When asked to identify the greatest challenges we expect to face this year as corporate communicators, our IABC WestFair communicators presented a picture of life in the trenches, where responsibilities were anything but predictable and change was the only constant.
Not surprisingly, the effective use of social media topped the list, followed closely by change management communication and the changing role of the communicator.
Practical approaches to social media were discussed, including the importance of social media guidelines, internal social media champions, executive sponsorship and interaction through micro-blogging platforms like Yammer and Chatter. Corporate culture emerged as the definitive arbiter of social media success on social intranets, and organizations with a non-consensual or command-and-control leadership with a lack of trust in workforce feedback should not expect to see results with social media—nor should social media efforts propelled by grass roots efforts alone.
We considered the dizzying array of social media tools and differing workforce attitudes about them, including exacerbating factors such as age, job scope and geography. Instances were reported where social media was “written off” by a business leader as the pet project of marketing and communication: “When we see engineers interacting on blogs we’ll be convinced,” they said. The blurring of internal and external social media efforts was discussed, and the challenges of using external social media channels to showcase internal business expertise and thought leadership.
The changing role of the communicator was discussed, including our responsibility to influence but not control two-way conversations on intranet communication platforms with social media tools. The need for tight relationships with human resources was reiterated, as well as connecting with the C-suite for brand and reputation management and, more than ever, business knowledge to help organizations be more productive as an essential requirement to earning a seat at the table with senior leadership. Being comfortable with constant change—or addicted to it—was mentioned, as well as the need for ongoing personal development to stay current and sure-footed in our constantly shifting communication landscape.
In terms of public relations, the importance of getting your message into the hands of social media influencers and “tastemakers” was stressed, who would then cultivate your message through to trusted real-time conversational channels. What the company says about itself, it was acknowledged, is no longer the trusted source of information it once was, now that breaking news and opinion has shifted to popular interactive journalism sites like The Huffington Post. Getting your message into the hands of the right blogger can now make all the difference.
In terms of change management, the importance of understanding the changing business models of older manufacturing-based companies was underscored, as were the challenges of communicating to a younger, more entrepreneurial and tech-savvy workforce who expect messaging on real-time mobile platforms. A continuous improvement mindset related to change strategy and tactics was considered essential for communicators, as was an appreciation for the positive dimensions of change—personal and organizational growth and opportunity.
The importance of gathering unfiltered workforce feedback and calibrating change communication content accordingly was considered essential to communication success, as was the importance of our role within the context of expanding corporate boundaries (due to globalization) and highly-matrixed organizations resulting from frequent mergers and acquisitions.
What communication challenges and solutions are you working with in 2012? Feel free to leave your comment here or on our IABC WestFair LinkedIN Group.
photo credit: Curtis Perry Photostream