Corporate Eye

Systems Thinking: No Man is an Island

On Wednesday evening, I saw a play (in the world’s oldest surviving music hall) about the revolution of thought in the 16th century: that we are not at the centre of the universe, but merely a part of it.

This inversion resulted in a loss of certainty and belief; and for some, a loss of power. Against this background was enacted John Donne’s struggle for authenticity (consistency in belief and action) set against his financial responsibilities.

Not a typical Wednesday evening for me, but it was followed by a Thursday at the most recent Social Media in a Corporate Context conference, and there was a surprising similarity in theme: disruption and change; financial drivers; authenticity.

Much of the discussion was about social media as a disruptive influence, and the effect that this is having on organisations:

  • the need to work together as a networked system, rather than in a command-and-control structure
  • the need to restructure to accommodate changes in communication styles and audience expectations
  • the importance of the financial dimension
  • the need for both transparency and authenticity: show it how it really is.

A curious synchronicity.


Highlights of #SMCC2011 for me were:

Simon Tucker, CEO of AIM listed marine communications specialist Software Radio Technology, who talked about using a live webcast to communicate with his shareholders. He used RNS to alert people to the webcast, and asked people to email in questions to drive the content of the webcast. He received 600 emails, and hundreds tuned in. Trading volume doubled within a week of the webcast; the shareholder base went up by 30% over the four weeks after the webcast; and the share price went up.

Key phrase: ‘social media has to generate financial benefit’

John Shewell, Head of Comms at Brighton and Hove City Council, talking about mending the disconnect between how people felt about Brighton, and how they perceived the council, beginning by mapping out the local social networks and communities, and trying to understand the residents real concerns rather than making assumptions: a genuine listening exercise and opening up of dialogue. Then a real empowerment of staff, making them curators, rather than controllers, of community assets. He’s now writing the new operating model for a networked council.

Key phrases: ‘relinquishing power’ and ‘restructuring’

Paul Taylor, Team Head at Central Office of Information, talking about using mobile and social media for recruiting. The RAF has set up 8 people in the RAF team with mobiles to keep potential recruits up to date with RAF life using Flickr & Twitter. The RAF also uses YouTube, Bebo, Facebook, live chat and embeddable widgets to meet potential recruits where they are online.

Key phrase: ‘blurred boundaries’

Not all the sessions can be shared in detail, or the speakers named (and some of these were excellent – make sure you’re there next time) but other snippets, both small and large in impact, include:

  • an organisation preapproving blog posts, but tweets—which obviously need immediacy—are reviewed weekly by management to see if they are on track
  • another one restructuring internally as a result of social media; the boundaries between the audiences collapsed
  • an organisation becoming less territorial as a result of global communications
  • a note that a company retweeting a customer would fall within the Advertising Standards Authority remit

Three soundbites from the day:

  • social media is like a barometer: not the most accurate tool, but gives a good idea of what the weather is like out there
  • social media is not a strategy but a tactic to change behaviour and improve an organisations reputation
  • the role of communicators is changing
  • large corporations are the last bastion of feudalism

They made us work too: creating an iPad app in a day. We spent 20 minutes in groups discussing one question each, and coming up with video or text content which a team of developers converted into an app within hours. Our table played an unspoken game of Hearts with the pen – guess who ended up documenting our discussion? You can see a PDF version via the TKGB blog.

Thanks to Communicate Magazine for another excellent event.

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