How to conduct a symphony of communications

The communications profession is in the midst of a revolutionary change (you might have noticed). In my mind, it boils down to a simple concept:

Old model = company has one voice

New model = company has many voices


Mr Conductor sez: we can make beautiful music together!

Ah, the good old days. It used to be easy to go to the “official company spokesperson” to get the scoop on what “the company” was thinking. Now, with the advent of Facebook, Twitter, blogs, and a bunch of other stuff that probably hasn’t even been invented yet, and the blurring lines between people’s personal and work lives (damn you, Google!), it’s a lot harder for us communications folks to stay in control of how the corporate message comes out.

If you are the head of communications for your company, what should you do? Lock all the doors, scare the employees into online silence, and continue the status quo? This is what some companies are doing. There are very real concerns with how and when employees use social media tools in a work setting.

But ultimately, the shift toward a company of many voices rather than one voice is going to happen whether you like it or not. As Bob Dylan said, “You don’t need a weather man to know which way the wind blows.”

So rather than forcing yourself into a sucker’s choice of “Should I communicate my corporate story well or allow my employees to be using social media at work?” perhaps there is a better question:

“How can I communicate a consistent corporate story AND take advantage of the social media revolution to amplify it?” You can do both!

Looking at old vs. new another way for a second:

Old model = maintaining control

New model = becoming a catalyst

That’s the real question– how can you as a communications expert be the catalyst for a symphony of clear communications coming from every corner of your company?

Think like you are the conductor of an orchestra. My cousin Andrew is a conductor, but he was once just a talented violinist. Now when he goes on stage he doesn’t even have to bring an instrument, but can still make beautiful music with some of the most successful symphony orchestras in the world. He takes a large group of musicians, each playing their own parts, and gets them to do so in a way that makes the whole orchestra create a symphony of music, rather than 100 individual parts. That’s his job.

In the new world, that’s your job too. Figuring out how to conduct an orchestra of talented musicians on behalf of your brand. Not by controlling them. Not by playing every instrument yourself. But by getting people to want to be a part of amplifying the corporate story. You must be a catalyst.

Here are some Dark Matter Matters posts that might give you some ideas on how to do this:

The move from control to catalyst? Some of the best minds in the communications industry are thinking this way. As a final resource, I urge you to go read this report, entitled The Authentic Enterprise: Relationships, Values, and The Evolution of Corporate Communications. If you are a communications professional, reading this report may be the most important thing you do this year.

Here is a taste, directly from the report:

The argument of this paper is that the future of the profession – and the challenge that will define the emerging role of the chief communications
executive – is to guide the corporation in influencing and transforming not just perceptions, but the company’s behaviors, as well as the self conceptions and actions of those external constituencies themselves. Going forward, it will not be sufficient to shape perceptions within narrowly defined contexts. It will be necessary to demonstrate authenticity in radically open environments.

As we have shown, instead of “putting a message out” to influencers or into a channel, we must understand the diverse backgrounds and mindsets of our stakeholders and facilitate communications among audiences. Our job is no longer simply making “them” think well of us, nor is it even about building two-way dialogue. Now, it’s about nurturing relationships among others – including relationships that don’t necessarily directly involve our own company. Today, we’re growing a multi-faceted, networked ecosystem, and we’re seeking to influence its priorities and actions to benefit our enterprise.

The people who signed their name to this report include Jon Iwata, SVP of Communications at IBM (co-chair of the task force) plus a number of other Fortune 500 communications executives and field and academic experts. As a final point, watch this short video of Jon Iwata talking about the use of social media inside IBM.

If IBM can figure out how to conduct a symphony in one of the largest companies on earth, you can, too!

About Chris Grams

Chris Grams is Head of Marketing at Tidelift. He is also the author of The Ad-Free Brand: Secrets to Successful Brand Positioning in a Digital World.

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