Twitter, TARP and Getting Your Message Across

Recently, there were two interesting articles in the New York Times - one having nothing to do with the other.  At least on the surface.

In fact, they were both about exactly the same thing:  Messaging and communication.  In their own ways, they both dealt directly with how and whether those who are communicating are getting their points across.

More importantly, they were about the risks that different forms of communication have for those who convey them.

We'll take them one at a time.

First, Andrew Ross Sorkin, whose DealBook column is always worth the read, addressed the "good news" that the US Treasury periodically, strategically, leaks to make it sound as if the bank bailout is working.

Sorkin's point is not whether it is actually working or not (and, depending upon the measure you use, it can be argued either way).  It is that, more importantly, people don't believe that it's working.

It doesn't matter what the Treasury is saying.  Or Congress.  Or the bankers, themselves.  Especially the bankers.  And Congress.  And the Treasury.

To the people who are listening, it doesn't feel like the bailout is working - at least not on their behalf.  The actions that people see don't agree with the outcomes that are being lauded.  Loans are still hard to arrange.  Small businesses are still suffering as a result of limited credit.  The low interest rates the banks are benefiting from aren't being extended to the consumer.

All of which - and more - means that, to those who are listening to the "good news," it simply isn't true.  And that makes those who are conveying the news liars to those who are listening.

The second article of note is the announcement that the Library of Congress is going to save and archive Tweets.  Starting back from the beginning.  Every day's cache of Tweets.  At today's utilization rate, that's a treasure trove of fifty-five million Tweets a day.

Why this is of note is because, in direct contrast to the Treasury's, Congress's and the bankers' careful messaging, Tweets tend not to be as well thought out.  Nor are they usually considered legacy communications.

They're just thoughts.  Random.  Fun.  Sometimes pointed.  Sometimes mean.

And now discoverable.

Sure, the Library of Congress says that it is only for scholarship and research and, sure, Twitter says that only those without the necessary privacy settings will go in the archive.  Sure.

Which raises the question:  What have you been Tweeting?

One of the things my clients know about me - which usually drives them nuts - is that I am a great believer in information management.  You need to be forward thinking in deciding, carefully and strategically, what information needs to be conveyed, when and to whom - and what needs to be held close.

Internally, you need to make sure that your employees know what they need to know - usually more than many executives think they need to tell their people.  That's because unless your employees at all levels know why they are doing something, with all the good intentions in the world, they'll do their best and unintentionally go the wrong way.

They won't know the outcome you're looking for so, they won't know that they're taking the organization further away from it rather than directly to it.

Worse, if they're getting their information from elsewhere - anywhere else - they're getting someone else's version of what you want them to know.  And that is simply dangerous to the future of the enterprise because now you're dealing with someone else's agenda.

Not yours and not your organization's.

So you need to talk with your employees about strategy and finance and competitive landscape.  You need to engage them and encourage their thinking.  Then you need to listen to the answers that they give you - from the sublime to the ridiculous - because somewhere in there is an answer to a question you never even knew you needed to ask.

In contrast, if your message is too well constructed - to the point of being the equivalent of media "talking points" and all anyone hears is the exact same phrase over and over again (much like the information on the bank bailouts - no matter which side you're on), that won't engender belief or support.  Just mistrust.

Then you need to think externally.  That side now consists of the often too casual commentary that comes out in executive blogs and Tweets.  On Facebook and MySpace.  Even the commentary you include with your Flickr images of everything from family photos to vacation videos to professional conferences and presentations.  All those places where you just say what you say - not thinking that anyone beyond your immediate circle will see it or be interested.

Not anymore.  Especially not now that Tweets will live in the Library of Congress.  Forever.

Think back to when the internal Microsoft emails were, for the first time, included in an anti-monopoly lawsuit against the company.  They were a turning point in the consideration of the case and led to an international change in how that company had to do business.

No one ever thought they'd be out there for anyone to see.  They were wrong.

Now, inclusion of any accessible communique is considered normal in legal proceedings - civil and criminal.  Every possible form of communication is going to be subpoenaed and discovered to see if the content will help the cause.  Either side.  It doesn't matter.

But it has to matter to you.

What you say - no matter what the medium or venue - has importance.  Your employees, shareholders, analysts, customers - everyone in any way connected to your organization, no matter the size, industry or sector - is impacted by your words.  Because your words become the drivers for their actions and reactions.

Communication is an art and a science.  At least the messaging part of it is.  Most particularly the construction of those messages.

But if you're consistent in your dealings and messages; if you don't patronize or underestimate your audience; if you think ahead to the outcome of what you're trying to get across and what it will take to get there; and, most important, if you're honest in giving the information that those who access your message need to know, the extent of the outcomes will surprise you with their upside.

There is nothing more valuable than trust in an executive.  Your name.  Your reputation.

When you pay attention to what you're saying - and say it right - you'll create wins that extend and expand long after the message, itself, was conveyed.