(This is the full-text of an article that I wrote that was published on the Melcrum Internal Comms Hub on 7 Nov 07)
‘It’s internal communications, Jim, but not as we know it …’
The role of internal communications in an intranet 2.0 world
The growing popularity of social media tools is changing the life we live through our computer screens. As we all spend more time living in that world both at work and at play, there’s no doubt that things are changing fundamentally. How can the internal communications profession adapt its practices to remain relevant and valuable?
An alien landscape
Imagine a corporate world of free-flowing information from as many sources as you have employees. A world in which the information consumer controls what they consume from a menu of feeds – basing that choice on the reputation of the source, recommendations from colleagues and serendipitous discovery through social networks. Interactions are almost exclusively real-time and informal in nature.
In this world, ‘operational’ channels dominate – glued together by an intricate web of connections between individuals, defined by individuals, by-passing the irrelevant organisational structure. How far your voice carries in this torrent of noise depends upon your reputation and what you have to say, not where you sit in any organisation chart.
In this world, work truly is an activity and not a place. The boundaries between ‘work’ and ‘play’ are blurred to the point of virtual invisibility and the boundaries around organisations are permeable. The personal relationship is king.
While this ‘vision’ might seem a little far-fetched, some of it will come to fruition and the landscape in which the internal communications profession will have to ply its trade will not lend itself to ‘managed’ communications – and managed communications is what we do. In a world glued together by personal relationships, dominated by micro-communication where communication is conversation, we will be fish out of water!
Internal comms is dead … long live internal comms!
Before you send out invitations to your leaving drinks, there is hope. We are, after all, good communicators. We can write well, we’re articulate, we’re empathetic, we’re networkers … these are exactly the kind of skills that we can use to keep afloat in the information rapids of the future. The question is: how do we use these skills?
One significant advantage we have is our relationships with senior managers. In a world where senior managers do their own communications informally through their blogs, or by whatever new channels emerge, we will need to provide a new kind of service for them to maintain these relationships. I suspect that role will be more like a personal brand manager-come-spokesperson. Senior managers are busy people. They can’t keep on top of everything that is going on in the ebbing and flowing information ocean around them. But we can. We can identify where potential issues might be bubbling up; we can see where the conversations are getting ‘hot’; we can provide an overview and advise them when, how and where they should participate. We won’t communicate for them, but we might communicate on their behalf, and we certainly will be pointing out where their timely intervention might make a huge difference. Our role will be to protect and enhance their reputation or personal brand and to ensure that the limited time they have to participate in the conversation is used as effectively as possible. This role will require us to build our own personal reputations among information consumers to become authoritative voices and have influence in our own right.
Another key skill is our understanding of how communications works – the dynamics of communication. We have a wealth of experience in knowing when it’s best to use this channel or that channel, to ring, write, set-up a conference call or hold a meeting. We understand the relationship between the impact of a given communication and the context in which that communication is delivered. This knowledge will be gold-dust in an information landscape dominated by ‘amateur’ communicators. Channel consultancy services will be invaluable to anyone wishing to become influential and authoritative in that landscape.
We won’t have the luxury of crafting messages and managing a timetable of activities to suit our own purposes. We will need to relinquish control and learn to engage rather than direct. If we can do this, then the future for internal communications professionals is full of possibilities and opportunities. In a world where both what and who you know is important, we have a significant advantage. The trick will be not to squander it.
Internal Programme Manager