Siemens wants to turn its digital communications platform into one that’s as important to consumers as Facebook, and it’s starting by getting artificial intelligence to tell its internal authors what to write about.
The tech conglomerate believes the sheer scale of its work (which is carried out by more than 350,000 employees worldwide) makes for stories that will interest people outside of the company. However the two heads of its communications department – both less than two years into their respective jobs – are aware that the brand has been historically ineffective at telling these stories, largely due to its distrust in non-traditional media.
“We liked to touch things and talk about things – traditional media events were where we bought our a-game,” said Stephanie Chalmers, global head of content and newsroom at Siemens. “I had to explain that [non-traditional] channels are way more effective than the ones they were used to. That complexity is very scary for a company like Siemens, because they can’t control it.”
She added – bluntly – that the group is “super bad” at taking the learning from its working culture, innovation challenges and industry-wide debates and translating it for consumption for an external audience.
“It’s clear that our content and topics in general are covered better elsewhere,” she said, adding that “every time Siemens does say something external to the stakeholders it feel like propaganda because you have to go through about 10 rounds of changes” – an issue likely to resonate most corporate comms managers.
So Chalmers, along with her colleague Mark Seall, the global head of digital communications, have been developing a platform that allows internal authors to write for an external audience without having to go through rounds and rounds of sign-off. Currently in beta under the working title of Siemens Ingenious, the development uses data and Adobe's Sensei AI technology to overcome the plethora of difficulties involved with turning tech-led employees into storytellers.
For instance, the “blank canvas” dilemma – whereby authors can’t decide what to write about – has been solved by an AI tool that scans the web and tells them which topics are both timely and relevent to a tech audience. Siemens can also scan internal platforms to pull out interesting stories that may appear mundane to staff working around them daily.
This data is coupled with a pre-SEO automated set of headlines, in order to drive reach. Writers are presented with the headline and go from there; those that need extra help with writing are offered it in the form of assisted authoring software, which helps them to “write like a pro”, according to Seall.
He noted that this method of starting with automated AI-generated headlines also solves the problem of writers churning out 1,000-word pieces that no-one will read.
Seall has high hopes for when Ingenious (or whatever its definitive name will be) launches to the public.
“I would like something which provides enough value to someone’s life that they would actually use it,” he said. “I wake up in the morning and look at Facebook, the BBC and I check my emails, but there are no corporate web entities which I add into my daily list.
“We should be able to add that value intellectually – we’re good enough and interesting enough to add a place in your lives.”
The momentum for this corporate change came firmly from the top when, in 2017, chief executive Joe Kaeser announced he wanted the company to be seen as anti-conglomerate, and vowed to break the company up into a “fleet of ships”.
“We were a highly processed company and we liked to tell things,” explained Chalmers. “In this transformation we’re going through, even the management board is realising we can’t tell a bunch of free ships to do something – we have to enable them to do it themselves.”
While the fleet analogy translates to all parts of the company in theory, Chalmers and Seall admit it has been difficult pushing through such a different approach when it comes to communications.
“The biggest obstacle in the organisation was actually the organisation and the people in it,” said Chalmers, when asked what her biggest challenge had been in implementation. “I know [in comparison to] other organisations we’ve worked at that this one took at least twice as long to get us all down the same path together."
Chalmers and Seall were speaking at Adobe Summit EMEA