With the pandemic and people either working from home or losing their jobs, one of the main tasks of business owners now is managing the expectations and the anxiety of the team, and this leads to the work done by Professor Thomas Allen. In 1997, he wrote a book called Managing the Flow of Technology, and as a result of his work, he created the Allen curve. This curve displays an exponential drop in frequency of communication between people as the distance between them grows. In fact, in the original MIT study, they had people sitting in offices, effectively a basketball court away, and they found that if people were at either ends of the basketball court, the chances of them seeing each other even just once a week were less than 10%, amazing reduction in the opportunity just to catch up if you’re not really in the vicinity. Professor Allen updated his book in 2006, where he discussed the impact of technology and found that even with all the tools available then, there was still a marked decay in the use of communication with distance. So, whilst the heart may grow fonder with distance, the understanding does not grow stronger. The challenge, then, is to to engage and bring teams on the journey and create alignment and a renewed sense of purpose.
SPEAK|pr and the Active Communications Index
The other aspect of this is the amount of communication that needs to take place should be proactive. EASTWEST PR has developed the Active Communications Index that focuses on metrics into the frequency and channels of communication. Quite often, people communicate sporadically or intermittently, especially internally. And as Allen’s law suggests, if people are at home, they’re not getting validation from their peers, and they don’t have the signals to get their minds and hearts back into the swing of the company. And so, business owners need to think about how they’re communicating and how frequently they’re doing it.
Zoho Social is a platform much like HubSpot, Buzzsprout, and Hootsuite which manages social media messaging, because it’s simply not possible to manage all the channels frequently enough. In Zoho, one can add social media accounts on LinkedIn, Facebook, Facebook Groups, Twitter, Instagram, and more, and it makes it possible to schedule and automate posts as well. There are even platforms now, like Content Samurai, that produce content using AI, so it’s becoming possible to both automate and auto-generate content using technology, creating an amazing opportunity for people running small companies. The stories and messages can be translated into graphics like videos, infographics, text, or podcasts, and with the technology, it’s easy to reach out and share that information across timezones simultaneously in a timed and organised way.
SPEAK|pr, which is a five-step methodology for entrepreneurs, includes a story planner, a day-by-day step where you input a story for the day. Within the planner is the Active Communications Index which identifies the content people are sending out and the channels people are sending out their content through. One multiplied by the other gives a frequency and an overall index. With the impact of COVID on businesses, many employees are worried, and so it becomes important to maintaining an Active Communications Index for the team, as well as for allies and clients.
Artificial intelligence in communication
McKinsey released a report saying that the next 90 days post COVID-19 will be digital, and they’ve named four particular aspects that they believe organisations should conform to in order to fully take advantage and to survive. They talk about the need for companies to refocus their digital efforts towards the changing customer expectations, the use of data and AI to improve business operations, selectively modernising technology capabilities, and increasing the organisational drumbeat. These are all great and valid, but what’s missing is the specific articulation expression that organisations will have to address their communication strategy, because otherwise, these technology- and business-related initiatives within an organisation will fail. If the teams and the customers are not in alignment with these new visions, and as the Allen curve shows, when people are distributed, that curve is going to be accentuated.
Twitter has announced that its staff can continue to work from home permanently after the lockdown. It’s an amazing opportunity, but also a challenge, ironically enough for a company that’s a communications provider. Jack Dorsey and his team are going to have to engage both their customers with that who frankly probably won’t notice any difference, but they’re also going to have to engage their teams, hopefully through the belief in division, in the purpose, and in the leadership. This period gives people time to think things through and reflect whether they believe in the company they’re working for and whether to stay or to leave. Even if your company is not as big as Twitter, you can communicate using automation and artificial intelligence in order to compete with larger companies that, ironically enough, may start to suffer from the Allen curve and the organizational challenge with time and distance impacting their communication. Nevertheless, AI is coming, whether people like it or not, into homes, and it’s making a difference.
Chinese companies have been involved in AI for a long time already, and they’ve already got significant apps that are leveraging this power to go to consumers and give them what they want when they want it without any human interaction whatsoever. One example is WeRead from Tencent, which is a WeChat app, and for £2 a month, it provides access to thousands and thousands of audiobooks that are read by AI and even give you the option to toggle between a male or female reader. What if press releases, case studies, articles, and interviews started to be formatted, delivered, and read by AI? This presents another chance for personalisation at scale using AI, because platforms like WeRead are going to be transformative.
The Allen curve means that as epople move further away from each other, statistics show that the propensity to communicate with those people will reduce, so the challenge is overcoming that. The technology exists, but it’s not the technology people need to be sharing. It’s the mission as founders and entrepreneurs. It’s the passion for what the business aims to do, and it’s engagement for the employees, partners, or customers.