Internal communication and social media : move the filter !


Summary : with the coming of social media in the workplace and the need for internal communication teams to let go and don’t care about what is not their responsibility, the question of information filtering is more important than ever. With the increase in the number of information sources and the need for communication team to fall back on their core duties, information has to be managed at the user lever on both a qualitative and quantitative standpoint. So filters will have to move : formerly set at the publishing level, it needs to move to the receiver level and rely on two pillars. A human one in order to make the concept of social filtering fully operative at a wide scale in the workplace (what is also a major issue in terms of training…). A technological one then because, until today, the social filter has not worked as expected and, moreover, the increase in volume of information will imply the use of intelligent tools to compensate for humans. Filtering is not about authorizing people to publish anymore but about filtering what they receive based on relevance in context.

Before, everything was clear : communication in the enterprise was the job of a dedicated communication department who decided what people needed to know and didn’t care about how employee reacted to this information. Today, this department is not the only source of information and any employee, team, unit will have its own voice.

Please notice that it’s a significant improvement. For what I can see, 2 or 3 years ago, most of the communication departments were more likely to fight against this uncontrolled form of information broadcasting while, today, most of them seem to have understood they need to share the power. That doesn’t mean they are very comfortable with this new challenge, what is is quite logical, but they’re now trying to find how to go with change rather than block it. Remember that it’s not obvious at all for a traditional BE2 team to support an E2E approach and that, instead of criticizing them, helping them to deal with this transformation is a more constructive approach.

It raises two questions : the first is about the place of the communication department on a socialized intranet and the second is about controlling the global information flow.

• The place of the internal communication team

The discussion on deciding whether official communication has to melt into the social world and communities or not is not close to its end and I doubt there is a one-size-fits-all answer.

It’s established that the content shared by the official communication teams will be socialized. It means that it can have a life cycle outside of its original container : be shareable into communities or social spaces of any kind, be like-able, retweetable, commentable etc…

But a question remains : should this message be delivered in official containers or into communities or social spaces. Today I can see both happening…in fact rather the first case, the second being harder to get because of the weight of legacy. However, it does not matter where the content is provided it’s socialized. And, about deciding whether the message should be carried by the corporate department or its members, my answer is in one of the above mentioned links.

• Information control

There’s a concern that quickly appears on the way to face these new flows of information, both in terms of quality and quantity.

Of course, official communication will remain under control from both standpoints. What what about the rest ? This questioning as a survival of any traditional communication team concerns but, more globally, the concern of any enterprise or team driving such a projet and having to think beforehand the impact of change on employees. There’s in fact no doubt that this transformation will have deep impacts on employees and may make them very uncomfortable, make them lose their landmarks.

In the beginning of the social media era the answer was simple : “let people do…users will find their way alone….as they do on the web”. An easy answer that was obvious from people carrying a break approach (in fact I myself believed it could work) but that did not survive to experimentation. First because the maturity level of the average internaut toward mastering flows is more than uncertain and his uses more basic than expected…most of all in we put this in perspective of the disparate population that crowd the workspace. Then because the social filter, the theory according to which the group is filtering information for any of its members has not been workings untill know, except for a small groups of savvy people.

But the concept of filtering will remain essential. Back to the starting point, to the old world where information was filtered and broadcasted and users were passive receivers ? Not. If filters are needed, the improvement will be on their location : before filters were at the publication level, now they should be at the receipt.

For communication teams, it means that filtering kinds of content that is not under their responsibility…is not their responsibility. What does not mean that, if this team is involved in the global project, they cannot suggest to implement relevant filters. Relevant filters will rely on both people and technology, one compensating the other’s weaknesses.

– human filtering : anyone, at his own level, when dealing with information, should contribute to qualifying it for others. Such a system relies on two pillars : knowing how to move in a world of information and the concept of trust/reputation associated with sources and people. These two points are an impressive stake in terms of training because these capabilities will soon become as essential as being able to use a word processor while very few employees are comfortable with this new context today. It’s also a little bit about enterprise curation.

– technological filtering : human filtering has its limits and the capability of each one to play his part is one of the biggest. Human need help and this help will come from technology. How ? By separating the wheat from the chaff. By suggesting relevant information, people, communities in the context of one’s work. By structuring and priorizing the content of activity streams that will surely replace email clients in the future (I said clients…not emails…). By being able to tell anyone : “if you should focus on 10 things…here are what you should read”. No surprise to see some vendors working hard on analytics and include a BI layer in flows management and, at a global level, working on improving the way huge amount of unstructured data are processed to make it “edible” for employees. This approach also need tools to learn from people’s actions and habits. What is sure is that, while the purpose have long been to make sharing easier, no organization can afford not paying attention to what vendors have in their roadmap to make information processing easier in a near future. If not, beware of information jams !

However, is somethings is changing, it’s the place of the filter. It used to be located prior to publication, it has now to move closer to the receiver. It’s not anymore about what one can publish or not but what one will receive. That makes a big difference. It’s all about relevance in context.