The Me2 Revolution
The traditional approach to corporate communications envisages a controlled process of scripted messages delivered by the chief executive, first to investors, then to other opinion-formers, and only later to the mass audiences of employees and consumers. In the past five years, this pyramid-of influence model has been gradually supplanted by a peer-to-peer, horizontal discussion among multiple stakeholders. The employee is the new credible source for information about a company, giving insight from the front lines. The consumer has become a co-creator, demanding transparency on decisions from sourcing to new-product positioning.
Smart companies must reinvent their communications thinking, moving away from a sole reliance on top-down messages delivered through mass advertising. This is the Me2 Revolution. What is now required is a combination of outreach to traditional elites, including investors, regulators, and academics, plus the new elites, such as involved consumers, empowered employees, and non-governmental organizations.
Edelman cites not only interactive technology, but a growing lack of confidence in "official sources" in government, business and academia, as fueling this trend. He urges businesses to embrace new media as a way to communicate credibly with the people who may ultimately have the greatest impact on the bottom line.
In part because of the highly polarized state of modern American politics, new media have perhaps achieved their most impressive inroads in the realm of government. As K. Daniel Glover writes in the National Journal's Beltway Blogroll:
Only one congressional blog existed before January 2005, but in the year since then, 17 lawmakers, the Republican Study Committee, and Democrats on the House Agriculture Committee have started blogs. Several more members of Congress regularly or occasionally make guest appearances at group blogs such as Marshall's TPMCafe and The Huffington Post on the left, and RedState on the right.
"Blogs are becoming more respectable," said Henry Farrell, a professor of political science and international affairs at George Washington University and a blogger at Crooked Timber. Citing the debate over Social Security as an example, he added, "People are beginning to figure out that blogs do have real impact."
However, if recent events are any suggestion, most traditional institutions have a way to go in embracing new media. Through fear and misunderstanding, organizations have either misinterpreted the impact of electronic media, or moved to suppress it -- often, to those organizations' regret. The Me2 revolution, therefore, won't be either bloodless or instantaneous.