Posts Tagged ‘corporate communications’

Wanted: Social Capitalists

November 1, 2010

Social Network consultant Valdis Krebs plays along with Brian Lehrer on NPR today to create a “Six Degrees of Separation” game for Andrew Cuomo and Carl Paladino, each striving to win New York’s gubernatorial race.  It features the usual political figures, both foreground and background, lobbyists and campaign consultants.  This kind of social network analysis has been used in  numerous ways, such as mapping the relationships between senators, lobbyists and corporations with respect to health reform.

Digging a little into the social capital theories of Ron Burt at the University of Chicago we find useful measures of power relationships in social networks such as “betweenness” and “closeness.”  We also learn that most networks, left to their own devices, develop a high degree of homogeneity — more connections between more of the same kind of people.  Undiversified networks such as these offer none of the supposed benefits of social networks, such as innovation and cross-fertilization of ideas that come from unanticipated inputs.  In order to create these benefits, social networks need to be actively managed and nourished.

It strikes us that fostering these networks is one of  the critical contributions of the corporate communications function in the 21st century.  In an environment of intense flux and the disappearance of boundaries between industry sectors and functions, having a strategy to build your company’s social capital is no longer a luxury.  Wherever new threats emerge, we need fresh and diverse connections to understand and manage them.  New opportunities can only be seized when the diversity of our corporate networks alerts us to them.

The good news is that social media make the work of measuring your social capital and finding new potential connections easier than ever before.  The bad news is that building social capital is time and resource intensive.  Since some things don’t change, though, we will need new titles to describe our social network experts.  We think Senior Vice President for Social Capitalism has a nice ring to it.

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Cognitive Capture

April 20, 2010

Today’s column by Gerald O’Driscoll in the Wall Street Journal reminded us of Willem Buiter’s memorable use of the term “cognitive capture” to describe why regulators failed to rein in Wall Street.  Buiter borrowed the term from psychology (also called “cognitive tunnelling”) where it describes the state in which one becomes so focused on one thing that one misses the whole picture.  It explains why cellphones distract people from the road even hands-free.  The cellphone conversation, as it were, has captured your cognition.

Buiter used the phrase to suggest that regulators were so captive to Wall Street’s self-image as indispensable to the world economy that they were literally unable to think creatively about reform.  We like the phrase because we think preventing cognitive capture in an organization is one of the key functions of corporate communications.  Cognitive capture is what happens in an organization when its leadership starts believing that because its operations “exceed federal safety standards” that these operations are actually safe.  Cognitive capture is also what is happening when management thinks that the company’s data mining practices are “designed to fully protect our customers’ data privacy.”  What has happened when a  retailer has a policy of hiring only attractive Caucasian store clerks and believes it is “enhancing the customer experience?”  You got it: cognitive capture.  The urge to believe that what benefits the company automatically benefits all its stakeholders is a powerful force to which every management team periodically succumbs.  One job of the communications counsel function is to gently but forcefully remind them that there are other narratives alive in the world outside that, if ignored or dismisssed, can have a profound impact on their business.