The theme of the 2017 World Economic Forum’s Annual Meeting in Davos was ‘responsive leadership’. But how can business leaders demonstrate responsive leadership in the way that they communicate in a world of ‘alternative facts’ and geopolitical shifts?
Move above the mediocre
With the fire-hose of information available today, we’re all drowning in a sea of mediocre thinking; never has there been such an opportunity for high quality insight to cut through.
If you are proud of your organisation’s knowledge, expertise and thinking then now is the time to start telling the story yourself, and have confidence in how you deliver those messages.
‘You’ can be your own news team; your executives, innovators and staff can be the stars of your own narratives. Search engines, curators, re-publishers, platform owners – and audiences – are craving clever, unadulterated insight and thinking. This gives brands, organisations, companies the opportunity to own the narrative around their area of expertise – or at least to play a major part in shaping that narrative and how it lands with audiences.
So how should leaders respond?
1. Communicate authentically
Firstly, it’s not enough to throw in references to #liveauthentic – your organisation must live and breathe your ethos and values, backing words up with action. Build trust with stories that resonate with your target audiences and grow a conversation with evidence of your openness. You no longer need the filter of a journalist or publisher to give credibility to your message – but you do need to be open about what you do and how you do it.
2. Tell people what they want to hear
That’s not a literal request, more it’s about focusing on the pain points of your audience. This is Comms 101; what’s the problem your audience has to solve and how can you add value to that debate, challenge or conundrum? Many people are frustrated because no-one is listening to them.
3. Be brave
Those brands who are brash and honest about their activity risk direct engagement and criticism, but they also earn the right to have a voice in our fast-changing world on the platforms where much of the discussion and debate is raging. Bring transparency to your actions, knowledge and experience.
4. Be prepared to listen
It’s also worth remembering that social media should not merely be seen as a tool for promotion but as a tool for discussion. Many companies are still hesitant to have a real discussion with their customers. The fear is they aren’t in control of the message or that it opens the door to negative comments. And the reality is that’s almost certainly the case.
However, by dealing with any criticism in an open and honest way and amending corporate practices as a direct result, you can win the hearts and minds of existing and new customers.
5. Tell the wider story
Every organisation has a story to tell, but not all organisations have found their storytelling mojo. Begin with the subject areas and insights that will pique the interest of your audiences, your clients or future clients. Don’t choose the didactic or the obvious and don’t just focus on your present offering – instead believe that you have earned the right to talk to them on a wider set of issues, tangential perhaps to your core business, but nonetheless relevant.
Think ahead and discuss where the industry is heading and offer opinions. Find and uncover your own corporate stories, that give an added dimension or some evidence to your corporate mantra or maxim. And enable your staff to tell their own stories to make it more authentic.
6. Take the long-term view
Don’t expect instant results. A positive reputation is built over a period of time (even if it can be lost in an instant). It requires patience and the willingness to think beyond quarterly targets or reporting, or the occasional criticism or negative headline. Instead strong leaders need to set out their long-term vision and encourage staff to go on the journey with them.
7. Take the message direct to your audience
In a world of ‘alternative facts’ there is a space for brands to cut through with their own thinking on those subjects where they have insight and knowledge. Social media platforms, bespoke online channels, targeted outreach, direct engagement – all of these allow brands to deliver information straight to the door of their target audience, with no interference or additional layer of publishing context.
8. Compartmentalise your audiences
Channelization – creating bespoke, quality content for a range of different audiences – is already eminently possible, if not a little labour intensive, but it will become ever more straightforward to achieve as AI and intelligent tools become ubiquitous. The ‘long tail’ of information can be delivered direct to the audience, however you want to cut it.
All of this requires strong leadership. For some companies, authentic storytelling comes naturally. For many others, it’s still safer to let others speak on their behalf. There’s no doubt that it requires bravery to enter into a genuine debate with your stakeholders; but there’s never been a better time to do so. And the prize is worth it.
We are all looking for credible and authentic voices on which to base our opinions and decisions. By being more inclusive, more open and more responsive, companies can reach their audiences in new ways and change the nature of their relationships with them for the better.
Like this? Then check out 5 reasons why your business needs a content marketing strategy
Gay Flashman is the Founder and CEO of Formative Content.
You can follow Gay on Twitter: @g_flashman
Formative Content is a UK based content marketing agency producing high quality content, live event coverage and strategic communications support for clients around the world.