Communicators, marketers and advertisers are continually being told to create ‘stories’ that resonate with their target market. They are also urged to engage with social issues and to tackle activist projects of resistance, to develop as ethical brands, to stand out from the crowd.
Most brands are quite terrified of negative stakeholder perceptions, especially when it comes to expressing controversial views. So they tread the safe path and remain the same.
Not Nike. In keeping with its Just Do it slogan and its fearless philosophy of facing sporting challenges, Nike launched its 30th Campaign by featuring brave sports celebrities in its ads.
The most recent Nike ad features the face of Colin Kaepernick, the NFL super star-turned-activist against racism and police violence, with the text “Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing something.” And boy, did it cause outrage amongst critics and conservatives, #justburnit became their slogan, urging people not to support Nike, not to buy Nike sport products, to even burn the ones they had.
Just in case you missed the background story: In the USA it is common practice for players in The National Football League to stand and sing the national anthem before an important match. However, following the spate of police violence against black youths and other racial incidents in 2016, some of the NFL players decided to mark their protest by not standing with fists on hearts, but rather to bend-a-knee during the anthem. The purpose was to highlight the racial injustice in the country. President Trump weighed in, calling the players disrespectful and unpatriotic, even suggesting punishment and non-payment of player-activists.
Yes, perhaps Nike shares did drop a little initially, due to the raging debates, but within two weeks they were up again and Nike recorded 31% increase in online sales.
So Nike’s corporate activism – mixing politics with sport – has been vindicated, showing that taking a stand or doing good is good for business. A host of recent surveys and reports proves Nike’s controversial move makes total business sense. Marketing lecturer, Williams says, “Nike wants to be on the right side of history and the right side of its core consumers.” And these happen to be mainly sport enthusiasts and millennials.
A 2017 Edelman poll found “The majority of Millennials (60 percent) are belief-driven buyers,” – they want their brands to take a stand on social issues.
So companies – Just do it! Take a stand.
Global movements affecting company Reputation
Some thoughts on responsible leadership, public activism and reputation
Right now trust in mainstream media, government, business and NGOs is lower than it’s ever been. Organisations have to work extra hard at building trust, loyalty and reputation, and to avoid crises that may cause harm to their operations and reputations.
Management and Leadership changes
In the past, management would decide on its company culture, inform stakeholders and the public what it stands for and how it does its business, sometimes explicitly stated in a company’s vision and mission. Once done, the company would brand itself in terms of its culture and its products. And we, the public, would believe everything it said.
However, over time the public would rate a business on the extent to which its products and actions matched its goals. Too often public perceptions and ratings were ignored, leading to loss of reputational capital, while managers and leaders focused only on the other ‘capital’ – profitability. Today, because of the glaring evidence of crises resulting from public reaction to irresponsible leadership, organizations are being forced to act more ethically.
The public expects organisations (including government) to keep their promises. Individuals want to trust a business they deal with. Their perceptions of and attitudes towards a company must be positive before they can trust it. And business certainly needs loyal customers and stakeholders. No company can afford to ignore the reactions to their behaviours. They do so at their own peril. Managers and leaders must listen and adapt.
Social Media and Advocacy
Meanwhile globally, the rise of social media, and the grassroots engagement it affords, has contributed to the growth of people power. Companies are constantly being watched and evaluated by the man in the street who happily shares his perceptions, based on what he sees and hears in the media. These perceptions gain momentum and can lead to mass action, causing negative outcomes for the businesses concerned. There are so many examples of this, but H&M’s recent crisis over an alleged ‘racist’ advert is one. With the growth of public and employee word-of-mouth marketing, research has shown that advocacy statements by activists and ‘influencers’ on social media are far more powerful in terms of engagement and belief than content that comes directly from the brand or company.
Ethical branding is crucial as companies become aware of the importance of good corporate citizenship, responsible behaviour and transparency in all their dealings with internal and external stakeholders. More than ever before, building public trust is crucial to any business operation and its survival. Managers and leaders must ensure that the company performs well economically, ethically, legally, environmentally and socially, that is, as a corporate citizen.
The King Report, now in its 4th form, is regarded as the ‘go-to guide’ on corporate governance for large companies. Government and SMMEs too would definitely gain by consulting the document. Basically, it highlights key aspects of creating a corporate environment for the 21st century and beyond where corporate citizenship and responsible leadership are key. Only by focusing on its role in society and behaving with transparency can an organization ensure its reputation and sustainability.
KPMG’s name and reputation remains in crisis and in the headlines. We just can’t stop talking about it. So let’s start learning from it. Having been involved in practising, lecturing and consulting in Corporate Communication, I can’t resist throwing out some of my own thoughts on the matter.
Loss of ethics loss of Reputation
In terms of corporate citizenship, ethical branding, responsible leadership, accountability and reputation, here are my offerings:
- For many years now, the King Report has been the go-to document for guidelines on corporate governance, corporate citizenship and responsibility to one’s stakeholders, community, politico-economic and natural environment. Large corporate are obliged to take note and commit to upholding the principles and values contained in the King Report which is constantly being revised to ensure it remains valid, relevant and current.
- Transformational leadership. It’s simple: know what it means. Know the code of conduct. Know how to motivate and inspire. Know the law but act ethically. Know your people and their feelings. Know the truth. Spread the truth.
- Reputation management: Every company –small and large – must plan and manage its identity, its values and its behavior in order to manage outcomes and others’ perceptions of it. Only through critical strategic discussions with all stakeholders, including the media, can a company develop a strong positive reputation.
- Crisis management – Plan, prepare, strategise for negative disruptive events that impact your operations and your reputation. Without a crisis plan you’re doomed. Public sharing is vital for a reputable organization to gain support. Don’t apologise unless you mean it and are prepared to pay the price.
- Corporate culture: Vision, Ethos, Values, Beliefs and Behaviour. Accountability means to take responsibility for one’s decisions and actions and be adaptable to changes in the environment and courageous to stand one’s ground in the midst of potential threats, temptations and challenges. Be purpose- not greed-driven.
Finally, companies should strategise for sustainability. Their strategies must translate into best practice – setting standards and acting as examples for conducting ethical business, based on principles and values of trust, integrity, professionalism, not greed, status and power.
What is ‘fake news’? And how does it affect us?
Have you noticed how this ‘catch-all’ confusing media term is being used every day? Donald Trump uses it to describe any news he doesn’t like, doesn’t agree with, or that doesn’t come from his own tweets. And although we associate the term with Trump, stories involving ‘fake news’ have been around for a while. But what does it mean in our hi-tech social media world and how does it affect our own interpretation of news and how we respond to it?
Is it propaganda, deception, misrepresentation or just plain you-know-what?
All of the above. One definition of fake news, or hoax news, is “false information or propaganda published under the guise of being authentic news. Fake news websites and channels push their fake news content in an attempt to mislead consumers of the content and spread misinformation via social networks and word-of-mouth” (www.webopedia.com/TERM/F/fake–news.html).
Wikipedia defines it as news which is “completely made up and designed to deceive readers to maximize traffic and profit. News satire uses exaggeration and introduces non-factual elements, but is intended to amuse or make a point, not deceive. Propaganda can also be fake news” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fake_news .
In The Guardian, Elle Hunt explores ‘fake news’: “Until recently, there was news and “not news” (referring to human interest stories or features). Now there is ‘fake news’, said to be behind the election of Donald Trump as US president. The US election result was influenced by a widespread belief in fake news among Trump supporters. 73% of Trump voters thought the billionaire financier George Soros paid protesters to disrupt the Republican candidate’s rallies – a fake news report later repeated by the president-elect himself.”
Other fake news includes a report that Democratic senators wanted to impose sharia law in Florida, and a false report that Trump supporters chanting “we hate Muslims, we hate blacks, we want our great country back” at a rally was reported as true on election night.
Fake news in SA
According to Verlie Oosthuizen, a partner at Shepstone and Wylie’s social media law department, “Fake news – which previously targeted celebrities – has shifted to politics; Donald Trump’s election shows the impact of this growing trend on politics”.
Xolani Dube, from the Xubera Institute for Research and Development, believes what is now termed fake news has been around since the inception of power. “Pre-information age, fake news was called propaganda and preserved in print media and radio. It existed by other names before that. For anything to sustain itself it needs to rebrand, so it is appearing now as fake news, electioneering sabotage.”
Sabotage had allegedly been the aim of the work of an ANC team called the “War Room” in the run up to the local government elections. Allegations that its goal was to create posters depicting opposition political parties negatively, were contained in a court application by Sihle Bolani. The public relations strategist fingered Shaka Sisulu, Walter Sisulu’s grandson, as her recruiter, as did Thami Mthimkhulu, a Durban man who claimed – on Twitter – that he had been sent slanderous posters of EFF and DA leaders to share and “push” on social media.
The proliferation of fake news targeting political parties and politicians is “new-age propaganda” that is not likely to stop and political leaders have to brace themselves for the online onslaught. This is according to a social media lawyer and a researcher, who were responding to allegations that the ANC spent R50 million to spread fake news and pay social media “influencers” to discredit the political opposition. Many commentators agree that as the ANC succession debate heats up, South Africa could expect even more fake news. So be aware….
Should we be worried about fake news?
Social media expert, Arthur Goldstuck, believes fake news completely destroys public discourse and undermines democratic values: “Anyone who participates in this in order to advance their objectives should realise the long-term damage. It ultimately renders everything they put out untrustworthy.” He believes there should be consequences but “until someone is caught and prosecuted, it will go on”.
Hunt says, “These stories – compelling to click on, and with a “truthiness” quality to them – soar on the social web, where links are given the same weighting regardless of source, and particularly on Facebook where there is a potential audience of 1.8bn.”
Analysis by BuzzFeed found that fake news stories drew more shares and engagement during the final three months of the US election campaign than reports from, for example, the New York Times, the Washington Post and CNN. The power of this ‘fake news’ is clear.
So, how do you tell what is fake news?
Surely it’s easy to tell fake news from real news Actually, no. A recent study carried out by Stanford’s Graduate School of Education assessed more than 7,800 student responses on their ability to assess information sources. Researchers were “shocked” by students’ “stunning and dismaying consistency” to evaluate information at even as basic a level as distinguishing advertisements from articles (from The Guardian article by Elle Hunt).
Soon, Facebook will flag stories of questionable legitimacy with an alert that says “Disputed by 3rd party fact-checkers”. Melissa Zimdars, a professor at Merrimack College in Massachusetts, compiled this list of websites that either purposely publish false information or are otherwise entirely unreliable, broken down by category.
The German chancellor Angela Merkel, pressured Facebook to introduce a fact check button to try to deal with fake news. This is already effective in the US as well and whether Facebook is going to mobilise this across the globe remains to be seen.
“I don’t believe there is a political will in South Africa to put up the same kind of pressure,” said Oosthuizen. “Trying to prosecute the creators of fake news sites would be extremely difficult. You’d end up chasing leads in different jurisdictions.”
And what can we do to stop its spread?
So we’ve deduced that fake news is intentionally created and can discredit stories and the people in them and lead us to believe that something is true when it’s not. So we need to be smarter at recognising and combating news that is fabricated.
“Share responsibly”, says Hunt, “you are an influencer within your own social network: put in the legwork, and only post or share stories you know to be true, from sources you know to be responsible. You can help shape the media you want, too. Withhold “hate-clicking” on stories you know are designed to make you angry”.
Pay for journalism and news that have real value.
As we draw near to Youth Day on 16 June and remember the student riots, we need to remind ourselves what they were putting their lives on the line for.
We know what drove those students in 1976 to protest. The evidence is clear – Bantu education was appalling, especially when compared to that of whites. Students had to use a foreign language in their studies. Learning and teaching facilities were poor, conditions in the townships were not conducive to learning and teaching. Students were fighting for education and a better life.
While we acknowledge the changes that have taken place politically, economically, technologically and socially since then, we need to start real conversations about real and relevant education. What those students were fighting for may not be what we see and experience today. What type of education do South Africans want? What does the #feesmustfall Campaign envision for education today?
For the past 20 years we’ve been trying to ‘improve education’ in South Africa. Billions of rands have been spent. Many changes, many methods, many structures, many experts have been used, and yet every year we question our education system and make promises and plans to improve it – to no avail. We have SETAs and SAQA setting the standards, we have government promising to produce thousands of artisans annually, we have private ‘educational’ companies and institutions making millions from people desperate to get certificates, we have ‘free’ access to education, and yet we have not managed to educate the youth of this country nor prepare them for the world of work that is constantly changing. Not to mention the number of ‘degreed’ individuals without work – thrown into the world of ‘worklessness’. Clearly there’s a problem.
So it’s time we take note of Thomas A. Edison’s words:
I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.
Let’s learn from our mistakes and proceed with a strategic plan toward a more favourable outcome?
We must start asking meaningful questions about education if we are to truly address the problems that the very concept and its interpretation cause. Starting with:
What is education? What is its purpose? What is it used for? Do people really want to be educated? What does it mean to be educated? Is education still relevant in a global information society where anyone can access any information that they find useful? And jobs are evolving at such a rate the educators don’t even know they exist, so how can they prepare students?
Some see education merely as a piece of paper for a job-seeker; others see it as a process of developing one’s thinking and leadership qualities; yet others see it as needless rote learning of useless information only to regurgitate it in exams. Nevertheless, the honest responses to authentic probing into education would at least give us as a society a fair idea of what we’re dealing with before we set off on yet another detour. Let’s put our heads together and start that conversation today.
There needs to be another education revolution –this time in our thinking – for successful solutions to the problem of education in this country.
5 Steps to Building Relationships with Social Media
Taken from and Thanks to: Jack Kosakowski – @jackkosakowski1 – “a passionate practitioner and proselytizer in the social selling space” (Act-On).
Stay alert to opportunities. You could make a connection with anyone you meet,
interact with, or run into at a grocery store (you get the picture). Many people you
meet will be potential connections or advocates; if you connect with authenticity
and transparency, on a personal level, you’ll begin to develop a relationship that
may pay off later.
Don’t sell at this stage, just connect and build a network.
Prospecting is a continual process. You meet people and evaluatate whether there
is mutual benefit to building a relationship; if there is, you make a connection. You
should add new people to your prospect funnel continually; just as with the sales
funnel, some will drop out as time passes.
Prioritize vigilantly, and focus on the most promising prospects.
This step is the most important part of social selling. Monitor your social feeds
throughout the day as you’re running meetings, building relationships, and closing
deals. As companies and prospects in your social funnel are communicating, you
will be listening and soaking it all in. This will help you learn what’s important to them.
Now that you have the right prospects and you’ve been listening, you can begin
to engage. Start commenting and adding value to prospects’ social media posts
across various channels. Most companies and professionals don’t get many of these
engagements, so they will appreciate the added ‘bump’ your interaction provides,
as it reaffirms their own presence on these platforms. (Don’t we all love getting a
few extra likes and comments?) Be genuine as you engage and give your honest
feedback. Insincere flattery will cost you the potential for honest conversation
Engagement on social media is a process, and it needs to be done across multiple
channels. As your trust with the prospect grows, your authority in your space will
become stronger. This is a place to separate yourself from the competition.
As you engage, you build credibility.
5. Add Value
Start contributing to the relationship by educating people who are looking for
answers. You’ve figured out what’s important to them and you’ve started to
get noticed. Now you begin demonstrating the value that you can add to the
relationship. Start sharing your content and be strategic about it. If you’ve done
your due diligence in the listening phase, then it won’t be that hard to post content
that you know they will find valuable.
But take care to get it right. You need to make sure that you are adding value – and
first impressions are everything. Your prospect won’t let you waste their time twice.
Deliver the right content, in the right place, and at the right time you’ll get lost in the
crowd – or written off as irrelevant.
Be smart, be persistent, stay engaged, and always add value.
Ethical branding and sustainability trends for 2015 and beyond
There is so much talk of sustainability, ethical branding and how to strategise a company’s CSR programmes and efforts, to make ‘being good part of good business.’
I have found two interesting items on this topic. The first, a delightful, creative and easy-to-understand ‘story’ about becoming a ‘conscious industry.’ I love it. But my question is, who sees it, who is learning from it and who is doing it? This is a resource that should be circulated to every single business in this country. To experience it, visit: www.ogilvyearth.co.za
The other, EthicalCorp’s report on sustainability trends for 2015.
Ethical Corporation is hosting its 14th Annual Responsible Business Summit in May this year at which over 300 executives from across the globe will discuss the future of responsible business.
As a precursor to this prestigious event, Ethicalcorp conducted a survey to assess the current issues and trends in sustainability. What emerged from the 472 responses were the 3 top international priorities in 2015:
1. Embedding CSR
2. Creating a Sustainable Culture
3. Sustainable innovation
30% of respondents stated that sustainable innovation was the most exciting opportunity for their company in the next five years.
Nearly 25% stated that their companies were driven by sustainability. The hope is that this would increase as sustainability becomes more embedded in R&D and permeates through the organisation.
I say, there’s too much talk and not enough will for action!
It’s especially good in that I can revisit theoretical work whilst applying what I do in business. I’d like to think I’m a valuable resource for students. But they’re so caught up in their cellphones, they don’t seem to need anything else! It forces me to pull out the stops to engage students in communication ‘talk’.
Can be very rewarding and satisfying.