The journey of communication excellence – how do corporate communicators get on board?

It’s been a while since the original post in the ‘Conversation Evolution’ series, and while this has been more by accident than design, the intermission has actually proven somewhat serendipitous. I’ve had the opportunity to attend a couple of information sessions run by IABC in Victoria and Queensland where I encountered some good discussion that triggered more thought and even more dialogue around the topic. It’s a subject that appears to be a growing fascination among communicators – and understandably so.

The Conversation Evolution series started as a personal articulation of recent developments in corporate communication and what would now be considered best practice in the area. Really, it was just me trying to put my thoughts in order about what it means to be a corporate communication practitioner. My journey started as an aim to get a sense of what organisations should be doing – what is considered best practice. I wanted to identify the ultimate destination that we should be heading towards, i.e. what constitutes communication excellence and how is it achieved?

The first two posts of the series examined the types of conversations occurring in organisations:  the existing conversations, compared with those that ‘should’ be occurring, and why there might be a gap. This third post is intended to discuss what the new rules, models, and new ways of thinking and conversing in a hyper-connected world might mean for corporate communicators.

Road maps and landmarks along the journey of my first two posts included  The Cluetrain Manifesto and its concept of markets as conversations, and various models and dialogues put forward by the likes of change guru Jennifer Frahm and the learned folk over at Park Young.

So, during the interim, I’ve read (though perhaps not widely enough), discussed, examined and considered, and what I’ve come up with, for the main part, is – nothing. Yeah, really.

All bets are off.

The rules are: there are no rules

In our brave new world of hyper-connected conversations, the rules are,  in many ways, that  there are no rules. The old rules need not apply – but there are no new rules. Not hard and fast ones, anyway. They’re for us to make up as we go along and apply as appropriate.

I like rules and guidelines – in many ways they make my life easy. Don’t get me wrong, I’m pretty happy to bend and step outside such structures, but I need to know what they are in order to circumvent them. I think it’s reasonable to assume that this is so for most communication professionals. And for most organisations, rules and structure = safety, control and risk management.

So, if the rules are that there are no rules, all bets are off, and markets consist of conversations, but organisations, (and if we’re honest, communicators), like some kind of structure or road map, what does it mean for the modern day communicator and the stories she is telling to her people, both within and external to the organisation?

Obviously, there isn’t going to be a correct answer here – we’re all still learning about letting go of structure, rules and control. So, for what it’s worth, here’s my two cents worth …

Trust – and the old soft-shoe shuffle

I think it’s about taking baby steps. It’s about listening. It’s about transparency. It’s about being real and human and authentic. It’s about diverging from the party line and questioning – when the time is right – what is being ‘spun out’ and delivered to the troops. It’s about understanding rich organisational histories and taking into account the conversations that have gone before – and why they have occurred.

It’s a soft shoe shuffle of change. And like any dance, there has to be trust between the partners – and this is a whole new routine with new music.

The structures we now work within are bigger and broader and sweeping. They don’t accommodate micro-managing of key messages or attempt at control by an organisation of how it might be perceived. The networked marketplace and its conversations are the control. They let the detail take care of itself – as long as you are honest and true then the conversations are real.

But such freedom is heady after so many years of constraint. As corporate communicators, we have to be kind to our old, slow moving, constrained businesses and help them see a common ground. We need to use the past to shape the future and demonstrate how fewer communication restraints are not so much a risk, as a catalyst to empowering an organisation to be the best that it can.


  1. Interesting insight and I agree with both you and Jennifer. Rules makes our lives easier. But while there are still ‘guidelines’ about what ‘good’ communication practice is all about, there are no longer hard and fast commandments.

    And that only makes our life harder. We’ve struggled for so long to have communication recognised as a specialty, as something that not everyone can just ‘do’ or ‘get’. And they still don’t. But when the rules are fuzzy and fluid, arguing your point of view becomes even tougher.

    For every example you can point to of how something ‘should’ be done, someone can find ten other examples of how it ‘could’ be done.

    You and Jen are right, it’s about getting back to basics and reminding organisations that their ‘audiences’ are actually ‘people’ – and adults at that – and go from there.

    1. Melissa, you’ve made a really good point and brought some pragmatism to the table. How do we articulate these concepts to non-communications people?
      I don’t even have an elevator speech for my current role as an every day, garden variety communication advisor (“oh communications – that’s like IT stuff, right?”) – let alone for social media or a networked marketplace. If we can’t express the fundamental aspects of who we are and what we do, how can we expect to be acknowledged?

  2. “The networked marketplace and its conversations are the control.”

    I can’t even express how much I LOVE this line! WOW! This type of understanding has been so difficult for me to come to, especially when you take into account my long running stint in media relations.

    I absolutely love the anarchy and subversiveness that is starting to permeate our profession. I do have a dislike of rules, I also appreciate that sometimes you need to play within in them, but I also believe that our role as communicators is to continually question/ break them – again quite a revelation for a media control freak to come to.

    By their nature, rules RESTRICT conversations. Cluetrain talks about the market place of old and the conversations that coursed through them – there was only one rule: you had to participate.

    This is what I love so much about the social media tools (especially Twitter). The barrier to participation doesn’t exist. We can all join the conversation and it doesn’t matter if you are a major influencer like Chris Brogan or an aspiring thinker/ doer like me: we all have the opportunity to jump in.

    So, I guess I am saying that at the moment the world of comms is changing so quickly that there are no maps, guides or rules – we just have to jump into it, have fun and focus on engendering discussions…

    Awesome post – sparked so many ideas!

    1. You’re right, Jason. The world of communication, public relations, and marketing is morphing as we speak. And we’re part of it! Glad I got you thinking.

    2. @Jason Berek-Lewis, It’s an interesting article, I like it, but allow me to play to play the devil’s advocate for a moment.
      If we say that there are no rules, and the conversation controls the market, then he or she who controls the conversation, holds all the marbles.
      Anarchy is great, if you’re the one running through the streets hurling cocktails with impunity, but if you’re a shop owner watching people stay away, or worse, your business burn to the ground, you may rightly wish for someone to take control.
      The biggest threat to unfettered conversation is the veracity of truth is seldom vetted. The perception is always that the business has an agenda, and seldom that the ‘public’ might be misled by ‘one of their own’.
      Perhaps a more meaningful dialogue can be had through discussion, rather than conversation.
      Finally, just because anyone can join in doesn’t mean they should be allowed to have a say – not everyone has something that contributes to the conversation, some people just like the sound of their own voice.
      So I’ll shut up now.

      1. Gotta love the devil’s advocate! I must admit I still like rules – I just love that they’re changing right now, and I love that The Corporations are no longer the only ones in control. I love that clinical, corporate spin is being questioned. It’s a fundamental shift of the kind of tectonic plates moving. It will be interesting to see how they settle.

  3. I like it. And I don’t. I like rules. The word that is jumping out at me at the moment is Respect. If trust is the new control, and corp comms want / need to control they need to understand how to engender trust. And for me that requires *respect*. Respect of the employee, respect of the customer, respect of the environment, respect of the organisation’s heritage. If you start with respect, you engender trust. You have trust, you have control. Might be something to pursue…thanks for the shout out!

    1. Yep, you’ve nailed it, I think: Respect.
      Respect begets trust. Trust begets … control? Perhaps. Influence, most certainly. Respect and trust get you a ‘seat at the table.’
      I still kind of like rules, but I think I like to have choice about a) whether to engage in the rules; and b) how I do so. I don’t like rules (or other constructs) being imposed on me – but it’s comforting to know they’re there.
      Thanks so much for the dialogue. I love how you make me think about things.

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