Are communicators now assigned to one of two camps, the Dinosaurs or the Geeks? A number of recent blog posts in the local government communications bubble have looked at this theme, and this divide appears to be trending.
If you are predominantly involved in ‘traditional’ communication and engagement methods and perhaps just dabbling in social media you’re an entrenched Dinosaur, and if you are all things social media then you’re one of those weird Geeks. But is this really what’s happening, or are we being too rigid with our labels?
In the last month the Midlands has witnessed both sides of this alleged divide, with the LGComms Academy in Nottingham and LocalGovCamp in Birmingham. One a conference, one an unconference, one run by traditionalists, one a gathering of the enlightened, with perhaps only a handful dipping their toes in both rivers. Now I didn’t go to either, but I did follow both of them via Twitter and subsequent blogs, and some things did concern me.
One is that annual conferences are at risk of becoming repetitive in terms of format, speakers, and content, with many of the same people attending year after year at the expense of other colleagues. But some bloggers are warning that unconferences need to make sure they don’t go the same way, and that they reach out more effectively to keep things fresh and bring others in.
Secondly, there is the growing risk that the real Dinosaurs who don’t believe in social media and the evangelists for it (I don’t believe there are many) are ruining it for those other Dinosaurs who are trying to catch up with and learn from the Geeks. They are unfairly being tarred with the same brush, and as a result some of the Geeks are thinking that these people should stay in their old world and let the new kids (I refuse to put a ‘z’ on the end of that word) get on with it.
Now I’m exaggerating for effect, and the labels I’ve used are neither accurate nor fair, but there is some mileage in this. The key to effective communication and engagement is to tailor what we do to meet residents’ needs, otherwise local government communications will become irrelevant.
Research shows that residents still want some of the traditional channels, as well as the new ones, so as good communicators we should do both. Communications teams must include the whole range of different skills to deliver a multi-channel approach, with a common attitude of a willingness to use what works and learn and try something new.
This debate around old and new was taking place a couple of years ago, and it hasn’t really moved on. In an era where innovation is greater than ever, the next new thing in town should be to break down the barriers. The only traditional things left are the labels.