Digital transformation done right – lessons from the Met Office’s change journey

The Met Office has made huge strides digitally. Simon Swan shares 5 lessons for your digital transformation journey, including how to inspire others inside the organisation to create content.

Met Office Digital Transformation

Organisations large or small, we’re all trying to find better ways to connect with our customers so they know us, like us and trust us more, to ensure our businesses thrive. Changing the way a business communicates with the outside world is hard work. And as with any kind of change, so much of it is about getting people to come on the journey with you.

I’m a big fan of the Met Office – the UK’s national weather service. As a keen (OK, fanatical) open water swimmer, I’m obsessed by the weather. I’ve watched their communication channels and content improve dramatically over the last few years. They’re definitely getting it right, but how?

We invited the Met Office’s Digital Strategy and Transformation Lead Simon Swan to talk to Bristol Content Group last week about how they’re making a difference through smart use of digital. What is so interesting to me is the way Simon and the team are motivating people inside the organisation to engage in the drive to share their knowledge and create valuable content – often the biggest challenge of all.

There are important lessons here for all of us – whether we’re battling to change the face of communication in a large, complex organisation like the Met Office or working to encourage others to step up to the plate in far smaller businesses.

The Met Office’s digital journey so far

When Simon arrived at the Met Office eight years ago there was no real digital team to speak of. Since then so much has changed.

The Met Office has made huge strides. They have really embraced the digital opportunity, harnessing the power of content to help them forge deeper audience connection, increased reach, new revenue streams and real differentiation in an increasingly crowded weather market, with impressive results. Digital now spans the entire organisation, impacting everything from research to content strategy and internal culture. They know there’s more to do but there’s so much we can learn from their transformation journey to date.

Here are a few high points we heard about on the journey:

  1. Growing revenue through advertising and sponsorship. The Met Office is a trading fund as well as a public body and so needs to generate revenue. Simon’s first job was to successfully unlock new revenue through relevant digital advertising and corporate sponsorship programmes.
  2. Increased reach and relevance through content marketing. Data around weather has never been more accessible. With new technology and a rash of new players, the weather market is increasingly competitive. The Met Office needed to differentiate its proposition and stand out. They’ve achieved this through focusing on content marketing and storytelling. By listening hard to their audience they discovered that people don’t just want data – they want contextual information about the weather. With this in mind, Simon and his team have managed to harness and unlock the deep knowledge of their scientists and meteorologists across the world to bring weather data to life for the wider public, sharing this through their knowledge centre, blogs, social feeds, PR and other channels. They’ve grown an audience of nearly 2 million via combined social media channels.
  3. Forging deeper connection through improved content formats, channels and new technology. The Met Office has worked hard to optimise the content types and channels that people engage best with – be that the mobile app, audience-specific blogs, video, infographics, interactive maps and push notifications, or social channels such as YouTube, Twitter, or Instagram. Next up – innovations in voice technology and consolidating audience engagement through community-based content.

Met Office social media

What can we learn from the Met Office’s experience? Here are five big lessons I took away from Simon Swan’s presentation to Bristol Content Group last week.

Lessons in impact and engagement from Simon Swan

Met Office Bristol Content Group

Simon Swan at Bristol Content Group

Lesson 1: Start small and evolve incrementally

“Many small changes add up to big change.” – Jane Northcote, Making Change Happen

If you want to use digital to transform the way an organisation communicates, know that top down, big bang change rarely works. The Met Office has taken a more incremental approach to transformation.

Digital at the Met Office started with a team of just three – Simon and two colleagues. Their job was to prove the difference that could be made through digital innovation – a more natural, evolutionary approach to change.

Simon’s background working for start ups was an advantage here, and he brought that agile mentality to drive digital change for the Met Office. He was also fortunate to have a good sponsor at senior level in the organisation – that support was important.

The digital team and scope of their work gradually grew, proving the benefits and nurturing wider support as they went.

>> My takeaway: Do it the start up way. Don’t wait for perfect: experiment, measure, learn and continue. You have to start somewhere so pick a pilot project. 

Simon Swan digital change catalyst

Simon Swan – from start ups to the Met Office

Lesson 2: Strategy before tactics, always

For the Met Office digital tactics include SEO, content marketing, social media, syndication, advertising and sponsorship, but they didn’t dive in to any of these before investing time and energy in the over-arching digital strategy.

Simon and team hunted for the gaps: where should they play; where was the clear blue water? What is the Met Office uniquely equipped to talk about? Where’s the differentiator? To find this gap they had to go on a quest inside their organisation and out.

They put customer needs at the centre of their strategy, listening hard before acting.They spent time talking to their audience to understand their world and what they wanted. They used social media as a listening platform for a full year before starting to contribute to the conversation. What conversations were people having on social media about the weather? They interrogated analytics for patterns and clues.

They found that people didn’t want just data on weather, they wanted it brought to life. They wanted to understand the what, the why, the where, the when that surrounds a weather event – information that helps them make decisions, plan events, or learn about a weather phenomenon. And with so much knowledge on tap, the Met Office is uniquely well placed and trusted to provide this.

With this content sweet spot in mind, Simon and team created a strategy, and then brought together all the tactics to support it, linking all activities to benefits clearly aligned to SMART business objectives.

>> My takeaway: Slow down to speed up. Spend time on the strategy to uncover your sweet spot before diving into tactics. Do your research, and write your strategy down.  

Lesson 3: Educate and inspire to bring people with you on the journey

“You don’t want people filling this role who are simply going to “check a box.” Find content marketing evangelists who WANT to participate, who LOVE social media and the idea of helping the company establish an online presence, and who will ignite the content with their passion.” – Mark Schaefer

I think this is one of the biggest lessons I take away from the Met Office’s approach. Digital innovation means getting people inside the organisation on the journey with you – both leaders and experts in the business – to help you produce the type of content your audience craves. And this is never easy.

Simon and the team have tackled this in a really sensible way, through collaboration and careful relationship-building right across the organisation. Instead of trying to force people to get involved (which never works) they’ve taken a far more effective and respectful approach: interestingly, one that mirrors the best way to engage your customers outside your organisation too.

“Understand your audience and educate and inspire them to get involved; don’t mandate.”

Like content marketing itself, this is a long-term strategy that takes relentless hard work and careful relationship building.

  • Simon’s approach is to build the story show people what’s possible and the benefits, to them. In doing so you give people choice, sparking their natural enthusiasm, inspiring others and driving far better results.
  • He also has an impressive grasp of the data, making smart use of sophisticated analytics to find content opportunities, make the case for change and to measure and monitor results.

He uses a mix of storytelling and data to change hearts and minds and bring people on the journey.

Here are some of Simon’s initiatives to build internal understanding and support:

  • A daily editorial catch up which anyone in the Met Office can attend, around a whiteboard showing the editorial calendar for the day ahead.
  • Personal reporting to get senior leadership buy in – 1:2:1 meetings and tailored monthly summaries, connecting actions and results to their own objectives.
  • Showcase and rewards for high performing content – vouchers presented each month for the most valuable content. Visible praise via the intranet, and over coffee for enthusiastic content creators.
  • Pair sharing – working across offices to find pools of knowledge and get people to work together to produce valuable content.
  • An internal Digital Academy – bi-monthly lunchtime digital training sessions and knowledge sharing sessions, inviting external and internal speakers to present on a range of digital topics, open to people from all departments and all levels in the Met Office.

The Met Office’s Digital Academy is a genius move. It helps people to see outside the organisation and think differently so they willingly come on the journey and contribute, connecting people across departments in the process. As well as sharing knowledge, Simon sees the Digital Academy as a vital way of establishing a digital culture throughout the organisation – extending to employee values and mindset, not just technical skills.

“Culture is the hard bit. You can spend money on finding people with the specific tactical skills, but it is the attitude that drives real innovation.” – Simon Swan

We have a mantra here at Valuable Content to help guide our clients’ approach to communication; ‘Help don’t sell, show don’t tell, talk don’t yell.’ It seems to me that Simon’s applied this both to engage and build relationships with the Met Office’s customers and also with people inside the organisation. Smart move.

>> My takeaway: Don’t force people to contribute content and get involved in the digital drive. Educate and inspire them to sponsor the change and come with you on the journey. And celebrate and share their success. 

Help don't sell

 Lesson 4: Link all you do back to purpose and principles

The Met Office exists to provide weather warnings but its remit is wider than this:

“The Met Office: working at the forefront of weather and climate science for protection, prosperity and well-being.”

Simon is careful to connect all they do digitally to the big picture – the organisation’s brand purpose and heritage; it’s reason for existing. This organisational ‘north star’ guides their innovation projects and provides a clear, long term goal to work towards. Making this connections helps others in the organisation to see the point of change and get on board too.

This purposeful approach to change is underpinned by four digital principles to create, deliver, transform and engage across the Met Office.

>> My takeaway: Start with the why. Link your digital initiatives to the organisation’s purpose, and clear principles to drive transformation. 

Met Office Digital Principles

Lesson 5: Find the right change agents; give them support and time

Like me, Simon Swan is a big fan of Seth Godin and I can see why. Seth Godin champions the move for more organisations to recruit ‘linchpins‘ – “people who don’t shirk responsibility….they are connectors, people with insights, folks who never seem to lose hope.” This is exactly the kind of attributes that Simon brings into play for the Met Office; a skill set which other organisations determined to drive digital change should seek to harness too.

Digital change needs digital change catalysts like Simon with a relentless focus on the end goal – putting ego aside to make a real difference to the customer experience and the long term success of the organisation; innovative leaders who can work across traditional silos, with the active empathy, enthusiasm and soft skills required to inspire trust, understanding and action inside the organisation and out.

>> My takeaway: Identify or hire the right change catalysts to innovate, build engagement and create momentum from within. Start a movement, spark that fire. 

Valuable Content Award for Simon Swan and The Met Office

Great content deserves prizes. We’re delighted to present a well deserved Valuable Content Award for Simon and the Met Office’s team in their stunning offices down in Exeter.Valuable Content Award

The quality content you create and share for your audience is the tangible output of all the hard work, thinking and collaboration you’ve been doing behind the scenes.

Congratulations Simon Swan and team. We hope the Valuable Content Award badge is a small reward for all your sterling efforts so far. Keep up the great work, and please keep the valuable Met Office content coming. (The weather’s looking fine. I’m off for a swim.)

Valuable Content Award badge

Other Valuable Content Award winners making big change happen:

  • Valuable Content Award for Project One. Changing the change makers: plenty to take away from Geoff Mason’s content-fuelled business development story at change management consultancy Project One.
  • Valuable Content Award for ecosurety. Learn how ecosurety is boosting leads and sales by getting pretty much everyone in the business blogging – from compliance and relationship specialists to the HR and business development teams.
  • Valuable Content Award for Indium Corporation. Indium’s team of engineer bloggers creates immensely valuable content that draws in interest, builds relationships and drives sales results – from one engineer to another.

Further reading on the subject of change:

Here are four helpful resources I’ve found.

  1. This book – Making Change Happen by Jane Northcote
  2. This club – The Real Change Club – regular articles and resources via email from Project One
  3. This report – The Six Stages of Digital Transformation by Brian Solis
  4. This article – Corporate Training, how to ensure employees embrace digital – by Paul Boag

And you might like my recent article too: Why content is a brilliant catalyst for business transformation.

I’m fascinated to learn more about what’s needed to drive change. If you have any other resources or ideas that will help me understand it better do make suggestions in the comments below.

And if you came to Simon’s talk for Bristol Content Group do let me know what you took away. I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did.

~ Sonja

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  1. Jim O'Connor

    Hi Sonja and Sharon, I found the whole session an eye-opener. If was great to see, in practice, how someone/an organisation has approached and overcome some of the big challenges surrounding the effective implementation of a content marketing programme.

    You’ve touched on this in your notes (thanks for these) but the big word for me, was Simon used in his conclusion (but was implicit in everything that led up to it) – initiative. You’ve just got to take the initiative. That’s the start up philosophy I guess…just start taking action, even though you are not sure of what you are doing, how it’s going to turn out, whether it will work or not. Just doing makes something happen, and the something will be useful.

    I once heard someone say “you can’t steer a parked car…”

  2. VC

    Hi Jim. Very glad you enjoyed Simon’s talk. Nice one for pulling out the initiative thread. I loved the Seth Godin quote he ended with. I think Seth says: “The easiest thing to do is to react. The second easiest thing to do is to respond. But the hardest thing is to initiate.” Simon and the team are certainly doing that aren’t they? – Just do stuff. Start -I guess that’s the most important lesson of all. Cheers Jim. Hope to see you at the next one.

  3. Geoff Mason

    Sonja, I wasn’t at the session but I really enjoyed reading this article and using it as an opportunity to reflect on the Met Office. A little like the Ordnance Survey, these august and treasured bodies need to find their place in the 21st century. Just look at the iPhone and you see App after App bringing location and weather information to life in new and innovative ways. It seems from what Simon had to say, that they’ve established a strong foundation of content “thinking” that will undoubtedly position them well in this arena. I think your 5 take-aways are bob-on, and I’d pick out #3 for special mention. When I took Project One on a similar (albeit simpler!) journey, I assumed that if we did the right things and saw the right results, people would join us – but I’d underestimated the effort that needs to go into this area. My advice now would be to identify the terrorists or just plain doubters, and tackle them head-on. Neither the Romans nor the Norman invaders left tracts of this country un-persuaded!. Content managers take note.

  4. VC

    Hi Geoff! So glad you enjoyed the post. I was hoping you’d read it – I was curious to know your thoughts as a change professional, with fresh content battle scars too. There’s a piece of research I’d love to do with those who really resist to understand why more deeply. The usual retort is ‘lack of time’ and that is definitely understandable but I have a strong feeling there’s more behind it too. Welcome any thoughts on this. Sonja

  5. Barry McCarthy

    Thanks for this. I like the idea of giving colleagues rewards for valuable content or recognising them in some way. This could create some healthy competition.


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