The "Me2Revolution" - restructuring of company communications

Since I thought this essay was really interesting, I'll post it here. That said, if you don't want to read the whole thing, check out what's in red. A discussion of how leadership, credibility, etc, is changing in this new age of communication. How companies need to open their doors to internal discussion of larger ideas, rather than dictating top down policy, and more. The original document, written by Edelman Communications, Here.

The traditional approach to corporate communications envisages a controlled process of scripted messages delivered by the chief executive, first to investors, then to other opinion-formers, and only later to the mass audiences of employees and consumers. In the past five years, this pyramid-of influence model has been gradually supplanted by a peer-to-peer, horizontal discussion among multiple stakeholders. The employee is the new credible
source for information about a company, giving insight from the front lines. The
consumer has become a co-creator, demanding transparency on decisions from
sourcing to new-product positioning.

Smart companies must reinvent their communications thinking, moving away from a sole reliance on top-down messages delivered through mass advertising. This is the Me2 Revolution. What is now required is a combination of outreach to traditional elites, including investors, regulators, and academics, plus the new elites, such as involved consumers, empowered employees, and non-governmental organizations.

The most profound finding of the 2006 Edelman Trust Barometer is that in six of the 11 countries surveyed, the "person like yourself or your peer" is seen as the most credible spokesperson about a company and among the top three spokespeople in every country surveyed. This has advanced steadily over the past three years.

In the US, for example, the "person like yourself or your peer" was only trusted by 22% of respondents as recently as 2003, while in this year's study, 68% of respondents said they trusted a peer. Contrast that to the CEO, who ranks in the bottom half of credible sources in all countries, at 28% trust in the US, near the level of lawyers and legislators. In China, the "person like yourself or your peer" is trusted by 54% of respondents, compared to the next highest spokesperson, a doctor, at 43%.

Meanwhile, "friends and family" and "colleagues" rank as two of the three most credible sources for information about a company, just behind articles in business magazines. Again, in the US, the "colleagues" number has jumped from 38% in 2003 to 56% in 2006. We facilitated the revolt by employees of Morgan Stanley against top management, soliciting opinions through their futureofms.com website, which then led to stories in traditional media. Why the change, with increased reliance on those you know? The Edelman Trust Barometer shows clearly the deep trust void facing traditional institutions including business, government, and the media.

Government scandals in the past year alone include the termination of Antonio Fazio, the Governor of the Bank of Italy, for passing confidential information on a merger, the Gomery Commission finding of illicit payments to ad agencies in Quebec, and the failure of the US government to respond adequately to the devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina.

Business has also had several major issues, including the termination for cause of long-time AIG CEO Maurice Greenberg for alleged self-dealing, the conviction of Tyco CEO Dennis Kozlowski for cheating shareholders, and the spectacular collapse of Refco only four months after its IPO worth $2billion.

Beyond the lack of confidence in the traditional sources of information lies a more fundamental change, a yearning to move beyond the simple act of consumption of information to social networking. The rise of MySpace, Facebook, and Wikipedia is premised on sharing of content with a group of likeminded individuals. It is the wisdom of the crowd, with constant updating of content based on personal experience. Media companies like the BBC have already harnessed this powerful force - most notably during the horrific London bombings of July 7,2005 - to bring stories from citizen journalists on the scene to its BBC.com. There is sharing of content because now we can do it easily, quickly, and colorfully.The Pew Center for Media noted that 60% of US teens have created and shared content on the Internet.

How can companies embrace this future of empowered stakeholders? Speak from the inside out, telling your employees and customers what is happening so they can spread the word for you. Be transparent, revealing what you know when you know it while committing to updating as you learn more. Be willing to yield control of the message in favor of a rich dialogue, in which you learn by listening. Recognize the importance of repetition of the story in multiple venues, because nobody believes something he or she hears or sees for the first time. Embrace new technologies, from employee blogs to podcasts, because audiences are becoming ever more segmented. Co-create a brand by taking on an issue that makes sense for your business, such as GE's Ecomagination campaign where green is truly green.

In 1850, author Ralph Waldo Emerson commented on the rising importance ofnewspapers to the young American republic. He said, "Look at the morning trains(with their commuters)...into every car the newsboy unfolds his magic sheets, two pence a head his brand of knowledge costs."We are now at the point of reinventing the experience of communications, the
essence of the Me2 Revolution."

Technorati Tags: ,