Thursday, 6 March 2008

The power of the network

So, the BBC is radically reshaping the way in which it manages news. News operations will now be organised on cross-platform lines, via an integrated newsroom. Correspondents will be tasked with delivering content across all BBC platforms, including television, radio and online. There are likely to be fewer stories covered, though the ones that are will be covered in greater depth and will reach a wider viewership / readership / listenership / surfership. For any organisation keen on generating publicity, the ability to build professional relationships with correspondents will become even more important.

Similarly, the Telegraph is no longer a newspaper; it is a multimedia organisation, delivering content through the paper, the website, Telegraph TV and podcasts. Correspondents are confronting the reality of an “enhanced” set of deadlines as the organisation’s audience look to it for guidance on news throughout the day. The correspondent is key, and the relationship with the correspondent is key.

Against the backdrop of this escalating pressure, how does a news organisation or a correspondent deal with the challenge of combing through the vast array of information that crosses his / her desk each day? The network becomes increasingly important, but the old ways of managing relationships – meetings, lunches, phone calls, events, press conferences – are all getting squeezed out (most journalists these days would easily pass the liver function test) as the correspondent is increasingly tied to his/her desk. The journalist’s network used to be the contact book, consulted with relative languor, but this is not as efficient as it was. Relationships, vital as they are to journalists and PRs, need to manifest themselves in a different way. More people will be chasing fewer journalists.

I think that social networking is part of the answer. Facebook isn’t a flash in the pan – it reflects a fundamental shift in the way that we connect. Many businesses and professionals are already using Facebook as means to engage in what I call ambient networking – displaying their activities, ideas and thought processes to colleagues and contacts in a way that keeps them, if not front of mind, then at the very least within easy access of valued contacts. It can keep the contact fresh without the ill-afforded luxury of other relationship management techniques.

An increasing number of my key contacts are “Facebook friends” and my page provides a glimpse into what I’m working on on behalf of my clients. I’m sure it works, because many of those contacts that are within my network are in touch with me on a more regular basis than those that aren’t. I don’t abuse the connections, but I’m there if they need to speak, I’ll intermittently nudge someone, and I use my status update occasionally to give people a sense of what I’m up to that day if I think it has wider interest. Of course all the other contact methods apply, but I think Facebook adds a helpful dimension in many, if not all, cases.

The same changes are applying elsewhere, as organisations – and seemingly life itself – demand more of us in less time. The social networking model is gaining momentum as a business management tool. Huddle (, for example, enables users to create collaborative workspaces with friends, colleagues and business partners, with a few clicks of a mouse. Huddle has just launched a Facebook application that enables friends within the Facebook community to set up collaborative groups. The same conditions of access and efficiency apply.

The old adage, “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know”, is probably in need of some refinement in every walk of life. For today’s networker, it’s more likely to read “It’s what you know, it’s who you know, and it’s how you stay close”.

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