However, it is hard work revealing the hidden gems of skills within a team. This might be because generally people do not feel empowered to use digital at work, or because they do not see a link between what they’re doing outside of work, and your organisation’s objectives.

It’s a bit creepy to start Googling your colleagues and finding out what they’re up to online, and hardly reassuring for them. Here’s the approach I have taken:

1. Choose your moment. If you think someone might be sensitive about feeling interrogated, start by suggesting something they may wish to do and see if they have already done it. For example, ask about a recent holiday and whether they looked up any reviews online beforehand. Perhaps they wrote a review afterwards?

2. If TV programs come up in conversation, ask if they follow the live conversation online via a hashtag.

3. Try and track interests or hobbies across to different channels.

  • Football fans are often reading and contributing to blogs and forums, without realising that these are more than just websites.
  • Colleagues with an eye for a bargain might be browsing Money Saving Expert forums or Quidco.
  • Cyclists and runners will possibly get their fix online through Singletrack or other forums.
  • Book lovers should hopefully be lurking or participating in Goodreads.
  • Foodie? #gbbo or instagram
  • Older children? How are they sharing photos online?
  • Younger children and babies – parenting forums and blogs
  • Travel – Tripadvisor and Foursquare

4. Take time out of a team meeting to share different things that people have found useful online (calling out useful apps is a good way in to this).

Once you have a better understanding of your colleagues’ interests and what they are already doing online, it’s easier to start identifying the transferable skills and encouraging people to develop these and apply them to work projects.

You may well be working with budding community managers, live bloggers or people who are naturally great at digital outreach. Perhaps they don’t know it themselves, yet.