You might think that corporations are the most top-down oriented institutions when it comes to communications. I suspect that tendency is widely shared — and that unions are among the more reluctant when it comes to embracing conversational media.
This seemed clear this morning during a speech and subsequent workshop this morning with PR people from the National Education Association, the biggest union representing public-school teachers in America. Again again, the discussion came around to what some of the union folks clearly considered the dangers in being considerably more open and conversational with the NEA’s various constituencies.
I urged them to consider the opportunities more strongly than any potential dangers. I say the same thing when offering ideas to corporate folks, and am continually struck by the old-media orientation that persists in both camps.
One of the most telling moments of the session came when we were chatting about whether the union websites should point to their opponents’ sites. To me, this is an obvious thing to do — to create educational portals that lead people to varying sides of a vital national debate over the future of public education. To the NEA folks, this was a lot less obvious, and in at least one man’s view a total nonstarter.
People who are advocating for one side of an issue make a mistake, I believe, when they don’t directly engage with their opponents. I’m not suggesting that the NEA put up prominent links to some of the nuttier organizations that consider public education an evil, not a vital national policy and resource. (Actually, it might be a good idea, given that most rational people would find the NEA utterly moderate by comparison).
But there’s lots to gain, and little to lose, in having the confidence of one’s own ideas to publicly debate the issues. At the very least, it forces people to make a better case for their own views, because the other side(s) will poke holes in flimsy arguments.
We all learn more from people who disagree with us than from people who agree. That argues for more transparency in communications, and more conversation.