Authentic communication is about telling the truth and listening more often than you speak.
By Kimberly Ramalho,
In the past, corporate communicators were siloed, expected to produce “stuff” with relatively unknown or little-proven impact on the bottom-line. We focused on facts, not feelings; pushed features and benefits, not value; relied on media channels to tell our stories. But the landscapes have shifted, and stakeholder expectations have evolved. And today’s savviest and most successful companies are looking to communicators as more, for more.
Employees, investors and customers alike are digging deeper. They want to really know the company—and the people—with whom they’re doing business. It’s no longer about the products; it’s about the brand. Authenticity has emerged as a critical tenet of leadership and marketing, and it’s requiring everyone to communicate. Differently, more and better.
Think about it: a formal memo won’t capture the hearts and minds of employees or inspire them to give discretionary effort. They’re looking for present, genuine leaders. A flashy product brochure won’t win customers’ business or loyalty. They’re seeking partnerships with like-minded brands that share similar values. Investors don’t wait for quarterly earnings calls to ask their questions. They expect real-time answers to real-world challenges.
Technology has changed everything.
Stakeholders are reading and learning about our companies 24/7. They’re not waiting for news to break; they’re actively seeking – and finding – information, and not only from your website or an ad in a trade magazine. Social media and other online communities, in particular, have rewritten the rules of authentic engagement. Posts on brand reputation site Glassdoor impact employee recruiting and retention. Yelp reviews, Facebook referrals, and complaints and praise in the form of tweets each affect customer sentiment – and brand reputation – online and off. More than ever because of technology, communication between brands and stakeholders is a two-way street, requiring genuine, transparent engagement from everyone, in completely new ways.
Communication and engagement are now part of everyone’s job, not just that of the communications function. Executives are taking notice too. While content creation and publishing remain core to the communicators’ roles and responsibilities, strategy is even more so. Herein lies our true value. Finally.
- Embrace your role as strategist and counselor.
Sure, we will always be responsible for creating and publishing content for product launches and culture campaigns and crisis management. But with the rising call for authenticity and real-time communication at all organizational levels, it’s on us to embrace our role as strategist and counselor. Corporate communicators should be advising other function leaders – HR, marketing, sales, R&D and more – on best practices for effectively and genuinely engaging with stakeholders. We shouldn’t be sharing brand secrets, but we should be proactive and transparent in the ways we tell our brand story and respond to/interact with customers, employees and investors.
2. Empower employees to be ambassadors.
We’ve always known that employees are every brand’s most valuable asset – and today that’s evolved to them serving as ambassadors on social media. Smart, far-sighted companies recognize that if employees are using social media anyway (and they will), you might as well tap that power. Teach them to share the brand narrative, arm them with information about the company’s vision, goals and what it’s doing, and allow them to spread that positive message online. They’ll have far more credibility among their friends and contacts than your official brand page ever could.
3. Fish where the fish are.
While stakeholders do actively seek information and intelligence about their companies, you can’t assume they’ll find what you want them to. Likewise, you shouldn’t believe that what you’ve communicated internally won’t be shared externally. It’s up to you as the communicator to know where your audiences gather and go to them – whether that’s digital forums, industry events, mobile, social, etc. When you do, you send signals that they’re worthy of your interest and your time. If you don’t, you risk losing invaluable opportunities to inform and influence your audiences.
Now more than ever, leaders are open to fresh approaches to reaching and engaging with stakeholders, and they’re increasingly looking to and leaning on corporate communicators for their expertise, ideas and strategies.