“We’ve been working in the internal comms space for a long time and likewise, so have our clients….”.
That’s the opening sentence of a recent internal communications e-book, Internal Affairs, written by Manchester-based communications agency HGA Creative. These opening words made me wonder, given how rapidly the communication environment is changing, how valuable is past experience and does effectiveness in this field yesterday bring any assurance of success as a communications practitioner today?
For example, younger generations of employees differ hugely from older in their attitudes, aspirations and their communication preferences.
Furthermore, the emerging dominance of social media in today’s corporate environment has few, if any, roots in traditional media. Think about it:
|The age of control||The age of influence|
|One to many||Many to many|
|A few centralised channels||A huge cloud of interaction|
|Web as a distribution channel||Web as community|
|Ordered and predictable||Messy and opinionated|
Source: Jon Worth, Quadriga Academy
So, if the audiences’ information needs and expectations are changing and the environment is a “new reality”, how useful are experienced communication professionals in today’s corporate world?
Patrick C Walsh was inspired by an award ceremony at a recent conference for the Best Intranet Homepage to write Dis/integrate your intranet for a better user experience. He found reviewing the award submissions a depressing experience because, when comparing the 2012 potential award-winners with composite image of 10 intranet homepages created by the “guru of web page usability” (New York Times) Jakob Nielsen in 2005, Walsh discovered that not much had changed in homepage design in the intervening seven years.
This is despite the fact that year after year, user feedback and usage of business intranets reveal consistently high levels of dissatisfaction with their usability, efficiency and effectiveness. And these are meant to be business-critical, knowledge sharing tools.
It reminds me of the Anthony Robbins quote: “If you do what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you’ve always gotten.” That’s an obvious point but why, despite the massive evolutionary curve of the internet over the last seven years, has intranet homepage design changed so little?
Is it because the corporate communications function is fighting a successful defensive action against what author Andrew Keen describes as “the cult of the amateur”? This is the phenomenon I’ve written about before where the content and, to a large extent the development, of the most popular social media channels such as Facebook, YouTube, Wikipedia and Google+ are determined by the usage of the popular masses rather than technical specialists.
It’s led, according to Keen, to the decline of several professions and industries as illegal practices (video and music piracy) and amateur interventions (citizen journalism) make these professions and industries increasingly uneconomic. Is it inevitable that corporate communications will follow the same path? After all, we are already recognising the power of employees as ambassadors and feedback indicates that people trust information from peers rather than that received through ‘official’ channels.
So, should we leave corporate communications to the digital specialist and the frontline ambassador?
Obviously not. To quote Andrew Keen again: “Technology doesn’t create human genius. It merely provides new tools for self-expression”. Without the communications professionals’ decades of experience in informing, prioritising, engaging and enabling, workplace communications will become noisier, more chaotic and fragmented.
That experience is still highly valuable, but only when married to a progressive understanding of the new environment in which we all now operate.