Steve Crescenzo, principal of Crescenzo Communications in the US, cautioned that if communicators do not take these changes into account, they run the risk of becoming irrelevant in their organisations.
As social media and other factors chip away at the traditional role of the communicator as a "publisher" of information, organisations around the world are looking harder at just what they're getting from their communicators. The closing session of the conference tied up all the learnings on measurement and strategy to ask the critical question - how do we reinvent the role of communications to remain relevant now and into the future? This is why communicators need to know what organisational needs they will be asked to fill five years down the road - something that should form part of even the most basic strategy and scenario plan.
The challenge many communicators face is the change factor, and what people have to do to reach change. Change is a destination, not a journey... transition is the journey communicators need to take, alongside their organisations, to reach change. This will invariably move people out of their comfort zone and change the playing field.
"We do a lot of the same things... to get things signed off and get it out," said Crescenzo. "This won't fly any more... there is more competition than ever for eyeballs. There has always been competition, but never like it is now".
The challenge facing internal communication practitioners is to sift through the clutter and make employee publications more relevant than other social media tools, and engage their audiences to the extent that they will WANT to make use of, and digest, the content being disseminated. The session reminded practitioners that measuring the process does not mean they have performed an effective campaign.
Crescenzo said the simple reality of modern day internal communication is that employees would rather read a foreign language on Facebook than read a corporate newsletter "and yet companies cannot understand why." Employees would rather follow a celebrity than their own company; and even companies that force Twitter and social media from a corporate perspective find people purposefully leaving them.
The simple answer - employee communication is no longer relevant, "and may have never even been". How can organisations compete with the likes of YouTube, Facebook, front-covers of consumer magazines, LinkedIn, Twitter, and much more? They have to accept that they are not at the top of the employees' priority list when it comes to receiving messages from the organisation through dull and outdates communication tools - they are "incredibly dull, boring, and nobody reads them," said Crescenzo.
We need to shift our thought processes and start thinking about the people.
The old role of communicators includes being 'The party planner'; 'The private publisher'; 'The protector of the brand'; 'The producer of spin'; and 'The policy and programme promoter'.
The seven ways communicators need to change in order to be relevant five years from now:
This is the time for corporate communication to shine. Social media, new media and multimedia are all in need of creative people who can talk and write in a conversational fashion. "We can use our talents to cut through the clutter," said Crescenzo. The challenge is to step up to the ages-old argument that things need to be done the same way they have always been done, and explain to managers that the old way has not worked.
Communicators can rise to the challenge and start producing podcasts, become video-centric to share corporate information, become bloggers within the organisation and start being a tweeter for the company.
Communication managers need to find people in the organisation who have something to say - either internally or externally. Then, they need to tap into the stories that those people have and find the platform for telling those stories.
The big mind shift is for communicators to realise that these people do not, and should not, necessarily be the leaders of the organisation. It needs to be the people. "And yet companies still insist on using traditional communication, like posters, email and intranet," said Crescenzo.
While those have their place, it's how you strategically manage the content that will determine whether internal communication has any degree of impact. Often, communication managers face the challenge of executives saying "no". This can be turned around by powerful and tenacious communicators who demonstrate that while the concept is rejected, the impact of the implementation could be accepted.
"With all the information flying around, someone needs to tell the story of the business. The best way to do it is to use people to tell the story of what the business is doing. Great communicators do not write about policies and programmes, they think about people," explained Crescenzo.
Conversations are happening whether corporates choose to recognise this or not, and it's mostly happening in the social media space. Most executives are fearful of corporate communications, without realising that ignoring it simply means they do not know what is being said anyway.
Crescenzo says communicators need to embrace social media tools and work with managers to educate them on the benefits and challenges it poses. When done safely, it can lead to greater awareness and control of overall conversations.
Social media is good for publishing - getting their messages out; listening - accepting all comment, even negative ones, and enable an ongoing discussion; and engaging, by communicating with the audience in a way that enables them to talk back to the organisation.
Corporate communications needs to embrace the use of social media and integrate various multimedia elements where employees can contribute content to central repositories and share their stories.
"The age of the flip camera is upon is. The technology has never been cheaper to use, and people in fact expected a multimedia web," said Crescenzo. When presented with the opportunity, "staff respond by creating these really cool videos... it's happening everywhere, even in the most serious of companies," he added.
Organisations' leaders need a lot of help with social media and new media technologies. Communicators need to figure out what's right for them and how it would work for them.
"We need to find executives in our organisations who would be good at blogging, podcasting and other things... we have to help them. They are stiff and bogged down by corporate jargon... show them how to change that - it can be done," advised Crescenzo.
Communication practitioners need to know enough about social media, that they can go to the c-suite and sell the concept. But they need know everything, so when challenged, they can respond.
Communicators cannot be creative for creativity's sake - everything communication does should be done to tie back to the objectives of the organisation. Business goals and communication goals need to be aligned, long before message development, and certainly before content is created.
"Most communicators fail because they jump straight into creativity and content generation without understand WHY they are communicating," Crescenzo pointed out.
These are all practical tools that simply require communication practitioners to think differently about what they are doing today.
As the paradigms of communication change, so do the methodologies and tools being used by communicators. Crescenzo concluded: "Times are changing, why aren't we? We cannot be a whiteboard culture anymore. We need to change the internal culture of organisations to better meet consumers' needs."
More information, as well as podcasts and vodcasts from the 2010 IABC World Conference in Canada, will be available at www.talk2us.co.za.