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Who Has Control?

For decades, the overriding construct of good marketing and public relations was that you had to tightly control the message your company was broadcasting to the world. Commercials, press releases, and other materials were carefully meted, checked, and rechecked to make sure everything was “on message”.

In the 00’s (the “aughts,” if you’re wondering how to pronounce that), we like to call these things “talking points.” Even though we are still in an environment where the method by which we share information is changing on a frequent basis, companies still like to make sure that everyone is toeing the line. After all, you want to make sure that everything is portrayed in the most positive light possible, right?

The problem with this approach is that in this post-Cluetrain, post-information-revolution age, control is an illusion.

Companies don’t have control anymore.

The control has passed to the consumers. To the rank-and-file. Your company might try to stay on-message, but look at the statistics. People don’t trust “official” communication now. They see it as too closely managed, too dishonest and impersonal. They want to hear from someone they trust.

Your customers have already taken the conversation to places you possibly haven’t thought. Are they on Facebook? Twitter? A forum somewhere? Email lists of their colleagues? You’re not going to reach them by elbowing in on their turf with an impersonal, robotic corporate mouthpiece and a few posts somewhere. They don’t want subversion; they don’t want to be crushed. They might even be avoiding you.

They want you to participate. And they want you to participate—as in you, the person who is reading this. Not your company. Not some official place for them to gather information. They want to hear from people on the inside, from people very much like them. They want to “get to know you” and to build a relationship of trust.

Sometimes, they want to lavish praise on you. Sometimes, they want to dump on you. They want to share their opinions, and they want honest, personal responses and discussion. The reward for your participation in this conversation is that you earn a measure of trust and can then share with them things that interest you—and those are very likely the things you are working on. (At least, they should be, or you should find a different job.)

They’re in the driver’s seat now.

What are you going to do about it?

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At Least It Isn’t a Spanish Inquisition

From Harvard Business comes a piece by Cory Doctorow:

Contemporary corporate IT’s top job is locking down the PC and the network, blocking users from installing their own apps, blocking them from accessing forbidden websites (nominally this is about blocking porn, but a dismaying number of workplaces also block IM, webmail, blogs, message-boards, and social networking services where employees might otherwise find useful, low-cost coordination with other employees, suppliers and customers), and spying on their every click and keystroke to capture the occasional bad egg who’s saying or doing something that could put the whole firm at risk.

Well, yeah, because the default in this kind of situation is just not to trust anyone. When I read this paragraph, I said to myself something like: “I suppose that’s because corporate IT departments lag behind their end users on most of these things.”

Then, of course, I read on:

The dirty secret of corporate IT is that its primary mission is to serve yesterday’s technology needs, even if that means strangling tomorrow’s technology solutions. The myth of corporate IT is that it alone possesses the wisdom to decide which technologies will allow the workers on the front line to work better, faster and smarter — albeit with the occasional lackluster requirements-gathering process, if you’re lucky.

The fact is that the most dreadful violators of corporate policy — the ones getting that critical file to a supplier using Gmail because the corporate mail won’t allow the attachment, the ones using IM to contact a vacationing colleague to find out how to handle a sticky situation, the incorrigible Twitterer who wants to sign up all his colleagues as followers through the work day — are also the most enthusiastic users of technology, the ones most apt to come up with the next out-of-left-field efficiency for the firm.

I would venture a guess that if you polled IT workers within most companies, and then polled the people in the building who actually do the jobs that require using technology within that environment, and asked them both what tools they needed/wanted in order to perform their jobs efficiently, you would receive very different answers.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not for complete anarchy when it comes to installing applications or using network resources. Installing applications leads to support visits and lost productivity in some cases (from awesome Windows-related conflicts, usually). Too much utilization of network resources can be a bad thing. But the default method of behavior should be to trust that people you have hired to do a job will efficiently perform that job, regardless of whether or not they have an IM window open during the day or Twitter occasionally or read/write blogs or what-have-you. Job performance can be measured in ways other than “let’s see what [name] has been looking at on the Internet today.”

You know—in ways like “did you get the job done” ways.

People don’t get to be comfortable with technologies and methods of communication if you don’t allow them to use them and flex their technological muscles.