In the era of the ‘politicization of everything,’ businesses are in the front line. Your first and best line of defense can also be the most difficult to achieve: ethical business practices. For example, businesses like Costco and Whole Foods have adopted a “conscious capitalism” model in which the business preempts living wage legislation by offering “living wages” to all employees. Increased labor costs are a burden, true, but in terms of shear public relations protection, it doesn’t get much better for a large national business.
The positive PR is embedded and viral. Consider Costco’s 174,000 U.S. employees. Millions of potential customers know someone who is employed by these companies. Within the social networks of these employees alone, the story of equitable behavior is simply an ongoing viral narrative. Where workers are unhappy, the inverse is true: There is an ongoing narrative that hurts the relationship the business has with the public.
This kind of authentic narrative is the most sought after information in the social media environment. As businesses now must communicate without traditional media intermediaries, all that is real, tangible and unfiltered is what will resonate. The less spin or posturing in your story, the better.
Your Business Voice
A basic starting point in finding your public voice might be to deploy the work of a sincere and authoritative employee who understands your brand; has good instincts; and can write exceptionally well. For many major brands, this means hiring outside your organization. For a few lucky organizations, that person is already with you.
For businesses that have never thought about operating a media outlet, let alone a warm and fuzzy media outlet, getting the right person to be the voice of your business can be tricky. A voice with the feeling of ‘a real human being’ is the magic touch in communicating directly with the public. A human tone is also recommended by many social media experts, including author Jay Baer of “Hug Your Haters.”
An organization not spinning stories and messaging will be repaid in-kind in social media: Social media will have no interest in counter-spinning that narrative.
Contrived Is Dead, Unless It’s Intentionally Funny
Compare this kind of living, breathing PR/marketing – a mix of actions and words – to the sloganeering, witticisms and awkwardly endearing YouTube splashes by corporate giants clinging to the Modern Age of marketing, while trying to be ‘approachable.’ These ‘crafted’ media approaches have no lasting impact in the social media world.
At best they can become iconic like Absolut Vodka, but even successful iconic ad campaigns in 2017 feel smaller. Dos Equis “Most Interesting Man In The World” is as close as the 21st Century gets to an Absolut level of iconic status. Most of these efforts, even the successful efforts of classic advertising in the 2017 media environment, live and die within a much shorter media cycle or, worse, never reach the niche target demographic in any meaningfully viral way.
Look at this AdAge article celebrating the 15 most Memorable ad campaigns in the past 17 years. Compare this to the number of memorable ad campaigns just in the 1980s. Even the pull quote at the head of the article is desperately yearning for an era when Agencies had ‘big ideas’ and Marshall McLuhan was actually right, “The medium is the message.” For what remains of Madison Avenue, those were the days because they didn’t just come up with ‘big ideas,’ they were the well-paid gatekeepers between clients and the extremely limited channels by which everyone got their information: newspaper, magazine, radio or television.
Today, Marshall McLuhan’s famous premise is dead wrong. No one cares how they get their information. We have been so saturated with new media and mediums, no one cares what the medium is anymore – it’s just a “media environment.” You could argue every new sharing platform is a new ‘medium’ unto itself: From Yelp to Instagram to Twitter we are awash in media environments. Media environments are dirt cheap and beyond plentiful. What people care about, and build platforms to support, is high quality content.
Purchasing media space isn’t as important as being an active, engaged citizen within the media space. ‘Marketing’ in terms of media buys isn’t as important as crafting a brand that responds to a continuously changing media environment. A compelling brand creates compelling content. Compelling content is what the entire media ecosystem is designed to support and distribute organically.
Being an engaged brand is viewed as authentic; purchasing people’s attention is clumsy and so 20th Century. Today’s consumers are hyper aware you are purchasing their attention, and the implicit message is your brand isn’t strong enough to organically grab their attention in the media environment. Ouch.
In terms of your business, high quality content is actually doing good things and talking about it. The old workaround of clever slogans doesn’t work any more. Clever is backfiring in the home social media counter-spin because it looks like you’re hiding something, not being yourself. Your public actions are your brand, and your brand is all that matters.