I’ve recently completed my Masters Course in Information Systems Management at WBS, with my dissertation focused on the role of Enterprise Community Management in achieving value from social and collaborative technology.

One of the main insights I gained from my research was the way in which these technologies impact on both the process of internal communication and the role of internal communicators. These tools are built to bypass traditional hierarchies and allow everyone in an organisation to express their opinions and share their thoughts with others, regardless of their title or position. They suggest a multi-way, enterprise-wide communication flow that goes against the traditional top-down communication paradigm whereby messages would be broadcast to a controlled audience. And without a doubt this has big implications for the organisations implementing them, as one of my respondents explained:

It represents quite a significant shift for a fairly traditional organisation in terms of the way it communicates and it is quite, you know democratic, or even a bit anarchic sometimes… It’s just… it’s different and you need to manage that properly as you introduce it and people need to understand very clearly from their leadership what is the purpose, what is the relevance, how will this help, how will this help us, how it will help you…

IC people are often reluctant to embrace the adoption of enterprise social platforms

Despite the huge opportunities this clearly opens up for those seen to be leading this change, my impression was that internal comms people are often reluctant to embrace these tools and facilitate their adoption, which could impact on their potential for businesses. The sense was that some IC people are afraid that the deployment of these tools will eventually cause the erosion of their role. For example, one respondent commented:

This is a tool which is saying “Well actually, you’re gonna let go of control and let people make their own mistakes and maybe… put their own content on there, and let people have discussions that are not… necessary facilitated by corporate communications” So the comms people go through a… sort of a transformation of identity perception, because they are used to like thinking “Well we control the internal comms” you know, “We’ve got the intranet… we will tell you what’s going on in the organization, that’s our role”, you know, “otherwise we got no job!”

A role that will evolve rather than be eroded

And I am wondering if that’s really the case. In my opinion IC people should neither be afraid nor worried about the viability of their role because it’s far from becoming eroded in either the short or long term. On the contrary, I believe that it’s about to evolve to accommodate and support the new needs for businesses to enable a powerful discourse that will extend both vertically and horizontally across the enterprise. A new comms standard that will effectively reduce the distance between the different hierarchical levels and business functions, therefore allowing people to work together to solve common problems at work, reduce operating costs, foster innovation, and drive business value.

Getting people on board requires organisations to understand the human dimension first

Existing research on social technologies has shown that their potential to transform organisations is huge, but in order for the latter to reap the benefits that these tools can offer, people must first make these platforms part of their daily workflows. And I don’t think that people will truly embrace these tools if we keep labeling them as “properties owned and controlled by the organisation”. That’s just not going to work because to get people on board organisations need to understand the human dimension first – and currently organisations often tend to ignore this dimension with some forecasting significant consequences.

My findings from the research support that people, regardless of their title or position, need to know that their work is being appreciated, and more importantly that they will gain some value in return for sharing their knowledge with others through these platforms. And I believe that the best way to achieve that is by taking advantage of this technology to create and sustain online communities, where people can feel that they are part of a larger group consisting of members with common goals, with whom it’s worth sharing their best knowledge.

IC will become the key driver of change in the way people communicate and work over the following years

And that’s certainly an aspect where IC can and should come into play. IC people can encourage people onto these platforms, break down their fears of using them in the wrong way, and guide users in getting the most out of them. Their actions can ensure that the usage of these platforms will remain a positive experience through which people will be effectively driving value for themselves and consequently for the organisation. One of my respondents described how he attempted to inspire IC teams in taking on the new aspect of their evolving role:

I spent a lot of time with our internal communications teams, because they are obviously heavy users of it, and was really trying to get them shift away from this model where their main focus is on publishing and pushing information, to making… kind of almost deputising them as “You are community managers for your business and you should look at your employees, not as an audience or as kind of recipients of information, but as someone you‘re trying to foster a conversation with and really build connections: yourself to them, them to each other, and connect them to the rest of the business, because there are experts outside of the kind of silos and hierarchies that we’ve imposed on business for such a long time!”

The future looks promising

I believe that the role of IC will be catalytic to the creation and sustenance of online communities that will promote a culture of open and honest communication, knowledge sharing and collaboration. These communities will be powerful enough to go against problems at work, genius enough to generate innovative ideas, and human enough to nurture people’s hobbies and outside-work activities.

I don’t see a threat for internal comms people coming with the arrival of these platforms. I see a great opportunity instead and to me the future of the role looks really promising. There is huge potential coming out of this profound shift in the way people communicate and work over the following years, and I reckon that IC will be key to driving that change across a full range of industries all over the world.

That’s my opinion at least – what do you think?

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