Archive for February 9, 2011

Alliance Communication Strategy :: An Introduction

Posted in Alliance Leadership, Corporate Management on February 9, 2011 by Easley Thames

Communication is a basic and essential behavior in communities of all sizes. Despite this fact, there are glaring differences between the way leaders in Eve Online choose to communicate: both externally and within their own organizations.

I have been fascinated by the importance of communication in Eve for a long time. This is my first attempt to compose my thoughts on the topic of alliance leadership & communication.

Here, instead of focusing on specific examples, my emphasis is merely on setting forth a general introduction to the importance and practice of communications from the position of an alliance leader.

INTERNAL COMMUNICATION

There are many ways to communicate internally. Some alliances do a monthly or weekly meeting, while others simply post orders for the rank and file to comply with.

In general, I think alliances in Eve should avoid implementing any form of direct democracy, but members shouldn’t feel terrified to make suggestions either. The correct balance depends on the circumstances surrounding a particular discussion.

If things are going badly, members will look for guidance and reassurance. When things are going well, you don’t have to deliver fire-side chats quite so often.

Regardless of HOW leaders announce their plans to members, the medium is often just as important as the message. There is something markedly different about alliances that use graphics, videos and songs when conveying messages.

Having a creative side to your message can help you play up the humor in a simple brag-post (perhaps after a victory) and alliances with a strong overall “brand” (of which message and creative material is a part) tends to make your alliance more cohesive.

Compared to those who lazily type out a few lines of text, alliance leaders who can tap into a shared culture (even something shallow like a catch phrase or image theme) will get much greater results.

Further complicating the problem are the issues of “encoding” and “decoding” a message. Using images pulled at random are less effective than ones that are familiar to your audience. In other words, the most effective communication comes after taking steps to build a relationship with the membership.

I am going to reference (http://web.njit.edu/~lipuma/352comproc/comproc.htm) repeatedly to introduce some basic theory from marketing 101.

For reference, here is a brief introduction to business communication theory:

The communication process is made up of four key components. Those components include encoding, medium of transmission, decoding, and feedback.

[…]

In order to convey meaning, the sender must begin encoding, which means translating information into a message in the form of symbols that represent ideas or concepts. This process translates the ideas or concepts into the coded message that will be communicated. The symbols can take on numerous forms such as, languages, words, or gestures. These symbols are used to encode ideas into messages that others can understand.

This symbolism is evident in numerous, successful alliances. The Goons with their bees (and now Frogs?) or the NC with their rainbows and carebear dolls are examples of this. When a bee is stinging a clown to death, that’s an encoded message.

However, the extent to which members relate to (and understand) a message will depend on several factors.

After the appropriate channel or channels are selected, the message enters the decoding stage of the communication process. Decoding is conducted by the receiver.

[…]

The receiver is the individual or individuals to whom the message is directed. The extent to which this person comprehends the message will depend on a number of factors, which include the following: how much the individual or individuals know about the topic, their receptivity to the message, and the relationship and trust that exists between sender and receiver.

All interpretations by the receiver are influenced by their experiences, attitudes, knowledge, skills, perceptions, and culture. It is similar to the sender’s relationship with encoding.

When does a gimmick seem stupid or a diversion from important events? When you’ve lost faith in your leadership.

The message will not be effective, no matter how clear, if the relationship between a leader and his members has been degraded sufficiently.

This implies that, when attacking an alliance on a psychological level, it is wise to destroy the image of their leaders first.

If you insult pilots directly, they’ll stand up for themselves. If you give them someone else to blame for their defeats, human nature will lead to finger-pointing.

That is why strong internal communication is necessary to dispell misinformation and rumors as soon as possible.

Beyond playing defense, alliances should have strong messages that have a positive influence on membership pride and trust. Don’t let others define your organization from the outside!

Finally, a major part of internal communication – and the area that differs the most from communication with those outside your corp/alliance – feedback.

Feedback is the final link in the chain of the communication process. After receiving a message, the receiver responds in some way and signals that response to the sender.

[…]

“Even a lack of response, is in a sense, a form of response” (Bovee & Thill, 1992). Without feedback, the sender cannot confirm that the receiver has interpreted the message correctly.

Feedback is a key component in the communication process because it allows the sender to evaluate the effectiveness of the message. Feedback ultimately provides an opportunity for the sender to take corrective action to clarify a misunderstood message.

“Feedback plays an important role by indicating significant communication barriers: differences in background, different interpretations of words, and differing emotional reactions” (Bovee & Thill, 1992).

Effectively communicating requires a safe-cracker’s ear. You can’t simply churn out information in a one-way stream.

Even if you do not want to engender democratic practices (and I don’t feel Eve CEOs should to any significant extent) it is essential that a leader LISTENS.

Not only does turning a deaf ear to feedback prevent you from effectively adjusting your message, it is flat-out aggrivating at times!

Key members, valuable corporations, and even entire alliances have changed sides because someone simply failed to listen to their feedback.

EXTERNAL COMMUNICATION¬† — PART ONE: PROPAGANDA

As far as MMO’s go, Eve Online stands alone in terms of the use of propaganda by players. It really adds something to this gaming community that I haven’t seen anywhere else.

Sure, there are terabytes of WoW-related guild machinima and other videos / blogs / news sites. However, there really isn’t a need for players to attempt to influence each other in a way that can impact in-game PvP.

When I was a noob running missions in empire, videos like Stahlgren’s classic Goonswarm campaign records opened my eyes to the world of 0.0 warfare. I know their newbie drives added many fresh pilots every year, and this has clearly impacted the balance of power in 0.0 over the years.

Recently, Goonswarm Federation took back the title of largest alliance with a whooping 88 corps. Most members are concentrated in the massive GoonWaffe corporation, but “pubbie” corps are a large part of the alliance, and many of those pubbies were drawn in by the successful forms of communication that have become inextricably linked to Goon culture in Eve (and other MMOs).

Band of Brothers has had some good propaganda over the years, including the “Relentless” video of great notoriety a few years back. While newer players likely have no recollection of such events, the circumstances surrounding BoB’s alamo-like stand at that time were impressive to say the least, and stand in stark contrast with the current situation in Delve.

Unlike BoB, IT Alliance was simply not successful in creating propaganda, managing its image, or even releasing your run-of-the mill fleet pvp videos on a regular basis.

This was the first thing we put out as an alliance: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3AY7ysblqhM&feature=related. I will leave you to judge for yourself how effective this clip is compared to what Lofty and Stahlgren produced.

Since IT has imploded before a major challenge in Delve, I thought I’d share some -MVN- propaganda we had cooked up for the siege. A few examples were also included above, and in my previous post.

Enjoy the shameless pic dump:

By Janos Vaas

By Captain Sonic

By Cugel Iocounu

By Janos Vaas

As a quick note to Popsikle and other MVN Artists not featured in any posts: Most of your work would break Word Press rules against NSFW images. I don’t want to get anyone fired over pics of Avi and Mittani shopped onto gay porn, erotic as they may be.

EXTERNAL COMMUNICATION — PART TWO: HUMILITY, HUMANITY, AND… HUGS

Those who spew forth nothing but propaganda when communicating publicly become pariahs, or mere things of amusement at best. They lose the potential to be credible sources of information.

I think all of the best known CAOD-posting heroes might fall into this category. Sensible posters looking to discuss in-game events rarely bother with that forum anymore. It has become the default presumption that anything posted on CAOD is a troll until proven otherwise.

How can you persuade anyone if you are only seen as a dishonest or delusional? Remember that your credibility factors into how your audience will “decode” a message from you.

Public relations is a term that gets thrown around alot, usually by people who don’t understand it or do very much of it. If you really want to have a relationship with the public, you need to do more than lie (or exaggerate) when communicating with them.

If your entire “PR” department is limited to creating propaganda, you have already failed in a sense.

There is something to be said for “un-marketing” in Eve.

Being a relateable human being and engaging in communication not related to “serious business” can be one way to do this.

Truthfully, it shouldn’t be a purposeful or conscious decision to do this. You should simply allow yourself to be something other than a caricature of yourself when representing your alliance publicly.

Humility: In some ways, Test Alliance Please Ignore might embody this fairly closely. They are the 2007 Goons, before all the un-ironic smugness crept in.

Finally, “hugs.” I think that a little bit of respect for others is important. Expressing it at times can help you keep friends around for when those ties will really count.

Alliances with strong allies can rebound from a devastating event more easily for at least two reasons: (1) Others can step in for you directly and prevent your collapse, or (2) they can at least offer you a couch to crash on while you recover.

If you try to shoulder everything alone, your alliance will fall as soon as you’re unable to deal with even one major crisis.

FINAL THOUGHTS

Effective communication can take on many forms. While there is sound theory that can guide a leader along the way, it isn’t so important to follow a recipe that he or she should ignore inspiration or the desire for originality.

What makes certain alliances truly great is not their moon revenue, territory, or the size of their titan fleet on any given day. Those things can all be taken away by your members at any time if they decide to do so; not to mention your enemies.

What make an alliance great is uniqueness. As long as you offer some particular kind of identity and experience, there will always be people who simply “fit” there.

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