Friday, May 17, 2013

Creativity for Space and space for Creativity

As you surely will have seen, Commander Chris Hadfield is back on Earth.

And if you don't know what on earth (ah ah, have not done it on purpose, I swear!) I am talking about, it means that you have obviously missed a great opportunity to see social and traditional media communications - at its best - in action! (Ok, insulting your readers may not be the best way to increase readership, but you know me!)

Anyway, Commander Chris Hadfield is a Canadian (as a Canadian friend proudly made me notice) astronaut. He has spent the last 5 months on the International Space Station. From up there (and with the help of teams of professionals back on Earth), he has been 'reporting' using tweets, videos and photos.

The videos covered quite trivial matters: very trivial actually, like how to brush your teeth, but being in space made it very entertaining indeed. They were done professionally, with humour but always informative.

Here are a some of the most fun ones:

I should probably stop here, but I can't! Here is a couple more, food related:

Some of the photos he took of the Earth were amazing. But he also took interesting or funny pictures inside the station.

And just before coming back he sang David Bowie's 'Space Oddity'.

It went viral. How cool is that? (And even if he pre-recorded it on Earth and lip-synced it in space, as it is being pointed out, so what?)

So in these five months, Commander Hadfield has become a celebrity and space travel has become fascinating once again: he has now nearly a million followers on Twitter and his videos got thousands and thousands of views. NASA and the Canadian Space Agency could not have had a better promoter. And they - as my Canadian friend Bruce called them 'the naturally conservative people that run these things (they fear failure more than the astronauts do)'  - could not have done a better job allowing this to happen and helping to make it a success.

Granting your employees the space (oops! I did it again!) to express themselves in their own way is  often seen as too risky but in fact, as this brilliant example shows, in most cases it's a great way to get effective communication out. Of course, you can never be sure and you might have to accept the fact that things might go wrong sometimes, but it is definitely more human and hence successful than a restrictive approach to external and internal communications through social media.

Unfortunately big companies and organisation are very often risk-averse when it comes to communications and prefer to 'limit' the expressions of creativity to a few authorised people they can trust. Let me give you an example. The EU! A friend working for the European Commission sent me the paragraph that summarises the rules when it comes to communicating on the Commission's behalf:

"As a general rule, only Commissioners, Spokespersons, Heads of Representations and Press Officers in Representations are entitled to speak on behalf of the European Commission and to relay political messages. In response to the growing interest in social media, ‘mandated staff’ in every DG, working in close cooperation with the Spokespersons, have now been added to this."

In response to the growing interest in social media? Mandated staff? Oh dear. Naturally EU employees can have their personal Twitter and Facebook account but they need to make it clear they speak on a personal capacity. I understand you would want to be careful on specific stories and controversial subjects but in those cases it's quite likely that you will be - and have been actually - criticised no matter what you decide to say and who you decide to allow to say it! 

Imagine for a minute the Canadian Space Agency applying a similar rule:  a twelve o'clock press conference on Earth, in a boring room, with the official CSA spokesperson outlining what Commander Hadfield is doing inside the ISS and how! And that's it. And now tell me that you are not delighted that they have opted for a more individual and less institutional communication strategy!  

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