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.
A key theme we’ve returned to over and over in this blog is the idea that the corporate model for communications is rapidly changing from one where communications leaders keep tight control of the message their company is putting out to a model where these same folks are instead the catalyst for the ensuring the brand message is delivered well– whether by them, by other employees, or by brand evangelists.
Control to catalyst.
It’s happening whether we like it or not. So it is a good time to heed my friend Tom Rabon‘s advice: “the train can’t run you over if you’re on it.”
How do you get on board? I keep coming back to the fabulous report by the Arthur W. Page Society, The Authentic Enterprise, which lays out this change in great detail. If you are in the communications field and haven’t read it, please do. It’ll help.
As formal communications channels like advertising and press releases become less relevant and things like social media and reputational capital become more relevant, marketing folks are simply going to have to make changes to where they put their money and effort if they want to continue to be successful.
A new study out today from The CMO Club and Hill & Knowlton (and reported on CMO.com) suggests Chief Marketing Officers are still running behind in moving their marketing dollars from the old model to the new one. According to the study, 84% of these folks spend less than 10% of their budgets on social media and non-traditional communications channels, and over 1/2 of them spend 5% or less.
That means they are still spending a lot of money on the old tools of the trade.
A quote from the CMO.com story:
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: