I went to the first #InfluenceLive event at the end of January. It was a communication event about influence, social and how we use it.
I was interested to hear first-hand from Ralf Little about his ‘Twitter spat’ with Jeremy Hunt, among other topics on the agenda that interested me changing face of recruitment, entrepreneurial branding and hearing the story from the International Rescue Committee.
The event raised as many questions as it did confirmations of what I thought I already knew. The questions are big, bigger than me, something for the platforms, users and brands to be discussing about what’s acceptable and what’s not, how we use the platforms and how we can all be better. So here are my takeaways…
My top takeaways
When people have significant platforms they have a responsibility
How we choose to behave and use those platforms is up to us, but should it be? Some use it to seek attention, others to spread good, others to spread hate. Should those who are racist, misogynist, or hold another unsavoury viewpoint be banned? Will that help us have the debates in society, to learn and change?
Should more people be banned from twitter for their inappropriate tweets? What would that do to freedom of speech and our need to learn from each other to be able to make progress? This is part of a larger conversation and as professional communicators we have our code of ethics to help us in this area along with our societal norms.
As brand ambassadors we have to be acutely aware of how our brand connects with its followers, and how everything we do and communicate from the inside out impacts upon the brand. Being authentic is key to communication strategy and that means we all need to understand and be connected to the company values and purpose. They can’t be just written on the wall, they need to have genuine meaning.
Authenticity over numbers or purpose over profile
For Ralf Little being authentic is more important than gaining followers on Twitter. CIPR recently condemned ‘buying followers’ and rightly so. Tricking your stakeholders, buying fake followers, (which in turn could be encouraging illegal behaviour as creating fake accounts may also involve identity theft), or working against the public interest is not something professional advisors would endorse.
Authenticity is a valuable trait, that’s lauded for leaders so they are visible and approachable in the workplace, and someone we can believe in as heads of business, brand or political parties. But what if being authentic (true to yourself or the brand values) means that your views or opinions are considered unsavoury by some groups or societal norms? Is that acceptable? How do we police and manage what’s acceptable, and how appropriate is that?
These are deep issues around freedom of speech and wider legal issues which we need to be aware of as we navigate the internet in a world of differing views and opinions and provide professional advice to business. As communicators we must understand our community, and how our interaction with them may affect them and the organisations we work with.
Freedom to change our minds or make mistakes
It appears as though we’re in a social world where we can’t be seen to change our minds, make mistakes or correct ourselves. I think this is really bad for all of us, socially, politically and especially our children as they learn to navigate their lives in an online world. We should be able to make mistakes and try again, to move on and learn from them. We learn so much from our failures and it’s important to try and not be paralysed by the fear of failure. Without trying, and failing we’ll rarely have great new ideas. Thomas Edison was considered: “too stupid to learn anything” by his teachers, and Fred Astaire received feedback from auditions saying he: “Can’t sing. Can’t act. Slightly balding”, failure didn’t stop them. We should be able to do the same.
We should be free to admit our mistakes, learn from them and change our minds without threat, bullying or trolling. Within our organisations and communities as expert communicators we need to foster open communication, and allow mistakes to be made, talked about and learned from. As communicators we need to coach leaders and play our part in nurturing a culture where mistakes are accepted and acknowledged so that we can all learn from them.
Facts, opinion and cognitive dissonance
“Having an opinion does not make you an expert” Ralf Little
Social platforms give everyone a voice, but having a voice does not make us an expert. In the latest Edelman Trust Barometer, I was relieved to read that trust in experts, academics, journalists and CEOs is on the rise, while trust in a person like yourself has dipped for the first time in years, it’s still reasonably high. Thank goodness experts are being trusted again over and above the opinions (and sometimes noise) of someone like me. My friends and colleagues are great, but they are not experts in economics, politics or other weighty discussion points that affect our futures.
In a world where individuals and brands are using the platforms like twitter to broadcast their views rather than join in conversation we’re getting nowhere fast, and it still feels like the people who shout loudest are truly heard in there.
There’s something to be said for the saying ‘empty vessels make the most noise’
Just a quick look at some twitter threads, shows us that facts can’t fight emotions among some users. I find it fascinating as a comms geek. I read about cognitive dissonance in both my PR degree and internal comms diploma and now with social media we can see it all the time. Hard felt emotions seem impossible to budge with facts.
This phenomenon is not new – just google Leon Festinger and Marian Keech’s UFO religion, The Seekers in Chicago to understand how the facts and even first-hand experience may not change the most entrenched beliefs. I believe we’re seeing it more clearly with social, as it gives us a window into peoples’ beliefs that we otherwise would not see. Many people will not be convinced to change their opinions in the face of facts.
Even if we think we are rational human beings, and we would change our minds, consider would you really change your firm beliefs in the face of opposing facts? We often make decisions from our gut, and those are deeply held then reinforced by ‘facts’. What’s more in a world of information and misinformation, we can find ‘facts’ to back up just about anything. While some peoples’ views become more entrenched, others may argue their standpoint but perhaps privately shift their thinking – we may never know.
Meanwhile, when we’re bombarded by content (just look at Trump’s twitter strategy for keeping the stories moving on) and when real news is being called out as ‘fake news’ our ability to assess the veracity of content becomes limited. The story either moves too quickly or we can get stuck in the fake news cycle, and some of us may use ‘fake news’ as a rationale to not believe something and cast it aside as untrue, even if it is factual.
As communicators, we should remind ourselves of this complex information world, be true to our values and encourage the organisations we work with to be transparent and purposeful. Remember we cannot convince all the people with facts and figures. We need to find those emotional hooks for those facts, personal connections and nudge those who can be persuaded, keep sharing the facts and stand clear on them publicly. Being authentic and building trust has to come from the truth, but bringing people with you needs a sense of belonging and emotional connection. That’s what great communicators are good at.
Two ears, one mouth
“We have two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak”. Epictetus
Twitter currently presents little chance for conversation, apart from those hosted #twitterchats and even they can become a shouting match.
It’s important to remember as @markshaw pointed out:
Hi John. A few of us are interested in conversation & being social on social media. But I agree. The vast majority are all about automation & duplication. They want a presence without being present. #InfluenceLive
— Mark Shaw (@markshaw) January 30, 2018
Being present and not just having presence is an important difference to make. Some brands and people for that matter, shout into the void, telling the world what they think, but they don’t take the time to listen. Just like real life face-to-face interactions a bit of listening goes a long way and leads to a far more interesting interaction. It can help us all to be much better communicators, communicating more effectively whether that’s for ourselves or as brand ambassadors. When we listen, we take a step closer to understanding, and when we understand we can help solve people’s problems and that’s key to communication of all kinds. But it is harder to be present and converse, it takes trust and a willingness and readiness to reply and engage. You can’t just shout and run away. We’ve a long way to go on Twitter, there’s an awful lot of shouting.
Subtle comms can be powerful
The name of my business, Little Bird Communication came from the phrase ‘a little bird told me’. That doesn’t mean the gossip at the watercooler, but the inside knowledge and emotional intelligence we need to employ at times to help make things work better, or make a better impact. PR and comms is not all about ‘shouting’ and ‘broadcasting’ your views from the parapet or keyboard. It’s about ‘public relations’ making connections, understanding your stakeholders and relating with them. The CIPR defines it as:
“PR is the discipline that looks after reputation, with the aim of earning understanding and support and influencing opinion and behaviour. It is the planned and sustained effort to establish and maintain goodwill and mutual understanding between an organization and its publics.”
The International Rescue Committee cannot afford to shout loud about the work it’s doing in the field. It may put its volunteers and workers at risk while they operate in warring or insecure locations, within extremely delicate political situations and at the sharp end of humanitarian crises. But there are other ways to get your message out there as Melanie Hall described. Through the network and connections you have, through highly targeted communication with the people who have the power to take your message further, using lobbying and subtle forms of communication to share the message.
Each of these points I took from the day, left me with many questions and thoughts relevant to communication both inside and outside of organisations. Feel free to share your thoughts with me too.
Thanks for stopping by.