OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThroughout the second half of the 20th century, the “Mushroom Strategy” characterized employee communications in most of Corporate America: “Treat employees like mushrooms… Keep ‘em in the dark and feed ‘em guano.”

Back when the Mad Men personified the advertising business, the concept of mass communications embedded itself into many business practices. With the advent of mass media – network television in the mid-1950s – companies could succeed simply by buying large amounts of airtime and shouting over the din. Business followed the mantra: “We talk. You listen. You buy.”

People – consumers, stockholders and employees alike – were talked at… not talked with. And it worked.

But starting in the mid-1990s (the Stone Age in internet time) with e-mail and chat rooms, the rise and mass adoption of web-based interactive communications technologies fundamentally changed the dynamics, to the point of consigning one-way communication methods to an increasingly unwelcome role.

Two-way communications define the new normal. People blogging and posting comments, stories, advice, opinions, images and homemade video via all forms of social media in breathtaking numbers expect and often demand companies and organizations to interact the same way.

Nearly all your employees live in this world every day, which explains why the Mushroom Strategy no longer works.

I still see too many companies and organizations that regard employee communications as the proverbial ugly stepchild or crazy cousin. Instead, I argue, there are enormous business opportunities and advantages just waiting to be unlocked by doing things differently.

So over the next few weeks, I’ll be sharing some new approaches and new strategies intended to encourage you to reevaluate the way you create, manage and deploy internal communications.

Greg Loh is the managing partner of public relations and public affairs at Eric Mower + Associates, one of the nation’s leading independent marketing communications agencies. Views expressed here are his own and do not reflect the opinions of EMA.

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