I have maintained for a long time that sometimes the biggest problem for organizations and individuals, the reason why they get in trouble or don't get the results they were hoping for, is poor communication. Which in turn means inability to get their messages across, and potentially make connections.
There is a misunderstanding about communication that needs clearing — it's not about merely creating messages and sending them out. If you look up the definition of communication in any dictionary, you will find a version of the following:
Two-way process of reaching mutual understanding, in which participants not only exchange (encode-decode) information but also create and share meaning.
It was not an invention of social media tools. They just provided more of the people who had been on the receiving end of messages with the ability to talk back publicly. In news media, for example, you had the letters to the editor, which went through a selection process and were published after a long wait. Inside organizations, you had employee suggestion boxes, and the awkward talking through management channels.
With more accounts being opened and staffed in social media, more organization representatives and individuals should experience talking with the people formerly known as the audience more regularly.
Reaching a mutual understanding takes some skill, starting with wanting to do it. For this one, I'd like to remind you of what Theodore Roosevelt said on leadership, because that's where the rubber meets the road on meaning.
The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena; whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again and again; who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, and spends himself in a worthy cause; who, at best, knows in the end the triumph of high achievement; and who, at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.
The ambition of every great communicator is reaching the moment when the connection is made between what is intended, and what is received.
Creating and sharing meaning
Exchanging information is fine, participating in the knowledge flow and having a voice, that's all good. It isn't until meaning is created and shared that communication goes from poor — should we say average? — to good.
You can see how communication is the biggest advantage — when it's executed properly, it allows for individuals and organizations to participate in the meaning-creation business. New media tools are offering this opportunity with increasing frequency.
Which is why it's puzzling how many organizations would approach it with a mass media mindset that demands follower and friend growth so messages could be spread; individuals also often approach it with a collection mindset, no matter where they sit on the Forrester Social Technographics ladder.
In a world where tools are increasingly taking attention away from where the real action is — people processing information, learning, and connecting — good communication is there to give people on both sides of the conversation a voice.
Simple, however, doesn't always mean easy to do.
What do you think is the biggest challenge for organizations in distinguishing between poor and good communication?
[image of The Aquarium, street art installation for the 2009 Lyon Light Festival, Lyon, France.]