Up until recently, I was pretty convinced that the integration of social media into every organization’s internal communications plan was inevitable. No, not just inevitable. Necessary.
I still think, to a certain degree, it is. But last week, my view was put to the test by a legend in the field of internal communications. I had the honor and privilege of speaking one-on-one with Roger D’Aprix, who IABC has named as “one of the most influential thinkers in the communication profession in the last 25 years.”
I knew Mr. D’Aprix had questioned social media for its drain on employee productivity. In fact, in a 2007 article for the Ragan Report he wrote, “Give it some careful thought before you succumb to the hype and recommend any activity that adds to an already maddening overload problem.”
I was curious to see if Mr. D’Aprix’s position had changed at all given the proliferation in social media over the last two years. I was lucky enough to have the chance to ask him myself…
CS: Mr. D’Aprix, what do you see as the role of social media in internal communications today?
RD: Social media is a phenomenal tool to help people collaborate. The downside, of course, is when it’s used frivolously or in the wrong way, which it so often is. Social media is not an end in itself, but I see organizations making it their primary means of communication.
CS: But isn’t it a necessary part of an organization’s internal communications plan? Won’t organizations that refuse to adopt it be left behind?
RD: One of the things that bothers me about social media is that it’s sort of being shoved down people’s throats. There’s sort of this sense that organizations “must” encourage any form of social media. But where is the demand coming from? I don’t see people clamoring to blog inside organizations. What I see are professional communicators who are trying to keep up with the times, and they think social media is the best or only way to do that.
CS: But regardless, doesn’t the use of social media ultimately benefit the organization?
RD: I’m struggling with whether this is really a solution to a problem, or a solution in search of a problem to solve. I wonder if social media might actually just compound the whole process of communication.
CS: In past articles, you have criticized social media for its negative effects on employee productivity. What is your current take on this?
RD: There is a tremendous amount of noise and information being passed around. Inevitably, what people will tell you is that they are drowning in information. They are bombarded with things they couldn’t care less about. What is this going to do to the amount of important information they can actually retain?
CS: Aside from perhaps decreasing employee productivity, how is social media affecting the way organizations are functioning?
RD: The bigger part of the problem is that the old hierarchical, autocratic approach to managing people is coming face-to-face with something that is emerging right now—a more collaborative team approach. Changing values are coming up against an old system and old values. What happens is anyone’s guess.
CS: And you believe technology and social media are playing a large role in this culture clash?
RD: Absolutely. Inevitably, organizations will have to change to become less bureaucratic in response to a different organizational system, much of it at the hands of social media. I see a fair amount of conflict down the road because of this. I believe this is the most interesting time in my whole internal communications career—I am interested to see what it will look when it all comes out in the end.
What I ultimately took away from my conversation with Mr. D’Aprix is that, yes, social media is sort of inevitable and, in some cases, even warranted. But its introduction into organizations carries greater implications than those of just another communications tactic. Social media represents more than a change in how we transmit messages—it represents a change in how we view management systems and, in turn, how organizations operate.
But is social media, as Mr. D’Aprix suggested, merely a solution in search of a problem?
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