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Corporate communications challenges in the digital age

Fares-Ghneim on corporate communications in the digital age

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Corporate communications challenges in the digital age

By Fares Ghneim, managing director, insights and analysis, CARMA,

There is no doubt technology has radically transformed how we consume media and receive news. We have gone, in the span of a generation, from gathering around the TV to accessing limitless amounts of data and information via the Internet much faster than any traditional news organization. This ongoing technological development has a profound impact on how organizations communicate and engage with their audience. Gone are the days of having a trusted list of go-to journalists and one-way flow of communications. Today’s information landscape is multinodal where all stakeholders, irrespective of their relationship to an organization or to each other, have an opportunity to be heard and platforms to express their views.

This creates three main challenges that communications professionals must grapple with:

  The instant communication made possible by smartphones and constant connectivity.

  Everyone today is an author. While news channels 20 years ago would only broadcast professional grade footage, grainy cellphone videos have become commonplace in the rush to break news first while crisis events play themselves out in real-time on social media.

  Personalization of news. Media consumption has become much more tailored to individual interests. Linear TV is on its way out and people can watch what they want, when they want and where they want through a growing choice of services. People no longer need to read newspapers – over even visit newspaper websites – when they can get all the information from news aggregators and social media groups.

The ongoing issues faced by United Airlines in the US perfectly showcase how these three trends create an explosive combination that can rapidly lead to a global reputational crisis. From banning leggings to forcibly removing a passenger from a plane to dead bunnies in the cargo hold, it is unlikely that any of these incidents would have received the widespread and global attention that they did.

Likewise, Snapchat – ironically a beacon of the new media landscape which so recently completed its initial public offering (IPO) – is facing a global crisis with the #boycottSnapchat hashtag after its chief executive allegedly said he didn’t want the company to expand into “poor” countries such as India and Spain.

However, it is not just in times of crisis that organizations need to take the new information landscape into account. Rather, new technology must be integral to communications strategies with activities and campaigns built around new ways in which the world communicates.

The starting point for doing so remains the same as with any communications programme:

  • Thoroughly understanding the stakeholder universe
  • Performing an audit of how the different groups perceive an organization and what their stance toward it is
  • And then identifying where and how each group consumes information

The difference lies in the vast amount of data generated by new media. It is critical for organizations to constantly monitor and stay on top of this data to track performance and identify any issues that may arise.

Flexibility to quickly adapt strategies and change tactics is also a must because instant communication requires instant responses. Consider Emirates Airline’s rapid response to the crash landing at Dubai airport of flight EK521 in August 2016. The CARMA team was assisting the airline with real-time monitoring and alerts on public and media reaction to the crisis when negative posts began to emerge among social media users in India – the flight originated from the Indian city of Thiruvananthapuram – around the lack of a local hotline. Having that information allowed Emirates Airline to quickly respond and publish a telephone hotline for passengers’ relatives in India.

Corporate communications strategies will also need to be much more innovative to engage consumers on a personal level. Traditional corporate communications channels, such as press releases, will become less effective, as media consumption habits continue to change and people come together around topics they specifically care about.

Demographic segmentation will need to be supplemented by more detailed stakeholder analysis around issues and interests. Corporate functions that own the various pieces of data, such as PR, marketing, sales or customer services will increasingly have to work together to more accurately determine what works and what doesn’t and to identify trends.

Finally, credibility and transparency are two key issues for both public and private sector organizations. Wariness of big businesses and the establishment is on the rise as seen in the anti-globalization sentiment around the world or the increasingly populist nature of political discourse in countries such as the US, UK and France.

Successful communicators will be the ones who are engaged in the listening part of a conversation and can identify opportunities among the challenges that the modern media and technology provide.

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