It’s not just business. It’s personal

Matt_Versi_The_Australian_Business_Executive

The days of having complete control of your company’s image are over. In today’s interconnected world, executives and their boards are having to face ever-changing markets, a fragmented media, and an increasingly effective class of professional activists. These combined can, at the least, cause significant headaches for a business’ leadership and, at worst, bring a company to its knees.

Gone are the days of the ‘it’s not personal, it’s just business’ way of thinking. Today everything a business does is personal; from the way it interacts with its customers and how it treats its employees, to the way it contributes to the community and communicates with the wider world. A company’s reputation is paramount.

Having worked with a number of large multinationals, one thing that has stood out to me is just how unprepared some companies, especially Australian companies, are for the new environment in which they’re now operating. Too many still operate with a pre-digital and pre-social media frame of mind, ignoring digital communications and the vital role storytelling plays in shaping a company’s external and internal reputation.

Companies need to get into the habit of using digital to tell their story. When I speak with the boards, CEOs or CMOs who engage ImpaQmedia, every single one of them can name two or more recent good news stories of how their products are improving lives, or how their employees are giving back to the community. But when I ask what they’re doing to promote those stories I often get the same response: “well we tried getting it into the media, but we didn’t get any interest, so we ended up posting a media release about it on our company website. That’s about all we could do”.

It’s this sort of thinking that has seen companies, once thought to be invincible goliaths, washed away by the tide of digital disruption and replaced with competitors who embraced storytelling and invested in the digital tools necessary to thrive in the new reputation economy.

Now, I rarely put the blame for this failure on a company’s CMO or communications team. More often than not, these people get it, and they’re raring to go with ideas of how to leap-frog the competition and soar ahead in the digital space. I’m sorry to say, but the problem generally lies with the leadership who are either uninterested because they’re about to retire, or they see investing in digital storytelling as a ‘nice to do’. That is until a crisis, or worse yet, professional activists strike, leaving the company, and their personal brand, battered, bruised and professionally toxic. Reputations built over an extensive career are wiped away in a matter of hours, with the crisis also having a negative effect on employees, and impacting the company’s ability to attract future talent.

At this point you as a reader are going to fall into one of two categories of thought. The first, who think of this as ‘new age B.S.’ and something that won’t affect their company so long as they stick to the tried and tested ways of old. And the second, will either recognise this as something they need to seriously consider for their company’s future, or they will have already embraced the disruption as one of the new digital-savvy executives leading their companies into the new economy.

In my experience, I generally encounter more of the latter than the former. Business leaders who fail to recognise and adapt to digital disruption are quickly finding their positions usurped by those who do.

Take the media industry for instance. Today’s media landscape is not what it used to be. Audiences are turning away from major mastheads and TV networks, preferring channels like Facebook, LinkedIn and industry ‘niche’ websites to consume content relevant to them. This shift of attention has forced media companies to turn to social media channels in order to reach their audience. This, combined with large staffing cuts at major outlets, has meant gaining positive media attention has never been harder for companies.

While digital disruption has brought with it many challenges, it has also created enormous opportunity. The media’s reliance on social media has levelled the playing field for companies, giving them the ability to directly reach targeted audiences like never before. Business leaders who are now investing in building out their company’s digital capacity with these tools will find they have greater control in shaping their company’s reputation, building industry influence and handling future crisis.

So, here is my advice on how to get started:

1. Reach out directly to your CMO or communications team. Chances are they will have already identified several ways your company can scale its existing digital capabilities;

2. Start considering everything your company does as an opportunity to create brand positive content. Winning an industry award for ‘Best Place to Work’ is a perfect piece of content your team could be prompting internally as well as externally;

3. Convert those stories into easy-to-digest content. For example, the ‘Best Place to Work’ award is an opportunity to create a short one-minute video with your employees sharing their thoughts on why your company is a great place to work;

4. Post the content (in this case the video) on LinkedIn and any other ‘niche’ industry focused websites (you’re reading one right now – The ABE magazine & website);

5. Next encourage your employees to ‘Like’ and ‘Share’ that positive content with their own networks. As CEO, you should lead by example and do the same. Publicly congratulate staff and the company by tagging them in your posts on LinkedIn. This is a sure way to get your company’s positive content trending and showing up in Google searches;

6. And finally, don’t be afraid to reach outside the company for help. There are plenty of experts in this space who are more than happy to share their knowledge.

The more positive content your company can generate, the more that will show up when customers, employees, future talent and others in your industry engage with you online. And if done right, you will also be able to use your company’s digital tools to grow your own personal brand as a digital-savvy industry leader, and ideal candidate for board positions.

Matt Versi is the Chief Digital Strategist for digital media group, ImpaQmedia. Matt has worked across both the government and private sector advising organisations and industry leaders on their digital strategy, influencer branding and content creation capabilities.