Dilemma: communicators don't get it and online consultants who aren't communicators

August 28, 2009

The web offers a wealth of opportunities to communicators. Greater engagement, communicating directly with stakeholders, better integration, clearer measurement, speed, cost-efficiency.

So what’s the problem?

One the one hand, traditional communicators don’t get the options. They often adopt an offline PR approach to the web: all about content production and having the right hook, but with little understanding of how the web works beyond being a publication tool. They ignore the importance of search and how people find information online, of how web users navigate a website, the value of hyperlinking and aggregating information from third parties, fostering interaction and perhaps most of all, using the web as a learning tool.

Then you have the other side of the coin. Web consultants who ignore the importance of content and building a story. They always start from a “web” perspective. They’ll dismiss a site because it does not follow best practice in navigation. They’ll say that a video is terrible without having even seen it because it hasn’t been embedded in the right way. They’ll say a hyperlink is awful because it’s too long rather than check what it leads to.

Clearly you need a balance of the two to be a good at online communications. Who fits the bill best? Usually young PR or marketing professionals who have grown up using the web and are very comfortable with technology. They get the content and message side and also get the web, but they see it as an end rather than a means.

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7 Responses to “Dilemma: communicators don't get it and online consultants who aren't communicators”

  1. mathew lowry Says:

    Sorry to disagree, Steffen, but the lack of integration between online and offline communications is crucial, too.

    Ironically, this can often be *caused* by “young PR or marketing professionals who have grown up using the web and are very comfortable with technology”. (That looks a bit self-serving, by the way)

    Moreover, when you say that this group see the web “as an end rather than a means”, you seem to be saying that this is a good thing. Quite the opposite. Communicators should see channels as means, rather than treating each one as an end to itself.

    The job is to communicate a message. Confusing that with ‘the web’ as an end to itself is precisely why there is often such poor integration between offline and online communication.

    To achieve good integration, communicators need experience with all the tools in the box, rather than running around with a hammer, treating everything as if it’s a nail.

  2. Steffen Says:

    Thanks Mathew.

    That’s not at all what I meant by the “end rather than a means” comment. It’s a note to techies to say that what the channel can do – “the ends” – is more important than the – “means” – i.e. the way the channel is constructed.

    And of course integration is important. That’s why I mention it in my second sentence. Didn’t expand on it, but sure, a good web consultant does not act in a web void, but uses the web as an integrator. That requires an understanding of what’s taking place beyond the web (and goes without saying I think.)

    Btw not sure why you felt it necessary to mention that you thought I was being self-serving.

  3. mathew lowry Says:

    Hi Steffen,

    My point was that the best communicators are probably not the 100% web-oriented people that you seemed to be saying are The Answer to your dilemma.

    They’re communicators who understand how to integrate all sorts of digital channels into a wider strategy, rather than self-proclaimed social media experts, jumping on the latest bandwagon.

    They’re also people who understand their clients’ real-world constraints, rather than simply mocking their cluelessness with mash-ups. I mention this because there’s also a lot of that about these days in Brussels (not because I’m accusing you of it – I haven’t been following your blog).

    Mathew

    PS Your post could have been interpreted as self-serving because you seemed to be describing yourself as the answer to the dilemma. Weren’t you? I’m assuming you’re describing yourself as one of the “young PR or marketing professionals who have grown up using the web and are very comfortable with technology”?

  4. Steffen Says:

    Yep, I agree. That’s sort of what I was getting at, apologies if it wasn’t clear i.e. no, 100% web people like techies (or social media experts or whatever) don’t make especially good web communicators. I think you need to be a communicator (PR or mkt professional, as I call them) to get the bigger picture, but it helps being comfortable with the technology to really grasp how the web can work within that bigger picture.

  5. mathew Says:

    Absolutely. Communications just can’t be tech-led, which – somewhat ironically – means that the communicator in charge must ‘get’ the technology if he is not to be led (by the nose) by the techies.

    It’s a bit of a Catch22 – and bad news for all those who aren’t technophiles.

    I’ll never forget the communications expert in 1995 who looked at the web and “wasn’t that impressed by it”. She’s still in Brussels! 😉


  6. […] was reminded of this when reading Steffen’s blog, where he wrote of a ‘dilemma’: communicators don’t get it and online consultants who aren’t communicators. I had some issues here (which we worked out amicably enough), but not with the dilemma. His […]


  7. […] some comments posted elsewhere over the past few years (e.g., Edward Boche, Michelle Tripp, Steffen) on the emergence of this particular […]


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