In its heyday in the 1960s, NASA invested in two key areas of the space program: the technology and the people. The premise of this spending decision was that NASA couldn’t get to the moon without the tools to get there (and of course, the people who knew how to use those tools) and the excitement and support of the public. The latter led to astronauts being sent to charm school. They learned how to dress, be social and communicate with the public. The astronauts understood NASA’s operating goals so they could communicate them in their own words, with their own passion and the values of the organization. Public relations junkets became the norm for the months and years following each mission during which the astronauts were expected to speak on behalf of the organization. Despite its operational and public-relations problems, NASA has been around and intact for forty-nine years.

When I started my career in the mid-1990s, management sold the staff on our importance by sending us to technology and customer service ‘boot camps’ — five day courses compressed into two because we were ‘the elite’ and being away from our desks cost money. We were expected to memorize and recite, verbatim, the mission statement of the company. Whether or not we believed in the mission statement and whether or not it was anything more than a string of platitudes was inconsequential so long as we could regurgitate it to anyone that asked about the company. If the person with whom we were speaking started to ask additional questions about the company, we were expected to defer up the chain of command and if anyone from the press approached us, even reciting the mission statement was considered a no-no. That company lasted a little more than two years before being bought for a song, converted into a few business units each of which was sold off and ultimately dissolved less than five years after the original company had started.

I continue to see examples of the corporate communications trends of the 1990s in the new millennium.

As the world of technology and communication has evolved, it would seem that the world of management and marketing has generally devolved. Companies are investing heavily to develop and deliver the same old top-down message to a more critical public using newer and sexier technology. They should be investing in all of their people — sending them to Web 2.0 charm school for customer service courses, public speaking workshops and writing classes.

Web 2.0 is a culture, not a technology. If you embrace the culture throughout your organization, your people and technology will help you build a strong community of real-life and online relationships central to your brand.