Channels and context in Web 2.0

A couple of recent instances have reminded me of how much communication has changed. (And some will read this post and say ‘so tell me something I don’t know’.)

But they represent such a challenge, to some of the assumptions underpinning  the communication function in organisations, that I want to highlight them.

You can’t keep a message in just one ‘channel’

I have a very close involvement in children’s services, so follow any issues touching on the welfare of children closely. So when a recent radio stunt set a dangerous precedent regarding the welfare of a child, I rattled off a response to the Australian Communications and Media Authority.

They rang me, and the first question they asked was ‘had I heard the broadcast’? I didn’t need to. The message, and the offending interview, was all over the web.

There’s a real issue here for regulatory authorities who monitor and have authority over particular channels. And a real issue for organisations that think they can still ‘control’ the message. If the topic is interesting enough, someone will take it, tweet it, link to it, bookmark it, discuss it and comment on it.

If you have a role in managing (note that I don’t say ‘controlling’) that message in any way, you need to be engaged in all those possible channels.

The new order has fewer contextual guides

Context in communication is provided by the format, the channel, and the relationship. We have had a myriad of well understood rules that sit around what we read each day. But new channels and user generated content change those rules.

On one of my Twitter accounts, I frequently link to interesting articles online. I will always add the shortened url to my first tweet. But after that, it there are several tweets, I am reluctant to give up 30 characters of my 140 to repeating the url. I’ll usually finish up by putting the url in again, sort of like a bookend.

I am assuming that my followers, knowing what I usually tweet about, will understand the ‘set’. A great number of them, with whom I actively communicate, will also know ‘my voice’. They’ll have a fair idea as to what is opinion, and what is reportage.

So the contextual guides are there for experienced players. Many of those contextual guides rely on the fact that it is a transaction, not a one way broadcast. If every single tweet has to stand alone, then I’ve lost the conversation. Or 140 characters is simply not enough.

There is still control in the new order, but it is of a different shape and hue now.

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