I recently finished the new book Digital Strategies for Powerful Corporate Communications, by Paul Argenti and Courtney Barnes. I must admit, I’m allergic to many Web 2.0 books. This book does have some of that social media handbook feel, but I was excited about it because co-author Paul Argenti, a professor of communications at Dartmouth, is someone whose ideas about communications have really influenced my thinking over the past few years.
Paul was one of the masterminds behind The Authentic Enterprise, a whitepaper that may be one of the most compelling looks into the future of the communications field I have ever seen. I’ve written about it previously here, here, and here.
The following paragraph highlights the point of view from which this book approaches digital communications strategy:
“The business of managing relationships– and therefore, business itself– has changed dramatically in the last decade. Stakeholder empowerment, as it’s come to be known, has shifted the corporate hierarchy of influence from the hands of elite business executives to those of their once-passive audiences, including employees, consumers, media, and investors.”
This paragraph does a nice job illustrating what we might define as the democratization of corporate communications.
Democratization of Corporate Communications:
Any person communicating about any company at any time.
A company’s own communications professionals can no longer expect to be the only communicators of the brand message. Employees are communicators. Customers are communicators. Even former employees and former customers can now communicate on behalf of brands. Scary stuff or exciting stuff, depending on who you are.
One of the things I really liked about this book is that it has an entire chapter highlighting a favorite subject of mine: the need for closer ties between the human resources and communications function. Why? Simple:
In a world where everyone is a communications person, everyone needs to be on brand.
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
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: