Communicators as catalysts for social business

Communicators as catalysts for social business

Last week I participated in two educational settings which relate to both public relations and social media, and which have caused me to reflect on the evolving role of communications in the twenty first century.

The first was the IBRC “Web 3.0:  Public Relations and Social Media” Conference which sought to explore how the emerging tools of Web 3.0 and the semantic web will impact upon information and in turn shape the development of social media, PR and communications.

The second was with Peter Thompson delivering the Australian and New Zealand School of Government (ANZSOG) workshop on “Managing Public Communications”.

In a recent blog post Michael Brito states that regardless of the name given the “social business conversation” is evolving despite the confusion of roles and responsibilities.

Marketing thinks they own it, PR thinks they own it; and while both groups may use social media in various ways, they probably don’t share knowledge and best practices. In some instances, random employees are running wild on social media posting without disclosure and without any form of training.

If ever there was an issue sitting in the interstice this is it, and at both the Web 3.0 and ANZSOG events there were two very strong themes.

The first is that communications professionals feel anxious and indeed threatened by their loss of being able to manipulate and control the communications agenda on behalf of their organisations.  The industrial age mindset so well articulated by Zuboff in “The Support Economy” is beginning to give way to that of the information age, but it is a slow process of change.

The second is that many are largely ignorant of the social media landscape, of how to use the tools and how to manage campaigns and develop strategies.  As a result they are quite literally feeling under siege with so much activity of which they are not in control happening around them, and indeed the anarchy of the “socially mediated” digital environment .  One glorious example of that was that Kevin Rudd made some policy on the run by giving the Red Cross $5m via a tweet, all whilst on leave following a major heart operation.

“After call from Red Cross we increased our efforts with a further $5m. They have workers on the ground delivering life saving aid. KRudd” –!/kruddmp

Good to see our politicians earning their salaries by being on duty twenty four seven, but a challenge for our hard-working public servants who are charged with managing the fallout and being held accountable.

When it comes to communications in the public sphere I believe that there are four basic issues underpinned by four basic questions that need to be asked when considering the adoption of any new, including social, media.  When combined these seem to provide a fairly holistic overview of the situation from which one can then drill down into more specific actions and activities.  I am grateful to my Web 3.0 and PR conference people who helped me articulate these.

So, what does this mean for PR and Communications?  I believe that Comms people are the great white hope for the future, the potential catalysts for change who can work both internally with management, HR, leaders and boards, to take your organisation on the digital journey that is so desperately required, whilst at the same time working with Marketing and Sales to ensure that whatever is said in the marketspace aligns with the reality of where the organisation is in fact going.

What will be required are new capabilties and new tools, an understanding of emerging technologies, but from the perspective of adopting the digital meme and educating your organisation?  Here is is what I think is a fairly comprehensive list of some of the skills needed:

  • Research – being able to search and find, and making the hidden connections
  • Analysis – being able to access and understand data from ALL sources
  • Digital awareness – having a “digital” mindset, not only in terms of the technologies but in terms of the implications (more on that anon)
  • Publishing – understanding content and how it changes in different media
  • Social – being engaged and conversant in real life AND social networks – never forgetting the importance of listening!
  • Communications landscape – conversant and comfortable across all media
  • Fluency – excellent writing and conversation skills
  • Measurement – being able to understand what to measure, then working with others in order to agree on the how
  • Change – an understanding of the change process and how to work with others to proactively manage it
  • Collaboration – you can’t do all of this yourself, you need to both manage up and manage down and work collaboratively with others and leverage their expertise
  • Common sense, and, last but definitely not least,
  • Good manners

The last two are, I think, all too often forgotten.  During the PR conference I was asked about the appropriateness of “listening in” on conversations and I was absolutely delighted!  This person was thinking holistically about the organisational brand from the listenee’s perspective, instead of from that of the organisation.  Bravo!

So, the next step is to begin to unpack some of these and explore how this can all be brought together …

Further thoughts:

There are a few people that I would suggest “following” with regard to these conversations.

David Armano –
Danah Boyd –
Michael Brito –
Nicholas Carr –
Clay Shirky –
Don Tapscott –