ComPRehension

Professional development and training blog of the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA)
February 18, 2009

The CEO Is Naked


Social media is bringing with it sweeping changes in corporate transparency and with it the ability for more perspectives to be heard. Gone are the days when the only information that the majority of people can find about a company is through corporate press releases and statements from key stakeholders.

On LinkedIn I can find the following numbers of current or past employees at large companies:

Cisco – 69,547
Procter & Gamble – 35,534
Disney – 41,193
Lockheed Martin – 43,714
Ford – 43,349
Accenture – 143,198

If I really want to find out information about the company, I can contact directly those who are most likely to have the information. Now all of these people are not really likely to share everything with me, but with a little effort I can likely get what I need — even if off the record. Just a few short years ago that kind of access would have been mind-blowing.

All this creates some pretty big headaches if you are in corporate communications where your job is to get the version of the story out that you want heard. You are no longer the single point of contact or even the first point of contact. What happens when major corporate events occur that may receive a lot of reaction — what if the CEO is, in fact, naked?!?

This also means that the job of corporate communications has changed dramatically. However, organizationally, the role has not yet adapted to what it needs to be in order to manage this Internet-worked world. Instead of being the source of information, communications needs to be the department that trains and grooms the employee base, acts as a central point of information about what conversations are going on and facilitates connections between the actors in the conversation but doesn’t necessarily contribute to the conversation itself. Internal communications matters almost as much, if not more, than external communications now that every employee is a potential mouthpiece. That also has huge implications for HR, hiring and training.

This change is going to require new tools, new skills and new processes with a different mandate. The bad news is that you do not have a choice to deal with this new world — the conversation will happen with or without you. The good news is you have a choice in how you react to it.

There are a few ways adaptation happens:

How is your company going to adapt? Through market forces or through leadership?

You don’t have to wait for a big initiative to start — most companies are already in listening mode and in some stage of diving in but the implications will go way beyond corporate communications and marketing and the better you are prepared for some of the necessary changes, the more your company will be able to take advantage of this new ‘social’ landscape.

Rachel HappeBy Rachel Happe, independent consultant and blogger, The Social Organization, was Mzinga’s senior director of Social Media Products and is responsible for the product management, marketing, design and documentation of Mzinga’s social enterprise solutions. Prior to joining Mzinga, Rachel initiated research coverage of the enterprise social networking market for IDC where she published groundbreaking research including “The Social Enterprise,” “Modeling the Digital Marketplace,” “The Landscape of the Digital Marketplace,” and the first enterprise social networking market forecast. Rachel has over fifteen years of experience working with emerging technologies including e-commerce and enterprise software applications. She has been both a product manager at Bitpass and IDe and a management analyst at PRTM, and brings multiple perspectives on media, publishing, technology development and use to her research. Her experience is chronicled in the book, The Future of the Music Business, in an interview that discusses changes in the music business brought about by Internet technologies. You can follow her on Twitter @rhappe or e-mail her.

Join Happe for her session, “The Naked CEO: How Social Media, Communities and User-Generated Content Is Changing Organizations,” at The Digital Impact Conference: Learn to Profit From New Media, Thursday, April 30-Friday, May 30 in New York, NY!

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