29 March 2011

Grumpy Old Communicator

Reading the blog post that I wrote over the past few months, it struck me that I have been writing a lot about what is wrong in our communications profession, or what needs to be improved. Why is that, I asked myself? Don’t we have great jobs? Every day is different, we get to be involved in all parts of the organization, we can be creative, can organize fun events, our jobs are becoming more and more important in organizations.

So, to all my readers (and I can see from the statistics that they are spread all over the world), I am sorry if I came across as a grumpy old communicator. Hey, being in communications in 2011 is a ball! Never in the history of mankind have we been using so many different media. The social internet is revolutionizing our jobs, but the old communications rules still apply, so we are in the middle of a revolution.

Why then, was I so grumpy? After some thorough soul searching, I came up with two possible answers to that question:

1 I am in the middle of a mid-life crisis…

2 As our profession is changing, our scope becomes very unclear: what is, and what isn’t corporate communications? These questions bothered me, and I just wrote them down.

I leave it up to you to decide, but I promise to cheer up!

17 March 2011

Students don’t use social media

In the past two years there have been numerous discussions on social media forums about the use of social media by the younger generation. People come up with all different kinds of statistics, showing one day that teenagers, students, generation x,y, or z are not using Twitter (for example), and the next day that a different research outcome shows exactly the opposite. Very often these researches have no scientific backgrounds or methods whatsoever, and what makes it worse, is that people use these very shaky statistics to prove their point for whatever cause they want.

I wanted to share with you a few recent experiences I had with students from both Western and Eastern Europe. I had groups coming to my workplace, and I gave some guest lectures and presentations about the subject of social media. Before I started, I would always ask students if they use social media themselves. An average of only 5 to 10 % would raise their hand! Now, what an amazing outcome. One would expect a score close to 100%, right?

Interestingly enough, after this first question, I would always fire a few more questions at them: ‘Who has a Facebook account, who has uploaded a YouTube video, who uses Flickr, who shares music, who has worked with a wiki’? Well, eventually, all fingers were raised… They just told me that they were not aware of the fact that they were using social media.

Here is the thing: we, the older generation, need to make a distinction between the old media, and the new media, between 1.0 and 2.0. For these students, and most certainly for the generations even younger than them, the term social media is not relevant. They are just using the media that they know, and they are not aware of the underlying revolution. Nor do they care about the term social media.

So, I wonder what happens when I tweet the title of this blog post: students don’t use social media. It might trigger some interesting discussions. Hope people take the time to read this post, as clearly, my point is something else.

08 March 2011

Wiio’s Laws, or why communication always fails

About 10 years ago, I was a part-time lecturer at the Business Communications Faculty of a university in the Netherlands. The subject I taught was Communications Research Methodology. For the students it was one of the last subjects in their final year, before they would start to work on their Master’s thesis.

To set the scene in the first lesson, I always kicked off with a presentation of Wiio’s laws. Osmo Wiio is a Finnish researcher, who wrote these laws as a bit of a joke. Although these laws are a clear exaggeration, I always told the students, that once they would start their career, this might be a good framework to always keep on hand.

These laws typically received mixed reactions from the students. Some loved them, others were puzzled by them, and some even became almost angry with me, as they thought that my view on our profession was for too negative. This mix of reactions was – of course- exactly what I was looking for, as it would spark of a nice discussion about what communicators can and cannot achieve in an organization.

To this day, I always have a copy of Wiio’s laws on the wall of every office I work in. It serves as a reminder to me to never underestimate the difficult job that we as communicators have.

Wiio published his laws in 1978, but I think they are still valid today, or even more valid, probably. Well, judge for yourself, here they are: communications’ own Murphy ’s Law or Wiio’s laws*

1 Communication usually fails- except by chance

· If communication can fail, it will

· If communication cannot fail, it nevertheless usually does fail

· If communication seems to succeed in the way intended, it must be in the way which was not intended

· If your are satisfied that your communication is bound to succeed, it is then bound to fail

2 If a message can be understood in different ways, it will be understood in just that way which doe the most harm

3 There is always somebody who knows better than you what you meant by your message

4 The more communication there is, the more difficult it is for communication to succeed

So, next time a communications project fails, you can now explain that Wiio’s Laws were to blame.

*In this version, I left out some of his laws that refer to mass communications, and I have seen some other versions with minor changes.