Voice vs. angle2009-10-12
The Net has rendered the notion of corporate voices obsolete. The fact that anything a company says to one stakeholder audience can be found online by members of a different audience means inconsistencies in messages will be found, analyzed, and spread.
Nowhere is this more true than the traditional distinction between a company’s internal voice and the one it used to communicate with external audiences. Interviewed for IABC’s CW magazine, Best Buy CEO Brian Dunn said,
There isn???t anything I send to employees that I wouldn???t be prepared to have published on the front page of the newspaper. I don???t think control actually exists. The question is, did it ever exist? Probably to some degree, but social media, the explosion of technology, has just amplified the folly of the notion of internal versus external voice. I don???t think there???s such a thing anymore.
Companies that have given up on the multiple-voice approach apear to be reaping benefits. One financial services company was the subject of scorn when an internal memo to employees was leaked. But Beth Israel Deaconess Hospital CEO Paul Levy earns praise when he publishes employee memos to his blog for the world to see.
But it’s important to distinguish between voice and angle, the adjustments made to content based on the interests and information needs of the audience to whom it is being delivered.
Employees need different perspectives on information than, say, consumers, investors, or customers. Employees want to know what impact the news will have on their day-to-day jobs, something that isn’t of much interest to investors, who want to know what it means to the prospects for their investment. Customers want to know if the price will go up, product features will change, or customer service will deteriorate.
In most cases, crafting a one-size-fits-all communication is a bad idea. It would either be bursting at the seems with too much information to accommodate everybody, or it would lack the information different segments need in order to make informed decisions.
Social media provides organizations with a set of tools that makes it easy to maintain a common voice while delivering targeted information to different communities. In a company that has embraced blogging, for instance, the head of investor relations can talk with investors about the news from an investment perspective while a marketing-focused blog can let customers know what to expect from the product itself.
A Dow Jones Newswire article points to blogs-as-spokesmen as a trend among companies. In one example, a Microsoft turned down a journalist looking for a comment, but forwarded the reporter links to employee blog posts on the subject; reportable comments would be found in those posts.
It was also the idea behind Voxeo’s use of an “attention wave,” the label the company’s Dan York has assigned the idea of posting an item to multiple blogs that cater to different audiences.
These are among the factors communicators will need to consider as they update their thinking about communication models and strategies to accommodate a networked, transparent world. How do you balance the need to speak with one voice and the need to distribute a package of related content, each with its own angle, through multiple media?