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Transcript: Over the last decade or so I think the biggest shift we’ve seen is sort of the final breakdown of the traditional channel-based structure, the way we tend to think about communications as paid media, earned media, owned media, this sort of traditional silo-ed approach to communications that we still hear a lot from marketing textbooks in business school and that kind of thing.
I think what has happened is: the process of the 20 years preceding the last decade was about fragmentation, new types of channels, satellite TV and mobile networks, and just this incredible proliferation of types of content and channels within the silos that left people feeling like they had infinite choice but left communicators feeling like it was impossible to reach an audience.
What social media has done, particularly Facebook and Twitter, have created a glue to knit all these fragments back together into something that feels like one big graph, one big network of content moving between channels in unpredictable ways of engaging with people in ways that we can’t necessarily predict, creating more two directional conversational dialogues and communication between individuals and the people that we’re trying to reach and inspire, which is new behavior for us.
It requires marketers and communicators and publishers to develop new skills like listening that we didn’t used to have to do, we just picked the channel and we picked the right message and we said something to an audience that was mostly pretty passive, and I think this is the big shift in thinking and the real challenge for a lot of organizations is we are now part of a graph with the people that we’re trying to inspire rather than them being a stable audience that we’re trying to reach and us being in a stable position as inspirer or publisher, we now have to participate in this system.
People create content, we create content, they share content, we share content and that means that we have to think differently about how we communicate, how we tell stories, how much content we have to create. We can’t reliably predict where that content is going to get consumed so it’s really easy to get into a situation where if we’re not really clear about our values and our identity and who we are and what we’re trying to achieve where sort of our values and mission sit as an organization it can become really easy to sound schizophrenic to the communities that we’re trying to engage.
And I think a lot of organizations are still really struggling with this transition. It still feels really unsettling to folks because it means whole scale changing of the way we think about content and communication and publishing, it even means different org charts rethinking how we shape the organizations and design and staff and how teams work together and how people collaborate are all different than they used to be in, and that’s still a change process that I think a lot of us in a lot of organizations are still working their way through.
So when we think about politics and we think about what’s changed in communications, one of the most important changes to the communication landscape is the shift in the necessity of being able to listen effectively at scale, the necessity of seeing the people that we’re engaging as relationships we’re trying to create, and the necessity of empathy and listening as part of starting relationships is fundamental to communication—now rather than either orthogonal or accidental or a nice to have, the fundamental nature of many of the communication mechanisms are bidirectional now and that means our habits have to change.
I think one of the great advantages of digital technologies is the capacity to listen at scale, the phrase to use even in the question is something that wasn’t possible before digital tools.