Standing Out and Keeping Attention in the Digital Age

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24hrs before Donald Trump – who communicates almost exclusively via Twitter and YouTube – became President Elect I was in conversation with Grant Leboff at the first Comms Hero event in Cardiff.

“He’ll win” said Grant. “He’s changed the narrative. He had the balls to take a position and make an emotional connection with people.”

I’m not sure if we are in a Post-Truth era, but we are certainly moving Post-Comms.

The idea of a communications team as keepers of organisational truth and protectors of brand seems very quaint these days.

The communication revolution is:

Everyone has a channel that they can exploit -and it’s coming down to who’s the best listener and who’s the best at keeping attention.

At Comms Hero I was lucky enough to speak alongside people like Grant, Helen Reynolds, Nick Atkin and Tim Scott – all of whom are great, but very different, communicators. The following is a mixture of my thoughts and their wisdom.

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Let’s be honest – how many of us would follow our own organisational media channels if we weren’t paid to do it?

In the social age it’s all about build audience/retain attention – and that’s increasingly difficult in a crowded social space.

In this perma-connected society where we ALL have attention deficit disorder how can organisations hope to stand out?

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Most comms fail as organisations don’t dare to fail. They don’t have the balls to take a position, and if you have no position you won’t keep attention.

As Grant said – the currency of media is storytelling. During the EU referendum we all said we wanted the facts, but we lied. Our behaviour shows  the narrative and story is more interesting to us.

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Nick Atkin is CEO of an organisation who have taken a position and told a story. Under his leadership Halton Housing has become one of the most recognisable brands in their sector – despite the fact they are relatively small. They’ve used digital media to leverage more attention than organisations with 20 times their resources.

There’s a similarity between Nick and Donald Trump in that both have refused to conform to pre-conceptions of how a CEO or President should communicate. The similarity ends there, but nonetheless they both offer compelling examples of what leadership in a digital age can look like.

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So given these opportunities to redefine comms – why are organisations failing to take advantage?

As  said – there is a lot of risk averse advice on social media being pushed out to HR people. No one wants to be the next test case. Tim advised that we can soon expect to see employers looking for social media skills in the same way they currently look for Microsoft Office skills. I agree – but we are currently a long way from this.

Arguably there has been too much resource and power invested in traditional communications teams and too little democratisation.

Digital comms within organisations is still largely seen as the preserve of the few. Indeed, prefixing everything we do with digital is no longer helpful. Almost every aspect of our lives has an online component, whether we like it or not.  Worklife and communication styles have yet to evolve to reflect this openess and transparency.

After this years round of Comms Hero events I came away cautiously positive that change is finally happening. With its superheroes, in your face marketing and hyper-enthusiasm Comms Hero as a brand excites many and leaves some stone cold. However the guys practice what they preach – they’ve dared to fail and taken a position against traditional comms.

My takeaway:

The only thing not expanding today is our time.  Every time we put something out we need to ask “what’s the story?”

And it better be a good one.

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Disclosure and Credits: I have no commercial relationship with Comms Hero. Asif has bought me a couple of drinks, a few free tickets and a couple of T-Shirts – that’s about it!

Thanks to the fantastic Fran O’Hara for the wonderful sketches

The deck of my final Comms Hero Slot is available here

  1. Post truth? Who says nonsense like this? The shift is because of demographics. Baby boomers are primed to consume their content via traditional TV and newspaper outlets and millennials are primed to consume their content via social media and the Internet in general. The people screaming post truth are mostly pretentious snobs from the NYT or other outlets that had historical prestige and now are fighting to stay relevant.

    Reply

    1. Thanks Mark – I don’t think we are disagreeing. Arguably we are just seeing once privileged media channels and organisations competing for relevance

      Reply

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