The following insightful piece on enterprise social networks and communication in the workplace brought to you by Virpi Oinonen. Virpi is an enterprise social consultant with a background in online campaigning and mobilisation (Greenpeace and other nonprofits) and communications in general – including journalism, online marketing and, believe it or not, cartooning.

I was talking to the internal community manager of Telefonica, Luz Rodrigo Martorell, the other week. She is one of those internal communicators who understands that the role of internal communication is less about broadcasting ‘important messages’, and more about facilitating interesting conversations.

This is a major shift in professional internal communication, and not everybody is ready for it. How can ‘chit chat’ on an enterprise social network (ESN) be more important than polished, fact-checked articles and announcements that internal comms professionals push through newsletters, intranets, and email?

Conversations are the new documents

There are couple of reasons why conversations trump broadcast comms. Conversations are rocket fuel for a modern collaborative workplace; we need conversations to get work done. One of my favourite authors on the topic of ‘new work’, Esko Kilpi, goes as far as to state that conversations are the new documents. In fast-paced knowledge work, one cannot spend too much time polishing content. By the time you finish, it might already be out-dated. In many cases, discoverable conversations are a better bet for keeping people informed and involved.

“Work is communication. Conversations and narratives are the new documents. Conversations cannot be controlled. The only way to influence conversations is to take part in them.” ~ Esko Kilpi, via Medium.

By facilitating conversations within the organisation, internal communications people can actually play a much more influential role than they have so far. Yes, really.

The ways of working of an internal communicator change with an enterprise social network from broadcaster to facilitator-curator. You still get to create and publish messages, don’t worry. But the order in which you create your content changes a bit. You will draw a lot more from the practice of community management and less from traditional journalism. One could argue that your work will become real journalism, rather than corporate propaganda, when you have more contact with employees and more sources to draw from!

Interesting conversations eat news items for breakfast

If your goal is to get that all-important strategy message in front of employees, would you still write an official sounding announcement or – gasp – ghostwrite the CEO’s blog post? Or would you instead facilitate a discussion on how employees can implement the strategy in practice? Or do an online Q&A with the CEO? A lot of staff members would be thrilled to participate as they have really smart ideas they never get to share with management. And the CEO would be thrilled to see how engaged and active staff can be about strategy – when Learn more about internal communications in the era of enterprise social networks at my ESN workshop in Dublin on the 10th of March.

Learn more about internal communications in the era of enterprise social networks at my ESN workshop in Dublin on the 10th of March.

These conversations then provide fodder for sharp summaries that comms people can produce for newsletters and the intranet (which in turn help draw even more people into the conversation).

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