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.)