Socialism in the Workplace; Something to Strive for?

The autocratic, top-down model of corporate communications is changing. Socialism is on the rise. But not the type you’re probably thinking about. I’m not talking about the model where those in charge own everything “on behalf of the people.”

Instead, I’m referring to a definition like this (from Wikipedia), applying it to internal communications: “Socialism is a range of economic and social systems characterized by social ownership and democratic control of the means of production.” In this case, the “production” is what and how we communicate.  I suggest that the model of how to do this are social media sites like Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.

You might ask what’s so socialistic about them? Well, I think they fit that definition pretty well. While the actual companies are owned by private individuals, “the people” own and produce the product, that is, those sites’ content.

Think about it; all of the content you see on them is produced by people like you and me, and we do it for free. The “payment” we get is in satisfaction, creative expression and maybe promotion of a personal or business interest. Of particular interest to me is how fast these companies scale compared to traditional models. For example:

Capitalistic, old-style media
CBS Television is 89 years old. Company value: $25 billion
Time Warner is 93 years old. Company value: $58 billion
Houghton Mifflin is 136 years old. Company value: $2 billion

Socialistic, new-style media
Twitter is 10 years old.  Company value: $12 billion
Facebook is 12 years old.  Company value: $320 billion
LinkedIn is 14 years old.  Company value: $25 billion

As shown, the new model has similar or more value but scales about 10 times as fast.

So how does this affect the workplace? Currently, I’d say not very much, but that’s my point, it should. There’s no reason why the same forces that work in the social media businesses shouldn’t work in established ones, except for the fact that they’re… established.

It’s tough to change culture and processes in companies that were built before these new ideas surfaced. When most managers think about their own internal “media,” or employee communications, they think of it in the old style, even if they’re using digital products. The old paper memo is now a PDF, the flipchart presentation a PowerPoint, the quarterly meeting in the auditorium a video. While digital, they’re still communication from the top down. These communications need to get more social so that we can get some of that 10x leverage going within our companies.

Where are the new concepts for corporate communications? How can the lessons from Facebook and others be applied to the workplace so that we can get the same ramped-up value creation that they do? How can we get the network (i.e., the employees) to create the content so it’s more relevant, interesting and viral?

I’ll cover those questions in my blog next week.

Frank Kenna III
July 6, 2016

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