Wednesday, 27 February 2008

Earthquakes and information travel

So here in the north of England we felt some small earth tremors last night at about 1am. One man down the road from here actually had his chimney land on him. Fortunately, we seem to have escaped any real damage. It was an exciting few moments feeling the whole building shake around me, but after a quick check around the house (5 mins or so) I hit the net to see what I could find out. The British Geological Society website and the earthquake page at Edinburgh were both so overloaded that I couldn't even view the page. Any thoughts that this was a purely local event disappeared at that moment.

It reminded me of a couple of things:

1) If you weren't sure it was an earthquake (and I wasn't because we have a history of subsidence problems here) then the actions of the crowd alone, hammering these geological websites could tell you, well before the BBC reported it on their news pages. Score one for trend watching/wisdom of crowds approaches I suppose.

2) This is the speed that information spreads at in a modern, computer-filled organisation. So if you're in corporate/internal comms and there's an earthquake on the way - a statement to investors about job losses, perhaps - then you better have some quick response plans, because word will travel around your organisation quicker than you ever expect.


Wednesday, 20 February 2008

Making Internal Comms a Profession?

I wrote a long post on this topic, but I realised that it still wasn't anywhere near complete. There's essays to be written on the discussions going on. What I'll do instead is just link a few observations/concepts and maybe it'll trigger some interesting thoughts out there.

- Over on CommsOffensive325, Mike Klein notes that Ragan has some commentary on Mike's discussion with Liam Fitzpatrick about the future of IC.

- Reading the Ragan piece, they naturally come down in the middle, after all "more competence" (Liam) is like "more motherhood and apple pie" and "more transformational thinking" (Mike) is like, well, "more motherhood and apple pie" too.

They quote Liam explicitly talking about "the credibility of the profession," but this comes through even more clearly in further comments from Mike, Liam and others underneath the article. They are arguing about the form of "the profession." What, if you like, would a future "CIIC" (Chartered Institute of Internal Communications) be defined as being about?

Throw in  the recent post by Ron Shewchuk about the lack of Masters level education programs in "employee comms", which reminds me that the majority of the things we all count as "IC competence" are skills that come out of PR, journalism, etc. I think there are few educational opportunities in IC because we've yet to create a truly distinctive notion of what it takes to be in IC and the truly distinctive skills that you won't learn in journalism or PR courses.

The Ragan writer (David Murray) notes that employee comms are more determined (in their opinion) by organisational structures than IC ideals.

However, it's at this point that it seems to me, Mike is maybe on to something.

Referencing my last post, I can see an argument that says in the long term, the technologies and practice of modern internal communications, as currently typified by social media, come into unavoidable conflict with the "structure of organisations." And, I don't think that "the structure" wins that battle. Structure is strongly static, but human nature is the irresistible force. And everyone knows I'm a structuralist at heart, so I don't say that lightly.

How does all this amount to a hill of beans for everyday practice? I can't deny the force of Liam's argument. Companies will want to communicate things with internal groups, that process is fairly well understood and will not disappear. Right now, if you want credibility in your organisation, your best bet is to invest in fulfilling this role with greater competence and success.

However, I think the number of people involved in a bunch of "traditional IC roles" is going to shrink and we are going to have to understand new roles that apply in more "community" situations. It also seems to me that this is the ground where you can plant seeds of a "distinctive profession" of IC.

Of course, whether IC should be a distinctive profession, or part of HR is a question to be considered.

Seth Godin's suggestion for rebranding HR as "Department of Talent" would appear to overlap with a lot of IC work. To be clear, I'm not advocating that IC should be part of HR, but I would be surprised to see it happen. There is a logic there. Likewise, there's a craft logic to the CIPR being the dominant association for IC people in the UK.

For myself, I think that there is room for IC as a strong, independent business function, but I think it will need to change if that is to happen. And that's a post for another day.


Tuesday, 19 February 2008

Flare ups, power, frustration, social media and transparency

Over at Black Belt Dojo, Sue has an interesting post about a big flare up in the comments to a blog on The Guardian travel site. She asks "Is this what we're afraid of?" with respect to unleashing social media in organisations. Mark Mazza made an insightful comment in reply about what the psychology of the "troublemakers" in this case might be.

That got me thinking...

What are the collective frustrations about "big media bloggers" that might lead to the kind of swarming, vitriolic responses that we occasionally see unleashed by the commenting public?

It strikes me that in part, blogging is about self-expression, not just in the sense of "here I am, this is me" but also "this is what I think about important issues in and around my life." When I was younger, there were no blogs and many thoughts I might have had about politics, economics etc. really had nowhere much to go. Newspaper letter pages were a tiny and well guarded resource. Yes, there are always deep conversations with good friends, but in a busy life, there's never enough of those.

Enter the blog, all of a sudden, insights can be pushed out. So many people prognosticated about important issues like Iraq and the toxic lending typified by the sub-prime debacle. And yet, as time passes, it becomes ever more apparent that however insightful these people were, very few of them gain much "blogging stardom" from it. And the same goes across all sorts of fields, from celebrity gossip to rugby commentary. The vast majority of ability to shape opinion and make a living writing accrue to those within big media institutions.

Now, that's not exactly news to anyone as such. All the same, the act of blogging and commenting rather lays the power relations out for everyone to see. Thus, I think part of the vitriol is not just "jealousy" in the sense of "they have a fun, easy life and I don't" but an acute awareness that for all the hype about the democratising power of blogs, the keys to the castle remain pretty much where they always have been.

Why might this matter for corporate blogging? I just wonder if in some organisations at least, the surfacing of this distinction between the powerful and the less so might need some extra thought to manage.

It can be said that Internal Communications has always existed in part to manage this kind of tension and it's not really a new problem. IC departments often walk a tightrope between encouraging greater communication from the bottom to the top and dealing with the reality that very often the top isn't listening that hard. However, the veneer of democracy that social media tend to present might heighten the disillusionment when the "democratic deficit" is made raw in a blog exchange.

Is this insurmountable? I don't think so, but it needs some thinking about. It also connects to my next post, on the professionalisation project for Internal Communications.


Sunday, 17 February 2008

Visualising Social Networks

Via the MindJet blog (MindManager is a great piece of mindmapping software) comes thoughts on Social Media Fatigue by Josh Catone and a great diagram, visualizing one person's online social network activities:


[Click on image for larger size version.]


Belated Eurocomm Blogging

Due to my work travel commitments I'm only just back at blog station central. (And yes, I can blog from the road, but it's been busy.)

Eurocomm was a great experience. Good speakers and a small but informed and thinking audience. Great opportunities to meet interesting people and have interesting discussions.

Jennifer Lewis reviews it on the Eurocomm blog, as does Audrey Scarff. It also makes an appearance on the FIR podcast. There's a collation of a few other blog posts about it here.

Of those, Kevin Keohane's is the most lyrical.

Most riveting speaker for me was (predictably) Ramon Olle Jr. Not only is he an effective and energetic presenter, who highlighted some local features of branding in Spain, but he also referenced "The Bull" in the tradition of an exhibition item I saw at MACBA later in the week:

ASPEN; Multimedia Magazine in a Box

The McLuhan Issue (Vol 1, No.4, Section 9)

If an ad has become so environmental as to be unperceived, that's when it's really doing its work. - Marshall McLuhan

I'd place the award for "most philsophical approach" as a tie between Kevin Keohane's piece on the fictional construct that is "the audience" and the presentation on "Values and Communication" by Josep Maria Esquirol (which I hope to have time to blog about a bit later.)

Best discussion fodder? Definitely the plenary on Social Media, which was also one of the best group presentations I've seen at a conference in a while. Credit to Yang-May Ooi; Mark Wright and Giles Colbourne.

Of course, all of the above were of great intellectual interest for me, but not the reason I was there: Presentations on cross-cultural issues by Charles Gancel (Inter Cultural Management Associates) and another by Hanna Kalla and Sam Berrisford (Hill and Knowlton).

Sam and Hanna concentrated on an overview of the field, which targeted the general listener but still had plenty of tidbits for those of us for whom it is the main event.

Charles put things into a bit more perspective, linking to issues around the knowledge economy and the coming "war for talent," concentrating on the development of culturally aware leaders.

Overall, a great conference, a real tonic for practitioners in the field, intellectually stimulating and a great body of peers to interact with.