Guest post by Kellye Crane
Anyone who follows social media is likely familiar with the classic proclamation that “there’s no market for messages,” popularized by the Cluetrain Manifesto nearly a decade ago. As a result, in many circles the term “key message” has a dirty ring to it. While this anti-message stance is not new , it continues as a common refrain because, let’s face it, many professionals are only now tuning into to the new reality.
But for those in PR and marketing, this maxim can be a source of confusion. An organization has characteristics and values, which have to be expressed to be understood. To communicate, you must communicate something. Isn’t that “something” a message?
Though some might argue against messages of any kind, Phil Gomes recently hit on an important and illuminating point: “having a ‘message’ is fine, it's ‘messaging’ that sucks.” As PR pros, this is a key distinction and one that makes sense.
While a “message” can be expressed conversationally, and does not have to be rehearsed or contrived, the “messaging” we’re familiar with has a different connotation. Messaging typically involves using the same words, regurgitated the same way, regardless of the question or setting (think of politicians, who hang onto their talking points with white knuckles like a kid onto a security blanket).
In fact, the no-message movement comes from a good place: the need to inject humanity into our communications. It’s a call to organizations to eliminate corporate-speak gobbledygook, and just be real.
So let’s be clear: a message is not an indecipherable string of words you believe makes your organization sound smart. Communicating in situation-appropriate natural language is a requirement. But as Kami (one of our industry’s true experts in messages) has said herself, this doesn’t mean an organization needs to completely “wing it.” An organization can have messages, but they should be adaptable, genuine and have a human voice.
The objections to messaging also arise from a central plea to organizations to pay attention and participate, real-time, in their communities’ conversations. Unfortunately, many marketers are now hopping onto social networks and neglect to listen first – they dive right in, shoving their traditional buzzwords at anyone and everyone. Listening is an important part of today’s message development process. So are conversations and community, since an organization is no longer in control of its overall message (if it ever was).
For this reason, the days of developing an all-inclusive messaging matrix of “things we're allowed to say” and routing it through every decision maker in the company, including legal, are over (or they should be). Today’s messages need to be flexible guidelines that lend themselves to interacting in a two-way dialogue – not communications handcuffs.
Why It Matters
The difference between “messages” and “messaging” may sound like matter of simple semantics, but it’s my contention that this issue is one of the key barriers preventing organizations from embracing social media. A world without messages makes no sense to many of those in the position to green light major social media initiatives.
To these reluctant stakeholders, rather than advocate the end of messages altogether, it could be helpful explain the transformation in less foreign terms. Offering them this simple change in point of view could be the tipping point – taking us from blank stares to buy-in.
What do you think? Do you believe there’s a place for messages today?
Kellye Crane is an award-winning communicator with more than 17 years of experience in strategic public relations and marketing communications. Having founded Crane Communications, LLC in 1995, her blog, Solo PR Pro is a resource for those working as independent PR and MarCom consultants — and those who’d like to be.