The Web offers one of the most significant opportunities to communicators in modern history, but requires a total redefinition of what communications is.Traditional communications is one-way, passive and past-tense. It is all about telling people what you have done, what you are doing, or what you are about to do. There is a core belief among certain traditional communicators that people need to be "educated".
Traditional communications is not all that different from traditional journalism. There is a saying in traditional journalism: "The reader is not as stupid as you think they are. They're more stupid."
There might have been some truth in such a view forty years ago, but we are now in a different age. It is not the digital age. It is not the information age. It is the informed age. The very success of the Web is based on a questioning society. We are a society that searches because we want to find out.
The Web is where we go to know, to be informed. Those societies that want to control what people know, who fear independent thought and action, will always fear the Web. Those societies who think it is exclusively the job of the elite to inform the masses will always fear the Web.
But the people love the Web. They love the Web because they can find out for themselves, from people like them. They love the Web because the Web is many messages, and the Web gives people the chance to compare, rate, question, talk back, and-most importantly-act.
The essence of the Web is action. We go to the Web because we have a task; there is something we need to do; there is a problem we need to solve. What helps us do? What helps us act? Written words. The oxygen of the Web is written words. There is no life on the Web without written words.
Written words are the tools of the communicator. But these written words have a very different function on the Web. I analyze a lot of government websites. Unfortunately, too many overflow with vanity, pomposity and waffle. Some of them are little more than campaign websites full of puff pictures of preening peacock politicians.
Many web teams still struggle to convince their PR and communications colleagues that on the Web you communicate by doing. A friend of mine was worried about his wife, who had just given birth. She was not well and he believed that the doctor has misdiagnosed her.
He went to the Web, and on his journey to find out, ended up on some government websites, where he was faced with puff PR about how much the government was investing, and what the Minister for Health had for breakfast. He didn't want to know how much was being invested. He wanted help; he wanted to read content that could help him find out what exactly was wrong with his wife.
He found answers, and he was right-she had been misdiagnosed. This is the power and potential of the Web, and this is the challenge and opportunity for the communicator. Show by doing. Inform with active verbs. Make your words work for your customers.
About the Author
Gerry McGovern, a content management author and consultant
, has spoken, written and consulted extensively on writing for the web and web content management issues since 1994.