Thoughts on communication

There have been a couple of ‘stories’ in the Australian media of late that suggest a fundamental change in the communication landscape is emerging. One is the ongoing furore around a comment in very bad taste made by radio presenter Alan Jones at a private function organised by a political party, the other concerns perceptions about one of our political leaders. For the purpose of this post, the facts of the two situations are less important than the trends they suggest are emerging.

The Australian government does not try to moderate good taste and within sensible limits around defamation, incitement and vilification we enjoy the privilege of freedom of speech which I believe is critically important; therefore:

Alan Jones has a right to exhibit bad taste and make his comment and the 1000s of other people who are using social media to express their objection to the comment have an equal right to ‘free speech’ and the whinging from the 2GB management (Jones’ radio station) about the effect of the social media campaign on their advertisers is also ‘free speech’.

Having said that, what I believe is really interesting is the shift in power that is evident. As a high profile radio presenter, Jones used to have almost complete power, he controlled the microphone, could rubbish detractors on air and cut off their response. That power still remains but has been circumvented by social media; a sustained campaign by the ‘twittering classes’ has cost 2GB hundreds of thousands of dollars in cancelled advertising – a new paradigm for directors and managers to deal with.

In a similar vein, the ongoing ‘noise’ around opposition leader Tony Abbot’s attitude to women will be interesting to watch through to a conclusion, if one is ever reached……

But even at this early stage there are a number of observations that are likely to become increasingly important in an effective stakeholder engagement and communication model for any entity; both individuals and organisations.

  1. Negativity is becoming a very dangerous weapon to deploy. American politicians of all persuasions have been running negative advertising about politicians of the other persuasion for many years. The negative advertising has worked, the America public consistently place politicians at the very bottom of any list based on ethics, trust, etc. Used car salesmen and journalists are preferred to politicians and the situation is not much different in Australia. If you start using negativity, the power of social media to spread the negativity almost guarantees it will come back to damage the initiator. In the connected age, negativity is rapidly becoming a WSD (of similar power to a WMD but read ‘weapon of self destruction’).
  2. Perceptions are easily created and hard to dispel or change. I have no idea how Tony Abbot actually works with women, but a negative perception has emerged. Perceptions are frequently wrong, but they are based on what people believe they saw or heard. Consequently this type of social perception cannot be changed by people with a vested interest telling others they are wrong, to quote Margaret Thatcher “Power is like being a lady… if you have to tell people you are, you aren’t” – the same applies to perceptions. Perceptions can be managed but they are built over time and have to be changed over time and this can only be achieved with a sustained change in observed behaviour – words are not going to do anything.
  3. There seems to be an emerging disconnect between perceptions and emotions and reality. This was the focus of my blog post Credit, Trust and Emotions. What’s not mentioned in the blog, but is in the RBA report, is that non-mining business investment has been increasing rapidly despite the flat business sentiment. The real economic situation and actual investment levels are aligned, but the business sentiment is failing to recognise business reality.

Managing a corporate image, your project’s image within the organisation or your personal image is certainly getting to be a whole lot harder. What I’m wondering based on the above is, are we starting to see a real shift from positional power, supported by negativity and traditional advertising to something more subtle, distributed and potentially positive, and if so how can this be effectively managed?

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