As i was waiting for a meeting yesterday, i bumped into the Communications Manager for a large organisation. The conversation fell to discussions of Twitter and Facebook, and how their organisation looked to imprint their message across these channels.
It touched on something we have looked at before: formal and informal media and the changing face of communications.
Corporates often rely on the ‘broadcast’ method of communications, whereby they identify their message, identify the channel they wish to communicate through (email, internet, printed magazine) and then broadcast. Effort and resource goes into shaping the message and distribution. It’s broadcast, not conversation.
Social media are different. They are conversational. Inherently, they are collaborative and responsive. In traditional broadcast contexts, the broadcaster owns the message (and, indeed, often the media as well, in the case of TV). In the case of social media and the web, the broadcaster no longer own the media and is only one of many participants in the conversation.
I was reading one of Clay Shirky’s posts yesterday, which had nearly 140 comments after it. Sure, when he first posted, he was broadcasting, but a conversation evolved out of it. In a corporate sense, the challenge is that you don’t own the conversation. You can own the root of it, but it will develop out of your control.
In a learning and development context, this is fine, providing the growth is in certain areas. Across the board, training is a method of observing successful behaviours, processes, styles and so forth, and systematising them. It’s a way of identifying what makes someone successful in a role (in whatever field or context) and helping people to understand and emulate that knowledge, those skills and behaviours. We welcome the discussion in terms of how to embed and enact the learning, but we usually avoid discussion of the overall framework.
Organisations tend to have preferred ways of doing things, and social media freedoms challenge this. For example, in Coaching, there are a wide range of established models: GROW, PESOS, etc. Businesses tend to train one particular model, to drive common ‘conversations’. If you introduce a space within your training where people can engage in conversation, you run the risk that they will talk about other models, or, worse, actively adopt other models.
On the one hand, this could be considered risky, although there would be a valid view that it’s a case of market forces at work. Typically any thirty something manager will have worked at two or three of the key players within an industry, and has probably been taught different models for the same thing anyway. Perhaps a bit of discerning choice is no bad thing?
One of the challenges of engaging in conversation is that you have to talk, and this presents organisational issues about who owns ‘the voice’. Do you really want your 25 year old Comms manager giving opinions and advice? Sure, you can wrap a legal structure around it with disclaimers, stating that it’s not ‘official’ opinion, but that’s not the point. People hear what they hear, and they hear the voice.
The challenge lies in how to engage the ‘experts’ in these conversations in time efficient and timely ways, because the other feature of a conversation is that it has to happen fast. If it takes 48 hours to respond to a thread or post, it’s dead in the water.
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