Progress can be a two-edged sword. On the one hand, it implies a constant stream of innovation, improvement and new options. On the other, it means inexorable change, a sustained learning curve and a ruthless natural selection process. Picking the winners – and what really matters – is a real challenge.

As an example, witness the recent launch of Salesforce.com’s new Chatter, their secure “social” enterprise application…or as they call it their Collaboration Cloud. According to most reviews – like this one by Altimeter and another here – this is an important new tool in the social media arsenal, since it provides a comprehensive, private enterprise platform replete with networking and collaboration tools but also close integration with business processes and organization workflows. The application will include profiles, real-time status updates, groups, feeds, collaboration tools and links with Twitter and Facebook. Charlene Li describes it as “a social platform that can integrate multiple inputs that will accelerate the opening up of enterprise applications.” The basic application with be available for free.

On the surface, Chatter seems like an important new addition and a viable alternative for any company looking for a social media platform. But beyond the technology, for many communication pros Chatter makes things more complicated. Many smart professionals are likely still trying to decide the merits of Jive vs. Yammer, or struggling with installation of well-known programs like Sharepoint or even trying to define their core strategy for social media. Beyond the few companies living on the cutting edge, I doubt many will jump to adopt Chatter…they’re still trying to digest last month’s innovations.

But despite all these hurdles, its critical that communication leaders become familiar with Chatter. Just like they need to know enough about other popular enterprise applications to have an intelligent discussion. To borrow a tired phrase, there is no finish line when it comes to innovation in this area. The lasting lesson for me, therefore, is that we need to refresh the job description for communication (and marketing) professionals. Beyond the core skills, I would add the following as job requirements:

  • Never stop learning – What we knew several months ago is already stale, so it’s critical to keep listening and absorbing new facts and ideas. Keep your mind open and be brand and platform agnostic.
  • Do your homework – Pay attention to relevant developments and do enough research to understand basic implications and opportunities. It’s no longer enough to just peruse the Wall Street Journal and trade publications and watch a few TV news programs to stay current.
  • Learn basic technology – Just like a cursory knowledge of business and finances used to be the price of entry (and it still is) any self-respecting communication professional cannot be effective today without a basic understanding of IT infrastructure issues, communication applications and popular platforms.
  • Avoid the silos – Relevant information, ideas and tools emerge from a wide range of disciplines, so insularity and allegiance to outdated silos is a recipe for irrelevance.
  • Try it – There is no substitute for personal experience, so PR pros should do whatever they can to use (or at least sample) the various tools, applications or tactics they are recommending to their clients. And using a Blackberry is not enough!

 

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