I assume you are already familiar with the long tail; if so proceed directly to flipping through my slides below, if not it might be worth reading the Wikipedia article, the book by Chris Anderson, or watching this video by Clay Shirky, as the long tail forms the basis of my entire line of reasoning below.
The bulk of communication within the organization – perhaps its very life blood – is informal. If you look at the examples I’ve charted you begin to understand how the long tail grows as new communication tools emerge.
No one would ever think of trying to enforce an approvals process on face to face peer-to-peer communication. If someone told you had to pre-screen your phone calls or emails through communications you’d probably laugh. Yet the tone is rather different when we approach the confluence of corporate intranets and enterprise wikis. At the epicenter, where formal and informal collide, there is great confusion. A confusion that paralyzes staff, creates division and sucks productivity.
My hope is that visualizing internal communications along the long tail helps people understand that internal communications happens along a continuum, and that continuum shifts as the tool set grows. Once we understand that, we understand that the role of communications shouldn’t be simply to maintain the integrity of formal communication channels but to also ensure that people are communicating effectively within the organizations informal channels as well.
The Emerging Role for Communicators
I see three very specific roles for which modern communicators: (1) provide guidance and strategic direction; (2) steward modernization ; and (3) employee engagement Moreover these three roles occur at very specific parts of the organization: (1) policy; (2) culture; and (3) collaborative technologies. Essentially, this is the emerging role for communicators:
BTW – if anyone is interested, I have developed a 3 hour training session around this conceptual framework for internal communicators.