In a matter of years, digital has accelerated beyond imagination. Our smartphones wake us up. Apps like Waze, Taxi Magic, and Uber help us navigate our commutes. YouTube videos entertain us while we wait in lines. While watching Orange Is the New Black on Netflix, we opine on Twitter. We happily immerse ourselves in content and data.
But are we trying hard enough to put it all to use at work?
For professional communicators, this landscape of possibilities for communication and engagement is infinite. R&D previously required commitment and heavy investment. But today, we communicators live in a low-barrier, “try it” world. Since nobody knows all the rules yet, failures are inevitable. But they're cheap.
Remember when you had to assemble a detailed PowerPoint presentation to justify your latest six-figure video project? Now we shoot a Vine on our smartphone in a matter of minutes. Remember paying a printer for thousands of copies of your employee newsletter? Today it's online-only, and content can be tweaked on the fly. Complicated and costly refreshes to your company's website? Nope. Just log in to your content management system and edit away.
When I'm feeling uninspired, or mired in Outlook scheduling, I think back to my six-year-old self and my fascination with Muppet scientist Dr. Bunsen Honeydew. I try to channel Bunsen's crazy experimental ways (though perhaps with a bit more success!). I make at least a few minutes to run wild through the Web, and hopefully I'm better at my job for it.
We have more freedom and agility to try things — to experiment — and iterate in real time. We harness instant data to tell us whether our stakeholders are interested in our latest experiment. If they're not, we abandon ship and move on to the next. And the ability to churn out interesting, quality content for pennies enables entrepreneurial challenger companies to compete for eyeballs with big-budget behemoths.
Think here of, say, the seemingly cheaply made video that Ross Technology of Leola, PA, used to promote its curious spray-on hydrophobic coating, NeverWet. A year after the first NeverWet video went viral, Ross has a deal with the venerable deck-treatment manufacturer Rust-Oleum, which has rolled NeverWet out nationally, on the shelves at Home Depot. Or how about the fashion startup Zady, a new social shopping platform for consumers who care about the origins of the items they purchase? With a good story and a clever website, they're getting loads of media attention — even before they've sold a single pair of artisan jeans to a single socially conscious hipster.
Big companies are taking a crack at the experiment-and-go-viral approach, too. Take Procter & Gamble's Swiff-tastic 90-year-olds Lee and Morty Kaufman, with their millions of YouTube views. Or General Electric's #6SecondScience Fair on Vine, which spotlights user-generated science experiments in the spirit of GE founding father Thomas Edison.
I love having the power to wake up every day and create something — to engage the world, to give our companies and brands a voice. As communicators in this era, we should not just float but actively paddle in this vast sea of content.
Stacey Tank is SVP and chief corporate relations officer at Heineken.