Closing the Digital Gap

Sam Ford’s most excellent PRWeek webinar last week was intended to share the best practices of three Fortune 500 corporations that are doing digital right. They are: Sun Microsystems, Southwest Airlines and H&R Block.

While each operates in entirely different business universes, each had to find ways to overcome internal obstacles, close the internal "digital gap" and convince senior executives to embrace Web 2.0.

Paula Berg of Southwest Airlines, for example, said the most important first step to entering the digital world is understanding the organization’s "voice." How do you want to contribute to the conversation and what do you want to say? What tone will you employ and how responsive do you intend to be? Paula also advised organizations to identify and test a small, controlled digital initiative before turning on the master switch. That serves the dual purpose of fine tuning one’s voice as well as calming the fears of internal naysayers.

Paula Drum of H&R Block positioned digital as critical to understanding what was being said about her company’s brand and reputation. While management worried about the inherent loss of control, they were more concerned about not engaging in conversations, demonstrating the organization’s ability to provide value-add counseling and re-positioning the firm as more than just a tax adviser.

Russ Castronovo of Sun Microsystems had different advice since his organization lives, eats and breathes all things digital. That said, Russ overcomes naysayers or perceived internal roadblocks (think: legal) by evaluating an initiative’s cost/benefit ratio prior to engaging. So, rather than pulling the trigger on a Twitter program or a podcast series, he’ll first assess the internal investment versus the anticipated outcome. Castronovo agreed with his fellow panelists that "seeing" what’s being said about the company’s brand is usually enough to engage senior management and gain their approval to move forward.

Berg, Drum and Castronovo are fortunate to work within enlightened corporate cultures. Based upon the research we and others have conducted though, they are the exception, not the norm. Far too many corporate communicators have expressed frustration that their managers believe engaging in digital means losing control, angering potential constituent audiences or placing the organization in some sort of legal or financial jeopardy.

I don’t mean to minimize the risks, but organizations need to begin engaging in the digital discourse soon, or risk the competitive consequences later (Btw, several panelists reiterated that,  just because your firm has a Web site, doesn’t mean it’s actively engaging in marketplace dialogue).

Understanding how pioneers at Southwest, Sun and H&R Block closed the digital gap is a great starting point for making the case for digital communications at your organization.

So, good luck and good hunting. Closing the digital gap at your organization isn’t only good for your company, it’s a smart career move for you as a communications executive.

2 thoughts on “Closing the Digital Gap

  1. Paula makes a good point here: the reason it’s imperative for companies to start fundamentally investing budget and more importantly human resources in digital is that, for much of the public, this sort of outreach is no longer in any way special: it’s part of the base expectation. That doesn’t mean you have to have a blog, or a podcast, or a Twitter account, or a forum, etc., but it means that your visitors expect a strategic and professional site, likely with participatory elements.

  2. Thanks for the recap. I can’t stress enough how I believe digital is transforming how consumers interact with corporations (of all size). While we may think of digital communication as a transformation, for younger generations it is an expectation.
    So my quick advice to all of Steve’s readers is to keep the faith and keep pushing forward. Scan the web for what consumers are saying about your company or products to deliver much needed visibility. Start some some tests by answering some of the blogs or tweets. These small activities can help demonstrate the power of all these online voices.
    Paula Drum
    H&R Block