Get off my land or open to the public

Now I don’t actually own 40 acres so I’m talking metaphorically or virtually speaking when I refer to land/territory.  What prompts these thoughts is who has responsibility for new media communications in an organisation, who should it be and does it matter?

If we remove telephone and email for the moment as personal communication and consider new media channels, they can be considered ’open to the public’.  More importantly open to public scrutiny and as such contribute to, or damage reputation.  Building relationships and protecting reputation is traditional remit of public relations hence their management of mass media channels.  Well as a Public Relations person I would say that.

For marketing and advertising new media is a way of doing what they have always done to attract customers, only using electronic means.  Now, the boundaries between marketingand public relations have been both blurred and complimentary for a while.  Marketing is focussed on selling products or services to increase the bottom line.  Public Relations, on building relationships and reputation to increase equity.

The thing is we are not alone, in some organisations the IT departments manage new media channels, recruitment and customer service areas respond to enquiries via new media like facebook and Twitter.  In any one organisation numerous departments can operate an ‘open to the public’ channel that official communicators may not even have sight of.  The greater the fragmentation of channels across an organisation the greater the risk to reputation.  Customers can complain publicly that a product or service is no good, or a supplier that they have not been paid.  Getting the response right is everything.  Greater transparency in how we operate should be welcomed.  Trying to control everyone’s message is futile.  So I guess as communicators our role is to facilitate what we can, try to make sure branding, style and naming convention are within company guidelines and embrace a truly open system?

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11 Responses to Get off my land or open to the public

  1. Hamish says:

    There is certainly mixing of the roles as illustrated by the advent of relationship marketing which is a fusion of many things that you mention, which no doubt lead to many other issues such as ethics, politics, etc Communications and its control is central to the operation of any business these days and it seems to me that the job of anyone working in communications is getting increasingly harder. Add that to satisfying all of the stakeholder needs which is getting larger by the second, then the corporate comms person needs to be a superman/woman.

    • Anne Dyke says:

      I believe that a permeable two way ‘open’ system of communication is a good thing. From an internal comms perspective there is a case to make sure other areas of the organisation understand the scope of the communications role. That the organisation has an up to date code of conduct for use of new media and that it form part of the employee code of conduct. Whatever area of the business people work in there should be aligned objectives around preserving and enhancing reputation. The openness of new media channels does improve transparency of interactions. For customer service especially there is a need to deliver on promises.

      What the CEO says on Video or radio is also important as everything can be replayed and bought back to haunt you. The recent examples of Nick Clegg’s promises on students fees are a case in point.

      I love the idea of Communicators as Superheroes – it would make a great title for a blog…

  2. Melanie says:

    This one really had me sat on the fence to start with! Part of me thinks it is too easy to say the wrong thing or be misunderstood; so leave it to the experts and have a corporate communications check on all public outgoing comms. Another part of me thinks this approach is what has lead to the bureaucracy that already plagues the way many UK companies operate.
    Perhaps empowering employees with responsibility and training them respond appropriately is what we should all be doing to make our businesses more transparent, more genuine and more efficient!


  3. sally says:

    What no turf wars. You can’t all be init together – sounds too much like the big society

    • Anne Dyke says:

      Oh dear! Thanks Sally. If truth be told, there’s nothing like a bit of internal restructuring to upset the ‘collaboration’ apple cart as different areas justify their existence.

  4. PortisheadPR says:

    This is an interesting piece. Communicators have responisibility to manage company reputation and to manage the message. In this social networking age where staff communicate using social networks the company reputation can no longer be managed by the communictors. Therefore staff become the communicators. Is all lost? No. Staff now have a responsibility to manage the message. This could be a win win situation. On the other hand it takes but a moment to lose a reputation.

  5. black flatfoot says:

    Empowerment and transparency is an idealogical fancy but not reality. Organisations will empower when it suits them, or falsify empowerment through manipulation. Even empowerment exemplars such as Semlar can be construed as messing with the empoyees mind to achieve corporate objectives-and corporate comms plays no little part in this. So Melanie, keep sat on the fence and put up with the splinters, it’s less painful than the psychological and social corporate controls that go under the name of empowerment and transparency.

    • Anne Dyke says:

      I respect and welcome a diverse range of opinion but would challenge that empowerment and transparency are not becoming reality. Messing with employees minds might suggest that they are passive receivers in the communication process, I would like to think the reality is they have a voice to influence empowerment and direction and that that as a communicator I facilitate the dialogue between employee and management groups.

      Externally too, new media faciliates dialogue for companies that deal directly with members of the public. The visibility of the dialogue and opportunity for other members of the public to connect with it provides the consumer with a far stronger voice. Consumers have an easy route to raise or challenge companies ethical standards for example around trading practices, or how they source product or resource for their supply chain. Greater visibility and share of voice does have the power to influence company behaviour. Think use of sweat shops in the far east.

      I do recognise that an open system is not the norm for every organisation. Companies that deal directly with other companies or government bodies as opposed to selling a product or service to the general public are much more likely to operate a closed system of communication. Whether you work in an organisation that operates an open or closed system (or somewhere in between) we are living through an information technology revolution – manipulating staff or any sort of unethical trading practice, will surface, the truth will out.

  6. The other role that we can have as communicators is ensuring that those within an organisation have an accurate understanding of whatever it is that they’re communicating externally about. It’s not just about allowing ‘open’ communicating externally, but being just as ‘open’ internally too.

  7. black flatfoot says:

    yes, great points about empowerment and the role of comms, I understand a little better now. As the communicator facilitates the dialogue between employee and management groups where do their loyalties lie, or do they (can they) remain unbiased in all of this ? Are they a bit like the newsreader passing on the message but having to remain detached?

    • Anne Dyke says:

      The role is often described as ‘boundary spanning’ referring to communicators talking to both internal/external groups or employee/managment groups. What is important is being able to empathise with both groups, check understanding of current communications plans and add to the feedback loop. Internally this is done by getting involved with key employee group meetings (consultations/forums/union meetings) to understand what the hot topic on the rumour mill is, with the aim of identifying any gaps or misunderstandings on either side that need to be addressed.

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