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Six inconvenient truths about today’s media world. And what it means for communicators.

A few weeks ago I spoke at the European Communications Summit 2016 in Brussels, on invitation by the European Association of Communication Directors (EACD). During the conference, a lot of talking was delivered about social acceptance and the “license to operate” for corporations, issued by the general public, whoever that exactly is. It’s a catchy phrase, but if you nail it down, it all comes back to the communicative behavior. My presentation was on “Crisis Communications in Times of Social Media” and blended in quite nicely, so I thought I’d share my two key charts with you. The first one was portraying the current landscape we are acting in.

Rieken_Martin_Panel_ECS16_01Rieken_Martin_Panel_ECS16_02Rieken_Martin_Panel_ECS16_04Six inconvenient truths about today’s (media) environment

  1. According to a recent study, 49% of executives have endured a crisis in their current position. In other words, hope is not a strategy anymore.
  2. Critical social media campaigns rank among the top 5 risks. Keeping your little dirty secrets under the carpet is not an option anymore. If it ever was.
  3. The speed of risk is now at 28 seconds. That’s the average time it takes for a disgruntled customer or a sacked employee to speak out loud. And served with the right hashtag, this can work as an accelerant.
  4. Facts have become neglectable for those who write up posts, tweets, comments; for communicators, the risk of not controlling the story is greater than ever.
  5. Today, stakeholders expect visual leadership from an organization. Pictures and videos are not the toppings on the cake, today they are the dough.
  6. It takes more than a „text-book approach“ to protect a reputation. Checking all the boxes of your highly overpaid crisis manual is not enough to maintain the “license”. You need to be honest, accurate, authentic, empathetic, professional, factual, fast and present on every channel.

Phew… not an easy challenge. The days at which releasing a press release was the centerpiece of a PR job are long gone. To lift the spirits, I’ve collected some thoughts on what it takes to deal with today’s social media pain in the neck, which I summarized on my second key chart:

What Social Media requires from Communicators

  • Accelerate the response. Companies usually work in the pace of hours, if not days. Now think of the 28-seconds-challenge! Corporate communicators will hardly ever beat the speed of social media, but if they stick to the “corporate speed”, the story is told, discussed and the verdict written before they start to chime in.
  • Grow and maintain social media competence within the company. Despite the undisputed importance of social media, I observe a lack of PR professionals who are social media savvy enough to take up the specific challenges of Twitter & Co. It appears as if social media still sits in the domain of marketing.
  • Build reputation and credibility in advance. When Air Asia CEO Tony Fernandes started tweeting straight from his heart immediately after the crash of flight QZ8501 in December 2014, it was well received not only because his tweets were authentic and straight from the heart, but also because he already had built a foundation of some 500,000 followers. Reputation in social media follows the same principles as in media relations. If you don’t have the relations in advance of a crisis, you don’t have them in a crisis.
  • No copy&paste communication. Social media is different. While it is tempting to copy and paste the headlines from your press releases, especially if in a rush, successful social media relations are based on a deep understanding of what users in social media are looking for.
  • Listen, understand, then talk. The beauty of social media is that it may save you a lot of expensive opinion research. Social media allows you to understand where the public opinion is leaning towards, and if there is a sudden shift of perception about what your company is doing. The downside: You have to listen, read, understand.
  • Take social media as an opportunity. It’s of utmost importance to change your mind here. Social media is not a threat. It’s a wonderful opportunity to start a real conversation with your audiences, in real-time and without a mediator. Of course, it is a challenge to handle the numberless channels and hundreds of different conversations, but the only threat Social Media comes with has its roots in ignoring the opportunity.
  • Accept the loss of control. Yes, Social Media is chaotic, confusing, disorganized. That is not always well-received, especially in the corporate world, where business leaders spend most of their time to manage their environment. But then again, if you start embracing the nature of social media, you’re on your way to open up completely new territories for your communication work.

So here’s your to-do list for the next weeks and months, in case you think there’s work to do on your end. I summarized my speech in one chart, which was shared via a nice tweet of one of the listeners:

What are your thoughts on this? Use the comment function and share your thoughts!

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