A true story to usher in 2014: a journalist with a wide social media following meets an important CEO he has previously interviewed and sits next to him during a train journey. Their chat is convivial. The CEO mischievously texts his CMO and receives an explicit reply – "Do not tell him anything!" – which, of course, he immediately shares with the journalist.
The CMO’s response sums up the one thing businesses must avoid: the impulse to be fearful of communicating openly – that a herd of folk across social channels will derail a hard-thought-through plan, while in fact social media, for all that is reported, remain micro-channels. The herd has the power to derail great content, yet masterful storytelling will still be the only thing that breaks through. This demands a different perspective, courage and a sprinkling of good humour.
Once upon a time, comms existed in a tent of imperfection, where culture and lifestyle ruled. But this position has been well and truly disrupted and will face continued upheaval.
Crowds are shifting. They demand more, they want to connect and share their views; to participate and have access at all times. This requires businesses to allow time to stop and really consider the crowd. The past few years have seen businesses dealing with a disruptive economy and obsessing about the wrong things – the latest tech development or platform and how to adapt it. Now we need to employ an open mind, remaining informed by the ever-changing environment while avoiding being ruled by it. The dichotomy is that business must move rapidly to respond, yet at the same time be more mindful and careful of decisions. Not an easy balance.
Courage must be added to an open-minded approach to avoid meltdown or being stuck in an echo chamber. We will need to embrace risk, plan, but create an environment where we are ultimately flexible, so that we understand and embrace the disruption and mischief of which human beings are capable.
Marketing and PR is the business function designed to sit right where the business meets people. The problem with real people is they see the world in different ways and not remotely in the same way as business does. Companies require the ability to see beyond the position they believe they hold, and appreciate they are all now linked with people they don’t directly know, but with whom they share a social stage.
Yet we must remember that the crowd is psychologically, emotionally, cognitively and spiritually hardwired for connection, love and belonging.
Connection, along with love and belonging, is why we exist and it is what gives purpose and meaning to our lives. So businesses must turn up everywhere as themselves, understanding how they exist in the real (and virtual) world, and be prepared to love their haters, treating them with respect and good humour.
Ultimately, a fresh lens is required to focus on complex issues. To keep up and ahead, we need to keep in mind that our actions run as causes and come back to us as effects.
Mark Borkowski is founder of Borkowski.do