Remember those blog posts a few years ago that were all about the perils of communications teams keeping digital to themselves?
I don’t think this happens much anymore. Partly because it’s impossible for a central team to manage the demand, and the need, for effective digital communications, but also because: why would you want to?
If you are the sort of person who wants to control a handful of highly preened, polished and ditchwater-dull corporate channels, then communications may not be for you. In fact, the internet may not be for you. The chances are you will find yourself run ragged operating all sorts of stifling policies to prevent people from bringing some personality to their organisation.
As people realise how low the barrier is to representing their work online, so more of it happens. Why go to endless conferences when you can be in conversation 24/7 with your peers? Today, you don’t have to wait four weeks for XYZ industry journal to land on your doormat, or badger the editor in order to share some insight in an article.
I think this is brilliant. Let those who are expert or passionate, or both, have their voice, and demonstrate to your audiences that this is an organisation made up of real people, who care and knows what they are doing.
All fine in principle, but what happens in practice? Everyone joins Twitter. Your list of new followers is suddenly inundated by lots of silent eggs. Over on Yammer, these eggs have faces and are very chatty – with each other. Now and again a food blog appears. Great – your colleagues are getting online and doing something. And you’re not policing it, you are just seeing what happens.
But this is hard when those early attempts from your colleagues are a little misguided. Perhaps they haven’t completed their profile. They’ll happy blog about their dinner, but won’t find time to talk to their audience. They love to tell you they have retweeted your press release, or brushed up their LinkedIn profile. Meanwhile you have just discovered something far more important and relevant to their work online, that they could be helping with.
This happens to me almost every week. To be honest, my gut reaction is to go back a few years. Close things down, police people, make alarmist phone calls and write ‘how to’ papers for various committees and boards.
I end up just being glad that these things are happening at all. Provided that nothing really silly is happening, this is what my American colleagues used to call ‘a high level problem’. Like someone saying they have money burning a hole in their pocket. I can live with that.
What this does mean is that those people with egg profiles, or chatting away on Yammer and blogging about steak, finally feel empowered to do something online. They are not living in fear of a comms team being precious about brands or messages. This has to be the first step to these newly enlightened colleagues doing more in relation to their work. It’s a base to work from, rather than a barrier.
Communication teams have to let go when these situations arise, and learn to celebrate it as a success.