“If the news is that important, it will find me.”

Back in 2008, it was already clear that people were consuming information differently.

Rather than going to professional portals, people were increasingly relying on their social networks to deliver relevant and highly personalized information.

So why do you still have a home page at work? And what should you have instead?

The media shift

Barack Obama’s run for the presidency was a watershed campaign in many ways, including the use of media. Eight months before the election, his internet videos would garner millions of views despite receiving little attention from reporters.

Behind all those views were links from 500+ bloggers and individuals sharing the video via Facebook.

A NY Times article in March, 2008, described the behaviors of younger voters:

“According to interviews and recent surveys, younger voters tend to be not just consumers of news and current events but conduits as well — sending out e-mailed links and videos to friends and their social networks. And in turn, they rely on friends and online connections for news to come to them. In essence, they are replacing the professional filter — reading The Washington Post, clicking on CNN.com — with a social one.”

That last line is the key. More and more, people trust their social network over a paid professional to filter out the noise and deliver useful content.

As one blogger wrote: “the very fact that someone you know — or trust — has passed on or blogged or Twittered or posted a link makes it more likely that you will read it.”

A student put it even more simply: “If the news is that important, it will find me.”

The future of internal communications

Fours years later, we still have editors and critics. They just don’t have the same influence they used to have.

At most companies, though, we’re communicating like it’s 1999, relying on internal communications to broadcast messages to staff.

A post titled “The death of Internal Comms?” sums up the feelings of most employees:

“Sending a weekly dirge of “What’s happening in MegaCorp, Blue Widgets Division”, will just get your message canned. Sending a series of links *may* be better, as at least you won’t be quite so hated, but probably won’t get your message across better.”

We know the prevalent internal communications methods don’t work well. Now, we’re just starting to see what the future looks.

In the years since the Obama campaign, companies are beginning to use social platforms and more authentic voices to “get the message across.” We’re learning that people want to hear from other people – not institutions – and that they’ll rely on their network to discover what’s important enough to read or comment on.

An example

Recently, there was a large conference at work with many senior managers in attendance. Traditionally, the internal communications staff would write up an article after the event, post it on their intranet portal, and send an email to employees with a summary and a link.

This time, though, those same communications people selected more junior staff (outside of communications) to attend the conference and serve as roaming reporters. The reporters posted live updates throughout the conference using the firm’s new collaboration platform. Communications staff also posted but they added to the conversation instead of dominating it.

Now, without email and without searching, people at all levels from around the world were following the conference by following real people (“I felt like I was there”). And, more importantly, they were able to participate.

The graduates were particularly active, asking questions and contributing content. But senior people at the event also used the social platform, soliciting ideas and feedback, adding comments to other conversations. People discovered the hot topics via their newsfeeds, added comments and likes, and interacted with people across their division (and some from other divisions).

We’d never had anything like that before.

Better for the individual and for the firm

Far from being dead, the internal communications function at that conference became much more valuable. They went from producing impersonal content with few readers and zero feedback to using social tools and practices to engage a larger audience in more meaningful ways.

Whether you’re a communications professional, a senior manager, or just someone who has something to say, that kind of transformation is available to you.

If you’re still relying on people coming to you for your message (or visiting your portal or reading your email), then you’re missing one of the biggest communications shifts in history.

We know there are better ways. What are you waiting for?


About John Stepper

Driving adoption of collaboration and social media platforms at Deutsche Bank. (Opinions here are my own.)
This entry was posted in Management, Social Business and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

11 Responses to “If the news is that important, it will find me.”

  1. Preston Digitation says:

    You wrote, “More and more, people trust their social network over a paid professional to filter out the noise and deliver useful content.” Isn’t this a problem as well? People can manipulate the network with false or misleading information or can simply say credible but incorrect things. The lack of discipline that should be achieved by researched, verified, and edited material can lower the quality of the communication. Perhaps if a proper trust network were in place (e.g. what TrustCloud is trying to build – http://trustcloud.com/) then we can get a better sense of what is reliable.

    • Preston. You have a point, but this is what people have been saying about Wikipedia only to be proven wrong as the model is self policing. Platforms that allow people to gain social credits (which i assume John’s company has) quickly identify users that are not being helpful and lowers their rankings, while useful content bubbles to the top.

      I would also assume that having a core group of people controlling the message centrally is equally open to manipulation, but would require fewer people to do it.

    • John Stepper says:

      I haven’t seen this problem in practice.

      I’d argue it’s easier for people to manipulate or misinform via traditional online (email) and in-person channels than via social platforms.

      It’s pretty hard to manipulate a public, online network. Our experience at work is that experts quickly surface (and are often the first to post) as questions or issues are raised.

  2. John, this piece is very timely for me as we’re having these discussions right now amongst the internal communications team. I’m going to share this with them, as it provides a very helpful perspective. Love your second to last sentence — very powerful…and very true. Hopefully it will resonate.

  3. Prozie says:

    Hello John, loved the post! Inspiring! The real time communications aspect of news feeds, likes and active participation by trusted and credible sources is key to real time news and communications efforts. As an example, yesterday’s news may still be news to those in the crowd receiving it late however, for those who have had the real time experience from credible and trusted sources/filters, the excitement of being part of the story and then actively waiting for what is to come next is both intriguing and welcomed. Real time stories appear as finely crafted digital curations that can be thought of as living stories that, will continue on and evolve over time as each person receiving the story paints their own picture and adds in some ways to its evolution as a result of imagination and and being part of the story. The folks who get the story after the fact (say much, much later) are not empowered by the story to put it out there for others to experience because they are in essence “Late to the Party” but, for those who have received the story (news, info etc) in real time, they feel empowered to pass it on. The story being told in real time is in fact hot off the press from known filters (friends and or respected colleagues) and for those receiving the story in real time, tend to take ownership and feel empowered to to pass it on and adopt it as if they had discovered it first. I think as I feel you might that, the social nature of trusted sources adds value to the filters and by default to the story’s continued propagation through a selected channel. I would love to hear what you think John

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