Edgeworks Concept: How Social Media impacts Company Communications (Expanding upon Brian Oberkirch’s theory)

[Attribution: The term Edgeworks was first created by Social Media thought and practice leader Brian Oberkirch, he even has a popular podcast series with this title. With his permission, I’m expanding upon his ideas (adding to the conversation). I look forward to you expanding, and eventually practicing this concept.


The communication channels are rapidly changing for corporations. New, easy-to-use web tools are empowering anyone and everyone to communicate. This disruption causes some significant changes in how companies will communicate with their employees and the market. How companies communicate moves from a centralized team to many individuals at the ‘edge’ of a corporation.

Brian has coined the term Edgeworks, and in a recent post gives meaning to the differences between branding and edgeworks:

“For sometime now, I’ve used the term edgework to point to the new marketing practicies necessitated by a hackable, hyperconnected world…”

“…I think edgework involves moving user input up the value chain and embedding it more directly into the product development process.”

-Brian Oberkrich, April 2007

Past: One-Way, Unauthentic Broadcasts from Corporate Communications
Formerly (and currently for some companies) traditional communication from corporations was broadcast style from a combination of Corporate Communications with aid from the PR Agency. These positive and timed announcements reflect product or other introductions to the marketplace.

Edgeworks | The Past: One-Way, Unauthentic Broadcasts from Corporate Communications

Future: Two-Way Authentic Conversations between all groups
The internet has given birth to new tools, social media tools to be exact, that let anyone communicate with little technical skills and low cost. Blogs, Forums, Wikis, IM, Social Networks, Podcasts, and Videos have empowered a new generation of media creators.

Often these media creators connect with people with similar interests. As denoted in my recent presentation, research indicates that trust is highest when people connect with others “like me”.

Edgeworks | Future: Two-Way Authentic Conversations between all groups

Specific Changes

Communications at the edges

In addition to corporate communications, employees (sometimes without formal media training) are communicating with prospects, customers, and even competitors on the ‘edges’ of the company.

At the edges of the company, product managers, support teams, sales, and others will use social media tools to communicate with the outside world. Some will blessed by corporate communications to use these tools, but a majority of them will not. These ‘organic’ communicators will use the free tools at their disposal.

Some of these conversations will be void of marketing hyperbole, they will closer resemble conversations at the dinner table, or a coffee shop. These authentic conversations will discuss both good and bad topics, and will include personal opinion and experience. This will build trust for both parties.

It’s an “and” not an “or”

Too many social media experts are quick to draw conclusions that the Press release is dead, or that corporate communications will go away. For the most part, that’s not true, there is just an additional toolset that they communications teams will have to learn how to work with.

What will they do? Build Better products
Brian’s quote above suggests that by moving customers directly into the product process, that companies and customers can better define requirements, communicate better, and work as a single unit. Will future product development processes encourage customers outside of the focus group? Of course, it will be difficult to stop anyways.

This is not going away

The next generation of workers is highly networked, they’ve connected in school, college, and with their friends, and will bring these networks to the workplace.

Case Studies:

Recently Dell has embraced these changes by launching IdeaStorm, a website that lets customers vote for future features and products. I’m recording their story from Hell to Swell.

Sun’s CEO Jonathan Schwartz says that “Firewalls are an Anachronism, they’re going to die“, and suggests that the future product teams and customers will closely work together to build products of the future.

My experience as the Manager of Online Communities at my last company is chronciles in this interview by Shel Israel, author of Naked Conversations and upcoming Global Neighborhouds.

Things you can do:

Embrace the changes that are coming, work with the organic teams, start and internal dialogue consider deploying the Air Traffic Tower
Read about Social Media Strategies for Corporations in 2007, or watch the video and see slides.

Does your conference or organization need a kick start? Brian and I are both speakers and consultants in Social Media, feel free to contact us to share, separately, or even together. My email is listed on the right column of my blog, and Brian can be reached from his blog.