There was a time, before the onset of the internet, when news was controlled by relatively few media outlets. To influence the news agenda your only choice was to go through one of these channels, and the news corporation themselves would be the arbitrary judge of whether your story was newsworthy or not.
The world has moved on considerably since these times, with social or ‘web 2.0′ technologies like Twitter and WordPress giving voice to literally anyone with a desire to express something, however profound or pedestrian it may be. We have seen the extent to which these new found liberties have changed society, from the arab spring risings to the London riots.
In a nutshell, we have become uber-connected. We are not bound by physical location, language or even time anymore – anyone can connect with anyone else. The long term effect of this inter-connectedness remains to be seen. Optimists predict a world of infinite possibility, pessimists see a dystopia around the corner. One powerful consequence however is the liberation of the individual and the new found power to not only publish but to find an audience. People can become influential almost single-handedly.
Large business has remained largely unscathed by all this recent technology change. Technology has had a seismic effect on business processes from automated supply chains to the advent of email and desktop publishing, but social and web 2.0 technologies have done little to infiltrate their ways in to large corporations and how employees behave.
This is all set to change. With Microsoft acquiring Yammer last year, the new Microsoft Office platform (called Office 365) has social networking threaded throughout it. Facebook are due to release their ‘Facebook at Work’ product and a plethora of other vendors such as Jive, Zimbra and IBM Connections are all permeating their ways into organisations. Social networks in business looks to be the next big thing.
This is set to profoundly change not only how businesses operate but also the role of the internal communicator and every single employee. A direct parallel can be drawn with the change we’ve seen in the outside world mentioned above. Employees are used to receiving news from a central source, be it your internal communications team (in much the same way the public used to receive news from a select few news outlets).
With a social network employees are now empowered and have a voice. And something important happens — many people will be happy to observe, as happens in external social media, but some will embrace the network, gaining a huge follow-ship and thereby creating massive influence. What they say will be as newsworthy or relevant to their followers as any corporate communications they receive.
Call these your internal key opinion formers, they will be as vital to create change in your organisation as any broadcast communications. The skill of the communicator going forward will be as much to nurture and serve the network as it will to generate broadcast communications. One can call this the ‘democratisation of the organisation’ where influence (and dare I say power) will be less about position and more about an individual’s own network and how they contribute to it.Continue reading