Norman Ng

4 Lessons on Communications Strategies from the Arab Spring

In Communications Strategy, Reputation Management, Social Media on July 15, 2011 at 06:22

We use Facebook to schedule the protests, Twitter to coordinate, and YouTube to tell the world” – This sums up the relentless wave of protest that has shook the Arab region over 15 countries in an unprecedented level of visibility, awareness and co-ordinated protests. Here are 4 lessons on Communications Strategy to pay close attention to:

1. Embrace Social Media 

The Arab States are not exactly known for the best IT infrastructures, but it certainly did not stop social media traffic in these countries from generating widespread awareness and invoke participation in these protests through social media. So should enterprises clamp down on social media communications at work? Sure…go ahead. An unhappy staff = an unhappy staff, period. He / she is going to blog, tweek, facebook update their gripes through their mobiles anyway. So instead of pulling the plugs on social media communications altogether, embrace it, and be actively involved in helping to co-create an environment of responsible, respectful participation in social media.

2. Engage Internal Audiences 

Give internal communications and engagement 110% effort. Listen carefully, get every nugget of info on sentiments and sense make, addressing it in timely manner before it boils. In this case, broaden internal communications monitoring and engagement to new / social media platforms, because chances are, if they’re unhappy, they aren’t going to take their complaints to PR / management, but give a good show and tell through social media. So listen well, because an unhappy employee can, and will kill your reputation through social media. Therefore, establish a defensive baseline level internal communication strategies to respond and engage them early.

3. Incubate Brand Ambassadors

Ok, suppose your baseline engagement / internal communication strategies are developed, but lets face it, you’re always going to have external opposers of your enterprises. And some of them can build armies, swarming your reputation with bad external publicity, negative remarks online etc. Hence it’s essential that you have a strategy to start the charm offensive, albeit through 3rd party endorsement / peer recommendations. Therefore, it’s absolutely important for any MarComm / PR department worth its salt to augment this strategy, because over 90% of people trust peer recommendations. And what you want to engender are effective engagement, to turn employees / external supporters into “brand ambassadors”, to share and celebrate stories about positive experiences. So when crisis strikes, your reputation can withstand a stock plunge, because the goodwill and credibility built up by your “brand ambassadors” would have been stockpiled to absorb shocks.

4. Think Global, Act Local

Macro / micro socio-economic events and issues will impact your enterprise. Because when a tsumani of bad news strikes, it will hit you hard, as in the case of the momentum of anti-establishment protests spreading from Tunisia to 15 other countries. Hence, have in place a crisis communications strategy to execution – from employing media monitoring tools , to SOPs in dealing with social media negative sentiments, and having management interventions at the local enterprise level.

So what does this post really tell us? If your enterprise PR / Marketing Communications entities are still drumming up the beat, that its worth spending $10 million on advertising campaigns, you might consider getting that ticket to outer space which Sir Richard Branson’s company is marketing, so as to avoid the onslaught. Because the communications landscape is changing. Social Media communications has the propensity to bring enterprises, and for that matter in the Arab Spring – Governments to their knees, what more for enterprises?

Therefore, it is imperative to focus on Communications Strategies – from internal / external communications, to crisis communications as a fundamental building block to ensure an enterprise is ready, and capable to deal with increasing reputation risks with the prominence of social media in communications.

Begin preparing, because the next Arab Spring might gain digital momentum, and land straight at your enterprise’s doorsteps. Good luck!

Norman Ng

References: Link 1, Link 2

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