Changes Come, Changes Go

Head of InnovationBack in the days of newsprint, advice columnists like Emily Post, Ann Landers, Abigail Van Buren and Heloise made their mark by saving dear readers from the most grievous of faux pas.  With clarity around what to wear, what to say, and how to react in social situations, society was a bastion of civility and commonsense — or at least that is how it seemed. Before the days of fast-paced technology-driven change we all knew what to expect.  The transition from predictability to fast-paced change has brought not only new forms of communication but new (and constantly changing) ideas on how to use them.

The transition from newsprint and written correspondence, to email, text messaging and video chats has inexorably altered our sense of time and space.  With messaging at the speed of light,  an old fashioned axiom about being in only one place at a time has given way to our ability to be in multiple places simultaneously.  Old and middle-aged folks, like kids,  have learned to carry-on text message conversations with friends around the city or world as we eat dinner with the family, walk on a windswept beach or checkout at the supermarket.  Apart from enabling us to communicate in new ways, new technologies are proving to be an uber-effective data collection tools that tug and twist our understanding of privacy, notion of ownership, laws of economics and sense of control.  Long tail economics and globalization have intensified competition; Organizations are managing their "brand" using the wisdom of the crowds; A cornucopia of media channels pose daunting choices for professional communicators.  We simply cannot do it all!

If today's communications sea-change were to yield a new standardized set of media tools, the road ahead might not be as much of a challenge.  But it is not clear that the latest tools — Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn or even Google Wave — will be around in their current form 10 years down the road.  What we need is a way to understand and manage continuous change induced by advances in technology.   As a start, I can image one would need to monitor:

  1. Innovations in technology;
  2. Emerging models of communication;
  3. Promising practices for using emerging tools; and
  4. Attitudes, values and lifestyles insights of target audiences. 

Such information juxtaposed with clarity around our organizations' communication goals, available communication methods and implementation constraints would inform ongoing approaches toward innovative use of existing tools and the implementation of new ones.  By looking at the analytics baked-in to web-sites and emerging social media tools, and  by planning periodic surveys, interviews or focus groups to probe for greater understanding, we can acquire data that helps us to adapt more fluidly to the changes that will surely come.  Insights from these activities will suggest programmatic refinements that are facilitated most effectively by particular types of tools or technologies. The nature of programmatic initiatives, and types of interaction they require — not the whims of the crowd, will drive whether we use a Twitter, wiki or Ning.

Though today's emerging tools may make us feel tech-savvy and empowered, if not overwhelmed, our new best practices may soon seem as quaint as the recommendations of 20th century advice columnists.  Keeping ahead of the curve, or at least keeping up with it, will make a difference not only to the organizations we serve but also help make our own careers as communicators more productive and vital.