The Bowie Legacy

Very few people will have been left untouched by the passing of David Bowie earlier this week. And at times like this, social media comes into its own. I heard the news at 7am and immediately left my own small tribute on my FB page. Within minutes, many friends had also commented and for the rest of the day followed an affectionate interplay of reminiscences, memories, tracks that mattered, and of course shock mingled with grief. We were all far-flung, varied in background and age, but immediately and collectively seized with the need to communicate.

At the same time, I was researching a company as a potential employer on Glassdoor. It fared quite well, with only one recurrent gripe about internal communication. Ah yes. That old chestnut. Is anyone willing to tell me if they have ever worked for a company where its people praise internal comms? Where everyone feels engaged, informed, loved and generally ‘plugged in’? Because if they know the secret they are onto something!!

In a 1999 Interview with Jeremy Paxman David Bowie made some very prescient predictions about the then fairly new-fangled internet thing, which certainly had Paxo looking strangely bemused; although he did manage to avoid his ‘Oh come on, now..’ routine. Much of what the great man (er, David not Jeremy… on this occasion)  foresaw has come to pass, in particular his observation that control of message would shift around very unpredictably.

However, all these years later one aspect that still seems to be curiously underdeveloped is the idea of using the medium and SM technologies to improve on the ‘internal communication’ issue. There are a fair number of platforms for doing so, and we even tried one, Yammer, where I worked. But despite the fact that communicating via SM is now second nature, many employees continue to feel unplugged from the everyday workings of their company. So I am wondering why it’s not omnipresent?

It need not be an event quite as sad as DB’s passing, but if companies were able to communicate a story out, and receive all manner of responses back in a matter of minutes or hours, just think of the richness of engagement- literally –  that’s possible. Like marcomms writ large, employers need to understand that for a genuine two-way dialogue you are ceding a lot of control.  To get an idea of what’s possible, have a look at Charlene Li’s article on the subject. At the heart of it is the same old maxim of needing to lead by example, so I’m afraid it’s one more task the CEO or other c-level executive needs to find time to do, but aren’t the rewards obvious?

An ability to communicate directly, from top to bottom of the organisation. An ability to communicate with people who don’t have PCs but do have smartphones: i.e. everyone. An absolute godsend for workforces who spend much of their day out in the big wide world rather than tied to a desk or machine.  An ability to ask a ‘vox pop’ question and get an immediate and unfiltered response from your colleagues. Or simply an ability for people to find another way to connect and share relevant experiences and ideas to move businesses on at a pace that could create competitive advantage. Who on earth would prefer a printed employee newsletter or a ‘death by powerpoint’ corporate briefing to this?

So my conclusions are:

a) We will never see the likes of David Bowie again

b) Good internal communications play a vital part in creating competitive advantage AND improving your rankings as a good employer.

c) Corporate SM platforms can play a great part in delivering it, and it’s a medium that most are already intimately familiar with. Crucially, it drops the corporate megaphone in favour of real-time information exchange.

d)  so, corporate/internal comms needs to be on your review list – along with some decisions on how best to ‘engage’ effectively.

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