21st century communication: Beyond the buzz

When it comes to new media, it’s important to get beyond the buzz. The web has brought upon us a new communications paradigm for the 21st Century. To early adopters, the domain of “www” is a cinch, to others; it can be decidedly perplexing.

Some would say we suffer from perpetual information overload, an overwhelming stasis. However, paralysis – a common response to feeling overwhelmed – should not be the answer; nor should sticking your head in the sand. A reductionist approach that dismisses the web phenomenon as a “generational thing” will not work either.

The web has transformed communications. For the first time, there exists a mass communication channel that is decentralized, fragmented, self-distributed and highly specialized. Never before has a technological communications medium done more than just broadcast. More than a means to relay a message, it is a platform upon which to network, collaborate and co-create.

But the biggest mistake is to get caught up in the medium. The trick to being an effective communicator in the 21st century has more to do with being a savvy storyteller than it does with possessing technological wizardry. This is not meant as a polemic opposition to McLuhan’s “the medium is the message,” but rather, it is to point out that, given our new context, we must become more strategic about our messaging. The stronger the narrative, the more likely the message – and moreover, the brand – will surface over and above the growing din.

The new paradigm has dramatically changed our expectations around those creating the messages – corporate brands and public services alike. By opening up the channels to more voices, information has become democratized. Coupled with the ability to call up information in an instant, we expect a greater transparency on behalf of those communicating to us.

Building a strong brand takes strategy. Brainstorm the brand with the rigor – it needs to work as a concept offline before even thinking about hitting the online channels. A strong brand has messaging that is consistent and authentic. In the face of these new technologies, it may be easy to forget how personal communication is. Regardless of how it is mediated, the fact remains: communication is still about relationship building. The more consistent and authentic the brand, the sooner trust is built amongst an audience.

In the CIBC Presents Entrepreneurship 101 session, “Beyond the Buzz,” I discussed what’s possible when leveraging the social web to communicate. I used cases that ranged from the 350 climate change campaign, which yielded unprecedented results worldwide, to Dell’s IdeaStorm, a platform that has taken customer service to the next level.

The notion of “people-powered” communication is at the heart of all of these examples. And the way to get people on side hasn’t exactly changed. People are looking for authentic and trustworthy brands. Success is creating brand ambassadors – when the public is moved to spread your story for you.

Strategic communications in the 21st century is just as much about the age-old tricks as it is about new technologies. It is certainly exciting that entire communication campaigns can be administered at little to no cost and yield tremendous results – not to mention without hiring a big agency to craft the messages. In an increasingly accelerated environment, the challenge will be striking the balance between effectiveness and haste. And if you are strategic, neither should be compromised.

Downloads and resources

Weren’t able to attend the class? Need some notes or want to look something up? Click below for all of the goodies from the lecture. Watch the video and the slide presentation below.

CIBC presents Entrepreneurship 101 2009/10 – Week 16 – How to Communicate Effectively in the 21st Century from MaRS Discovery District on Vimeo.

Beyond the Buzz: How to leverage the social web


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