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We released our Many Voices, One Message: Shaping Valuable Conversations in Fragmenting Channels report recently, which looks at the current shape of online communications around the world.
The report was produced in association with global consultancy Bite Communications, and is based on interviews with senior communications executives in Europe, Asia and the US.
I've been talking to Paul Mottram, Bite's Executive Vice President Asia Pacific, about the report's findings...
Why was this report needed?
Like many others, we have been overwhelmed by the sheer volume of ‘thought leadership’ about the changes to the communications landscape.
However, we’ve been underwhelmed by the depth of research that has been conducted. In particular, the lack of a global view. The impetus behind this report was to get a view that was as close to real time as possible.
The report looks at the communications landscape in Asia, Europe and the US, are there many differences between these regions?
The research shows that there are more similarities than differences, in terms of the impact of the new communications landscape on clients and agencies.
Almost everywhere, there is a recognition of the need to break down silos between the various communications departments, PR, marketing etc.
The research does suggest a slight lag in the Asia-Pacific area in responding to changes, while different industries have had different experiences.
What are the barriers to breaking down these silos?
There can be many barriers, both internal and external, and much of this comes from the fact that a lot of this stuff is so new.
Social media has changed the landscape, but services like Facebook are just a couple of years old, and the significance of these changes can take time to be acknowledged by organisations.
The recognition that these social sites and tools are becoming mainstream channels is a new one, while new technology is required to deal with and work within these channels.
This rapid change has made it difficult for many marketers to know how to use these tools. Whereas offline tools and techniques have been developed and learned over time, the online social landscape is still relatively new.
It is time for organisations to get to grips with this though. While ‘traditional’ web marketing works on similar principles to many offline techniques, though speeded up, the social web has turned this on its head.
The social web calls for companies to build relationships with customers. This is an attractive proposition, but it can be difficult to put in place.
According to the report, the greatest need expressed by communications executives is for better capability in creating content. How can companies achieve this?
The companies that are doing this well have broken down some of the silos and managed to combine the communications resources they have available.
Producing great content for the web requires the creative skills of marketing teams, but also the technical skills of online teams, while PR skills are required to help promote this content.
A combination of all of these skills, and the communication and co-operation between departments is required. More often that not, when you see success stories of firms, it is this combination of skills behind it.
However, some examples that are seen as success stories are not. For example, a brand may have a big viral success, and the teams responsible should be congratulated for this, but this isn’t a sustainable model of communication.
The report talks about storytelling, and that firms can begin telling stories but can’t finish them. How can they adapt to this challenge?
One way is to recognise the value of their own organisations, and empowering staff to engage with audiences directly.
People require some structure to make them evangelists for the brand, but they need to be empowered, as well as having a respect for the customer and their time.
It’s about finding out what customers are involved in and then creating content ideas and offers around this.
It’s a matter of listening and understanding communities that are relevant to a brand by creating content that appeals, and using this as a basis for engagement.
Many voices – one message
Messaging comes from the essence of the brand, and its many voices can help customers to arrive at common conclusions about the company.
The more channels there are, the more opportunities brands have to get their message across. Online channels tend to be self-correcting over time, so negative perceptions, if inaccurate, will be countermanded by positive sentiments, and vice-versa.
Are companies realising the importance of empowering employees to interact with consumers?
Yes, but gradually. This is processing at different speeds in different sectors.
For example, some organisations are hampered by compliance needs, so, for one, financial companies are limited to a certain extent, while the same principles are true for other sectors.
Cool startups with smaller teams and fewer restrictions are able to have policies like ‘don’t be stupid’. This is great, but it isn’t very helpful example for all type of organisations.
Other are looking at ways to empower employees, but this will be done with finite restrictions. There is a recognition that these conversations are happening online, and that there is a need to adapt.
How important are ‘traditional’ offline communications skills in this mix?
It’s a basic point, but an important one. Developing effective marketing communications requires a mix of digital and traditional skills.
Companies sometimes embark upon a digital strategy without considering how it will fit in with offline, marketing. It is important take both channels into account, and to use that mix of skills effectively.