John Shewell: Why good communication can be disruptive

Earlier this month the Guardian ran a story about 'hacktivism' - the online equivalent to traditional activism.

John Shewell: to be effective, communications need to disrupt the pattern
John Shewell: to be effective, communications need to disrupt the pattern
The story was about how a group of activists claimed to have used denial of service attacks to shut down government sites in protest over the extradition of UK citizens to the US.

This is significant, firstly because the notion of control no longer rests with corporate or government institutions but is shifting rapidly to netizens.

Secondly, traditional forms of activism are finding a place online and people are now bringing organisations to heel either by ‘crowing’ (crowd-sourced lobbying) and/or hacking the organisation’s websites bringing it to a standstill.

This is classic ‘disruptive communications’ where activists disrupt the usual flow of communications between organisations, media and audience to get heard.

We are creatures of habit and when a pattern has been established in terms of information flow a new idea or message can go unnoticed when competing against the sheer volume of campaigns filling our media landscape.

Therefore, to be effective, communications need to disrupt the pattern.

Within the letter of the law communications teams should integrate the old-skool techniques of grass-roots activism into campaigns for the specific purpose of disrupting this information flow.

This could also be a way for an organisation to take a proactive role in connecting with their audiences in a more meaningful way. It opens up dialogue, which is the hallmark of building relationships which can lead to a better reputation.

Organisations have the opportunity to encourage big conversations and demonstrate they are a ‘democratic brand’ which is willing to listen and respond to community concerns. This also builds trust and can only strengthen a reputation.

Local public services should be at the vanguard of this form of communications. It is our remit to provide important public services that matter most to residents.

By bringing together communications, consultation and community engagement local public services can drive more coherent and effective campaigns that genuinely engage citizens and local communities.

There is an opportunity to harness the fundamentals of good communications, strengthening civic participation and build better relationships with our core constituents who rely on public services to sustain healthy democratic communities.


John Shewell is the head of communications at Brighton & Hove City Council

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