Chris Leonard of SnapComms tells Andrew Patterson about better ways to communicate with staff, techniques used worldwide

Chris Leonard of SnapComms tells Andrew Patterson about better ways to communicate with staff, techniques used worldwide

By Andrew Patterson

Examine the results of any staff survey and you can almost guarantee that internal communication, or lack of it, will usually feature right at the very top of the list.

Yet in an age where managers have never had more communication tools at their disposal it seems their ability to actually deliver effective and timely messages to staff remains as poor as ever.

Perhaps, that is, until SnapComms spotted an opportunity.

The Auckland based technology company has created a desktop solution for communicating to staff that can deliver a personalised message to every staff member in a matter of minutes.

The business idea

The business is the brainchild of former telco executive Chris Leonard who says the idea was born from a realisation that there had to be a better way to communicate with staff, other than by using email.

“The whole idea really eventuated some time ago with an intranet manager who was a bit frustrated, not with his efforts, but with the audience using his products. So he was trying to think of a way to create attention and awareness of what he'd done.

“It was that process that led to the idea of messaging or notifications being available on to the desktop that in turn led to the business being born. He related that story to us, and we ended up building a prototype solution at the time, to allow him to do that.”

“So essentially it was an application that was installed on the desktop that pushed out messages to his staff with a link through to his intranet, which he could use anytime he liked to publicise something and that's how the whole idea for SnapComms came about.”

“So cut-through is what his proposition was about then and cut-through is what the proposition is about today.

Keeping it simple

The whole idea seemed so simple at the time the company’s founders were sure someone must have already thought of it, but to their surprise no one had.

What’s more, the simplicity of the offering is its most compelling feature.

“Internal communications is what people go on and on and on about and it’s so important because you do need to keep staff both informed and engaged. You do need to constantly communicate messages through to your most important audience.”

“Email is certainly an over-abused medium these days and organizations are really struggling with being able to control the use of it."

"But there’s also the issue of getting their own messages across in a really overt manner. So while email is still very useful for certain forms of communication, in terms of getting those important messages across, it’s not very effective at all. And that's where the SnapComm solution really does create a point of difference by providing that cut-through.”

How it works

Take a typical CEO wanting to get an important message to staff ahead of a scheduled media announcement later in the day. What are their options?

Well, they could send an email, which is likely to remain buried in the inbox, or in much less time they could deliver a personalised pop-up message to every member of their staff anywhere in the world.

“A case in point was Sydney Ports in Australia last year. They were expanding one of their divisions and, as a public company, needed to alert all staff at a certain point in time ahead of a public announcement later in the day.”

“They used our desktop alert notification tool to basically put an alert together; pushed it out so it synchronized at a point in time, and bang, it went out to all the staff at the same time it was announced to the media, something you could execute within 30 seconds.”

Generally, nothing irritates staff more than finding out second hand what’s actually happening in the business they work for so SnapComms has delivered a range of additional offerings within its product suite.

“The desktop alert notification is just one of a suite of tools we've got. We've got scrolling ticker bars, we've got screensavers - which are a fantastic visual communications medium – plus there are quizzes, surveys, staff magazines, as well as offering our own suite of collaboration tools.”

“Then in between all of that that we've got a really useful function called RSVP which is an invitation tool that allows an enterprise to push out a mass invitation to a lot of staff with a series of check boxes and they can simply indicate the date and time they want to go to a particular event. And when they click accept, it not only populates the other calendars, it also provides those statistics back to whoever's managing that particular show making the whole process really efficient.”

Competitive space

With low barriers to entry, what has surprised SnapComms is the lack of other competitors in the space.

“Net Presenter based in the Netherlands and Desk Alerts, which is based in the U.S., are our two main competitors. But our point of difference is really the integrated nature of our suite of tools, where as our competitors only have single product offerings.”

“What customers want is to be able to deliver their messages and use them in a complimentary fashion."

"So for instance, you can use the screensaver to build general awareness of an event because it's such a visual medium, a bit passive, but still gets the message out there. And when management really want to hit home, they then use the alerts or the tickers for instance to get the main message across. Then they can validate acknowledgement or understanding through use of a survey for instance. That way everything links together.”

Converts for life

Not surprisingly, once managers start using SnapComms product suite they find it becomes very difficult to give it up; often creating converts for life.

“Vodafone New Zealand was one of our first big customers here in New Zealand. That came about as a result of a very innovative internal communications manager at the time, Geoff Timblick, who saw the benefits our tools could deliver.”

“Of course, Vodafone is a great name that you can take to the market and basically establish proof of concept and validate your market very quickly. Eventually Geoff moved to Vodafone UK and managed their global communications and he then ended up effectively selling our solution in to Vodafone’s entire global operation.”

“These days he’s now moved on to British Gas where, once again, he’s now using our solution. In fact, just this morning we got an order from a New York hospital manager who had used our tools in one his previous hospitals and wanted our product suite for the hospital where he’s working at now. So it’s actually very common and as a result, word of mouth advertising is very important for us.”

Surprisingly, 95% of SnapComms business comes from outside NZ.

“Our application is best suited to large organizations where communications is a real challenge. So organizations of five thousand plus, they have a real need which is why we have established offices now in the US and the UK where we see big potential for the product.”

So how big could SnapComms become in the future?

“Potentially, we could be massive, that's obviously the intent. The need for our application is horizontal so it spans the entire work force really. It's going to take us awhile to get there but the potential is definitely huge.”

And don’t rule out an IPO somewhere down the track, though the company says it plans to maintain its base in New Zealand.


SnapComms was placed 30th in the 2012 Deloitte Fast50 Awards.




Sector: Software / Technology
Ownership: Private
International offices: London, New York, San Francisco, Santa Barbara
Domestic / Export split: 5% : 95%
Staff: 18
Profitable: Yes
Likely to IPO: Possibly
Recent highlight: 30th in 2012 Deloitte Fast50


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Another way of saving the CEO from getting up and out of his office and really communication with his people. Massive productivity gains I'm sure.

CEO’s should, and generally do, get out of their offices and communicate with their staff – this also pertains to the senior management team, and while some are better than others at engaging their staff, in my experience they are all very aware of the need and importance to communicate in person where ever and whenever possible.
SnapComms is not however really intended to be used by the CEO or the senior management team…although, on occasion, key messages such as a merger, the posting of annual results or a strategic change in business direction, which are relevant to the entire organization, are best delivered using SnapComms…as it is one medium that will ensure these key messages will reach all staff…rather than being lost in the 100’s of emails some people receive daily.
Typically however, SnapComms is used in a tactical manner to assist with the operations of the business by ensuring messages relevant to staff are delivered in a timely and effective manner so they get noticed and acted on as needed.
For example, IT teams, who have application upgrades and systems outages to manage –often upgrades require business applications to be shut down…use of email to notify staff to exit an application in '10 minutes time' often gets ignored resulting in a lot of frustrated individuals who then have to re input the data they lost by not saving and existing the application…SnapComms allows IT teams to pushing upgrade notifications directly onto the computer screen…hard to miss and pretty much guaranteed to ensure staff save their work exit the application.  

We've got snapcomms in our office.  They're real annoying, it comes straight up on your screen, stopping you doing what you were doing, and won't go away until you've clicked into it. 

SnapComms in the wrong hands can indeed be problematic – it is up to organizations to plan why and how they intend using SnapComms to ensure staff are not bombarded with irrelevant messages.  SnapComms provided dashboards, messaging calendars and moderation facilities, which if used correctly, provide the organization with the tools they need to manage their messaging workflows according to best-practice guidelines.
In our experience most organization use SnapComms in an efficient and effective manner – when messages are delivered directly onto employees computer screens it is generally important information that should be take note of – notifications only keep appearing on-screen repeatedly if the initial message has not been read.

"Finally, and effective solution for internal comms"
Well, for a start the headline quoted above renders the rest of the article irrelevant......
And in my experience, nothing beats a manager actually getting off his posterior and REGULARLY familiarising himself with the those on the shop floor....and also the customers.

Face-to-face communication is critical for any organization and it is especially important for line managers to regularly engage with their staff in person. However if an organization has several thousand employees distributed around the globe it is not always possible to communicate individually to each and every staff member.
In these instances the ability to deliver messages globally and immediately to all staff is very important and is something that is easily and effectively achieved through using SnapComms. Managers should then be tasked with reinforcing the global messages by providing additional context in their regularly scheduled staff meetings…essentially information should cascade from organization-to-staff and then from managers-to-staff.
SnapComms is a strong advocate for organizations adopting best practise in terms of their employee communications and is affiliated with Melcrum and IABC as global leaders in employee communications practices and methodologies.