Authentic communication is a noble and righteous endeavour.
But being authentic has to be more than a company catch phrase. There needs to be a real connection between how an organisation speaks about its endeavours and what it does in practice.
How do you feel, for instance, when you see a stunningly shot commercial with a moving story, only to find the ad is flogging insurance? It jars.
Be it corporate social responsibility or social purpose, connecting brands with deeper meaning has become a busy marketplace.
As such, there is a widening gulf between those companies that are making a heartfelt connection with audiences and those that are essentially engaged in a cynical marketing exercise.
What would you rather be known as, a spin doctor or an inspiring storyteller?
In the former category is the social enterprise created by one of my clients in New Zealand, Stuff. The company has set up a coffee shop at its Auckland offices staffed by deaf baristas. Hundreds of employees have learned basic sign language to order their daily cup of Joe.
The Coffee Co-op is a showcase of what people with disabilities can do instead of focusing on what they cannot. From a communications perspective, the enterprise has provided management and staff with an inspiring human interest story to share about diversity and inclusion.
Delivering genuine and authentic initiatives and communications can provide similar benefits for your organisation.
There are five clear social dividends:
1. Doing good is good for business
Open and transparent communications makes you more trustworthy, and people will more likely want to do business with you.
According to Colmar Brunton, which runs New Zealand’s reputation index, the higher your credibility the more likely your products and services will be purchased or recommended.
Sunday Lunch, a Sydney-based consultancy that helps brands leverage social good, cites research that 80 per cent of people would be willing to buy from unknown brands if they had strong social and environmental credentials.
2. Reputation inoculation
Despite getting a flu shot, you can still catch the flu – but it’s much less likely and the impact will not be as severe. The same goes for building your brand reputation.
One of my clients suffered a terrible scandal, but it handled the ensuing communications superbly. The feedback was strongly positive because of the organisation’s no-nonsense and transparent approach.
Samsung’s exploding Galaxy Note 7 episode and VW’s emissions controversy cost both of those companies billions of dollars. But according to Forbes, it would have been far worse had they not accrued goodwill with consumers in years prior.
3. Style AND substance
I abhor the shallowness of a lot of social media, but when done well social media can crank up the vibe for your brand.
If your communications can reflect a deeper connection for people as well, there is the quinella: messaging that grabs attention and resonates in the longer term.
4. Make people feel great again
Inherently, most of us want to make a positive difference. Acting authentically means connecting what we do in the day-to-day with a deeper purpose.
Communicating the positives and making people feel good about themselves and your brand is the antidote to the cynicism that surrounds us. What would you rather be known as: a spin doctor or an inspiring storyteller?
5. You control your message
It’s a simple equation. The more you are respected, the more you are listened to and the more you get to control your message.
The 2018 Edelman Trust Barometer research provides remarkable validation of the value of building authentic relationships with your audience.
If you mean what you say and do what you say, people will believe you, follow you and do business with you.
The Edelman data shows:
On the whole, the survey implores businesses and their leaders to get in the game. The public believes good business is socially led business that puts as much energy into the community conversation as it does into generating economic prosperity.
Some 56 per cent of respondents agreed that companies that only thought about themselves and their profits were bound to fail. And four in five respondents believed CEOs had an obligation to speak out on issues such as the economy, automation, global warming, discrimination and education.
But most of what we hear today is corporate messaging and glorified brand promotion.
We want more valuable insights. The public wants to hear opinions, arguments and contributions that will lead to better policy, outcomes, and quality of life for all of us.
This is the social purpose sweet spot.
Those organisations that can create authentic and creative content while also making a contribution to society will stand out.
It’s is a radical departure from the conventions of old-school public relations and corporate comms, which was all about the saying, not the doing.
* This is an excerpt from Stuart Howie’s new book, The DIY Newsroom.
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Stuart Howie is a Canberra-based communications consultant. He has worked with organisations, private and public, in Australia and New Zealand, helping them to discover, shape and tell their stories. He is the author of The DIY Newsroom, which won Social Media Book of the Year at the Australian Business Book Awards. Stuart has worked in media, publishing and communications for more than 30 years as an executive, editor and strategist.