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.
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.
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.
REAL Communication Consulting’s Desiray Viney ran a workshop entitled, ‘Must Haves’ for The New Age Executive at Pietermaritzburg Chamber of Business this week.
Attended by managers and directors of business, industry and NGOs, it produced much discussion around the qualities, attributes, skills and actions of an effective manager or leader in this volatile, uncertain and fast-paced world.
Participants were asked to work through a given list of twelve (from leading writers) and to select and rank their own Six ‘Must Haves’ for Executives list. It culminated in this list:
- Have the courage and skills needed to lead an organisation in today’s environment – To build the confidence of your people to achieve the impossible: constant improvement, growth against a backdrop of extraordinary challenges and growing stakeholder expectations.
- Know that all people in your organisation are important – make the effort to be in their presence. Don’t be too far removed from those who matter most – within boundaries. People at the “bottom” are more informed and empowered than ever. Respect them. While they need your wisdom and direction, you should draw on their input in your decision-making.
- Ask the difficult questions and have the tough conversations on all levels of the organisation. Know the facts crucial to making wise decisions, and make a conscious decision that knowing the truth, being respected and doing what is right is most important, more so than being liked or avoiding conflict.
- Communicate purposefully! Don’t allow an information vacuum. Give feedback. Muzzle your voice, listen to what others think, and schedule face-to-face interactions.
- Know that values drive people’s behaviour, strive to create a values driven organisation. Remain true to your own values, which should match those of your organisation. Enable people to strive for excellence, and celebrate when they achieve. Have fun too.
- Have a Plan, acknowledging the speed of socio-political and economic change and how these interact and impact your business. The rate of change is very fast and it’s becoming more difficult to predict these forces in society, but you still need to strive to understand them.
Taki Anastasis, Sunshine Bakery’s chief executive, distinguished between the leader and the manager roles and explained how sometimes there’s a gap in their understanding of certain issues and how they communicate their understanding of values and instructions etc.
This workshop raised a number of issues in Business. Clearly, every business is unique and requires leadership appropriate to its operational environment. It also highlighted the need for more research on how local company bosses communicate and implement their vision, values and strategies. Information collected would provide the appropriate data and findings to advance leadership in South Africa.
Come to the next REAL Communication Consulting Presentation and Workshop……..
‘MUST HAVES’ for The New Age Executive
There is a corporate revolution going on! Complexity and chaos theories abound, and things have to change. Businesses need to take note of this and listen to the thought leaders’ appeals to start adapting before it’s too late.
As with all change in thinking and behaviour, there comes a change in the language we use to reflect our new beliefs and actions. Here are some of the current buzzwords in business, branding and corporate communication:
Organizational change involves “deconstructing the silos” or structures of business past and means making the necessary strategic shifts to meet the demands of the changing times. One of the most fundamental changes is in the balance of power between consumer and producer.
Power to the people, not corporates – people know more, they have more freedom, more access and more voice. They expect more and want to be treated accordingly. It is people who build brands and reputations, not companies themselves.
Customer is now audience, so-called because people are watching, listening and responding now, not just buying. If this relationship is audience-centred and managed well, the audience becomes your ‘community’ and advocates on behalf of your brand and builds your business with you.
Sustainability and Social responsibility – these concepts focus on conscious decisions and long term commitments to social, environmental and economic issues that affect ALL people, not just short-term CSI campaigns that gain company kudos.
Truth, Vision Transparency, Collaboration? Unfamiliar terms in business? But soft skills are now core skills. Developing these soft skills within a stakeholder engagement strategy means working on BOTH an emotional and a rational level. After all, we are dealing with people who really want to know who we are and what we stand for. And as with all relationships, we need to unpack our true purpose and seek collaboration partners to share it with. So now there’s more use of ‘us’ than ‘them’.
Spin is replaced with real content – spin attracts and lures people into believing what you say, based on the company’s needs or agenda. Relevant content and story-telling engage people and build relationships based on audience needs. It’s an ‘outside-in’ approach that values content marketing, instead of just product marketing, and connecting, not just selling, using conversations about the business and its products and services to build meaningful, long term relationships with the audience.
Ethical branding not just advertising. Every brand has its unique story about what it stands for, not only about its products. And even the products are ethical now. The question of image versus façade highlights exhibiting an identity based on purpose not profit, and mindful actions, not pretty packaging. People trust businesses that believe in what they do and value integrity rather than those with nice appearances and words.
The authenticity revolution? Carla Enslin calls it an evolution – wherein organisations become…. “responsible for creating legacies based on sound social and economic values and authentic practice”.
You’re a Corporate Communication Strategist? But what do you do?
In order to explain what I do as a Communication Strategist, I need to first point to a few crucial factors that answer the question “Why do you do what you do?”
1. The world is a different place now. Business is only one part of a much greater system and, to sustain harmony in the world, organisations have to consider their place in and their responsibility to the bigger system. They have to act in a way that enhances the concept of interdependence between economic, financial, environmental, political and social factors. The business arena is ‘being watched’ by activists and thought leaders who are very ready and able to expose companies that cause disharmony; so much so that regulators and governments are responding to the pressure by imposing guidelines and conditions for how organisations should behave if they want to be seen as reputable and sustainable global players.
2. A business is not self-sufficient, it needs all kinds of support from those on whom it depends for its existence. Today, people and consumers know more and expect much more from business. They want to feel that a business identifies with them and their needs, not the other way around, and ‘speaks to’ them.
3. There are thousands of similar products and services out there, so why should people choose yours? What you offer, over-and-above your product, counts for a lot now, and it is involves more than a transactional relationship, it must be real engagement with your people – an emotional connection. Differentiation through communication not products.
A communication strategist understands these factors and reaches out to the business world to develop a deep appreciation of how these factors impact a business’s operations, growth and success. The strategist engages with organisations through communication learning from each other, getting to know the company’s situation and responding to stakeholder needs appropriately to achieve business goals.
Tony Manning, once said, “Organizations are managed conversations.” Every day you and your organization communicate. There is an ongoing flow of information, ideas, opinions and emotions between an organisation and its audience or stakeholders – but is this communication well-planned to achieve its goals? Is it sufficiently strategic?
For corporate conversations to be meaningful and have a positive impact on the company and its publics, they need to be planned, appropriate and relevant. And the messages that come from a company must reflect its personality and its purpose. Developing a strategic communication plan moves the company in the right direction, getting internal and external audiences to buy into its vision, plans and activities.
The plan begins with YOU. Your company’s purpose and vision is fundamental to your success. If you don’t know your company’s purpose or even your own, finding one is your first priority. You also need to identify those with whom you want to share, collaborate and build your company, and then harness the power of communication to get them to work with you to accomplish your business goals.
Many business owners, managers and leaders need a helping hand in developing a clear, consistent and effective communication strategy. That is where the communication strategist comes in: she begins their conversation by getting the ‘boss’ to reflect on the business, its purpose and goals, its strengths, weaknesses and challenges, asking questions like: what is the outcome you want? What stands in your way? How do you overcome these obstacles?
At REAL Communication Consulting, we use well-researched methods to develop a strategic communication plan. We divide the process into ten ‘conversations’ in which you:
1. Identify your purpose and develop a vision or mission statement
2. Develop a corporate identity or brand to reflect who you are
3. Identify specific communication goals that support your business goals
4. Communicate mindfully with your stakeholders to learn what is important to them
5. Find alignment between your perceptions and those of your stakeholders
6. Develop the key strategic messages to achieve your goals
7. Create and deliver communication that speaks to your key stakeholders
8. Clarify meaning to minimize misunderstanding, wasted time, and negative emotions
9. Plan feedback and measurement methods to ensure that communication achieves its goal
10. Develop reflective practices that help you develop your communication expertise.
A communication strategy helps you create a productive communication environment, generating trust and a culture of interactive, engaging and meaningful communication in your organization.
Once your business starts on this journey, it will see itself as part of a much larger system with greater goals for future sustainability, and it will begin considering ways to make not only its business, but the world, a better place.
I want to take up the issue raised by Wadim Schreiner in his article in The Media Magazine (December 2013: 4) entitled “Strategic comms is not an info dump”. He criticises public relations people who “dump” irrelevant information and “hot-air activity” on “as wide and undefined audience as possible” and then fail to do a valid and credible impact assessment (I assume that is because the research methodology will show a mere haze of media activity with no clear outcomes……).
If PR people do not know the following, then Schreiner is correct in saying, they “clearly have no idea about PR”; all communicators have learnt to execute any good PR plan and Communication strategy by:
1. Knowing the vision and future goals of the company
2. Identifying their key ‘publics’ , audiences or stakeholders, their needs and media preferences
3. Setting communication goals to align with the company goals
4. Developing messages and tactics that will ensure the goals are met
5. Creating tailor-made or specific messages and activities with the key audience in mind
6. Selecting the media that your audience uses and finds relevant, ensuring “a high hit rate”.
7. Timing distribution of messages to suit audience’s demographics, logistics and lifestyle. Go to them, they’ll tell what media to use.
8. Assessing feedback and impact, and evaluating audience perceptions thru’ good qualitative research, not only qualitative.
9. Keep communicating, adapting to your audience’s needs
The quality of a limited number of good connections far outweighs the quantity of a shot-gun approach to messages. It’s the connections that invite engagement, use and loyalty. Ultimately these are the things that matter, if you’re value- and goal-driven, rather than purely sales-driven.
Public relations and strategic communication (without an s) are about long-term relationship building, not only about sales and marketing. Reputation management should include reliable, valid and credible methods of measuring improvement in reputation. Another way of measuring reputation is: put your business on the market and add a value to your ‘reputation’ over and above the financial value and see whether others agree with your valuation or not!
Putting humanity back into Business
People create businesses, people are businesses, people drive businesses and people break businesses. So why overlook people and the human aspect of business?
This is the information society and we need to change our tactics!
People know more than we think. People have more power than we think. So why should they choose you? It’s time to change how we communicate and connect with our people, change our marketing, advertising and PR practices and change the entire ‘ecosystem’ of our company.
Accessibility to technology and media saturation has informed people and empowered them to engage in the public sphere. If they feel strongly enough about an issue they can garner huge support to oppose or protest against it. The growth of this ‘civic’ power has seen the rise of advocacy and social pressure groups and, their actions could cause losses for a company. Consider, for example, the role of anti-alcohol-abuse groups to bring about a ban on alcohol advertising in SA.
Big business is beginning to acknowledge its interdependence with other groups; it can’t act irresponsibly or unethically and not be accountable – what it does affects others and if it impacts negatively on them, there could be negative consequences. Hence, as companies are part of society, they should act like social and economic entities, become corporate citizens and change how they do things.
To survive as part of a greater system: A business or organization should focus mindfully on the following:
1. Know why it exists. Get to its ‘source’ and develop a goal and values-driven mission which must be turned into a written statement by which it conducts itself. If a mission statement is only about sales and profit, customers will go to someone who CARES. It has been proven that people support companies not only for their prices, they choose them because they understand them and their needs.
2. Do some research and planning to develop strategies, objectives and tactics to guide your communication (SWOT and PEST analysis will help to set you on the right path). There is nothing haphazard about PR and integrated marketing communication. Plan and strategize to achieve your goals.
3. Develop an identity and brand that is unique to you and your goals, is recognisable & memorable. Based on cognitive psychology, visuals like logos and slogans can attract people and create associations that are positive, based on their own good experiences which are often emotional not rational.
4. Identify its key target groups or stakeholders, not only customers, but community, media and environmental groups. Understand them and their needs and connect with them based on this knowledge. Ask what information they need about your product and your company. And use all platforms, traditional and online, to share relevant and focussed information with them.
5. Connect proactively with your stakeholders or targets. Engage with key target groups thru’ managing the flow of relevant information sharing (not giving) to build relationships and reputation. Don’t engage in ad hoc marketing communication activities. It’s an ongoing dialogue to influence the perceptions people have of your company which impacts your image and company reputation.
6. Keep communicating, creating ‘stories’ for exposure, identification and image. Position your company within the stories. Add to the narrative regularly so as to attract attention and convince them of what makes you different from others and tell what you have been doing to make their perceptions of you better, or their lives better.
7. Manage your reputation – thru’ messages, behaviour, employees, CSR et cetera. Use the media (editorial not adverts) to create news and publicity about you and what you do. If people perceive you in a good light, your image improves and your reputation grows stronger.
8. Keep all the pieces of the Marketing Mix together. Plan for integrated campaigns that ensure that you speak with ONE voice and your products and services uphold your promises. Your actions and communication must be in unison. Contradictions confuse people. Don’t try to pull the wool over their eyes by giving information for your own ends, rather share it collaboratively. No longer are companies seen as the owners of information – there are no ‘fundis’ – everybody is a learner and a teacher.
Today people can access whatever information they want about a product or service and they can verify the information gathered. They ‘google’ a product or service, get thousands of companies doing similar things. But what makes them choose one and not the other?
Do things differently and see the difference!