May 29, 2020

Has COVID-19 changed the world of comms forever?

Has COVID-19 changed the world of comms forever?

Just think…several weeks ago, we had never even contemplated the term ‘new normal’, considered what it meant to ‘socially distance’ or reflected on what a truly ‘unprecedented’ global situation could actually look like. Let’s face it, it’s been downright crazy period, but as we begin to emerge from the other side (with fingers very tightly crossed), what can we learn from the past few weeks?  

On a communications level there is almost too much to list, so I will go with the thought that has returned to me repeatedly.

‘If you want something doing, do it yourself’

Apparently the words of Napoleon Bonaparte and an adage I’ve been impressing on clients for several years. By this I mean the power of using owned and shared media to communicate directly with your audience.  

When I first moved from journalism into comms, the most effective (ergo, the only) way to deliver messaging to the masses was to craft stories, targeted to the interests of journalists and their audiences. This tactic remains the bedrock of our industry because it’s incredibly effective. The media, especially in our islands, remains influential and well-readHowever, over the past 15 years, we have undergone a digital revolution which has given us a plethora of choices in how to deliver messaging, and we no longer need to solely rely on the platforms of others to speak to audiences. We can use our own.  

The first time I saw the power of this was in 2011, when I led the creation of a pioneering new app to live stream the unveil of Volvo’s latest concept car on its Facebook page. Until then, these events were reserved solely for international motoring journalists, with the pictures later beamed by satellite across the world for broadcast and online channels to share with viewers. Now, for the first time, fans were afforded a front-row seat to rival the media’s through the company’s shared media channels.   

Guess what? Fans loved it and, within three months, we were back on the international motor show circuit with updated technology, not only streaming video content this time but also interacting with fans in real time. It was true two-way communication and Volvo enthusiasts weren’t the only ones to benefit. Volvo’s designers, engineers and management took insight direct from the people who mattered most and fed it back into the organisation.  

The app we developed became the precursor to technology that’s now embedded within the Facebook platform; technology which – to me – still feels under-used and under appreciated by many brands. Perhaps until now.  

Here in Guernsey, the States communications team has delivered a masterclass which I hope demonstrates the incredible potential to directly engage with audiences. Essentially, their live streams have been a series of media briefings to which islanders are invited to listen. Although comments are not taken in real time, several remarks made in past weeks make it clear that the communications team and the politicians involved do examine and act upon comments post the live stream. This format primarily fulfils two tasks: 1) Delivery of the messages in real time when speed is of the essence and 2) directly addressing viewers and therefore removing any prospect that messages could become ‘lost in translation’ due to media interpretation.  

In Guernsey’s case, the channel itself has been vital, tapping into the island’s loyalty for Facebook. Hourlong briefings have regularly clocked more than 35,000 views, with views currently topping out at an incredible 38,500In contrast, the Isle of Man’s Facebook Live briefings have averaged between two and 3,000 viewers, and none of Jersey’s Chief Minister updates have surpassed 25,000 views on Facebook as yet.  

Is it the ease of access to the Facebook platform which is engaging islanders? Is it the panel format? Or that media can ask as many follow up questions as they want, and that they’re actively encouraged to do soIt’s likely a mixture of all of these elements, plus the style of delivery of each of the individuals on the panel, who continually express their humility and humanity.  

hope what people take from these live streams is how simple and effective they can be for audiences both large and small. Not every topic is going to make the news agenda or attract thousands of views, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a highly engaged audience of people ready to be harnessed via Facebook Live, ZoomMicrosoft Teams or A.N. Otherplatform 

Broadcast and mass media are often seen as the be all and end all, but traditional media remains a rather non-participatory form of communication. In contrast, the tools we have embedded in direct communication encourage participation and, with people in power contactable with a Tweet or DM, this is how we’ve become accustomed to communicating.  

Look to Jersey and you’ll see the negative effects of one-way communication, where both islanders and journalists have felt disgruntled by the States’ approach of broadcasting to, rather than interacting with, media and – by proxy – islanders. What people often forget is that communications is about listening just as much as it is about speaking, and two-way communications tools offer a fantastic opportunity to find out what your audience is thinking, feeling, or doingThat, in itself, can be the most valuable asset to gain from communication.  

If you’re interested to find out more about how you can harness the power of direct communications to deliver virtual events, launches or meetings, don’t hesitate to get in touch.  

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