Internal Communications on Demand

12 years, 10 months ago


The rise of the internet and proliferation of consumer technology across the globe has huge implications for the way organizations communicate with employees. By Victoria Brown and Laura Romain.

It is not just HBO that is on demand anymore; the world is now available on demand. Almost 70% of North America has access to the Internet (see table below), which is now the number one daytime media. People around the globe have grown accustomed to accessing anything, anytime, and anywhere. And these expectations do not change when entering the workplace.

With the democratization and commodization of information, knowledge is no longer as difficult to access. The proliferation of consumer technology and new media sets the bar for employee expectations regarding technology platforms, customization, personalization, and availability.

For example, today in the US, more than half of the workforce uses Instant Messaging (according to a Pew Intranet report of 2005). In addition, almost one third of US adults read a blog regularly, with 7% keeping one. Video online (e.g., YouTube) is growing faster than any other aspect of online marketing – more than 71% this year.

However, organizations have been slower to adopt these trends, and have also struggled to find the real practical application of new media in the work environment. While individuals have grown accustomed to personalization and interactivity, organizational media has generally remained static. Thus, the chasm between employee expectations of what they should receive and what they are receiving in the workplace is deepening. The experience inside the firewall is growing further and further away from the one outside the firewall.

The Impact on Internal Communications

Several key themes emerge from these new media trends that impact the way internal communicators work, influence their decisions, and inevitably blur and reshape the boundaries of communication.

From Monologue to Dialogue: Technology has transformed the world of internal communications and turned information from a precious resource to a commodity. As a result, our job as communicators becomes one of enabling connectivity and dialogue.

In the traditional communication model, messages were communicated via one-way channels. Only one conversation – a monologue – was occurring (see graphic below).

The new media communications model moves the conversation from monologue to dialogue. Now, the one-way conversation, if of interest, is sustained among your audience and shared with other audiences (see graphic below). Organizations that are managing the new media landscape correctly remain active participants in the conversations.

• Boundaries are Disappearing: As boundaries between customers and employees are disappearing, communications need to be aligned inside and out. This means that transparency and authenticity are critical both internally and externally.

Boundaries are also disappearing between work and home as we use technology to create flexibility and intersperse the two. The nearly 70% of North America that has access to the Internet means that you have a greater opportunity than ever before to leverage the discretionary time of employees within your organization. There is an implied cost saving to organizations to making resources available at home, for instance, via the intranet.

It is particularly critical to open these channels to non office-bound employees. A mobile or hourly workforce doesn’t sit in front of the computer 8 hours a day, so providing access to information outside the normal workday has become a priority for many companies.

• The Active Consumer: As internal communications are moving from information to influence, personalization is becoming a source of competitive advantage. Employees are now active consumers of knowledge, and with the right message, employees will "opt in". The reality is that the Internet is no longer a spectator sport. Web viewers have become web participants and user-centrism reigns supreme, creating a great opportunity to move internal communications from informational awareness building into attitude shaping dialogue and interaction.

But Really, What does this Mean?

We have provided you with a great amount of valuable knowledge, but likely also left you with many questions. Specifically, this scenario has left a lot of organizations with the following questions:

• How do we best utilize new media to communicate?
• Does our inability to fully control our messages pose too great a risk?
• If we make the investment in these technologies internally, will they be used?
• How do we integrate new media technologies in order to enhance business value and not "just do it"?

The answer to these questions may lie in reviewing a couple examples of organizations effectively understanding these trends and using new media to their advantage.

For example, IBM has implemented multiple new media technologies within their organization. IBM Blog Central connects users in 70 countries, and employees use RSS to subscribe to each other’s blogs. As John Rooney, Manager of Emerging Technology, said, "Within five minutes, anyone who can type can become a global publisher, connecting and sharing ideas." In addition, IBM has applied Social Networking (a la mySpace) internally with IBM Blue Pages. The reign of this staff directory has resulted in huge productivity gains, estimated to save IBM $194 million per year by saving employees 72 minutes per month.

When Sun Microsystems implemented a blog for their employees, they provided guidelines to accompany it. Some Sun tips from their blog policy include "It’s a 2-way Street," "Write on What you Know," and "Don’t Tell Secrets." By providing these tips, organizations hold employees accountable and thus gain some control over the messages, while still allowing for open sharing of ideas.

DHL touted their use of wikis to help aid in the deployment of their Packstation machines across Germany. They were used as a collaboration tool to network partners, service providers, and public authorities. As a result of these wikis, DHL experienced improved productivity and a significant reduction in time finding important project information.

In conclusion, organizations around the globe have great opportunities in leveraging new media technologies to enhance their internal communications function. In fact, what was once an opportunity is now perhaps an expectation, as people grow more and more accustomed to having the world at their fingertips.

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The Author

Victoria Brown

Victoria Brown is Director of the UK Division of Stromberg Consulting.

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Laura Romain

Laura Romain is a Consultant at Stromberg Consulting in New York.

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