NICrunchtalk Feature


Belfast Telegraph today carries a short feature about NIcrunchtalk.  With only 400 words available, I wasn’t able to do justice Joanne Stuart’s interview.  So, below are both the article itself and the full interview with Joanne.  The feature is only in the print edition and not online, although I’m also running it on my own blog

If there was ever a need to argue that Social Media is not some sort of passing fashion for “young people” then look no further than the business groups on Ning – an online platform where people can form their own social networks.  Among the Northern Ireland groups is the Institute of Directors.  NI Crunch Talk has almost 300 members from business, politics, arts and the voluntary sector.

Joanne Stuart Chairman of IoD NI Division launched it as a response to the economic downturn to provide a platform to bring business people together to share ideas and talk through challenges and successes. “RSS feeds, updates from the activity at Stormont, and video content provide a single point of reference. Anybody can post blogs to stimulate discussions. We also use chat room functionality to have live on-line discussions with local Ministers. This provides business people with the opportunity to put their questions directly to the Minister.”
Since its launch the IoD have run “live chat” with Invest NI’s Alastair Hamilton and politicians Jennifer McCann, Sammy Wilson, Conor Murphy, Reg Empey and Margaret Ritchie. The questions are informed and detailed. Here are just two Sammy Wilson then Environment Minister was asked in June.

“Minister, draft river basin management plans seemed to lack methods which demonstrated how effective the plans would be. Will NIEA be taking forward this work programme before December 2009?”

“Planning Service on Conservation areas: “Great importance is attached to the preservation of the existing character and appearance of such areas allied to the promotion of their economic well-being.” Why is no action is being taken against developer blight?”

Conor Murphy Regional Development Minister faced questions like this:

“You have mentioned an under investment in capital and you also refer a shortfall in the maintenance budget for roads and rail. Given that situation, how can you justify the statement you made recently that water charges should be deferred until at least 2012? If that happens, how are we ever going to find the resources we need to top up these budgets?”

“The Minister has just recently rejected a Private Sector proposal for a Light Rapid transit system for Belfast and the £250 million to construct it. Can the Minister tell us exactly what that proposal contained and on what grounds it was rejected?”

The transcripts remain on the site – so to get both the questions and the answers visit

Full Interview

Social Media tends to be thought of something teenagers use to stay in touch with their friends. What tools does the IoD in NI use?


The IoD in Northern Ireland created in response to the economic downturn which provides a platform to bring business people together to share ideas, talk through challenges and successes in these challenging economic conditions. Relevant RSS feeds, updates from the activity at Stormont (relating to the economy), and video content provide a single point of reference. Anybody can post blogs to stimulate discussions and share ideas and we also use chatroom functionality to have live on-line discussions with local Ministers. This provides business people with the opportunity to put their questions directly to the Minister.

I have also used social networking technology to enable the sharing of information and ideas for specific areas, e.g., the IoD and Chief Executives Forum are collaborating to develop the Creative Industries in NI, and I have used the technology to create a network which we can all access to keep in touch, discuss topics and share information.

The IoD nationally has joined forces with LinkedIn, the world’s leading online networking group for business users. IoD Group is a secure, online business community for you to network and connect with your peers. Only IoD members can participate.

What has been the effect?


This site went live on 15th December – 300 members, 245 blog postings, 6 live on-line discussions, average of 450 unique visits per month. It has created a lot of discussion among the business community, and I have seen other examples spring up on the back of it.

Have you seen any members begin to use it more broadly in businesses?


There is still some reluctance for the majority of people to use the technology more proactively. On NICrunchtalk, there is a core group of people who post and contribute to blogs. Although the blogs are well read, there is a reticence in posting comments. The age group, which is predominantly between 40 and 59, are still not completely comfortable with the software and I believe that the terminology can be off putting. For example, I refer to ‘discussions’ rather than blogs, online discussions rather than web-chats.

Also, line between social and business has become blurred and we still have some work to get the balance right. We are moving to position where there needs to be a more human face to business. It is about relationships first and commerce second.

What are the Pros and Cons?



  • Very simple to use
  • Set up very quick
  • Increases visibility of business/individual on the internet
  • Low-cost
  • Distribution of information in a fast and effective way
  • Easy to make connections
  • Knowledge sharing
  • All employees are the face of the organisation – ’employee led innovation’


  • Maintenance – although low-cost you have to keep information current
  • Some larger companies still stop access to social networking sites during work hours
  • Mixing social with business – hard for a lot of people
  • The technology evolves quickly and new social media programmes are being released – keeping up to date
  • You can be blocked very easily – need to be careful about being seen to overtly sell your product / services.

What should businesses consider before embarking on the journey?



  • Businesses need to be clear about their expertise which will enable the business to exert more influence and attract more people.
  • It is about sharing information and creating relationships. Post relevant links – and not just self-promoting ones
  • Focus on building a network of contacts who are trying to make a similar contribution to the business world.
  • Have conversations with people. Share knowledge rather than promoting a product, as people will block you if they feel they are being spammed.
  • It is called social networking for a reason – the business is entering a social world where business happens, and financial success is the bi-product and must not be the only focus.
  • Social Media should be part of an integrated communication strategy. Social Media does not replace traditional communications and marketing, but rather is supplementary.
  • Encourage younger members of staff to get involved and help to define the business profile and teach other members of staff who are more uncomfortable

Some businesses appear to fear the use of Social Media – should they?



I think it is individuals who fear the use of Social Media in a business context. People worry about how they will be perceived and the fact that once something is submitted it is available and not easily taken back.

What is surprising to most people, is the amount of their contacts who already have a presence. All social media provide a facility to scan your email contacts – you will be amazed at who already is online. This is a quick way to establish connections and gives you an easier way to start a conversation.

Things to do to make it easier:
  • Set up a profile describing yourself, including both professional and personal information. It’s about relationships first, commerce second. If your profile is purely business-orientated, it looks like you only want to sell and are not interested in other people.
  • Read people’s profiles and reply to them when they contact you.
  • Send messages to people you think you may have something in common with.
  • Contribute wherever you can to create visibility and show your desire to help.

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