The New Skill Set for Digital Content Management – Communication or Conversation?

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Conversation is a form of communication. But not all communication is a conversation.

At a recent gathering of social media leaders in London, UK, from mostly large corporations, I heard many internal communications and social business leaders talking about the challenge of “news”. Others shared their frustration at how many days it took to get a tweet authorised on the corporate twitter channel. Yes, days. Others boasted of hours, and one pointed to five levels of approval needed for a Tweet to go public.

There was also a lot of conversation about the struggles to get employees to “engage with the corporate message”. News stories are regularly published and there’s little full reading of them and even less comment or discussion.

When we see ourselves as publishers of content, and encouragers of others in our organisation to publish content themselves, we are a long way away from conversation.

The challenge to really communicate

And this is a serious problem because this really is the age of conversation. Cafes are full to bursting with people meeting to chat and social media in the world “out there” is all about conversation. I spoke so several Millennials recently who admitted to reading only a the first paragraph of a news story (or even just the headline) and then jumping to the bottom of the page, skilfully avoiding adverts and sponsored news stories (some use ad blockers) and finding more engagement in the comments and discussion at the end of the news story.

Conversation, of course, is interactive. Even if we curate the topic, we cannot predict how the conversation will go and that’s why hierarchy based organisations either don’t really get conversation or kill it by trying to over-control it.

Conversation opens space for the unknown. It is emergent

So can we we ensure the conversation doesn’t harm our brand or our bottom line? Well be can be mediocre and simply stifle the conversation with one way communication instead. We basically become a PR channel, Now, that is interesting because the new Millennial generation (and other generations too, I suspect) are very mistrustful of PR and PR-speak.

The way we ensure the conversation is beneficial is by being authentic and responsive to the feedback the conversation produces. A big part of that is openness and acknowledging feedback we find uncomfortable. Out of negative comment, innovation can be born. Often the conversation will settle over time, especially if our engagement with it is honest and authentic. Ditch PR and you might find the real conversation becomes valuable, even vital.

“Conversation is a form of communication. But not all communication is a conversation.”

Recently in Brighton, there were two fires in the city. As the budget-strapped local newspaper failed to cover the stories, even on Twitter, the conversation using its newspaper hashtag became compelling and news-rich as citizens and groups on the ground filled the news gap with their own reports and updates. The newspaper could have curated that conversation, encouraged it more actively, instead of practising what was described by many locals as a disappointing “radio silence”.

New skills are needed

We become not broadcasters alone, not a tradition one-way media channel that “puts out” stories. We become facilitators of the online conversation – inside and outside our organisation.

These skills include:

– the ability to trigger or inspire conversation with questions and “Opening statements”

– using emotional intelligence to tap into communications

– being able to deal and work with negative conversation and turn “destruction” into “construction” aimed at solution and innovation

– knowing how to respect views and acknowledge, be compassionate and sensitive – using non-violent communication methods and phrasing empathically

– knowing how to facilitate different conversation threads and manage tangential “threads” in ways that keep core themes in tact

– knowing how to be agile and flexible across different types of content and media channels

– using listening skills – and being able to summarise conversation, feed back essential points

– being able to draw useful action, ideas and suggestions for emotionally charged conversation

– being able to connect threads of themes in a conversation

– knowing when and how to bring a conversation to an end and to set ground rules for conversing online

being able to facilitate debate and discussion and to motivate “advocaters” to enquire more into the views of others (Turning “pushy-talk” into “listen and interact”)

– using humour properly and helpfully in social media conversation

– knowing how to diffuse and redirect conflict

From Communication to Engagement

Conversation creates engagement – with your organisation, its products, its value and its brand. Conversation can be “owned” by customers and employees and can lead to loyalty, commitment and also a willingness to offer ideas for innovation. Conversation is more real-time and enables the organisation to be more responsive. It can work along side traditional channels of news broadcasting that then respond to it and become more relevant. News then serves conversation ,feeds it, adds to it

There’s a real opportunity here for larger organisations to skilfully practice social media conversation. I am often involved in teaching the practical skills for doing that. We draw on different fields that can include: theatre skills, writing skills, listening and dialogue skills, media skills, negotiation and conflict resolution, alongside specific skills such as eloquent tweeting or manage threaded discussions.

The first step is to remember that not all communication is conversation, but conversation can ignite energy and engagement.


Do get in touch if you’d like to develop these skills in your business or organisation.

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 June 22, 2015, in Key themes. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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