The Problem of Message Replication


The Inevitable Rise of Messaging

According to writer and leading thinker, Tom Standage = who was the guest interviewee at a recent event for the Social Media Leadership Forum I was facilitating – Messaging Apps are the next chapter of social. Indeed, he laid down embracing messaging apps as a ‘grand challenge’ to the leaders in the room (of which there were over a hundred).

Email Addiction

We are still wedded to email, some might even say, locked into it. That said, many smaller businesses have largely replaced and enhanced email, at least internally – using Yammer, for example, as their prime means of communication and collaboration.

Messaging makes group sharing and collaboration easier, it rips out some of the bureaucratic feel of emailing, and can also enable conversation to replace transactional communication.

The Problem of Message Replication

Yet email still holds an authority in the corporation and the problem of message replication is a new challenge for many organisations. Message replication has always been a problem of hierarchical organisation and bureaucracy. It tends to be born of mistrust. Let’s go back a hundred years. A manager visits the office of another manager to tell them they have just posted them a paper memo. Let’s go back thirty years. A colleague phones another colleague to tell her she has just emailed her an important message. Now let’s go back a year. A team  member receives a text and a message on Yammer saying “I’ve sent you the proposal for comments.”

Duplication of Effort

Message replication duplicates effort, raises cost, and creates unneeded repetition. It arises when:

– there isn’t trust that a particular platform is regularly used or checked into
– the culture of the organisation lays more weight on paper and traditional email over social media based methods
– when there is a more general “cover your back” culture of mistrust in the organisation.

So people receive duplicated content via social media, email, text and even phone and face to face.

Undermining Messaging

Message replication also arises when social media internally is introduced with a superficial style, where it isn’t taken seriously and where decisions then are not honored via its platforms. A chat message becomes part of a false commitment. This already happens outside work on Facebook where people state they are coming to events with no intention of showing up. Social media becomes the home of “maybe”. This then leads to conversations via social media at work that don’t have the same authority or commitment to action that traditional email or paper memos do.

Cost then rises as different communication methods overlap and replicate each other.

Getting it Right

If we are going to use social media messaging as a more formal means of communication, it needs:

– proper commitment from senior management who also use it in appropriate and effective ways

– to be formally embedded into business processes

– to be included in induction and appraisal

– the be given weight through training

– to be built into business critical activities and decision making

Leaders will need to lead on this by example and walk the talk. If managers and leaders are not seen to be making authentic decisions and collaborating via messaging, then its authority and kudos is diluted.

To Message or Not to Message – Checklist

Messaging Apps are more useful for:

– sharing information – news, progress updates, useful tips and learning

– getting questions answered quickly

– getting to decisions quickly that aren’t politically “heavy” (which might be better dealt with face to face)

– working together on documents

– social exchange

– discussion of an issue (again, this works less well if there are emotions and political dynamics involved)

– getting different points of view on an issue, challenge or question to aid discussion or decision-making

– seeking comments and input to a piece of work

– getting “smart advice” – e.g. solving a problem, saving money buying something

– informally surveying on an issue

– announcing a decision that is part of work flow, rather than something too formal

Messaging Apps are less useful for:

– conversations that are complex and may involve parallel themes and topics that are better shared (at least first) in a meeting or via an genuinely helpful, accessible and inspiring infographic

– higher risk communication that is politically weighted and needs more “embodied” communication (body language, eye contact, tone of voice)

– team communication where not all team members have access to the messaging platform

– organisations that have endemic cultures of mistrust. This will lead to message replication and lead to messaging becoming a cost driver

Back to Traditional

An alternative approach is to make a firm governance choice not to use messaging apps for anything other than social interaction and ideas and information sharing. We might re-affirm face to face meetings as the place for decision making and consciously place formal business decision making into more traditional methods of paper, email and physical. Many organisations will feel this is a step backwards. yet we are becoming aware that texting is no place to discuss “sacred” things. Texting and fingertip communication can lack authenticity, feel colder, or we can feel a lack of authenticity as we chat to a cooler, more idealised avatar than to a real person who might stand before us. This isn’t always the case but messaging-based conversation can feel a bit unauthentic. This is dysfunctioinal if a joint decision needs trust and commitment, belief and understanding. This is often when replication kicks in, as we phone to “bed in” or clarify a commitment to an action.


It isn’t Always Bad

Message replication isn’t always a bad thing. When it is a deliberate and conscious part of a multi-channel approach it can even be necessary. If millennials are opting for messaging apps as their prime form of communication and more traditionalist communicators are still tending towards email, phone or face to face, we may have to send the same message on different platforms. There’s an emerging skill set here around what I call digital discernment. Digital discernment involves:

– knowing how and when to choose to appropriate communication channel and when to replicate

– adapting the same message for different communication channels

– knowing when behavior needs to change and when communication (and collaboration) needs to coalesce around one channel in particular

There are also other virtues to deliberately overlapping communication methods. We might email a formal announcement or use a face to face briefing but then take the rest of the collaboration onto a messaging platform. The ability to use communication methods as part of a larger “narrative” is key to working effectively in the digital realm


To Message or Not to Message – That is the Question

In a medium-sized UK manufacturing company, messaging is used to share information and knowledge across different departments. Project teams also meet in groups via the Yammer platform. Documents are shared and also worked on together. The company also uses teleprescencing and other virtual conference methods to share product designs in real time with suppliers and key customers. Design teams then “bed in” discussion and decisions via Yammer.

This has caused problems as not all external organisations, such as suppliers, use Yammer. Email has sprung up in a negative way to fill the gaps in communication. This has led to message replication.

At a recent supplier conference, the company began to offer to assist in deploying Yammer to key suppliers. Several took up the offer and now groups message and share documents across organisational boundaries. This exposed the need to better cybersecurity as well as clearer governance about what the terms of reference were for sharing outside of the organisation.

According to the internal communications manager: “It’s on ongoing project and there are challenging. We are finding a lot of message replication happening as people still phone and email stuff they have also been sharing on Yammer. We are working on it. You have to persuade people and demonstrate that the message platform really is the most effective way to share information and progress project. A lot of it comes down to trust. You have to keep working on that.

Finding a Balance

Best practice seems to involve finding a conscious and useful balance between different communication methods. Messaging apps will continue to claim the space of collaborative idea sharing, document creation, socialising, information and knowledge creation and sharing, and some decision-making.

Emailing still holds court in one-to-one, more formalised communication.

Face to face meetings and phone still hold weight when we need the nuance of eye contact, body language and a trust that needs to be built by being physically present.

But as Tom Standage’s challenge highlights, we can’t avoid the arrival of messaging apps. They have a particular and evolving place in the communication realm of businesses and organisations.


Paul Levy is the Author of Digital Inferno

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Digital Inferno by Paul Levy

About Paul Levy

Paul is a writer, thinker, facilitator, theatre-maker, and conversifier. He is the author of the book, Digital Inferno.

Posted on January 31, 2015, in Key themes. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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