Digital Communications: A Manifesto

October 17, 2013

I had a dream…

People who work in “communications” have come a long way: from bewilderment and misunderstanding of what digital means, through a hostility to digital’s built in drive towards openness , to today, where some understand digital and social well and use them as tools for conventional public relations.

However, neither communications and PR people, nor big organisations (public and private) nor the people who lead them have grasped what digital really means for institutions. How it disrupts the corporate machine, and places power in the hands of empowered consumers who want direct answers now, rather than faceless press officers or senior leaders who don’t want to communicate and hide behind their communication teams, using them as a way of avoiding accountability to both their customers and their employees. In some cases “leaders” are even prisoners of their Comms teams, unable to communicate honestly because of some strange corporate freeze which is owned by no one yet seems to silence everyone.

I want to adopt a new approach to the way organisations communicate.

This would include:

– A ban on press releases. Press releases simply spoon feed lazy journalists. Instead journalists would be directed to interact in public on social channels like blogs, and treated with equal respect to any other consumer or citizen

– transparency in PR. All Communications professionals working for an organisation would be expected to use social channels, through which they communicate to public and press alike with no distinction between the two. These channels would be public and all spokespeople would be named. No more “off the record” briefings or selective leaking.

– Rather than Comms people acting as messengers from others, they would proactively seek out those people in the organisation who really know what they are talking about and encourage them to talk to individual citizens, journalists and consumers, on the record and in public. The best person to talk about a thing is the person doing the thing not a communications person who no matter how clever they are will never know it as well. Communication teams should act as agents of culture change, encouraging all staff at all levels to open up and talk to customers, in digital, social and face to face. Instead of a boring corporate anonymous voice, two thousand voices, the voices of the organisation should be heard. No more “lines against enquiry”.

– Communication should put consumers, audiences and citizens first. Instead of preannouncing initiatives that may never happen, leaking titbits to the press, or delaying initiatives so they fit with the boss’s conference appearance audiences should be told first. When it’s live, it’s time to talk about it, not before.

– A drive for quality. Too much corporate communication is dull, and designed to stop people talking, not get them interested. But in a digital world your press release is competing against a huge volume of higher quality content, professional and amateur. The way organisations talk about themselves should be as impartial and accurate as any news coverage about them (more accurate in many cases). Communications should be about should seeking out the stories that audiences want to hear, and digging out the information they are looking for, reflecting the whole picture objectively, criticism as well as praise. No more “managing a message” or “if we don’t talk about this it will go away”.

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