“We are no longer anonymous” - an interview on blogging and collaboration with Daniel Eckhart

Is blogging the right tool for us volunteers to contribute to this organization? What potential does blogging have? These kind of questions have been on our minds when we started this blog about a month ago. When we met during an AFS training, we asked Daniel Eckhart, community manager at the international reinsurance company Swiss Re, about the power of blogging. Read our conversation with him below:

VV: Hi Daniel, thanks for giving us some of your time. To get started, what is it that you do at Swiss Re?

Daniel: I'm a community manager. When people ask me what it is that I do, I tell them about my goal and that is simply for every employee to be happy. In the context of a global corporate giant, "happy" means motivated. With everything I do and train and present and lecture, I try to increase my colleagues' motivation. The stronger the emotional commitment of Swiss Re's employees, the more valuable they become for the company. I help people collaborate, communicate and engage in stronger ways.

VV: That sounds like a great job. You told us that part of your work includes blogging. Do you have any blogging highlights to share?

Daniel: I've blogged both internally and externally for years. It's second nature to me. There are far too many highlights to single out a few. Instead I'd like to mention something else. People often wonder how I keep coming up with things to blog about. I've always found it easy as there's always something happening. I always ask myself: ‘Would this be worth sharing?’ Most often the answer is yes. A conversation at the water cooler, an interesting article, a side remark by a colleague, a bird flying by – most often the moments are worth sharing and, when shared personally and authentically, they will always reach interested readers.

VV: What role does blogging play within your organization?

Daniel: Blogging plays a huge role for Swiss Re as it allows leaders to be far more present, and in far more engaging, personal ways than ever before. Before virtual engagement began, leaders relied on traditional top-down corporate messaging. Today they are active themselves – they are no longer hidden away in ivory towers – they are, in virtual ways, right here on the ground with all of us. Their blogging enables all employees to engage with them, to like, to comment, to ask – and all of it in open, transparent ways. This cuts both ways, of course. Just as leaders are far more present and visible, so are employees as a whole. We are no longer anonymous. Every single employee has a voice and can blog just like the CEO can. This has created a much more open and engaged environment.

VV: Part of your job is to enhance collaboration. What role can blogging play in this realm?

Daniel: Blogging isn't first and foremost about sharing knowledge, it is about sharing thoughts and experiences. A collaboration platform offers all the collaborative bells and whistles – and blogs are an important part of collaboration platforms because they create the open and engaged mindset needed for effective collaboration. There are stumbling blocks on the path to effective collaboration – a major one is mindset. If employees don't feel encouraged and empowered, if they feel the culture doesn't reward openness, the collaborative potential will never be realized. Blogs teach both leaders and employees a great deal about the value and the power of an open culture – a culture that gives everyone the sense that they can and want to contribute.

VV: We’ve been telling you a little about what we do with the #VolunteerVoices. What do you think about volunteers blogging in an organization like AFS?

Daniel: Your thoughts and experiences must be limitless. The wealth of your experiences, if shared, gives readers a rich insight into AFS. It's an opportunity for people both inside and outside the organization to connect, to add their own thoughts, to give recognition and, of course, to learn. Anyone blogging for AFS in positive and engaging ways also becomes a strong virtual ambassador for AFS – your blogs help spread the word, your personal experiences are far more powerful than any official website.

VV: That is definitely true for an audience outside of our organization. On the other hand, how can blogging impact our organization from within?

Daniel: It is often felt that leaders don't have their ears on the ground, that is, don't know what is actually going on, what is felt, where the real concerns are. Good blogs openly address issues and do so in constructive ways. An open communication culture, where employees/volunteers are encouraged and empowered to share their experiences, is highly valuable for leaders. It becomes easy for them to see what happens and how it happens. In addition, it is also effortless and highly impactful for them to be present and to engage on the spot.

VV: Do you have any writing tips for young bloggers like us?

Daniel: Sure. First, keeping it short is always appreciated. So if you have written something cool but long, just turn it into two separate blog posts. Second, visuals are important. Always add pictures and the best ones are personal, pictures you have taken yourself. Third, don't worry about perfection. You're blogging, this is not literature. You're simply sharing your thoughts. In the end, this is all about you, your time on this planet, your life. Always write from your own perspective. Why is something important to you? Don't just write why something matters, but why it matters to you. A blog is short for web-log, a diary – your diary. Yep, it's that personal and that's why blogs work – because people care about people. So don't just share what is, share who you are.

Daniel Eckhard, community manager at the international reinsurance company Swiss Re.

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* Written by the VolunteerVoices team