Communicators, it's time to get wired.

We can all agree that technology is transforming the way we work. Many of us have embraced the idea that such disruptive communication technologies as immersive video, the latest social channels or post-intranet era mobile enterprise collaboration platforms, are here to stay. We’ve even made the pitch to our leaders that it’s time to reach employees and the media using these tools.

Yet, like the proverbial shoemaker’s children wanting for decent footwear, we often don’t apply these tools to make our own work faster, better and more effective. Few of us consider that these same technologies just might make organizations re-assess what role communication professionals like us should have—if any—in the modern enterprise.

“Get wired or get fired”
I first heard that statement during the keynote address of a training and development conference back in 1994. At that time, the training and development industry was facing the disruptive influence of video and CD-ROM-based training. Industry visionaries were dreaming of the day when video instruction would be available on the internet. Sound familiar? Classroom training professionals were facing the threat of losing their jobs from disintermediation—eliminating one or more steps in the delivery of a product from producer to consumer.

Whether you realize it or not, your job has been in danger of disappearing due to disintermediation for a while now. For a long time, communicators have been telling themselves that the “art” portion of our profession would insulate us from automation, optimization, outsourcing, and other corporate cost-cutting solutions that rely on technology.

If you still think that way, it’s time to get better acquainted with disintermediation. In non-economic terms, think of it as cutting out the middle-person; oh, and by the way, that middle-person is probably you. It might just be time for communicators to “get wired” as well.

I can already imagine your counter-arguments, in PowerPoint-friendly, bullet point form:

  • You can’t outsource or automate communication strategy!
  • No digital channel can replace good storytelling to engage employees!
  • Public and media relations thrives on relationships between people!
  • Our company is so far behind technologically, my children will retire before I have to worry about this stuff!

All of those may well be true statements. But these statements are also true—here are my bullet points:

  • Earlier this year, I helped script a chatbot for a client’s HR department to field simple open enrollment inquiries like, “How much are the rates for my current plan going up?” and, “What are the deductible limits for each of our plans?” My client company saved about four hours a week of phone time and email processing by deploying this bot on their Slack network, and decided not to hire an HR communication intern as they had done to help with open enrollment in previous years.
     
  • Journalists continue to be frustrated with the state of online press resources made available by companies, which quite frankly is the reason why they try to reach a human in the first place. With better online pressroom technologies such as chatbot-assisted search, better SEO, and automated media monitoring tools, the number of public relations professionals required to field media inquiries is already dropping. Oh, and I recently made a suggestion to a colleague of mine that she create an “If This, Then That” script to help her stay on top of what some key journalists in her industry are saying about their company. She’s very happy with the time she’s saving and the improved conversion on her pitches to these reporters.
     
  • Companies like Narrative Science are making real advances in writing clear, understandable stories about data, all without input from humans. And services like Nuzzel are demonstrating that content curation, that cherished value proposition of your intranet editor-in-chief, can be successfully automated.
     
  • Facebook’s new enterprise offering, Workplace, is being introduced at a price point that will make it very compelling for large organizations—maybe even compelling enough to skip further story-based intranet development in favor of mass collaboration and company-wide news feeds. They already have over 1,000 companies on board at launch.

If you are a corporate communication, investor relations, or internal communication professional, you should be watching what these services do very closely. It’s also time to start thinking about the ways you can use these services as a model for improving your own productivity. There are a lot of free or low-cost personal productivity tools, like “If This, Then That,” available that can help us save time and deliver more strategic value for our organizations. Not all of us will “get wired” at an enterprise level to the same extent in the near term, due to the constraints of our companies or industries. But we can all use personal productivity tools, process optimization, automation, and selective sourcing techniques to deliver more with less today. And isn’t that what our bosses are constantly asking us to do?

One of the goals of this blog is to expose both the art and science necessary to deliver exceptional business communication. Another significant goal of mine is to alert my fellow communication professionals to the very real steps they need to take in their careers to acquire new skills and stay ahead of the evolving technologies that impact our jobs. I hope this blog post has given you some food for thought along those lines.

As we are freed from more and more repetitive tasks by science, it’s up to us to envision the new art necessary to take what we do to the next level—or risk joining those buggy-whip manufacturers Henry Ford put out of work with the Model T in the unemployment lines.

A version of this post originally appeared on the IABC Communications World Blog in November, 2016.