future of employee communications

Come out, come out, wherever you are …

I had an interesting meeting with some of our internal comms folk yesterday talking about social media and its impact on them and their roles. It really felt like pushing at an open door which is very refreshing. I guess now that we have these tools, none of us can ignore the impact they might/are having.

One of the big things I tried to impress upon them was the importance of their own personal on-line brands. Until now, internal comms people have been the invisible fixers behind the scenes – orchestrating, organising and feeding words into mouths. In a social media space, they need to come out of the shadows.

To employees, internal comms managers represent the ‘company’ – which could make it very difficult for them to engage in social media channels without getting an automatically hostile response. Getting a hostile response is significantly more likely if an internal comms person suddenly appears in a channel from no where and starts to present the company’s view. That’s why internal comms people should be building relationships and their own personal brands with their audiences now … building trust … before the time comes when they might have to deliver uncomfortable or unpopular messages. The danger is that employees are busy building networks and trust relationships among themselves cutting out the internal comms managers to the point where it will become increasingly difficult to engage and join those networks when they need to become involved to fire-fight or propagate messages.

For me, internal comms has always been about facilitating the relationship between the management and employees of an organisation. With social media tools I think the line between management and employees within an organisation disappears … suddenly, we’re all just people. It doesn’t matter where you sit in an increasingly irrelevant organisation structure, what matters is your influence on those around you. If you don’t join in, build your own brand, build trust … you will inevitably have no influence and become irrelevant. That’s not only true for internal comms people, but for all of us in any kind of organisation or network.

We all need to build trust relationships and influence now so that we have something to support us when times get tough … and tough times are always just around the corner!

Facing up to competition …

In 1984 BT lost its monopoly status with the de-regulation of the UK telecoms market. It has survived by defending its core, traditional business through quality of service, and flourished through diversification and transformation into a global communications services company – utilising its hard earned skills and sweating its key asset – namely its core network and its networking expertise. For me, the internal comms (IC) profession is about to have its own 1984 moment.

Until now, the IC profession has had monopoly supplier status on the flow of non-operational information within organisations. That’s about to change. The internal information environment is being deregulated through the deployment of tools that facilitate the publishing of user-generated content. This environment is about to get very busy, noisy and competitive. What can IC people learn from BT’s success:

  • Defend core business through quality of service – IC people are skilled communicators who know how to exploit channels to best effect – our core ‘business’. In a competitive environment dominated by amateurs we must exploit this advantage through the provision of ‘quality’ content and channel consultancy services by utilising our core skills to differentiate ourselves from the morass of unprofessional, competitive noise.
  • Transformation and exploitation of key assets – we must look at diversifying our offering, while sweating our key asset – namely, strong relationships and access to senior managers. What communications services will senior managers want in this new deregulated space? Time to start thinking and planning … maybe personal brand managers for senior people; information brokers; engagement consultants??

We must be thinking ahead to stay relevant …

You can read more about what the future might hold for our profession on my blog, and on Kevin Keohane’s blog … and probably many more besides!