Welcome to communication departments 2.0 (or social com’ depts)

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Summary : with new generation intranets coming in the workplace, many departments will have to redefine their role in these new systems…and even acquire one. Among them, communications departments. Intranet has been their prerogative for a long time but its new nature leads them to share it and redefine their own strategy. Embarrassed, they’re struggling at taking the lead or do it in a clumsy way. “Social” communication departments will need to master new lever that are, among others, viralization, information lifecycle, new ways of sourcing and take into account a factor that’s been ignored till them : employees’ attention at work.

Among the corporate departments impacted by the emerging new ways of working and the tools that come with, communication departments are in front line. We often talk about HR, management (middle or not), considering, even wrongly, that their job is to do a top-down business and that they have nothing to do in 2.0 things. This is a huge mistake because they are often in charge of driving things that go beyond their dedicated field without having been prepared for that or are been told that the brand new social intranet 2.0 is coming and that they need to find their place in. In short, as I had to witness these last months, even when they have the power, communication departments are often left alone in this change process.

They have to quickly face a challenge that’s both clear and complex : position themselves, their business, strategy and operating models in this new environment that is coming, whether they want it or not.

Some jumbled hints….

• What role ?

The role of a communication department is to ensure that the corporate message is broadcasted to employees and is understood by them. This is something that won’t change.

 

• What field ?

With the next generation of intranets coming, the game field is becoming much wider. And communication departments are wondering how they’ll drive all these things. Their field will stay the same (corporate message), the social networking part being more for people in charge of collaboration, business units and teams. To quote a sentence I recently heard : “ok….the range of the tool is wider…I need to find what my zone is and what I have to leave to others because even if I own the intranet, a part of it is out of my competences and goals”.

That doesn’t mean that a smart communication department should not use the social networking part in a direct (sourcing) or indirect (virality) way.

• What operating models?

This is a domain where things are moving fast, for two reasons. The first is that the coming of new intranets combining traditional communication tools with social networking ones makes new things possible. Second is that’s a good news because the way things used to be done was not relevant anymore.

Broadcasting a message does not mean putting it in front of employee’s eyes to consider the job has been done. First because it does not mean the message was read. Employees attention being limited, if the message does not meet a present need they move to something more important. Then because reading the message does not mean understanding it. Last, the message could be of no interest for some people today but become essential tomorrow. What makes new way of operating necessary.

First, why remove a message when another one comes ? Haven’t you heard about the long tail ? That’s not because something has to be said that what was said before becomes irrelevant, useless. Instead of removing let the archives accessible and when employees will search  a matter not only they’ll find this content but a “like”-like button will help them share it with their network.

The “like” is the bridge between corporate communication and social networking. It will help those who have read your message to share it with their contacts that did not (or did not want) and will pay more attention to it if a trusted person says it’s worth. Doing this you add virality to your toolbox. Before you could only force a message on people’s home page, now you’ll be able to use your readers as promoters and reach people who seldom have a look at what you say.

Note that with these two systems you’re discovering two concepts that are quite new in internal communication : longer lifecycles for you content and better broadcasting through virality.

Now comes the problem of having the message understood. It needs feedback and conversation mechanisms. “What ? People will be able to react to corporate contents ?”‘ Why not. In fact they’re alreay doing but in you back. The question is to know whether your goal is to display the message or make sure people get it. More and more organizations are doing things that way and no one has died…

• A new granularity ?

The 2.0 thinking suggests more closeness between the sender and the receiver. Many organizations did not wait for the 2.0 era to provide specific contents by brand, business unit in addition to central communication. What’s new today ? Easy to use tools makes it easier to decentralize part of the production of content without needing specific trainings. The “like” I mentioned above helps information to flow across silos : my business units publishes something on one of our internal initiative, I’m proud of it and like it…so my contacts out my BU are informed…and it may even give them new ideas for their own needs.

 

• Sourcing

One of the problem of organizations wanting more closeness and being in touch with what’s happening  “on the ground” has often been to find relevant things to talk about, most of times using a network of correspondents. As seen above, it’s now easier to help “locals” generate their own contents. But it’s possible to go further…by looking at the social side of the intranet, the social network. Each employee being a potential contributor, it can the place to go to know what’s happening “on the ground”, what interests people, to grab information, rework it and share it at the corporate level.

I even know organizations starting to listen to external communities where they talk about key topics and use these conversations to find new ideas, new contents. Others are wondering whether, when a community emerges internally and gathers the attention and interest of lots of employees, there’s an opportunity to have a similar external community to share on this matter because it proves it’s something that makes sense for the whole organization and is close to its values. Here, broadcasting and sourcing are melting and lots of synergies can be developped.

• Concepts to be redefined

Some words lead to conditioned reflexes. For instance communication is one to may, top down and controlled, the intranet is “owned” by a department and is a place where corporate ads messages are broadcasted. Some words have to be learned again and that’s the opportunity to wonder what they really mean now. For instance :

– communication : today, work is becoming communication. Everyone communicates. Communication becomes BE2 but also E2E so the old rules only work for a small part of the information being generated and shared. If giving up control on communication makes people uncomfortable, then change the words and use new ones that are less connotated.

– contributor : it used to be a known and defined person who has the right to communicate on the intranet. On intranets 2.0 everyone is a potential contributor…but not at the same place. Social network for anyone, corporate zone for professionals.

– intranet : it’s not anymore the place where the enterprise sells its message to employees. It’s a place where people meet, a place where they work, a place where knowledge is shared… In short, organizations will need to learn to stop acting like advertisers to act like shareholders.

– …..

• What to do with the technology side ?

Talking about an emerging field, where not everybody is very mature, it may be useful to make sure that the chosen technology will help to make the most of the new paradigm. If not, the situation will look like a change without benefits…in one word : regression. The key part of the system is the link between “social” and traditional. It’s not only about showing both in a coherent way, integrated in a nice portal. That’s the less anyone can do. I’m talking about synergies and interoperability. The fact that a content “liked” on the corporate side is shared on the social side (don’t tell me it’s impossible…or change your provider), the fact people have a global search engine that indexes everything regardless to the source and allow people find information, people or documents that are relevant by performing only one search… are essential to such synergies.

• From broadcasting to animation

I already mentioned the difference between broadcasting a message and making sure people understands it. Communication departments can also go on the social network and use its community capabilities to provide education and make people more aware in addition the the corporate words that are supposed to be more neutral. Each media is good at one specific way of delivering the message. One is used to inform, the second to interact, explain with the relevant attitude.

• New formats

The emergence of social networks in the corporate land is the right moment to think of new formats. For lots of enterprises, video is already obvious. It’s also possible to think of completing the heavy, controlled and neutral corporate communication with lighter, shorter and viral things that would not have their place on the traditional corporate communication but would be nice on microblogging or on more granular intranets.

 

This were only “raw thinkings”‘ but I hope they could help those who have to find their way in our changing organizations. Just look at the key points and wonder “what does it mean to me, what can I do with it” : viralizations, sourcing, granularity, format, information lifecycle, animation….